Episode 55: Sobonfu Some – Part 1: Welcoming the Soul Home Through Initiation
“Thank you Duncan for all the ways that you are enabling people to share their wisdom, and also for holding the torch for everybody to know how to find their way, and for just having a golden heart. I just so appreciate you. It is always so great to talk to you and to see the bright light you always shine on so many different subject matters. So thank you.” - Sobonfu Some
“For all that you’ve done Sobonfu I just want to honor you and just thank you. It’s been such a pleasure just to get to know you. And what I really appreciate about you is your ability to feel the depth of all of this range of challenges and sorrow and isolation, and as you put it loneliness and boredom, that are part of our world and yet find this beautiful sunny brilliance of spirit and humor especially to share with the world as you have.” - Duncan Campbell
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Part 1 of a 3-Part Dialogue:
Let me begin by introducing my great friend Sobonfu Some. Sobonfu was born and raised in Burkina Faso, the former Upper Volta in Africa, and she is an initiated member of the Dagara tribe of West Africa. Her voice was one of the first in recent times to bring African spirituality to the West. She continually travels the world, conducting seminars and workshops that offer her perspective on birth, pregnancy, community, healing, intimacy, rituals, the sacred quality of everyday life and much more. She is the founder of Ancestors’ Wisdom Spring, and her books include Welcoming Spirit Home: Ancient African Teachings to Celebrate Children and Community; The Spirit of Intimacy:
Ancient Teachings in the Ways of Relationships; and Falling out of Grace.
As I mentioned in the last of the three dialogues on this site with myself and Coleman Barks (listen to Program 54 and see its Episode Description), we in modern industrial cultures “need to balance both the modern mind’s excessive emphasis on the mental (which can leave us feeling, in the poet Rumi’s words, “empty and frightened” in our fragmented, specialized culture, often lacking a rich, nourishing sense of community), with our indigenous heritage of appreciating the embrace of the earth...We need to develop this dynamic equipoise of spirit and soul in order to develop our own elderhood, as Rumi did in his time, in order to meet the challenges of the 21st century, to create not just a localized sanity, but a planetary civilization which can communicate with and within all of its component parts so we don’t just self-destruct”. In imparting her birth tradition’s ancient teachings, often through the intimate and (to us) amazing yet accessible details of her own lived experience that we describe and situate in these dialogues, Sobonfu, in the words of Alice Walker, is a teacher that “can help us put together so many things that our modern Western world has broken”.
In this first Dialogue we explore the extraordinary (to those of us in modern cultures) initiations which welcomed Sobonfu’s spirit into this world and prepared here for her soul’s unfoldment and revealed to her her life’s purpose and mission. As I mention in this dialogue, the “hearing ritual” which took place while Sobonfu was still in her mother’s womb and which she describes in this dialogue, is evocative of the recent work in the West of the brilliant Jungian James Hillman in his book The Soul’s Code and Caroline Myss in her Sacred Contracts (see Programs 17 and 18 on this site) in how we might discover our soul’s purpose. In Sobonfu’s words: “We had this ritual in my tribe and village because as a human being you always want your life to be a reflection of what you think you are creating and you are forgetting that there is something that the greater universe has in place for you.”
Here are some excerpts from this Part 1:
“Duncan: And I think now that its part of a whole process that seems to be awakening in different countries all over the world, where elders are being called forward from many indigenous cultures at this time. Organizations are being formed spontaneously as it were, as in the fulfillment of ancient prophecies that there would come a time when having lost something really essential in the human soul, we are now having to work together at an international transnational level with many different gifts coming from many different cultures to in a sense put it all back together again, that which has been broken. And some cultures to heal ourselves requires even going beyond our own culture.
Sobonfu: Yes, right! And as you know, many people say, the time is right, I agree. Especially with many indigenous communities that have held on to their own wisdom for so long and the world is changing. And the young people in those communities are not necessarily going to be the ones to unfold this wisdom. And so there is a need to have it be alive somewhere. And also because people are really ready for this kind of wisdom and are willing to receive them in the forms that they come without wanting to change them, dissect them, or make them look like something else. And that is the beauty in it, and of course, you know, each one of these tribes coming have wisdom, it is a conversion of all that bring together the truth. That the human soul and spirit is so craving. Because not just one way is going to make it work for us.
