Ejo Lobi: Reimagining a Future Past

by Petna Ndaliko Katondolo

[Fig.1] Still from sease the light (Source: Alkebu Film Productions 2020)

[Fig.1] Still from sease the light (Source: Alkebu Film Productions 2020)

My grandmother used to tell me to observe the moon.

You see, my grandma would say, she is the same moon and we know how she will look in the coming days, but that is not all there is to her.

I would ask if the moon sees us every time we come to greet her. My grandma would say yes and even teach me how to spot a smile when the moon smiled back at us.

I would ask if the moon is not tired of going through the same routine again and again.

Grandma would say that each appearance of the moon is a new adventure for her—that she always looks forward to discovering the new things that have happened, the new innovations she influenced, and new friends she would meet. So it was not a routine, but a journey.

Then Grandma would look at me and tell me: you see, she has been watching you growing since you were a newborn and every time you come to greet her, she enjoys seeing how tall you are getting. How you are making impressive moves while dancing in the circle at the harvest celebrations. This she does for all beings—new rivers that are appearing, eagles’ new nests and traces flying in the air, volcanoes rumbling before they spit fire, mountains growing, and trees touching the sky, fire, water, air, stones… Can you imagine how knowledgeable and wise she is?

Grandma was planting a seed in a very well-chosen young brain. She was offering a special cosmological literacy, not only passing knowledge through her voice but also imprinting that knowledge in my body and my bones through the cycles of rituals the moon offers. Here, the notion of reciprocity and interdependence with all living beings is crucial. When preservation or archiving is disconnected from living beings, it gives space for abuse without measuring the consequence. Hence the need for considering multiple ways of archiving: verbal archives, body archives, proverb archives, musics… These give space for fertile sources of imagination and ecological balance.

To achieve this, one needs patience, needs to relearn how to live in the natural world, and needs to slow down and be part of the process. This is one of the first spiritual exercises I learned from grandmother: to do things slowly. Being present with everything you do, doing things deeply. By accomplishing them, one accomplishes oneself elementarily.

What if this question of slowness could allow us to envisage time, and embody a feeling of time, as abundant, whole, and integrated within us in relation to the living biosphere of which we are an integral part? What are the qualities that would differentiate such an experience from our contemporary daily life in which we have the relentless impression of time running out? Most of us live in cultures that have lost the embodied sense of time-abundance. We experience time as a fast train hurling along its linear tracks towards a troubled and uncertain future. By slowing down, we gain the opportunity to shift our sense of time from something that moves forward to something that moves downward into deeper layers of being. How might this also shift how we imagine time in relationship to generations yet to come, to have a long view that enables us to open more fertile ground for a wider diversity of possible futures rather than the present one-track ecological future of doom and disaster?

To be able to live according to these principles one has to understand how the future of the past is linked to the past of the future. A need to connect ourselves with the whole of living and have layers of our being in the world that articulate life in us and the different dimensions of our identity.

So what do we remember? What do we want re-membered in order to re-imagine?

My grandmother’s story, or storytelling as an arc and act/process of archiving, has some key elements to consider. The rhythm articulates a different temporality—a notion of time articulated not for excessive exploitation but for interdependence. Here is the starting point for imagining any living space decentered from human singularity to plural recognition of multiple living beings’ points of view. Symbolism, the choice of metaphors, connects the lina to the lita concept (the visible and invisible, or the root and the plant), the old to the new and newness to the old. My Grandmother’s decision to imprint the moon ritual in me as the living archive is the same process by which a family name in Nande culture connects the ancestral wisdom that makes one an ancestor.

Knowledge for re-membering heals. The knowledge held in stories and proverbs is like medicinal plants: the more you know, the less chance you have of poisoning yourself.

The proverb narrative structure is simple and insightful, aural traditional sayings that express a pearl of perceived wisdom based on common sense or experience. They invite a reflection through metaphors that facilitate social cohesion through nonviolent communication. The mastering of proverbs provides an important social barometer in many indigenous cultures, where the orientation of youth to adulthood is measured through the capacity for understanding and mastering proverbs.

Approaching cinema with a proverbial narrative structure means that rather than a single perspective or three act structure, the story unfolds as a series of puzzles that invite nuanced and personal reflection on histories and ideas that may or may not be familiar. It’s a change of perspective and a fundamental change of scales, of value.

Ejo-Lobi: how to open the link to reconnect time.

In the Kinyarwanda, Lingala, and Eʋe languages, both “yesterday” and “tomorrow” have the same word. As a map of culture, language can help us remember lost social practices and orient us to creating new ones. Rearticulating knowledge like this can provide us with tools to avoid the doom promised to us in future ecological disasters.

Ejo-Lobi is a concept to reimagine a future from different notions of temporalities and to enact human stories that will make sense for the living. We did not climb on the shoulders of our elders to look at their toes, as the proverb goes. The fertile imagination archived in me by grandmother is indeed the soil from which I grow and act (interact).


The world is made of stories and humans enact the stories they believe.

Alkebulan Proverb

Further Reading

Rivers, Chérie N. 2023. Being Nsala’s Daughter: Decomposing the Colonial Gaze. Durham: Duke University Press.

Thiongʼo, Ngũgĩ wa. 2009. Something Torn and New: An African Renaissance. New York: Basic Civitas Books.

Sarr, Felwine. 2016. Afrotopia. Paris: Philippe Rey.