The Ma’Ati is a new digital storytelling platform created by Africa is a Country contributor Shamira Muhammad. The aim of the project is to share stories about and for the African diaspora via two different online outlets. One is an interactive travel magazine, and the other is a novel, published one chapter at a time, that produces a new mythology of African American identity through the places she visits.
The origin story of The Ma’Ati first comes alive in her novel, where we learn of an ancient nation of nomadic storytellers. Through The Ma’Ati narrative, beautifully illustrated by artists Paul Davey and Taj Francis, Shamira reconnects with history and her heritage, forging a renewed sense of self and community. This vision is echoed in the design of The Ma’Ati logo, a khamsa hand imbued with Adinkra and Voudun symbols meaning endurance, protection, resourcefulness and bravery.
Already, Shamira has spent time writing chapters of The Ma’Ati in Washington DC, Harlem, Alabama, Georgia, New Orleans, Kingston and Havana. She plans to generate new chapters from experiences in Accra, London and destinations yet to be revealed.
To launch The Ma’Ati magazine and novel Shamira has created a kickstarter campaign. Consider donating to the campaign to support The Ma’Ati journey. Read on for an interview with Shamira to hear about how and why The Ma’Ati came to be.
How you got the idea to start The Ma’Ati?
I was living in Paris for a year and a half working as a freelance journalist at France24 and I had a lot of my friends coming to Paris and they’d always ask, “What should I do, what are the best places for me to see?” Paris was great for me to do that because I was so rachet in Paris, I was always in the scene.
After my visa expired, I had to come back to the US. My grandfather had had a stroke [in Washington DC] and so I was going back and forth to the hospital trying to figure out what I wanted to do because I had basically no money. I just knew I wanted to be out in the world and I wanted to know what everyone else in the world was up to. Maybe people in other places were going through some of the same things I was.
So one afternoon I was sitting on my grandfather’s couch and I was thinking about how I had been asking all types of people in my family who they saw me as because nobody else seemed to be as nomadic as me and they didn’t really have answers. So I just thought wouldn’t it make more sense if I came from this nomadic nation of storytellers and they were sometimes a little rachet, but all they did was travel and tell stories. They would go from place to place and help people remember who they were by telling them a story, even giving back to people stories they had lost. I was always obsessed with Herodotus and Leo Africanus and I thought, well, I can just be this character if I want to. Nobody can tell me that I can’t.
How did the concept get its name?
When I was little I was really into ancient Egypt, ancient Kemet and Nubia and I’ve always subscribed to the teaching of Ma’At. So one day I was riding my bike because I kept trying to come up with names for whatever I was trying to flesh out and literally I was at 13th and U St and I just realized it should be called The Ma’Ati. Ma’Ati means that Ma’At and the god Djehuty had kids. The Ma’Ati children in my story are human, but they have powers. So what happened was Ma’at was like, ‘Damn, human women are modeled after me, but they have these beautiful children who pass through them who are mortal.’ Ma’At had never had mortal children, but she wanted to feel what childbirth felt like, what that sacrifice felt like so she had human kids. But I felt gods can’t just have human children without them getting just a little extra something. Plus their father was Djehuty and he was god of the scribes. And that’s why The Ma’Ati were really into telling the stories of everyone because they were the gatekeepers of human achievements. Their parents knew that they’d always be mortal and flesh, but because they traded in words, they’d always be immortal.
How do you relate to The Ma’Ati?
In the origin story you see where The Ma’Ati came from. There’s Keyoni, Ede, Bala Banni and Rahi – five kids. I’m actually one of five children and so the personalities of The Ma’Ati are related to those of my siblings. I was really trying to figure I who I was and where home is. I don’t really have a geographic location where I say, “that’s home.” The story was my way of trying to figure that out for myself. It started off as, ‘where should I live in the world? I’m just going to explore the world until I find out where home was.’ Then it became, ‘but who am I?’
African people in the United States who have been here for several hundred years – it has always bothered me that when we reference ourselves, we start at slavery, but I always knew I was connected to something far deeper. When I went to the archives I didn’t find any evidence that any of my family members were slaves, I found evidence that they had been enslaved. They had these identities and cultures that did not permit me to believe that I come from people who were slaves who were disconnected from their legacies and their heritage. I wanted to show creatively how much black Americans are connected to the entire world and have always been, but we don’t often think of that. You don’t even know why you do certain things or things you may not have ever noticed about yourself which are actually part of something deeper and ancient and sacred. But you have never tried to explore it. So I thought The Ma’Ati could do that on top of being something that helped people figure out how they could explore the world on their own.
Tell us about the other contributors to The Ma’Ati travel magazine?
I have people who write different travel articles with photography and I always have DJs contribute playlists by city. One girl who has been contributing is Cassie Reynolds. She’s been doing a tour of East Asia and giving us features and so much amazing photography.
I’m always looking for people. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Even some other websites have also contributed style features for different cities. I want it to feel as interactive as possible and I want people to be excited if they are about to visit a place that The Ma’Ati has featured. I want it to be something that’s not just tourism initiated I want it to be something that’s really coming from the local creative scene. I feel like the best parts of travelling for me have nothing to do with how many places I’ve gone. I myself have evolved so much by having to travel everywhere. I’ve traveled since I was little, having to move from place to place with my family and all I could take with me was me was my identity.
You have called this a “traveling youth’s guide to the universe”, why target youth as your audience?
As for youth, one of the reasons I feel so free to do a project like the Ma’Ati is because as a young person I had the initiative, but I also had the support to explore the world and who I really am. I still live with my grandfather and I see that we don’t ever stop growing. I can honestly say I look at my grandfather and I still see him as a youth. So when I say traveling youth’s guide to the universe what I really mean is that at all times we’re youth because we never stop growing ‘til we die and even then I don’t know what happens. For all youth it behooves them to try and explore as much as they can because it’s a transformative thing. And as soon as you touch another place you’re automatically changed. It really does do something for you. It’s a spiritual thing and it’s a healing thing. I know a lot of people who have gone through very traumatic things and their trying to regain a sense of balance and sometimes taking a trip – not even that far – can help bring that back into a person’s space.