Duncan: And I think that’s the point, yes, for all of us…that we are all of us going through an initiation in a sense of being forced out of the comfort zone of whatever our particular village may be, literally or metaphorically as you were. And in a sense obliged to go out into a wider world and learn another language or several other emotional languages and to begin to weave a real planetary consciousness because it’s the only way that we are going to be healed. And I think of dialogue as an essential element of this. The dialogue between elders and youth in terms of age. The dialogue between elder cultures and you, younger cultures in terms of time on the planet. The dialogue between men and women. Because everyone in this participation has a particular wisdom and a particular knowledge to give including the younger cultures and young people. Things are changing so fast on the planet that elders don’t have all of the pieces of the puzzle, no matter how long they have been on the planet. And so they themselves need this revitalizing rejuvenating connection with the young who carry certain knowledge within them. And the young in turn need a certain kind of mentoring and embrace and respect in being seen by the elders in order to realize their full potential. So it’s such a beautiful but also very challenging initiation that we are being called to.
Sobonfu: Right. Absolutely. And it is an initiation that we have to go through if we are all going to survive. Now, there is no way of going around it.
Duncan: Well and that’s it. There is no way of going around it and so we go through it like a birth canal. We really can’t short circuit it in any way and we come as you put it so beautifully, to find the wisdom and the humor in failure, to find yourself in your core essence when you as you entitled one of your books, you fall out of grace. To find the way the children can be celebrated in community and the ongoingness of life even when you feel the most alienated, lets say, even from your own tradition. For all that you’ve done Sobonfu I just want to honor you and just thank you. It’s been such a pleasure just to get to know you. And what I really appreciate about you is your ability to feel the depth of all of this range of challenges and sorrow and isolation, and as you put it loneliness and boredom, that are part of our world and yet find this beautiful sunny brilliance of spirit and humor especially to share with the world as you have.
Sobonfu: Thank you! I feel the same. I am very honored to have you and the people who are really good and sincere friends, which is something to cherish these days when you find one. So thank you for being there with your golden and welcoming heart.
Duncan: I agree. When you do find a friend, and you find a friendly community it is something to be valued and cherished. And the community that we find that we find in your books, Sobonfu, is one such friend.”
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Sobonfu: Thank you for all the ways that you are enabling people to share their wisdom, and also for holding the torch for everybody to know how to find their way, and for just having a golden heart. I just so appreciate you.
Duncan: From time immemorial, beginning with indigenous councils and ancient wisdom traditions, through the work of Western visionaries such as Plato, Galileo, and quantum physicist David Beam, mutually participatory dialogue has been seen as the key to evolving and transforming consciousness. Evoking a flow of meaning, a dia flow of logos meaning beyond what any one individual can bring through alone. So join us now, as together with you, the active deep listener we evoke and engage in “Living Dialogues”
Duncan: Welcome to “Living Dialogues”. I am your host Duncan Campbell, and with me for this particular dialogue I’m really delighted to have my friend Sobonfu Some. Sobonfu was born and raised in Burkenafaso, the former Upper Volta in Africa, and she is an initiated member of the dagara tribe of West Africa. Her voice was one of the first to bring African spirituality to the West. She continually travels the world, conducting seminars and workshops that offer her perspective on birth, pregnancy, community, healing, intimacy, rituals, the sacred quality of everyday life and much more. She is the founder of Ancestor’s Wisdom Spring, and her books include “The Spirit of Intimacy”, “Ancient Teachings in the Ways of Relationships”, “Welcoming Spirit Home”, “Ancient African Teachings to Celebrate Children and Community”, and most recently, “Falling out of Grace”. So Sobonfu, it’s just a real delight to have this ability to have dialogue with you here on “Living Dialogues”.
Sobonfu: Oh thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Duncan: I thought one of the things we might do for those of our listeners that might not already be familiar with you and your work is to maybe just tell a story from the beginning, something that occurs to you as a starting point maybe in your childhood when you first had an inkling of what might happen in your life. And then what actually did happen, maybe describe to us a bit how it unfolded that you came from your tribe in West Africa here to the United States.
