Living Dialogues Podcast by Duncan Campbell (Episode 55): Sobonfu Some – Part 1: Welcoming the Soul Home Through Initiation

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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.

Duncan: Mmhm.

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.

Sobonfu: Right.

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.

Sobonfu: Right

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”

Sobonfu: Yes!

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.

Sobonfu: Right.

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!

Sobonfu: Right.

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.

Duncan: Totally!

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