Influencer Richenel Ansano: eternally curious
Interview October 2019 – Picture: Jennifer Gomperts
Could you share with us some information of your family life?
I have a significant other, two daughters, and 4 brothers and sisters. My parents passed away and they had been instrumental in who I have become. They always taught me to be myself. We were poor and as I grew up there were those days in the year, where the pressure in the community to buy or do things increases like Saint Nicholas celebration on the 5th of December and during the holiday season the pressure to go on vacation. But my parents taught me, to accept my own reality first and foremost, and not the reality that others want you to believe in. I was brought up with different types of celebrations, like the seasons for “tambú” and “seú”. My father participated in “tambú”, he was a drum player and also a “suplado di kachu di morto” meaning that he blew a horn on a hilltop near our house to announce when somebody in the neighborhood died. Other people would pick up the message and pass it on from other hilltops. This would keep on going for a great distance. We were taught to plant and harvest the proceeds from my grandmother’s farmland, her ”kunuku”, as well as our own garden. Growing up like that, I learned to appreciate this organic relationship to the land and traditions very much. I am the father of 2 children living in the United States of America, in their twenties now, from my previous marriage. They are inspiring young talents and professionals. One is a minister and the other is in the arts, and just wrote her first book.
Do that, what you children are becoming as professionals, represent you in a sense?
Yes, I believe they indeed do represent those traits in me, as well as their mother’s. They have also been deeply influenced by having lived in different societies, cultures and being in communities of diverse backgrounds, interests and experiences.
Could you share with us some of your educational background and past professional experiences as we know that you are an entrepreneur?
I studied Economics in Puerto Rico on the Bachelor level and in the USA I graduated as a Master of Arts in Anthropology, which for me was a very important switch, btw. In High School, I was deeply inspired by my Economics teacher and I misinterpreted what this study was all about. My teacher’s experience and passion was the implementation of social economic projects, like housing projects for poverty stricken populations. Studying Economics later, at the university, we were taught numbers and formulas and totally unrealistic models of ideal rational human action, this was such a big disappointment to me. I missed the human beings, social environment, the real decision making processes. So, after exploring the sociology of educational systems, I went to look for and found a discipline that really dealt with real human beings.
I found that in studying Anthropology. It became my philosophy of life for several years. As the years have gone by, my philosophy now is: “To listen and be aware.” I focus a lot on the words that are being used. By being aware of the words people use, I became aware how little people used the word “i”, which means “and”, in Papiamentu. I mean this in the sense of following through on your intentions. If I intend, believe, propose something, there has to be a consequence, “and this is what I will do about it in a persistent way”. We sometimes seem content with having great ideas and initiatives, but not following through.
The listening that I do, doesn’t dismiss me from accepting my responsibilities. Listening is not without obligation. I need to do something with what I hear. I can also see that people listen, but don’t reflect on the consequences of what is said. We can be advocates of diversity in ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation for example, but in fact not be accepting of other diversities or tolerant towards people with other opinions on these subject matters. So I think a lot about this letter/word “i” and it reminds me of Nigerian Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in a TED Talk she gave titled “The danger of the single story”, referring to the fact that all issues have multiple sides and all are valid. But “i” and can also stand for consequences and the need to dialogue, which can include accepting consequences in order to achieve something.
We know each other for years way back when you were a civil servant, the head of the department of Culture, your wife then went for her studies to the USA and you joined her and I lost track of you and then we met again as you were the director of Stichting N.A.A.M. and I know you to be knowledgeable in the area of our cultural history and I also know that you are very spiritual. Does this give a fairly good idea of what Richenel has been doing?
You know if you would follow my life, it has been typified by radical changes that I have gone through during different phases of my life. I am still going through radical changes now as we speak. I was born and grew up in Kura Piedra (this neighborhood is between Seru Fortuna and Goede Hoop) from a family background with limited material resources and contrary to what you might expect I grew up to become very self confident as I learned a lot of Curaçao’s old traditional cultural heritage like tambú, seú, farming in the “kunuku” and learning Curaçao’s spiritual traditions. I did go through a period of feeling inferior, in spite of the powerful messages from my parents o believe in myself and despite the strong cultural background I was given. This sense of less worth came during my school years in high school, where everything I grew up with culturally, spiritually, language-wise was severly challenged by being confronted wih lifestyles that did not share my experiences at all, labelled them “backward” or else assumed that I was making up fantasy worlds. For example, when I talked about our spiritual traditions.