Sobonfu: Well as you say I come from Burkina Faso, one of the smallest countries in Africa, about the size of Collada and my tribe, the Dagara tribe lived in the southwestern part of Burkina Faso. And growing up in the village I definitely had a sense of having many mothers, many fathers, and I realized that with time that people often talked about the importance of names and also what people are to do in life. And one day my mother basically telling me, I know you are going to grow up and you are going to move away from me. And I was like, what a silly idea! Why would anyone want to move away from their family? And that thought basically stayed with me. And it kind of bothered me because my intention has never been to go away, even though my father was like a coccasoh tribe and we have traveled with him quite a bit around Burkina Faso. I never really thought about leaving my village because it was always such a beautiful place for me, a place of comfort to go back and rejuvenate. But unfortunately, things did not turn out the way I wanted to b/c when I became a teenager we have this ritual called initiation that all human beings go through to become and adult. And it was during that ritual that it really hit me that maybe I had a different path than what I had imagined growing up. And I realized that not only I had a lot to do but part of it would entail me leaving the village and I actually got kind of angry about it and I started to make up story of how I was going to be in the village, which did give a lot of grief to my mentor who was really trying to help me but realized she couldn’t do much about what I was going through and I was basically cornered with what was going on. And so I said I didn’t really like the stories that I was seeing in my initiation and what I wanted a story that would basically allow me to be in the village. and after the initiation and the mentoring the elders usually make arrangements to marry the young people to other young people b/c they watch them and try to find out whose lifestyle and purpose fits best with somebody else’s.
Duncan: Now how old were you Sobonfu at this time?
Sobonfu: I was 20 when all of this was happening. So I realized that I was going to be married to somebody that actually was not a) from my village and b) was actually not someone that I knew personally. And so that was another upheaval in the village b/c I realized that I wasn’t the only one who was struggling with the issue. Some of my parents were struggling with it, my siblings were struggling with it, because at least in the village it was somebody you knew the person and so forth, but here I was marrying somebody, some person, who was not around in the village. And even worse, you know, that don’t live anywhere in Africa but was living in the West. So after the elder asked me to think about it I said yes and then the wedding took place. I didn’t actually meet my husband until after we were married.
Duncan: He was in the United States when you got married?
Sobonfu: Exactly. He was studying in the US at that time.
Duncan: And one quick question before you go ahead. When you were in your initiation, ad these images came to you of your leaving the village, was this part of a kind of a visualization or something you saw or was this an instruction that you received from the elders.
Sobonfu: Oh no no. It’s basically like watching your own life unfold.
Sobonfu: It is a process of basically the elders first breaking down your old patterns and then trying to widen your horizons so you can see beyond yourself so you can see beyond the cocoon that you have built around yourself to begin to see what is happening. And sometimes what they will do is that they will have you know they will have like what designation for people who are also going to initiate at some point also. Where you can basically see your past life and where you are heading. You know, the general sense of where you are heading. And that’s where I saw the images about me leaving the village that was so disturbing to me.
Duncan: And do they do this by surrounding you with chanting or ritual singing or are you somewhere isolated in an enclosure in the dark or how exactly, what is the circumstance of the initiation?
Sobonfu: The circumstance of the initiation happened was basically a group of teenagers that were about your own age. For women it starts for instance at your first menstrual menstruation. And after that all the young girls who have menstruated that year are gathered and are sent away by a said group of elders who are then going to be putting them through different rituals. So if you want to describe it, it is basically a process where you go through one ritual after another. Not only opening you up, but also allowing for healing to happen and so forth. And there is also a journey to different dimensions and things like that.
Duncan: And do the elders in some way recall verbally your past life or do they just set an atmosphere in which those kinds of remembrances naturally come to you?
Sobonfu: No they set an atmosphere, which basically enables you to basically start to see your own life in the past and also in the future. And so after you come back they then compare the notes because when you are still in your mother’s womb, they do this ritual called the hearing ritual where they interrogate the mother to be. Not the mother to be, the child who is coming through to see whether the space they are creating for the baby is appropriate and what is the mission of the baby and how can they best support the baby and so the baby would take over the mothers voice and then speak back to the elders. And so the only information they have on you really except by experiencing you in direct life is the information they got from you during the hearing ritual. And the information that they got from the hearing ritual has to also match the information they get during the initiation.
