The river is our mother…the land is our mother
I have just attended a workshop, River Women, down on Dartmoor. It was run by dance and movement artist and musician, Denise Rowe and was about connecting to our ancestors and the land. I have been interested in my ancestors and recently researched my family tree mainly on my father’s side. When I think of ancestors – especially on the female line – I can now name real people; Iris, Eileen, Alice, Frances… but about their lives, I know little.
In a village hall, we lay on the floor and moved gently, stretching our spines, loosening our joints, feeling our backs into the floor. I heard somewhere that we hold our pasts in the small of our backs. Denise brought out a mbira – a spiritual African instrument – and sang gently while she played it. The mbira dzavadzimu is the voice of the ancestors to the Shona people of Zimbabwe. It is important for cultural identity and is brought out at religious ceremonies. The music calls to the ancestors who are believed to be closest to the gods. Their spirits are invited into a spirit medium who is then able to assist with community problems.
The notes fell like water in a mesmerising stream of music. We drew pictures and wrote whatever came to us. Then we took ourselves to Newbridge on the River Dart and shared lunch in a grassy meadow. The sun emerged and warmed us. Denise told us about a project she is working on to remember the persecution of witches back in the Middle Ages, Dolls. She wants to gather five million little cloth dolls and suspend them from trees over Dartmoor so they can dance freely. We spent a few minutes making little dolls to add to the collection.
The afternoon session began with various exercises such as walking barefoot in silence keeping our focus forwards, relating to trees and other natural objects aware of their being and retaining a respectful space. Eventually we arrived at a stretch of the river where the banks were green with trees, ferns and moss. We each chose a site on the bank to settle in, to move in and to move from within ourselves not from our minds. In silence for an hour, taking in the river, I felt held by the land beneath the aspens, the oaks and the sycamores. It was lovely to see women curled up in the mossy embrace of the earth.
wander in dream her banks
with joy and grief in your heart,
give your soul the earth
a soft singing
she hears, she hears