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Spiritualists organize against petrochemical encroachments.

I stood in my habitual place, with sudden alarm and consternation beholding the sea as if for the first time higher than the city’s ground: the blowing restless flag and shawl was all around me and about . . . I felt I was a ghost standing in a vain exposed position . . . My alarm grew on beholding my toy city, the mechanics of an old buried town, buried long, long ago it seemed beneath the flag of the sea.  

—Wilson Harris, “Spirit of the Sea Wall” 

Jumbi Justice is a brief filmic exploration of Spiritualists’ efforts to organize against petrochemical encroachments in Guyana. As ExxonMobil has begun to extract billions of barrels from Guyana’s newfound offshore reserves, climate scientists warn that coastal areas, where 90 percent of the population resides, will be underwater by 2030. Toxic pollution also now threatens most of Guyana’s freshwater and ocean resources.  

Religious communities are taking the dangers to their lives, livelihoods, and ecologies seriously, with some joining in solidarity despite historically vexed ethnoracial patterns to protest the coloniality of the nation’s new petro-economy. Practitioners of an African diasporic ritual idiom called Komfa are galvanizing support for current litigations presented by alarmed citizens against both Exxon and the Guyana government. For Spiritualists, the primary proponents of the emerging protest movement are Jumbies, the departed who are often reductively glossed as “ghosts” or “spirits.” Jumbies are ancestors of all backgrounds, and many Guyanese understand them to encompass nonhuman entities: rivers, mountains, trees, insects, and others to whom the living are obliged to listen.  

The call to action has been led by Bassidy Dolly, the Guyana Rainforest Bag-Lady—a Jumbi guide and copresence to novelist and activist Joan Cambridge. Dolly’s mystic vision and message appeal for a nationwide, intercultural Jumbi Jamboree, through which ancestors can summon the living to unity in action to sustain Guyana. Drums are a Jumbi language that speak to many Guyanese, and the Jamboree is envisioned as a forum to help people collectively voice their concerns knowing they are guided by the strength of their forebears.  

The film provides a fleeting yet intimate account of racialized religious politics at the intersection of ecological crisis. Dolly instructs that conceptualizing “community” to include both living and deceased relations—human and more-than-human beings—is key to the strategies of resistance that Jumbies have long provided their Spiritual family.  

English Transcript

I know that I catch Komfa. And I think it’s after that first time that I get to know this crazy lady who does talk to me, named Bassidy. Okay?

It’s a deep deep blackness that does suddenly overtake you. You listening to the drums and all of a sudden you lost in this blackness, a deep deep deep deep deep impenetrable blackness.

I just knew that I was somewhere in that blackness.

You know, there’s only one way to deal with what’s happening now. And I think if we all were to take a pause. You know. I mean just let this be a pause in our history, our collective history. And I’m not just talking about Guyanese, I’m talking to people all over the world. And think, what can we do to dig ourselves out of the future that we see? Because I’m sure we’re seeing it, I’m not the only one seeing it. And it seems to me the only solution is a creative solution. I think most everybody everywhere must know Brother Bob Marley’s song: there’s a natural mystic blowing through the air. If you listen very carefully you will hear. You know. It’s an all-consuming, all-encompassing energy that comes from the ancestors. And it comes from Mother Nature Herself. From the trees and the animals, the air we breathe, the rivers, the rapids in the waterfalls, the sounds of the birds in the forest. It’s all around us. You know. I…I…I…We have to be able to transcend all that’s happening to us, and to tune-in to that mystical power, which is begging us, well begging us, which is suggesting to us in ways that we’re not listening to, how we can rally together in unity to get out of this current mess we’re in. To unite in this statement that we have to make at this juncture of history to tell ExxonMobil, you know, who are conspiring with the administrators of our country to continue to establish a twenty-first century version of the plantation. And I am just sharing what’s suggested to me now through that spiritual connection with the ancestors: they’re calling on us to join forces and protest that future we see, that dreaded future we see. And all those who can put a stop to it are not heeding, they’re not heeding. They have got to hear the voices of the people, and I think the voices of the people can resound through the drums. All the drums of the diverse Guyanese people.

I see it happening. I call it a Jumbi Jamboree.