Duncan: Well this is really quite fascinating from the point of view of the West because there has been of late as you may know a kind of, well lets call it a rebirth, after many centuries of a kind of a hyper rational modern mind scientism. In which people like Carolyn Mace for instance is going back and talking about how each of us has a mission that’s set before we actually come into being. And she talks as does James Hillman in his book “The Souls Code” about how before we come into being, before we were born, there is a mission that’s encoded in us that we are meant to fulfill here when we come into the community of the living.
Duncan: And James Hillman talks about Plato, and Plato in that time talking about the Greek Myth where you would receive your mission from the elders on the other side as it were, and then you would cross the river of forgetfulness so when you came into life, when you were actually born, you had to rediscover, at is were, what your mission was.
Duncan: And here, what I am hearing about the hearing ritual is also reminding me about the poet Wordsworth, where he said famously in the 19th century “we all come in trailing clouds of glory”
Duncan: meaning that every newborn already has one foot on the other side and then is being pulled into manifestation here and it sounds like when in your tradition, when this ritual is conducted that people are actually able through that ritual to evoke before the birth the knowingness of the infant itself as to why it is here.
Duncan: That’s really fascinating….yes….so they get actually that information because we have completely lost that ability in the West, its so long ago that even Plato talked about it being forgotten before being born, and I don’t know of any rituals in the West that have actually done this. It’s really fascinating.
Sobonfu: Yah. Definitely. It’s something that is exciting for people here and regarded as natural.
Duncan: Very ordinary, yes!
Duncan: But the interesting thing about the weave that’s happening for your even being called to the west I think Sobonfu is that you can communicate this kind of experience as having been ordinary and known to everyone in the tribe, and everyone participated in it and took it for granted, where in the west people like James Hillman or Carolyn Mace, when they are introducing this notion for maybe the first time in our contemporary civilization, since Plato, it comes as a surprise, and also one has a kind of recognition, that yes, that makes sense. And then we think of Wordsworth and his intuition and yes that does make sense and what they are beginning to do is to develop tools here in Western society to see how one can evoke and discover for ones self ones life mission if you will, in our adulthood.
Sobonfu: Right. Yah that would be great. There are so many people wondering whether they are here as tourists or whether they are really here for some reason. So that would definitely bring the purpose….
Duncan: The other interesting aspect of your story Sobonfu is when you came to consciousness again after your being in the womb and then having forgotten it when you came through and it being held by the elders, your sense of mission, and then you rediscovered it in the initiation, you didn’t really like it because it didn’t fit what your own personalistic expectation and desire was so you had to be persuaded to except this mission to leave the tribe.
Sobonfu: Right. Because as a human being you always want your life to be a reflection of what you think you are creating and you are forgetting that there is something that the greater universe has in place for you. And you know, as you say, your purpose may not necessarily be something you would want to do or you would like to do, but it is something you would have to do if you are to be alive.
Duncan: And that was the purpose of the mentors, to try to gently bring you into alignment with what they knew your purpose was, because if they allowed you to in your headstrong teenager resistance to actually resist it they knew that in the long run you would only be more unhappy.
Sobonfu: Right. Right. That is true!
Duncan: Lets then pick up the thread of the story, b/c it was certainly not easy, what happened next after you did get married, you described leaving your tribe and being sort of being plopped down in the middle of winter in Michigan in the US from West Africa it must have been an enourmous schock!
Sobonfu: Yes, to say the least! B/c in my village when it got down to 70 it was freezing cold!
Duncan: And your husband was in University in Western Michigan in one of the coldest parts of the US.
Sobonfu: That’s right, that’s right. And so I was naively coming to this place that I thought had the same temperature and ways of living. And much to my dismay, I got to Detroit and realized that, wait a minute, something is not right. But what was most amazing is that I was dressed very summer clothes with sandals and when I landed people were looking at me as if I was out of my mind, and of course I’m looking at them thinking, you know, my God, what is the matter with them?!
