Inspiring people to re-imagine their relationship to their world
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Sustainable Together Project: Buyeli'khaya: Returning Home

Return to Origin Sustainable Together Project – Pre-Workshop Launch

I just want to share my love of gardening with the children, so they can carry it forward.” – Tata William

The momentum began to build as we awaited the arrival of Return to Origin’s assistant facilitator, the sound recordist and photographer. Building trust was essential before people would open up and hopefully not feel invaded by people they did not know. We did two days of walkabouts in the community. Short interviews turned into an intimate breaking the ice and relationship-building experience.

We met several community members in many different ways: gardeners, cooks, community leaders, beaders and elders, who all opened their homes to us and were willing to sit and talk and have their photo taken. We bought produce from the women’s co-op, who plant by the local school. We left with armfuls of beets and onions. A full circle had been presented: the land, tilled, seeded, planted and grown, with a final bounty of vegetables directly from the earth and into our arms; to be cooked for the participants of the workshop over the next three days. The rounds of interviews were proof that this community had sustained themselves during a pandemic, despite its challenges. The stories began to flow organically, and the visions shared on sustainability, and handing down of knowledge, were hopeful and inspiring. Skill-sharing, knowledge, wisdom, stories and meeting heart-to-heart were the order of both days, and inspired and uplifted us all. In addition. During the pandemic more gardens and vegetables were planted, more fruit trees for children to eat from, and a closer community fostered, sharing and distributing more with a shared vision.

I feel happy when everything is growing and when I sell it. It keeps me young! Gardening has made me independent. I can buy what I want. I have what I need. I don’t need to steal or beg for a job. Young people can learn this too.” – Phindiwe Hlawana (Women’s Gardening Co-Op)

Sustainable Together Project: Buyeli'khaya: Returning Home

Return to Origin Sustainable Together Project – Workshop Day I: Origins / Endulo

The difference between then and now is the sense of community and sharing. We must remember how to plant like we used to. Neighbours planting different things, sharing the produce and seed. So we eat.” – Ma Gloria

The day opens with a song and dance. The group are wearing coordinating traditional outfits. The performance energises the room and we are ready to move into circle and respond to a simple question that speaks to the theme of the day, Origins/Endulo, – “What land are you from”? Sharing creates a sense of voice and a safe invitation to speak. Participants are asked to recall a vivid childhood memory of food. This elicits recollections of time spent closer to the land, a sense of nostalgia and the presence of forebears who had fed and taught those in the room. Lighting a white candle to call in each of the 4 themes that frame this work is a simple intention from the community leaders. Origins. Separation. Seeds. Grow with me. This spontaneous ritual is embraced with reverence. We have entered sacred space. Intergenerational groups discuss the theme of Origins in an animated atmosphere. Dinner arrives, and we all take our place at the table.

Sustainable Together Project: Buyeli'khaya: Returning Home

Return to Origin Sustainable Together Project – Workshop Day II: Separation / Yantlukwano

It’s good to be here. I love to be here. To be able to share. I have been brought closer to my ancestors. My friends now want to know more.” – Vuyolwethu

Participants arrive in beautiful traditional clothing: beaded headbands, necklaces, and bracelets. Three young men, in the youth group, sing to open the space for all. A powerful dream about the ‘return of the light’ is shared by elder community leader, Daphne, following the lighting of the candles yesterday. We enter difficult terrain; recalling the stories of separation from the land, loss and disconnection, through the ravages of colonialism, Apartheid and a brutal contemporary economic system. Raw emotion and articulation of injustice and wounding. A ritualised response holds the container, so that the wound can be witnessed without needing to fix it. Spontaneous singing and prayer directs grief and sadness into feeling.  Blue candles are lit by all, to symbolise reconciliation and the healing of water, and placed in the earth mound.

That spirit of sharing depends on love. It depends on self-respect. When we respect ourselves, when we love ourselves, then it is easy to share. Selfishness is darkness. Be willing to learn from the elders.  Be willing to bow down and listen. Be willing to humble yourself through listening and respecting the elders.” - Daphne Mazosiwe

Sustainable Together Project: Buyeli'khaya: Returning Home

Return to Origin Sustainable Together Project – Workshop Day III: Seeds / Iimbewu

I wish I could sing how I feel right now!  I am so happy. To sit with this granny now, I feel so loved and lucky to be able to learn from her. I am happy to be here with these elders.  Getting blessings and joy. We are learning from each other.” – Yondela

Once again, the honouring through intricate local adornments, make-up and clothing is clear.  At the water, the invitation is to an intergenerational group to pour the sand away.  Symbolic washing of hands in the river water, accompanied by singing. Fishermen share their insights on the vital part the waters play in sustaining the community; the independence it offers, despite restrictions around permitting. We are reminded that we belong to the land and the water, regardless of what human law and injustice might declare. Back at the community hall, the Ekuphumleni Manifesto emerges out of the circle: an extension of inter-generational discussions about what practices from the past will serve a sustainable future for the community, and which can be left behind.  The results are powerful. A guide for living in this community which speaks to the solidarity, wisdom of the old ways and knowledge that arises from within the community’s own experience, rather than an imposition from without, of what must underpin any program of sustainability.