We need to listen to our Jumbies. You know. We need to listen to our Jumbies. We need to stop bad-talking Spirituality and pay more attention to the message of the Jumbies, because Jumbies see all. I love Jumbies. Jumbies are the connection between the past, and the future. And if we don’t find a way of living our contemporary lives that project a better picture of our children for the future we’ll remain in this historical treadmill getting nowhere. Getting nowhere in a hurry. We have to connect with our Jumbies. The Jumbies are the expressive voices and messages of our ancestors. It’s our connection with the future in the contemporary life. Jumbies can define our history which we must write, and it must not be written for us. The Jumbi calling for Jumbi justice and they ain’t got no more powerful justice than that.

Now that’s the message I’m getting from Clarise [Dolly’s predecessor]. I know. I. You might as well say I’m Bassidy Dolly the Guyana Rainforest Bag-lady, because I ain’t getting none of these messages except through she. And she’s a Jumbi. She’s my Jumbi.

What else is there? What else is there? What else can we do? Bring out the drums, bring out the tasso, bring out the bongo, bring out the tom-tom, and the tangu. You know? Let’s talk about it. Let’s start thinking about all those ancestors. All. The great ones. The not-so-great ones. The close ones. The ones who nurtured us. All of those spirits. Those living spirits. All the Spiritualists. We don’t bad-talk anybody’s spirituality, you know, just use it. To see us through our spiritual ancestral connection. We can find a way to unify.

The ancestors are all waiting to join force, to join forces to serve the injunction on history. Not just people of African descent’s ancestors but all the ancestors. And how can we do it? The idea that is being suggested to me through Bassidy Dolly is with the drums. The drums. All drums.  

How do I get in touch with Bassidy Dolly? You know, how do I get in touch with Bassidy Dolly? I ain’t know about you, but I does catch Komfa. And I’m gon tell you how I does catch Komfa: the drums, the drums. From the beating of the drums.

Creolese Transcript

Ai noo dat Ai kech komfa. An a tink iz aafta da fos taim dat Ai get to noo dis kreezii leedii huu doz taak to mi – neem Baazidii.  Okee? 

Iz a diip diip blaknis dat doz sodunlii oovotek yo. Yo lisnin to dii dromz an aal-ov-a-sudun

yo laas in dis blaknis, a diip diip diip diip impenitrebil blaknis.  Ai jus nyuu dat Ai woz sumweer in dat blaknis.

Yuu noo, deer’z oonlii waan wee to diil wid wo’z hapnin nou.  An ai tink if wii aal woz to tek a paaz. Yuu noo? Ai miin jus le dis bii a paaz in ouwa histoorii, ouwa kolektiv histoorii. (An Ai en jos taakin about Gaiyaniiz, Ai’m taakin to piipl aal ova dii worl.) an tink wo kyan wii duu to dig ouwaself out ov dii fuucho dat wii sii. Biikaaz Ai’m shoor wii’r siiyin it, Ai’m nat dii oonlii waan siin it.

An it siims to mii dii oonlii soluushon iz a kriiyeetif soluushon. Ai tink moos evriibadii evriiweer mus noo Bruda Bab Marlii saangh: deer’z a nachral mistik bloowin chruu dii eer. If yo lisen verii keerfulii yuu wil heer.

Y’noo. Iz a aal-konsuumin, aal-enkompasin enagii dat kom from dii ansestaz. An it komz from Muda Neechu Hurself. From di chriiz an di aniimals, dii eer wii briid, dii rivors, dii rapids in di watafaalz, di sounz o di burds in dii fares. I’z aal roun us. You noo.  Ai…Ai…Ai…

Wii hav to bii eebl to transen aal daz hapnin to us, an to chuun-in to dat mistikol powa, wich iz begin us, wel…begin us – wich sujestin to us in weez dat wii’r nat lisnin to, hou wii kyan ralii togedo in yuunitii to get out ov dis korent mes wii in.

To yuunait in dis steetment dat wii hav to meek at dis junkcha ov histoori to tel ExonMoobail,

yuu noo, huu aar konspairin wid dii adminischreeshon ov our kuntchrii to kontinyuu to establish a twenty-fors senchorii vorjon ov dii planteeshon.