Duncan: They looked like they are really cold!
Sobonfu: I know! Well I was cold too, but I didn’t know what was making me cold. I figured that maybe something was happening but I didn’t really have a taste, you know, of the outside. And when I finally had gotten the luggage my husband got me this suit coat and I was like what do you want me to do with this. And he said, well you are going to need it, and I said I don’t want to wear something like this it is so heavy. And I just kept on asking him questions, and he said, you know what, I don’t have answers for your questions, just wear it!
Duncan: And this is was the first time you met your husband was in the airport in Detroit?
Sobonfu: Right, that actually sounds more like the second time. And he basically said that we should go out. And when I saw the snow from the distance I thought my God someone must have been really nuts to throw all this corn flour out here! And when I stepped on the outside I was running fast to the inside. And they are like whats the matter? And I was like I don’t know it’s too cold! And he said we do have to go out and I said I’m not going to go out. So that was my first experience arriving in Michigan. And then getting to the house and these people had come with him to welcome me. And they said if you cold, well here is a button and if you push it and it makes it really hot. Well I push it to the maximum, I don’t know, it was probably like 90 degrees. I was beginning to be comfortable. And they were just passing out. So, and also just living there and realizing there were all these modern American amenities that I’m not used to, and I just expected to have just like three stones and some wood. And also realizing, even though there are people in the building, you know you cannot just like run over and talk to them, and I couldn’t even speak to them because I didn’t even know English at that time. And so it brought me to a place where I completely, I felt like my identity was stripped away.
Sobonfu: And so the first time I experienced things that I never experienced, things like boredom and loneliness. I mean, I grew up in this village and I never slept by myself, ok? And I never really had been left long enough to feel alone. And I kept on wondering what was wrong with me, until I realized and somebody said, oh, you are probably homesick! You feeling lonely. You feeling bored. And I was like, what? Lonely? Bored? What are those words? And so the beginning was very difficult and I still remained in a state of resentment as to why I had to be in this place. And so I refused to learn the language and I had to rely on my husband to translate. And b/c I loved talking so much my husband decided, well, since you love to talk so much, if you want to talk to people, you should learn to speak English. I think that was one of the biggest gifts he has ever given me, you know, by refusing to translate for me. Because if he would had translated I wouldn’t have known. So that was my beginning in Michigan.
Duncan: Well its just amazing, and wonderful, your life story and how you as you put it have been able to find the humor and the wisdom in these amazing disruptions that took place in your life as part of your path which in one form has been extremely arduous and challenging and in another you have managed to do it with such grace that it is a real inspiration for so many people. And I am looking at a comment that you made in one of your books here. For your own people, the Dagara people in Burkina Faso, home is medicine. And then you say that this is actually true everywhere in the world, whether we know it consciously or not, that as you put it even in the west we talk about homesickness, the missing of that kind of element in our emotional experience that makes us feel part of a living universe that makes us feel welcomed, makes us feel at home, embraced by a loving and kind community atmosphere. And so from your experience, however individual it has been in your life story in particular to having been born into the Dagara tribe in West Africa and then coming to a particular place to begin with in the US you’ve managed to in your books and in your teaching, draw out these universal lessons and universal expressions of wisdom. And I’m thinking here of Alice Walker, author of the Color Purple, talking about your book “Welcoming Spirit Home”. Theres that word home again. And Ancient African teachings to celebrate children and community and Alice says about yourself that Sobonfu is a teacher that can help us put together so many things that our modern Western World has broken. And I think here the great history of the evolution of the species on the planet where in the West, in the indoctrinated countries, much of what had been preserved for many many centuries before let us say the last several centuries has been broken away from-has been left behind in the push for a certain kind of rational consciousness and scientific and technological breakthrough and it has created a need on the part of people in these societies for remembrance of whats in our DNA as a human species and people like yourself and your husband and others have come from Africa and elsewhere to the west bearing a great gift and it seems to me that your elders in some way knew this, and knew that was the function that you were to perform and the gift that your society was to give to western societies. Am I right in intuiting that?
Sobomfu: Yeah! Absolutely
For full transcript, please contact Duncan Campbell