In honor of the International Day of Peace, BARKA’s Co-Founders Ina & Esu Anahata, and Kodjo Bance and Karim Combari, two members of the Burkina Faso Delegation visiting the USA since August, were invited to lead the service at the UU Church in Bangor. They also comprise the BARKA Djembe Troupe which began and ended the service with drumming that had everyone in the congregation on their feet dancing. This service was followed by a Drum Class and workshop by Master Djembe drummer, Kodjo Bance, for about 20 community members.

Esu gave a sermon on the theme of BARKA’s motto: Peace, Water & Wisdom, and spoke of the spiritual underpinnings of BARKA’s work and how he and Ina came to Burkina and why they co-created BARKA Foundation. Here is a transcript:

In honor of yesterday’s International Day of Peace, I’d like to begin with a Peace Day message from Antonio Guterres, the United Nations Secretary General. He says:

Peace is at the heart of all our work at the United Nations. And we know peace is much more than a world free of war.

It means resilient, stable societies where everyone can enjoy fundamental freedoms and thrive rather than struggle to meet basic needs.

Today peace faces a new danger: the climate emergency, which threatens our security, our livelihoods and our lives.

That is why it is the focus of this year’s International Day of Peace.

And it’s why I am convening a Climate Action Summit.

This is a global crisis.

Only by working together can we make our only home peaceful, prosperous and safe for us and future generations.

On this International Day of Peace, I urge all of you: take concrete climate action and demand it of your leaders.

This is a race we can and must win.

I’d like to begin my talk today with how we came to find meaning and purpose in a small landlocked country in the heart of West Africa called Burkina Faso, which literally means the land of upright (or honest) people.

Ina and I met through our spiritual teacher, Dr. Malidoma Patrice Some. His name Malidoma means to make friends with the enemy, a fitting theme for discussion about peace. In his case, the enemy, or stranger, was the white man, and he has devoted his life to teaching a western audience about his indigenous culture, and particularly what he refers to as indigenous African spiritual technology. He introduced us to the grief ritual and the elemental rituals of earth, water, fire, nature and mineral, he implanted traditional African shrines here on Turtle Island that had never been brought to America before, and he introduced us to Initiation. All of this was done in community, creating a deep sense of belonging and groundedness in its participants, what he often referred to as finding our indigenous selves.

When Malidoma began bringing westerners to his village in Burkina Faso to work directly with the shamans and medicine keepers who have been holding on to this spiritual tradition that has been unbroken for thousands of years, we followed him there. The profound power of this work affected us on such a deep level that Ina likes to say these healers twiddled the dials of our DNA in order to align us with a deep sense of purpose, with the reason we were born at this time in order to do this work that has brought us together. We both had been living very different lives before we co-created The BARKA Foundation. We both had the feeling of being spiritually called to do this work, deep in the marrow of our bones, we heard a Spirit Call. It was something we could not turn away from… we could only surrender to it. The fact that we were falling in love in the process made this a journey not only of purpose but also one of passion… and not just passion for each other but an undying passion for the work that unfolded before us. So we jumped off. Years later we hosted a radio program called Jumping Off with Ina & Esu in which we played our field recordings, African music, and talked about Burkina all the time– one of the greatest compliments we ever received was that we were relentless.   So yes, while holding hands, we jumped out of our former lives and into the unknown, with faith and courage and love and passion and surrender… and yes, relentlessness, because that too is a necessary ingredient to sustain us on a lifelong journey that we knew would be nothing shy of daunting.

The origins of BARKA were really about wanting to share the wisdom of indigenous culture with the modern world. It was as simple as that. We had seen how this indigenous wisdom had changed our lives, what it had to offer a post-modern world on the brink of self-destruction. Like Malidoma, we wanted to share it… we had a deep faith in the power of Africa’s spiritual traditions and practices, and we knew the world needed this medicine, and so our original intention was to be an agent of change in bringing balance to the planet. A modest ambition… But within a few years, as we continued traveling to Burkina, and gained a better understanding of life and culture and the real needs of people in Burkina Faso, our mission evolved. It all boiled down to 3 words which we felt encapsulated everything: Peace, Water & Wisdom.