Spiritual, what do you mean by Curaçao spiritual traditions?
Well it has to do with experiences outside of the normal 5 sensory reality, like what people would call superstition, ghost stories, the healing of sick people with only one’s hands etc …and this was my reality and I have experienced it and lived it. Now scientists are talking about 10, 20, or more senses that help us understand how we can perceive or experience these realities. But old ways die hard: we defend the 5 sensory reality, because the alternatives are too scary.
My biggest transformation came, when I was 16 years old and was on my way to study in Puerto Rico. As I was preparing to leave, I went to the bookstore Van Dorp-Eddine back then and I bought a life changing book: “The Autobiography of a Yogi”, by Paramahansa Yogananda. This was so transforming because this book validated a lot of the spiritual experiences, that I had in Kura Piedra. By reading this book, I got validation that a person could have pre-monition, be clear voyant, work with energy as my mother use to do, become aware of past lives, all of these were validated. There are differences in terms of culture as you compare India, where Yogananda lived in the early years of his life, and Curaçao, but if you look at the physical body and you consider it an external packing, basically we as souls are the same. So a lot what was said in that book, resonated with me. This made me change my perception of myself and others, as I now see human beings as souls basically with their body as their external coat. Still, the body is a very important vessel that helps us navigate this world and teaches us to be ture to ourselves if we are willing to listen to it.
Did you went to Puerto Rico when you were only 16 years old?
I was a good student and could study with ease as I was doing my MAVO. Because of my excellent results, I was sent to VWO and I was proud of this. But VWO was quite different, with several new subjects I came into during the middle of the school year, and I kept my same laid back study attitudes that I had at the MAVO and failed in my exam in Geography. I did not want to go backward in my classes. I was proud and only wanted to go forward, so I ended up going to the HAVO and after getting my HAVO degree, I left to Puerto Rico at an early age. I got there partly because of pride, but more importantly, because of a deep sense that studying in the region was better for me than going to The Netherlands.
What I really appreciated from my parents, as they went through poverty and trauma in those days when I was growing up is, their deep cultural wisdom. My parents played and danced “tambu”, they taught me farming, they taught me what plants I could use for medicinal reasons, collective savings called “sam”; my grandmother was a self-taught mid wife and she taught me how that was done in her time. All of this formed my cultural identity and made me who I am right now. I got used to the Guene or Guinea language , as I grew up hearing people singing in “Guinea” during chores, digging wells, cooking, planting. And the quintessence of what they taught me was “take good care of yourself” and they nudged me slowly with small steps to take good care of myself. As I was going through the secondary school education, they bought me a typewriter so I could practice for my typewriter lessons. I knew they didn’t have a lot of money. They also sent my to karate lessons, while I knew they didn’t had so much money, all to make me take good care of myself. My mother taught me how to make bread and some typical sweets from Curacao, taught me to make coconut oil. My father was a longshoreman “trahadó di Klip” who also used to fish when work was slow. I would sell the fish he caught to people in the neighborhood. All of my mother’s baked goods and sweets I could sell at school and keep half of the revenues at a very young age. Basically, teaching me entrepreneurship and taking care of myself. In the environment in which I grew up entrepreneurship was a survival strategy, not a career dream. As I went to Puerto Rico, I kept this entrepreneurial spirit and bought and sold chewing gum like PK and Stimorol that they didn’t have in Puerto Rico. I baked and sold Curaçao’s “pan será”, and also jewelry, and shoes. Basically my parents taught me, that “I am the creator of my own destiny.”
What is your opinion on trauma’s individual and groups can have and how does that influence whom these persons are? What can be done about creating awareness and solutions to release these traumas?
