by Siani Diaz
On Sunday April 23, 2023, there was a class and instructor that quite literally planted a seed that is changing my life. The class topic was ‘Indigenous and African Womb Wisdom & Herbs’ instructed by Olatokunboh (Ola) Obasi.
Ola Obassi is the founder and teacher of the school Well of Indigenous Wisdom in Puerto Rico. When choosing what herbalism school I would attend this school made it to my top three, but because the curriculum is taught in Spanish, it quickly got knocked off the list—being that I’m not fluent (yet). Still, I didn’t know what to expect of this class. She came in with a mighty but calm presence. Humorous but also very intentional. Ola was very perceptive spiritually. She introduced us to the cosmology of the Tainos—their creator story. She spoke about The Red Road, a phrase used frequently by the Indigenous to signify the seriousness of our commitment to living and leading a good life the best way possible. Ola said “If we live life like we are all going to die; we will treat others better.”
Being of Puerto Rican descent, I felt particularly connected to these teachings. I grew up in the north side of Philadelphia and I’m only 3rd generation from my mother's side, and 2nd generation from my dad's side, on true American soil. I wasn’t taught Spanish and I had never been to the mainland for the first 28 years of my life. Besides growing up in the streets of North Philadelphia in a predominately Latino/Black neighborhood, eating the food, and attending the yearly festivals, I’ve felt very disconnected from my roots and Puerto Rican culture and pride. I have friends who have tapped into Taino teachings and though I was interested, again, I felt disconnected, and didn’t feel like that history belonged to me, like I was a part of it.
She also introduced us to womb wisdom, which is our center of creation. Ola explained, “It’s like going into the ocean surrounded by the waves.” There are so many moments from the school year that are like this is why I’m here but this Sunday with Ola felt like a full circle moment, why I was led here, a remembrance, and a call to action. I truly believe that when we are born we spend our lives remembering all of the lessons—and all of who we are—and we pick up new things along the way. My life has been a long journey of remembering, dipping my toes in the water, but being too scared to go all in. After a while I go in further; little by little, and step by step. It can feel defeating, frustrating even, to not be there already. Most of my life I felt like I was behind but I try to give myself grace and remind myself that I am right on time.
Ola blew me away and brought me to a big ugly cry that I probably needed (I never cry in front of others). I felt angry, disappointed, shame, embarrassment for feeling so disconnected from everything. From my culture and not knowing Spanish, to my womb and feeling so empty. I told Ola that I felt like I could cry a thousand oceans for my womb. I grew up in a household where the feminine wasn’t honored; where it felt more like a burden to be a woman than a precious gift. I grew up feeling like I would be more favored if I was my dad’s son and I watched my mom give her life over to my dad and give up on all of her dreams, and her joy. She didn’t joyfully serve him, she served him by obligation. I felt a lot of shame and disappointment for not ever being told how great it was to occupy this body with this womb and all of the wisdom and power that comes with it. I felt great shame and less of a woman. I found myself angry that I’m just learning this at 29 but equally indebted to Ola for the introduction.
Ola sensed that I was struggling and she came over to connect with me. I bursted into tears. She told me that I wasn’t only crying for myself but for all of my ancestors. She reminded me that these teachings would especially affect me because I am close to these teachings—that they are in me. She reminded me that it is never too late to learn, to remember, and to come back. It was one of the most powerful days of my life. Hello Saturn Return.
Siani Diaz is a second-year student at ArborVitae.