Part 1. Peace

We consider BARKA’s work to be a form of peace in action. We’ve never looked at peace as something passive or abstract, but rather something that you must actively build with concrete action, planning, and perseverance. We approach that in Burkina Faso through a process of active listening to the communities we serve. For us, this “development” work we do is all about building what the UN calls “a culture of peace”. But that word development is a tricky one for us, it’s a word we tend not to use– because we don’t see poor countries as undeveloped- quite the contrary we see a great deal of sophistication and creativity in life in Burkina… Burkinabe have to be resourceful and use every aspect of themselves just to survive. Yet according to UNDP’s Human Development Index, Burkina is among the least developed countries, ranking 183 out of 189 nations in the world. Of course, they’re defining development as everything from rates of sanitation coverage and maternal and infant mortality to Gross Domestic Product. Still, the way we like to see development is best defined by Bradford Morse, in his Foreward to Pierre Pradervand’s Listening to Africa, in which he says development is “a process intended to enlarge and expand the confidence, the capacity, and the creativity of human beings and thus to enrich their lives and improve their futures.”  He further states that “cultural, social and spiritual dimensions deserve equal- perhaps higher– places in the gallery of development than material consideration… no approach to development can succeed unless it emerges from and is supported by the creativity and commitment of those it is intended to benefit.”

In this sense of the word, you can see how instrumental development is in achieving peace. No development, no peace.

But there’s at least one other prerequisite for attaining peace- to explain I’m going to tell you a little story of something that happened to me last week.

Ina and I live in unorganized territory T3ND just a few feet off of a pristine spring-fed lake in NW Hancock county. Ina has turned this peety loamy forest floor into a beautiful and picturesque garden bursting with color and life. She does the same thing in Burkina Faso too. After saying my prayers at our Ancestor shrine on the top of a hill, I was stopped in my tracks by the beauty of my surroundings. I felt the power of this place, its energy was humming- I wished I had a camera and then remembered that we all carry one in our mind: The sun was beginning to set and the long golden rays of light were illuminating some of the shrines we have on the land—a Mineral shrine to honor the collective memory held in bones and stones, the shrine to the 7 Directions- East, West, North, South, Up, Down and Inward, and the shrine to the aliens from other planets, universes and dimensions. I was looking down a hill in a forest of hemlock, cedar and pine. Beyond the trees was the lake, reflecting the sun’s vibrations. I felt the peace of this moment, and just then, my heart exploded with love- love for Ina, for she is the one who created this space, she is its primary caretaker, its architect and its sculptor. So as the cup in my heart was running over, I thought of how essential love is in the creation, maintenance and sustenance of peace. In the creation of peace, I think maybe at the center of peace, there is love. No love, no peace.

Peace and love- the hippies got it right.

{Not if Ina mentioned} The last thing I want to say about peace is that Burkina Faso is in dire need of it right now. The country is being destroyed by terrorists. The incredible social cohesion that Burkina is renowned for is coming apart as terrorists exploit ethnic tensions that exist between animal herders and pastoralists. So we want to ask you all for your prayers of peace for Burkina. Barka.

Part 2. Water

Last year, as part the Water Fair we produced on World Water Day, BARKA Foundation established a Peace Pole in Fada N’Gourma, the city where we’re based. We see an integral link between water and peace.

I remember the outrage Ina and I both experienced at seeing the social injustice of women walking for miles to get water. This was 15 years ago before everyone knew about it. I remember the extraordinary generosity of people who had nothing and their willingness to share their food and water and culture with us. In Burkina, when a stranger arrives at your doorstep, the first thing you do is give them water, your most precious resource. It is a sign of welcome, of blessing and of abundance. When people make up after a fight and having said harsh things to each other, in Burkina you swish your mouth out with water and spit to release and cleanse the things you said in the heat of battle. Malidoma taught us that in his spiritual tradition, water is about grief, forgiveness, reconciliation, healing, gratitude and ultimately peace.

From 2008 through 2015, BARKA was focused solely on water projects, and often project combining water, sanitation and hygiene- 3 sides of one coin. More recently, our work has led us in new directions- supporting farmers to mitigate against a changing climate through sustainable agriculture, agroecology and permaculture; supporting girls and women through menstrual hygiene management, an issue that is stigmatized in Burkina and keeps girls from finishing their education- only 1% of girls in Burkina graduate from high school. This program developed out of the hygiene work we were doing in schools where we were drilling wells. So water has led us in every step we’ve taken, water is the hub and every other project is a spoke of the wheel.