Well first of all, part of the traumas we have, are complicated because we tend to walk around with different layers of trauma. From our early age, when we are born, getting into the world screaming for air to breathe. Then, as we grow up and might see and experience violence at home, violence of the neighborhood and at school, we keep accumulating traumas, this makes it cumulative and complex. It also becomes normalized in our relationships. For example if a child is slapped regularly to discipline him or her and we justify this as being normal, this can be passed on to the next generation as this child grows up and applies domestic violence also later as an adult and considers this to be completely normal. But as complicated as trauma patterns are, this doesn’t mean that they can’t be released, as long as we are aware that there are different types of trauma. There are different ways to release traumas, one of most important ways I have learned to deal with traumas is to differentiate between individual and group traumas in the circle work (‘ròndu’) I created in 1987. This circle work, where a group sits in a circle, can be used to release traumas, but also to develop what I then called “the communal emergent self”. The basic idea is, that wherever we are, if we are in a circle there is group intelligence that forms, where the different personalities, people’s heritages and the context where the group members are in create an opportunity for gaining a deeper understanding of self, breaking normal perceptions and creating an emergent collective self where we can become our authentic selves, free of our habitual behaviors, free of habitual consensus communal reality. I used to call it like that back then, now I don’t have a name for it.
Basically, you sit in a circle with or without a specific theme to explore. I prefer the themeless “ròndu”, but sometimes this is difficult for certain groups. Regardless, the group gets out of controlling everything with the rational mind. By doing this you come to know yourself and others better. Somebody might share a dream or some kind of experience, then you move on to the next person in the circle. We can also share remarkable coincidences/synchronicities, or listen to the body, or pay attention to lessons of nature. Anything to break the hold of the mental patterns and associated behaviors, that keep us tied to unwanted or oppressive ways of being in this world. I have had some remarkable experiences with this method. In the early 2000’s I called it Jaguar Medicine, because I was working with a fellow healer, Vera Moura, who was (among other things) a shamanic practitioner. Both of us felt that we were called to explore South American Jaguar Medicine after experiences with Jaguar. Vera went on later to study with Stanley Krippner, a big authority in Consciousness Research, and wrote a Master’s Thesis on the results of our Jaguar Medicine gatherings, releasing people of past traumas. Shaking medicine is another method to release traumas. Shaking helps the body release trauma in many ways. For us, all these and other methods are quite necessary. Elis Juliana once said that you can’t erase 400 years of colonialism in just one lecture or article. That it would take many years of education and social action to make effective change. So indeed, we have lots of work to do still to release traumas in our society.
And when do you consider that you have been successful, let us say 5 years and 10 years from now?
I will be successful, if I had synchronized my learning of the past years into better ways to explain this to others. Because that would mean I can explain it to myself and have truly lived it for some time. If I would have by then been able to break away from the habit to be dependent on the money based economy and the organizational, psychological, spiritual and cultural forms it creates. As director of NAAM I was involved in so many tasks like annual financial reports, project reporting, intermittent reporting during the year, tracking organizational compliance, assuring subsidy compliance and requests, procuring other local and international funds, continued organizational adaptation to resource reduction, keeping my attention away from doing real work. That administrative stuff, basically according to me, doesn’t really matter. It is like when you are singing in “tambú” and there is so much noise in the song that you can’t hear it well. Maybe it is a fantasy, but I want to be involved in doing “ròndu”, counseling, helping people to release trauma, be of service to the community at large, without the money stuff, if I would be able to do that, I will be successful. That is my vision.
What is your BIG WHY or driving motivation to be whom you are right now?
Asking myself why so many of us prefer to stay ignorant instead of choosing to rise and shine. I have even written a play on this, the storyline goes like this: “Someone in his afterlife goes to heaven and presents his case to the universe to the effect that ignorance isn’t a logical choice. That being born ignorant of our true, powerful and beautiful selves should not be the starting point for us in this world”. It amazes me how deeply our societies structure themselves around creating and sustaining ignorance.
What are the challenges that you are dealing with? And how are you dealing with these different challenges you confront?
Well the biggest one is, how to live without using money as a means of exchange, which is a big challenge in a world where money plays such a pre-dominant role. So when someone comes to me for counseling, how to deal with this without using money. They might bring a plant or they might cook for me. Being on the grid this still does not take care of my bills. Well this is a challenge here, although I know people living in the USA that function outside the normal money based economy based, off grid, on an ecological, small carbon footprint economy. So, it is a question of already partially living the vision for a new culture while still being entangled in old culture.
Do you use your inner voice to evaluate when dilemma’s show up? How does that work for you?