The final ritualized exchanging of seeds between elders and youth, the speaking of seed promises for action from adults, and the planting of these seeds in the earth-mound. It is humbling to hear participants express sincere gratitude for the opportunity to connect with each other, to have this special space made to learn from elders and sit in circle and for the therapeutic aspects of the work done to both heal and discover their own wisdom for creating a sustainable, healthy community.  To find family and belonging.

I say to the youth, when you want to learn something, come to my gate, and call for me!” -  William, elder.

Special thanks to the photographer, Ndiphiwe Kwakweni and the Return to Origin community for the following images.

The Sustainable Together Exhibition and Celebration was opened on November 12th to a feast of images, voices, and visibility of the Ekhupumleni community’s rich heritage, of their connection to stories of healing, vivid memories of connection to the land and food, and sustainability that carried the origins and hidden histories of lineages and ancestors, of those who came before.

The element of earth was brought into the venue as an installation to remind us of our connections. It became a central piece for the exhibition and an integral part of bringing the community together through a simple ritual of taking a handful of earth and adding it to a mound that already held stories of loss, separation, seeds of unity and planting, and a manifesto that speaks to growing together.

The images alone called forth a moving feast that mobilized a community to reflect on the value of themselves where separation and apartheid had ingrained the not-enough-ness of a rich culture steeped in deep self-worth, but stripped by an all too familiar narrative of spiritual destruction: “You don’t belong”. Co -created by the residents of Ekuphumleni (“Our place of rest”) and Return To Origin, the exhibition accompanied by a sound recording that echoed the haunting stories of the past, the hope in the present and the re-imagination of a future in sustainability that included respect, love, well-being and healing. We were transported into a world that this community knows only too well. A return to the land, and the soil to plant seeds of inspiration is where the magic lies, and from there everything is possible. As one participant says: “Then we have everything we need”. Please go to our projects page to find the stunning images by Ndiphiwe Kwakweni, his first exhibition and the beautiful sound installation by Kuhle Ngqezana.

Mbali Marais - Founder Return To Origin

Sustainable Together Project: Buyeli'khaya: Returning Home

The Sustainable Together Exhibition and Celebration

I feel abundantly blessed and deeply enriched to have been a part of the ‘Sustainable Together Project’, and to have witnessed it take form, from its inspired and tentative embryonic stages to the moments where it started assuming a life of its own. The process itself echoed Return to Origin’s own organic nature, evolving with the contributions and energies of each person involved, stoking the fire, and collectively weaving the vision. It was this attentivity to the experiences and stories of the Ekuphumleni community, and the integration of their perspectives that made this project unique, sustainable, and ever evolving.

In my involvement with this project, I was reminded of the importance of going back, tracing histories, memories, and roots; reminded that remembering precedes ambition and vision. Reminded that we need to grow in, and down, before we grow out and up; that inner work precedes any work in the world, and that these processes are not separate. When they are allowed space to breathe and bleed into one another, healing, and lasting transformation happens. I am honoured to have witnessed this personally in my involvement with Return to Origin and the work done to date, and now most tangibly, in the culmination of this project.

In a circle centred around a mound of earth, offerings, and prayers, I got to bear testament to the changes and shifts in perspectives that the workshop inspired in participants. They spoke of dreams and of memories roused by ritual, of the power in storytelling and the healing in listening. They spoke of an awakened desire to serve their community, a revitalised value and respect for nature, others, and themselves. Of an inspired sense of dignity and pride in who they are, and where they come from. And of a hunger to know more. In hearing this, I felt fed, nourished by their stories, and reminded of the power in recreating intergenerational spaces that conjure up ancestral memory. In proudly erecting the bones of remembrance, we dismantle structures that have devalued our traditions and ways of relating to the world, and we remember that the stories that were muted and muffled, matter, and they need to be heard. That we matter and that we have something essential and wildly consequential to offer.

In assembling and documenting stories that transcend race, culture, and generation, we are sowing seeds that hold, within their husks, promises of a change and transformation that honours the root as much as it respects the branch, and celebrates its fruit.

- Angelique Michaels (Return To Origin)


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