Living Death

Keep the culture of Indigenous people alive through the power of storytelling.

| Fall 2017

  • Taíno people are re-emerging in the world, after living in hiding for 500 years.
    Photo by Getty Images/Kskimaging

Bouquets of flowers line the mantle and hallways. All my loved ones around me, mourning my death. I hear them suffer. I feel them squeeze my arm and kiss my forehead, shaking. Their tears on my skin. I cannot move or speak, but inside I scream, “I’M ALIVE!!!” I want desperately for them to hear me. “Papa, Mama, I’m alive! Do not say goodbye. Please, do not say goodbye!”

The lid lowers and is sealed shut. “Wait! No, no, no….” My casket is lifted and I am carried upon shoulders, carried along a current of procession songs and cries. No. This cannot be real. This must be a dream.

Cold. Dark. Underground. I want to scream and break this door open but I can’t lift my body. My stomach seethes with terror, rage, and desperation. I can’t quite remember who I am or how I got here. Fragments of disconnected memories stream away from me, like air sucked into a void. Am I breathing? How long have I been here? I am losing my mind. Frantic flashes of brightness take over my vision, jarring flutters of white and black. My body feels like it is rotting. Is this death or have I been forgotten?

Haitians have many stories of zombies. “Oh yes,” my grandfather would say, holding my gaze. “One of our relatives was made into a zombi.”

He shifts his weight in the chair, crossing a leg over. “It was many years ago, in Jérémie.” His ocean eyes look out into a time beyond reach but that spills through his stories and fills the room with its ether. Jérémie is known as the city of poets, and it is the birthplace of both my grandfather and his lineage of impassioned storytellers. His stories are filled with wild characters, magnetism, humour, and wonder. But this one is different. It demands a certain kind of attention and has left a feeling of something unsettled, even decades later and generations removed.

He looks out a long while, remembering a lifetime past. One arm leans on the chair back behind him while the other falls across the table. A faint motion of acknowledgement in his eyes and he is ready to tell the story.

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