Yes, I use my Inner voice and try to externalize it. I have developed a method for my clients, called personal curriculum, that includes:
• stating and regularly evaluating your life goals
• evaluation of your development if you are on track or aligned with your goals and
• thirdly becoming aware of all the things that happen in your life that serve your goals and that are impossible for you to have created by your small ego self; for example things that occur through synchronicities, dreams, and similar circumstances.
When I have a dilemma, I open myself for the answers that come, the synchronicities, the crumbs from the universe and I am open for what is being said.
How are you trying also to keep up with your personal knowledge and skills levels?
By being aware in the present.
Do you journal?
I used to journal regularly, especially dream journaling. But for the past few years I have been doing more reflective writing. I have been writing constantly, as different things happening constantly that trigger me and through writing I can process them.
Like, I was reflecting once on the way some people express themselves in Curacao with a persistent critique of the so-called “ the knife cut me mentality”. It didn’t feel right and through writing and reflecting on this I could discern it’s deeper meaning. Those who offer that critique are always blaming others for the wrongs of our society. But in other cases, it also made me aware of a second problem in our society: split personalities that our society has been creating. Natasha Van der Dijs’ PhD. dissertation for example has three cases of people of mixed descent express themselves in narratives of split personalities, where they see their afro/local descent as having low self worth and unwillingness to accept responsibility. Their other/immigrant ethnic heritage was a source of pride because of their industriousness and other features. Going much deeper in the expression “e kuchú a kòrtami” itself, I finally realized one of the things that was bothering me most about it: it is not a construction that a competent Papiamentu speaker would have used a few decades ago. Such a loaded expression; not really part of our culture until recently. But we still see it as underlying much of negative local behavior. This all took me back to how we have internalized negative self-images in very sophisticated ways in our history. So, writing helps me so much. As I write, my ideas flow. If I don’t write, I lose these ideas. I then also lose a chance to see myself and my community in the mirror.
What are your strengths?
I am a good listener. I can be very empathic. That is why I am a good mediator. I don’t take things for granted, which in the past I used to see it as limiting, because I was always questioning things, not able to stop looking at multiple sides. But it is also a strength. That is why when I started studying Economics, I didn’t accept it and later chose for Anthropology. But this not taking things for granted, and not accepting group consensus can be the source of lots of problems. In the so-called progressive world, I have a lot of critiques of groupthink, of accepted facts, unconditionally accepting consensus. When that critique is given most people then automatically think I am siding with their opponents. So, as they say in my parent’s generation: I don’t get a seat in any house. At the same time, I have grown to understand that every story has its own perspective and reality and that there is no “one reality” and that there is more nuance in this world. One aspect of this I have been paying more attention to lately is, the relationship between empathy and transformation. Empathy has been a powerful transformation incentive for myself in my life. I have noticed, however, that for others this could have the opposite effect. Especially people who feel generally unheard, sometimes, feel validated by empaths and listeners. So, if there are areas they need to change they might be slow or unwilling to do so because they finally received validation for their story and identity. So, I have also been more present and more clear about also being a mirror, reflecting back what I perceive, to prevent dysfunctional validations.
Do you have hobbies or interests that you are also passionate about?
I have lots of hobbies like:
– I like writing about spirituality and Papiamentu, I love walking in the “mondi”.
– I love cooking and to invent new ways to cook with traditional ingredients, like “tutu” with spinach, preparing beans in different ways, making ice cream with different local fruits, just experiment and do different things. And it tastes good.
If you as Richenel would meet a stranger in the bus (let say in Holland or the US) and they would ask you to introduce yourself what would you answer?
Whom are the persons that have inspired you the most in your ‘bida’/career?
My mother and my father in the first place, but also Paramahansa Yogananda, Elis Juliana, Paulo Freire, and Joceline Clemencia, who was a profoundly spiritual person btw.
What is a trait that you consider work in progress that you are working on to become a better you?
I am working on becoming a “transbeing” with compassion, becoming aware as an emergent self, that I can be much bigger than just a personal consciousness. Consciousness is not something personal, but it is much bigger than that, it could also include the consciousness of animals, trees, minerals, past memories, or intelligences we have not even consciously discovered yet.
What was a defining moment in your life?
