People laugh at me when I tell them my home is a cell phone free zone. Unless you’re family or unless I know you very well, before anyone comes into this house, even a maintenance worker, I make sure they turn off their cell phones in front of me and warn them that “this is a no recording zone.” Even among my own godchildren I’m very careful when it comes to their cell phone usage in my home, and the last time I sacrificed an animal in this house and a goddaughter suggested, “You should let me record this so I can learn the songs,” while she had her phone in hand, I almost had a total meltdown in the middle of the matanza. It’s one of the reasons I’m careful to the point of being a shut-in when it comes to visiting the homes of other olorishas. It’s one of the reasons I don’t like to go to tambours – because there’s always some fool there with a cell phone recording the songs, recording the singers, recording the dancers. Just a couple of months ago I consoled a friend who is an olorisha, a white girl like me (only I’m not a girl) who was horrified when she saw a video of her (lack) of dancing skills for the orisha Yemayá. Me? I can barely do Obatalá’s dance, but had never been disgraced by having a video of my poor dancing skills displayed online.
White people have no rhythm folks – it’s true. But we try.
It’s the reason I don’t work outside my own ilé ocha when it comes to doing ebós or washing orishas; and, it’s the reason I don’t work asientos outside my own ilé. Because my godfather is strict and does not let anyone record the ceremonies, I know I’m in a safe, protected zone; but it seems other olorishas aren’t so strict. Still I’ve had to gag at the few times my godfather and I have sat down to have a private conversation and someone asks, “Do you mind if I record this so I can listen to it later?” Even that makes me wonder how many times my private conversations with others might have been recorded on a pocketed phone. Go on YouTube and see how many videos of sacred ceremonies you can find. I can remember a time that photographing an empty throne was vilified. Now entire ceremonies are video recorded for public consumption.
I’ve even reconsidered the use of recordings for my classes where I spend hours each week camped out in front of my computer’s blue screen discussing the secrets of odu and divination with my students. Even though I spend more time with some of these students than I do with my own family, copies of recorded classes have made their way out through social networking sites and my lectures are studied by olorishas I’ve never met, and probably never will. It’s the ultimate invasion of privacy and trust, and if I could figure out who was doing these things there would be hell to pay.
Today took things just a bit too far. “I have something to show you,” said the email I received. “I don’t think this oriaté is a very good oriaté. Can you watch this video and tell me what you think?”
Reluctantly I clicked the yousendit.com link that was emailed to several people who I’m assuming were olorishas as well. The video was more than an hour in length. Hopefully without permission (because what oriaté would allow this?) the videographer had set his iPhone up in a corner with the camera pointed at the pilón. And while the oriaté sang and scraped, and while the congregation chanted in response, the iPhone recorded the entire ceremony. I watched about 15 minutes of it; sadly, I couldn’t tear myself away no matter how disgusted I felt. There was the iyawó sitting on the pilón during the most sacred and secret moment of his life – and like a sick voyeur I and everyone else who downloaded this video had access to something more intimate than sexual intercourse. I was watching his head being prepared for the orisha Obatalá. It was sickening.
My friends, the age of social networking has gone too far; and this, in my opinion, is socially and spiritually unacceptable. Right now I’m torn between two things: simply deleting the file from my computer and never mentioning it again, or searching for the Miami ilé ocha in which this recording was made so they know . . . someone is doing this. Phones have gotten too advanced; cameras have gotten too small; and things that were once assured intimacy, privacy, and secrecy are easily recorded and made downloadable for public consumption.
In the end, I have the desire for neither choice: pretending it never happened or going public with the Miami ocha family that was betrayed. Instead, I’ve decided to use my blog to issue a public warning to the old school folks who don’t realize what’s being done: Your most intimate spiritual moments are being recorded by a younger generation who is so bound up in the social networking phenomenon that they can no longer be trusted to respect what is sacred and leave it behind closed doors. Every word, every act, every deed, and, indeed, some of your most private ceremonies are finding their way onto computer chips that can be uploaded and spread as fast as the internet can take them. I think we’re coming to a time in our faith where, when it comes to our ceremonies and ritual spaces, there’s one rule we need to make and enforce:
No cell phones allowed.
And just like those men who go to a strip club and refuse to check their electronic devices at the door, those olorishas who refused to turn their cell phones off and leave them at the door (or in their cars) need to be turned away from our events. Because now it’s not a matter of, “Will someone try to record my words and ceremonies?” but instead, “Who is recoding my words and ceremonies.”
Nothing is sacred anymore.