Part 3. Wisdom

When we distilled BARKA’s mission into the 3-word motto of Peace, Water & Wisdom, the wisdom we’re really talking about is indigenous wisdom- not just from Burkina but of indigenous cultures from all over the world. The global community owes a debt to indigenous cultures which have held knowledge for millennia of how to live in harmony and symbiosis with the planet. Malidoma introduced us to the concept of reciprocity with the indigenous paradigm- this was the first time I heard the word used in this context. He spoke of indigenous cultures’ reciprocity with the natural world, a kind of balance with natural law and the ecological landscape. Ina and I felt that this was at least one key missing ingredient in the global dialogue on climate change. We can’t just keep taking from Mother Earth without replenishing what we took and expect our resources to last forever. We can’t keep growing our economies indefinitely on a planet with rising population and shrinking natural resources. And of course, we all know that climate change is affecting the poorest countries first. The ones that are least responsible for the change are the ones suffering the most because of it. We here in the West, in the US, who are on top of society must realize that our lifestyle of over-consumption is being afforded and subsidized by poor developing countries- like Burkina Faso which is now the 4th largest exporter of gold in Africa- yet its own population sees less than 1% of the wealth generated from the gold mined within its borders.

People have levied a criticism on development work that is related to the climate issue and consumption. The criticism, for which until recently I didn’t really have a good response, has to do with overpopulation. Our work in Burkina is arguably saving lives. Yet there are people who have said the world is already overpopulated, how do you justify saving lives when there aren’t enough resources to go around? I give thanks to Kumi Naidoo, the head of Amnesty International, former head of Greenpeace, who put this argument in its place last week with Amy Goodman on an episode of Democracy Now. He said that not only must we break this idea that happiness comes from more and more consumption, we must have the wisdom to ask the right questions and frame the issue correctly. The average American generates the same level of carbon dioxide emissions as 583 people from Burundi, and one can argue that the number wouldn’t be much different for a person from Burkina Faso. That’s not even the highest. The average person from Saudi Arabia has a carbon footprint equivalent to 719 people from Burundi. So this really isn’t a question of having too many people as much as it is an issue of a small number of people using up an inordinate amount of the planet’s resources. Kumi Naidoo also rightly pointed out that if you want to truly address overpopulation, look no further than gender equality, because as you empower women, family size goes down.

There is injustice practically everywhere you look in the world, however, I want to end on a positive note regarding climate action… It seems like people are waking up, doesn’t it? This past week has created the most powerful energizing moment in the history of the global fight against the climate crisis. And who is leading the charge? Not our politicians, nor our scientists or teachers or religious leaders, not even NGOs, it’s coming from the youth.

More than 1 million students walked out of school this past Friday in a global climate strike. Strikes were organized in over 170 countries. One of the chief architects of this inspired action was Greta Thurnberg, a 16-year old who also happens to be on the autism spectrum.

The following day, Saturday, September 21 was Peace Day, and the UN held a Youth Summit on Climate. This will be followed by the UN’s Climate Action Summit tomorrow in NY where global leaders and heads of state are being asked simply to come with solutions to the problem.

Maybe the Trump administration’s policies of rolling back environmental regulations are having a positive effect on people and companies and states because we’re all realizing that it’s in our hands and we’re the ones we’ve been waiting for. In the words of Hillel the Elder, the Jewish sage and scholar, If not us, who? If not now, when?

And lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t also point out that wisdom is also embodied by the two guests we have with us today from Burkina. Karim and Kodjo are both guardians of their cultures. They are both wary of modern technology and actively practice their own indigenous spiritual traditions. I have a document on my phone called Kojo’s wise words in which I frantically try to write and capture the pearls of wisdom that frequently drop from Kojo’s mouth. Karim has been our friend, spiritual interpreter and cultural/spiritual guide since we met him in 2005. On that first trip when we met, Karim worked tirelessly on our behalf for 3 straight weeks- he did all the hard work, the dirty work, the unrewarding grunt work, and did it all without a complaint. On the last day we were together, unbeknownst to us, he gathered up his dance troupe and performed a startling traditional dance which quite simply blew our minds. We happened also to have videotaped it and you can find it now on youtube. Karim is also an actor, part of BARKA’s theatre troupe which performs plays to sensitize the population on various topics. Kojo is not only a master drummer, he is also an impeccable artist. His artwork will be on display after the service and before his drum workshop at 1 this afternoon. We trust both Karim and Kodjo with our lives. We’re so grateful to able to share their wisdom and gifts with the UU community today, and to share a little bit of the story, the spirit and the power of BARKA. As Kojo says, the spirit of BARKA is not a small one. Thank you. Barka.