jAMBALAYA SPIRIT WORKS, PART 1, GUEST LECTURE BY IYA OYA DEI (AFRICAN AMERICAN ANCESTOR REVERENCE), august 11, 2019
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The Elegant Elder Masterclass/Guest Lecture with Iya Oya Dei
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Iya Oya Dei's Bio
Iya Oya Dei a/k/a Wanda Ravernell wears many hats in a life that weaves the secular and sacred and where one set of skills or knowledge informs the other. She is executive director and visionary of Omnira Institute, a nonprofit formed in 2011 whose mission is to recover and preserve the roots of African American culture by reintroducing and reaffirming the historic and psychic links to West African cultural and spiritual tradition.
The institute does this through its performing arm, Awon Ohun Omnira, (Voices of Freedom) and serves as the narrator for its performances. She has been the administrator and booking agent as well as the publicist for all of its activities since its start in 2009.
A former journalist who worked for 20 years in the newspaper business at the Alameda Newspaper Group, the Sacramento Bee and The San Francisco Chronicle, she also was an activist for minority journalists including developing and implementing a workshop for minority high school journalists.
“It was the spirit of one of my friends who said that I ‘obey the wind,’” Ravernell said. “I had never thought of it that way, but there were ideas that came to me and I was compelled to follow though. With all of those ideas, I thought someone else could do it better than me, had more of a stake in the outcome than me. But spirit, and Oya, had other ideas.”
Beginning in 2003, Ravernell developed and implemented a Juneteenth ritual commemorating the Emancipation Proclamation including many of the faiths of the captives who would become slaves during the Slave Trade Era, including the First Nation. The same year she organized a Sunday school for practitioners of Lucumi, the West African faith tradition she follows as tit found expression in Cuba. It ended in 2006.
Beginning in 2009 to the present, Ravernell developed and implemented several lecture demonstrations drawing on African traditional knowledge and applied it to African American history using a choir comprised of members of an African American church and the Lucumi community, who also provided the musical framework and expertise of the sacred drum tradition known as Bata.
The choir, Awon Ohun Omnira (Voices of Freedom) is led by her husband, Tobaji Stewart, a renowned master of the Bata drums, sung liturgy for the ancestors (Oro Egun) and the forces of nature known as Orisha (Aranla). He also has intructed the choir in doing the ‘Ring Shout,’ the vestige of African spirituality still practiced in the United States by their mentors, the McIntosh County Shouters.
In 2014, Ravernell led the institute in developing and staging the first Black-Eyed Pea Festival, held first in Oakland’s Mosswood Park and then on the lawn of Oakland Technical High School. In 2016, ’17 and ‘18, OI was invited by the Dia De Los Muertos committee of the Oakland Museum to create ofrendas at the community celebration to honor first the martyrs of the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Panther Party; men and women killed by police in the Bay Area; and support the main altar dedicated to men and male energy.
Concerned about the impact of the deaths of young, black men and women at the hands of the police, Ravernell, with Tobaji Stewart, decided to bring healing through traditional music to the surviving families. They have worked with Cephus “Uncle Bobby”Johnson, the uncle of Oscar Grant who was killed by BART police in 2009 and Phelicia Jones with Wealth Disparities in the Black and Brown Community: Justice for Mario Woods campaign. Woods was killed by S.F. Police in 2015.
In 2016, she led OI in reviving ‘Grave-Sweeping Day,’ a cultural observance among African Americans a few generations ago. Calling it the African American Day of the Ancestors, it has been held the first Sunday in November since. It parallels the Latino Dia de Los Muertos, Haiti’s Papa Gede celebration and the All Saints’ Day of New Orleans. It takes place at the Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland where the mass grave holding victims of the Jonestown massacre of 1978 are buried.
Ravernell received the 2010 Negro Spirituals Heritage Award from the Friends of Negro Spirituals, a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of the music. In 2015, through Ravernell, the institute received a Certificate of Recognition from California State Assemblyman Nate Thurmond. In 2018, Awon Ohun Omnira was represented in “The Sounds of Californa,” a program mounted by the Alliance for California Traditional Arts that has been archived in the Smithsonian Institute. In 2019, Awon Ohyun Omnira was invited to perform in the prestigious Ethnic Dance Festival.
To do the work of the institute, Ravernell has secured funding from ACTA, Zellerbach, Akonadi, Clorox foundations, the FAITHS initiative at the San Francisco Foundation, the California Endowment, Oakland Cultural Development Fund and most recently a capacity-building grnt from TSFF. Ravernell is an active member of AOO and assists Tobaji Stewart in organizing classes and workshops with written materials, programs and outreach
important! Notice of Copyright and Permission of Use
The course content program and materials of Jambalaya Spirit Works, Part 1 (including and not limited to audios, videos, text files, and weekly class lessons) belongs to and is the copyright of Yeye Luisah Teish and, as applicable any associated guest instructors.