In conversation with Abantu May: On holistic living and ancestry
What does it mean in practice to navigate through life from a space of intention? It is a process which requires time, dialogue with self as well as a establishing a connection to surroundings. From this basis, we leave ourselves better equipped to gauge the interconnectedness of the human experience, which mirrors the interconnectedness of nature. Every action has a reaction, on a big and small scale. Holistic and mindful living draw attention to this, our presence leaves an impact, and it is up to us to decide what kind of impact we each want to leave on this earth. Abantu May is a storyteller and curator, her projects include running a digital soul class, managing an online platform for black creatives to connect, as well as having a Youtube channel discussing topics in relation to self-care and decolonisation. She is the author of ‘In Constant Bloom’ a collection of poems and essays on her experiences unlearning, relearning and learning in her journey through womanhood. Our conversation touched on topics in relation to identity, holistic living and engaging with ancestry.
Can you talk about the process of engaging with your African heritage – Did you always have the tools readily available or was this something that emerged at a later stage?
I would say that my African awareness has changed as I have grown. I remember being aware of my African-ness first when I was 6/7 years old living in South Africa. As a dark-skinned girl, I was made to feel very aware of my colour. That was the first time I was aware of colour and heritage in the good and the bad sense. Later on, when we moved abroad and started living in a predominantly white country like Denmark, I used my African-ness as a form of protection, but it was also something that I was very defensive about. Having the generational gap between my mum and I, by the time she moved to Denmark her African-ness was already intact. I have never seen her struggle with her heritage, she has always been proudly African. I think she assumed that we too, would just be proudly African and we would know everything she knew. There was this constant conflict between when I was outside, I was too African to fit in and when I was inside, like at home, I was too Danish. It felt like I was living in between, in the heritage perspective.
Fast forward to when I was in my early twenties where I started decolonizing myself and I became re-rooted in my African-ness. It has given me a lot of confidence in who I am, and it has given me a lot of direction in my life in terms of values and principles. As someone that has been raised in the diaspora, I have made peace with the fact that if I am ever home, like when I was visiting Uganda, I will never be just like any African girl. It is not really where I grew up, I have to be aware and accepting of the fact that I am an African from the diaspora. This has helped to recreate my sense of African-ness, outside of Africa, and belonging to a new form of African identity that is not based on where I am from. If we want to see ourselves in diverse ways and represent Africa in diverse ways through existence and various spaces, this also counts for people like us, from the diaspora.
Your co-dependency series draws attention to the importance of discerning lessons from the past in a way that creates the space to adapt aspects of heritage so that we can thrive in our present. Can you talk about the lessons that you have learned from your engagement with your heritage?
In the last few years, part of my decolonization process has involved not only decolonizing from harmful Eurocentric practices but also to look at my heritage and see it for what it is, from where I am and judge it accordingly. It is not a judgement of how bad it is, but to understand that it may have been something that suited the people at the time. I think that it is the job of every generation to create a better future for the next generation. Perhaps our offspring will change what we thought was so divine and revolutionary. We should not have to repeat the same things over. My co-dependency series has brought up questions surrounding what it means to be a good African child. From my engagement, it feels as if our culture has not been one of questioning, more so, one of repeating.
When I look at my mum I am honoured by her efforts to change, she fought hard to keep things the way they were, but not at the expense of having a healthy relationship with her children. She was willing to discuss with us, which she never got to do when she was growing up. She would tell us about her upbringing, which has been so important for me and my sisters and provided the space for us to review our heritage and talk about how we pass it on. Also, to be able to ask questions like ‘is this healthy?’ ‘do we still need this?’ ‘are we still benefiting from this or are we just carrying this baggage because it is part of heritage?’ Having this space to decide what to take and what to leave has been very helpful for me.
On the topic decolonization, both from a Eurocentric perspective as well as rigid notion of an African perspective, what tools have helped you in carrying out this process?
I would say that it has been a ripple effect, I cannot specifically point to one tool. The biggest things for me came from my discomfort in my previous existence. I just felt like, “this does not seem to make sense”, there was a lack of grounding in my existence, especially being from the diaspora. I felt like I was caught between two cultures, and not really belonging to either fully. I felt a desire to understand how I could create a foundation and a sense of grounding. I had to question a lot of things. Once my religion fell apart, this acted as a big catalyst for the rest of the process. Once I walked away from my religion I then began to ask myself “what now?” and “what else is there that I have taken on as fact, but is not necessarily fact?” Losing my religion, opened up my curiosity to unbox other things. It made me see the whole world as a Matrix, where I started questioning everything. My decolonization in connection to my African heritage was what really skyrocketed my confidence and self-esteem. During my Masters degree I started reading the book ‘Yurugu’ by Marimba Ani and I really resonated with how she questioned the whole existence of life. It really sparked my desire to apply a holistic approach to understanding life. From this approach you see how interconnected everything is. That book was also a major tool for me. I believe that everything that is human made or human sustained can always be questioned.
On the topic of holistic and slow living, what does this mean in practice for you?
My biggest inspiration is mother nature. Being holistic and practicing slow and mindful living relates to paying attention to life and being intentional with your actions and choices. Also knowing that you have the power within, and that you have a specific path, and allowing this for others too. When I look at nature and how diverse and holistic it is, everything creates a certain balance. We humans with our lack of understanding of this, unfortunately, our creating chaos. I think about how I become in harmony with that which has always been, the source of my existence. For me this relates to being holistic and seeing things from a broader perspective and seeing the connection of things.
With slow living it has been important to have this approach. Growing up in the Western world, you jump out of your mum’s womb and people expect you to be on this treadmill, running at full speed until you die or retire. I felt a strong need to jump off the treadmill and ask myself “where do I want to go and at what pace do I want to pursue this?” I see this as a reminder as slow living is not something that I have mastered. When you live in a world that is different from how you want to live, and most people do things differently than how you would love to do them, you often find yourself being drawn back in. I create daily practices that help me to re-centre and ground myself to remind myself of my passions and ideals.
What other projects do you have lined up?
For my next project, which is a more personal one, I really want to know what it means to fully live with a spirit of implementation from the knowledge that you have gained. I have been with myself for 29 years and I have gotten to learn about myself a lot, and I should know what I need to really thrive. Often times, we are in the realm of collecting, which is important. I feel like now, I am ready to go higher and see a higher potential for myself instead of trying out things. I plan to document and share this and show what happens when you get to spend time with yourself, and practice self-love and self-care.
Connect with May
All images published with permission.