There were many, but the one that comes up the most is, when I left Curaçao to go to Puerto Rico for my studies. I arrived in Puerto Rico with the Autobiography of a Yogi of Paramahansa Yogananda in my hand and I experienced the reality of countries like Chile and Argentina. It transformed the way I looked at society. I was used to Westerns, Kung Fu and drama movies as a teenager. So movies as entertainment. But Puerto Rico transformed me. I learned that art, science, our professions, anything we are engaged in can be consciously used for transforming the realities we know, so that all can reach their fullest potential. I also learned that everyone needs to take their community seriously, however they define community. And when I started reading writers who did this: who took their readers seriously, my worldview and the way I looked at Curaçao changed. Rather than just a place I loved it became a place that fascinated me for all its history, our social psychology, spiritualities, and our presence in this region and in the world. In the fight for Puerto Rico’s freedom from Spain there were three main leaders, one of them was Mathias Brugman, from Curacao. His parents came from Curacao and New Orleans. Living there also made me more aware of living in a country that wasn’t independent. So, to sum up I underwent a big spiritual and political transformation.
Where do you want to be 15 to 20 years from now with your career or should I say be with life?
I would be more open to listening to the Universe, I am still half and half on that, I would have to let go, be more detached from the unnecessary stuff. For example, although I love the house and I have grown to also like the neighborhood I am living in now, I now know, that I probably need to move on. I would have to find the best place that I would have to be, it might be in Curaçao or elsewhere, a better place for my specific work with “ròndu”. I have travelled a lot around the world the past few years to facilitate work with the cultural heritage of countries like Korea, Nepal, China, Peru, Jamaica, the other Islands of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Vanuatu, and these experiences have taught me so much and I need to open myself more to let this happen. Not the travel or the cultural heritage work, but being where I can be of most service to communities. I need to learn more and teach more on the application of this circle work, “ròndu” here in Curaçao and around the world. Much of this circle work was deepened for me in the “Revisioning Medicine” group I have been part of since 2004 in California. I am working on integrating more of its wisdom into my “ròndu” work.
What would you want your loved Ones, family, friends and others to say about you let’s say 20 years from now?
I have no vision on that, as I am letting go of so many things and I don’t want to attach myself to the future.
What makes you stay optimistic about the future of Curaçao?
I see so much wisdom on the island. At the same time I see the challenges, that I have also passed through, personally. I have been so inspired by Paulo Freire as he could see the strength and the positives of oppressed people in Brazil and all over the world, and they still achieved so much in their lives despite the obstacles that they had to overcome. He was able to especially see that overcoming these obstacles meant actively transforming oppressive structures, be they psychological, social, political, spiritual or cultural. Having said that of Paulo Freire, it is impossible for me not to be positive about the future of Curaçao. Btw this doesn’t mean that at times I am not disappointed in certain things, that take place on the island, but I have lived in other countries and I can put certain things in perspective. That is why, I am optimistic about the future of Curaçao.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Lots of things have formed me, but the most important is “Curaçao”. I was raised here; I met a lot of people here; I came to respect “nature” living in Curaçao; I left and lived abroad, but I believe that I have learned the most by living in Curaçao. If I would have lived elsewhere my learning curve would have been flatter, I would have learned less up until now in my life.
More info about Richenel Ansano and his work
Some articles: independent.academia.edu/RichenelAnsano
LinkedIn Profile: www.linkedin.com/in/richenelansano/
Book chapter on compassion: www.michaelortizhill.com/Craft_Sample_Chapters/CH14_Healing_the_Healers.pdf
Interview essay: afromagazine.nl/opinie/spiritualiteit-op-cura%C3%A7ao
Papiamentu poetry (free download):www.lulu.com/shop/richenel-ansano/kolosenshi/ebook/product-18594044.html
One of the 250 Influencers of Curaçao
Richenel Ansano is one of the leading cultural historians of Curaçao. His never-ending efforts, to educate our people about their own cultural heritage, recently aimed at storytelling and using modern media to reach people in the different neighborhoods in Curaçao, is something we loudly applaud. We deeply respect his resilience based on his own personal life story and his curiosity to try to explain, why people prefer, to stay ignorant instead of choosing to rise and shine, as we as human beings have so much potential. As a representative of the Arts and Cultural sector we definitely consider him to be one of the 250 Influencers of Curaçao.