Saturday, 25 March 2017


Spring. Bulbs and buds burst into flower. Things come back to life.

Ayya's namesake Anne was born in Spring, in Nashville, Tennessee, on March 25th (also known as Lady Day, or the Annunciation), the day when people in Medieval Europe thought the world began.

Anne with her mother, Jessie (Kay) Stevenson (nee Keller)

What threads connect Anne to Ayya? What affinities, beyond a name, and a fraction of shared genetic material?

As a young woman, Anne lived in Africa for five years. She had just married a Frenchman, Jean-Paul, and accompanied him to Cameroon, where he was to work as a teacher in lieu of military service. She was a new mother at the time (she carried my cousin Miriam with her), and it was there that she gave birth to her second child, Eric.

One of my favourite works of anthropology is a study of infancy in West Africa. Among the Beng of Cote d’Ivoire, children are understood to come from the Afterlife. In their way of thinking, people’s spirits enter a sort of limbo when they die. When babies are born, they gain passage back into life. Babies are welcomed home, cared for and venerated partly because they are recognized as the reincarnations of dead ancestors. [1]

Ayya on blanket from Cameroon, given to my parents by Anne & Jean-Paul

There’s truth in the Beng way of thinking, because in a real sense children are the reincarnations of ancestors. Scrolling through Anne’s Facebook-feed for photos to illustrate this blog post, I sometimes had the strange feeling of not knowing whether it was Miriam or her mom I was looking at. Sometimes I get myself and my cousin Eric confused.
OK not in this photo. Definitely Anne with a dog.

“Ticky-tacky, wicky-wacky stuff”

Anne died six years ago, shortly before Asa was born. My step-dad Clive died last year, shortly before Ayya was born.

Neither of them were religious in a conventional sense: Anne subscribed to no particular system of belief; Clive was an atheist. But I believe both of them were comforted by the knowledge that family and friends survived them.

Not long before she died, Anne mused on what death meant for her. "Well, you know," she said, "where I'm going, I don't think it's going to be very far.... Not that I believe in all that ticky-tacky-wicky-wacky stuff.... But I just don't think I'm going to be very far."

 Photograph by Nikki Rudzik

There's comfort in the thought that, even after death, loved ones are still with us. And sometimes there's truth in it.


[1] Alma Gottlieb.The Afterlife Is Where We Come From. Chicago University Press (2004). There are some video clips here that accompany the book.

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