Why Won’t Someone Teach Me?

I looked at my godson and told him, “I haven’t been a Tata for very long and feel that I still have a lot to learn. Are you sure you want me to be your godfather? I would be happy to take you to my elder.” He replied and told me that he was sure that I was meant to be his godfather. At the time I had been a Tata for about 2 years and I felt I didn’t know enough to have godchildren. My godfather at the time had given me an nkisi and told me to “do what comes to me.”

I had spent years trying to learn as much as I could from him. I was gainfully employed so money was never an obstacle.  If I needed to undergo a ceremony I did. I offered to give a hand whenever he needed. However, for some reason he still kept me at a distance. Time passed and nothing changed. A short while after the initiation I remember telling my godson, “there must be more to this and I’m going to find it.”

If I count from the very first time I was introduced to Palo to the time I met the person that would eventually become my godfather and teacher, it took me 7 years of meeting people and forming relationships to find that person. We met in what seemed like a chance encounter on the internet. I took note of everything he wrote and even saved it in a file and one day I asked him a question about Palo. 17 years later I still send him questions and anxiously await his answers.

During my journey to find a teacher I put myself in some difficult, and sometimes dangerous, situations.  I traveled to meet different people and would eagerly attend every initiation and drumming in every house that I was invited to. During that time I learned the nuances that made initiation into one house or rama different from another. I also witnessed elder Tatas that were incredible diviners do witchcraft to “clients” so they would come back and give them money. I spent time in seedy neighborhoods with characters everyone knew not to trust to try to gain a little bit of knowledge.

My godfather and teacher lives in another country and while the chances of him becoming my godfather at the time were slim, fate would have a different say in the matter. Once he began teaching me my first lesson wasn’t as much about Palo as it was about ego. He was explaining something to me when I interrupted him and told him the way I had previously learned how to do something. His reply was, “shut the fuck up. You don’t know anything. If you knew something I wouldn’t be teaching you.” My first lesson was in humility. When you are looking for a teacher you need to recognize you don’t know anything and no one owes you anything.

It took years of travel, very expensive phone bills (other than a VOIP company called Vonage – there were no internet phone calls), a lot of time, sleepless nights, sacrifice and money to achieve some knowledge. People complain that they can’t find a Tata in their part of town that will teach them. You would be lucky to have someone in your town with an authentic initiation. My advice is to find someone IN THE WORLD that will teach you.

People are oftentimes mistaken and think a godparent has the responsibility, the duty, to teach a godchild. This isn’t the case. Knowledge is earned and the currency is trust. I have seen my godfather and teacher through the death of both of his parents and he has seen me through times of scarcity, a divorce as well as times of abundance.  This isn’t a religion that you “learn”, it’s a religion that you live. It takes years of patience and character building to prove that you are worthy of being taught what elders have carried with them and have worked hard for. The knowledge is out there but if you want it, it won’t be easy to attain. Not everyone is meant to have a road as difficult as mine, but it won’t be easy nonetheless.

Nzambi lukutare

Tata Oscar