An Ai am jos sheerin wo’z sojestid to mii nou – chruu dat spiritchol konekshon wid dii ansestaz: dee’r kaalin on us to jain foorsis an prootes dat fuucha wii sii, dat dredid fuucha wii sii.  An aal dooz huu kyan put a stap to it aar nat hiidin, dee’r nat hiidin.

Dee hav gat to heer di vaisiz ov dii piipl, an Ai tink dii vaisiz ov dii piipl kyan riizoun chruu dii dromz.  Aal dii dromz o dii daivors Gaiyaniiz piipl.

Ai sii it hapnin. Ai kaal it a Jumbii Jamboorii.

Wii niid to lisin to ouwa Jumbiiz. Yuu noo? Wii niid to lisin to ouwa Jumbiiz. Wii niid to stap baad-taakin Spiritchualitii an pee moor atenshon to di mesij o dii Jumbiiz. Biikaaz Jumbiiz sii aal.

Ai luv Jumbiiz. Jumbiiz aar the konekshon biitwiin dii paas, an dii fuucha.  An if wii doon fain a wee o livin ouwa kontemparerii laivz dat proojec a beta pikcha ov ouwa chilren fo dii fuucha wii’l riimeen in dis historikol treedmil – getin nooweer. Getin nooweer in a horii. Wii hav to konek wid ouwa Jumbiiz. Jumbiiz aar di ekspresiv vaisiz an mesijis ov ouwa ansestaz.

I’z ouwa konekshon wid dii fuucha in di kontemparerii laif.  Jumbiiz kyan diifain ouwa histoorii wich wii mos rait, an it mos bii riten bai us. Dii Jumbii kaalin fo Jumbii justis an dey en gat noo moo powaful justis dan dat.

Nou dat’z dii mesij Ai’m getin from Klaris [Daalii priidiiseso]. Ai noo. I.  Yuu mait-az-wel see Ai’m Baazidii Daalii Gaiyana Reen-fares Baag-leedii, biikaaz Ai en getin nun o diiz mesijis eksep chruu shii. An shii’z a Jumbii. Shii’z mai Jumbii.

Wat els iz deer? Wat els iz deer?  Wat els kyan wii duu? Bringh out di dromz, bringh out di tasoo, bringh out di bongo, bringh out dii tom-tom, an dii tanguu. Yuu noo? Le’s taak about it. Le’s staart tinkin about aal dooz ansestaz. Aal. Di greet waans. Di nat-soo-greet waans. Di kloos waans. Di waans huu nurchurd us.

Aal ov dooz spirits. Dooz livin spirits.  Aal dii Spiritchualis. Wii doon baad-taak eniibaadii spiritchualitii, yuu noo, jos yuuz it. To sii us chruu ouwa spiritchual ansestral konekshon. Wii kyan fain a wee to yuuniify.

Di ansestaz aar aal weetin to jain fors, to jain forsiz to sorv dii injonkshon on histoorii. Nat jos piipl ov Afriikan diisent ansestaz bot aal dii ansestaz. An hou kyan wii duu it? Dii aidee dat iz biin sojestid to mii chruu Baazidii Daalii iz wid dii dromz. Dii dromz. Aal dromz. Hou duu Ai get in tuch wid Baazidii Daalii? Yuu noo, hou duu Ai get in tuch wid Baazidii Daalii? Ai ent noo about yuu, bot Ai doz kech Komfa. An Ai’m gon tel yuu hou Ai doz kech Komfa: di dromz, di dromz. From di biitin ov di dromz.  


Jeremy Jacob Peretz

Jeremy Jacob Peretz teaches cultural and Caribbean studies at the University of Guyana. He holds a BA in anthropology and PhD in culture and performance, both from UCLA. His scholarship has been widely recognized, most recently with the Caribbean Studies Association’s Best Dissertation Award of 2022.

Joan Cambridge-Mayfield

Joan Cambridge-Mayfield is an activist, former leading member of Guyana’s press corps, and author of the critically acclaimed novel Clarise Cumberbatch Want to Go Home. In the 1980s Joan walked away from her appointed scholar’s desk at the US Library of Congress to study for two decades in Guyana’s rainforests.

Cite as

Peretz, Jeremy Jacob and Joan Cambridge-Mayfield. 2023. “Ancestral Intervention for Guyana .” Anthropology News website, August 9, 2023.