Saturday, June 11, 2011

Libations for the Ancestors June 11, 2011 in Oakland, CA; Coney Island, Miami, FL; Philadelphia, PA

Each year for the past five or six years Oakland, CA has added itself to the long list of places in the African Diaspora where libations are poured for our African ancestors the second Saturday in June at 9 AM Pacfic Time, in conjunction with programs in Brooklyn, NY (Coney Island); Portobello, Panama; Cape Coast Castle, Ghana; Sullivan's Island, just outside of Charleston, SC, one of the sites where captured African men, women and children were transported and sold into chattel slavery, and elsewhere.

Sister Shukuru Sanders who lives here now introduced me to her friend Brother Osei Terry Chandler, also from Brooklyn, New York, who organizes a similar ritual in his new home in South Carolina. In the San Francisco Bay Area we honor our ancestors in a formal ceremony in October, however, I thought it would be great to join this global libation on the second Saturday in June.

I remember the first year we did so, it was a week after Josephine Baker's centennial birthday, June 3, 2006, where in Paris the black folks, the Ex-Pats were toasting our ancestor. That first year we trekked over to San Francisco to Ocean Beach, but the following year we decided to stay in the East Bay, since the majority of us who attended the inaugural year live over here.

Both ceremonies were born within a year of each other, the Annual Maafa Ritual or Black Holocaust Remembrance is 16 this year.

Toni Cade Bambara, author, in 1987 issued a call to those assembled at a storytelling concert at Meger Evers College, and Dr. Mary Umolu, Professor, MEC, 1996 and AKEEM, Producer, 1996 responded. Since that first event in November, since moved to June, a lot easier to weather, literally, Brother Akeem has been the official leader/coordinator of The People of the Sun-Middle Passage Collective and overall Tribute worker/keeper of the flame (

I have yet to speak to Brother Akeem, he is always too busy, but I have spoken to Brothers Bill Jones and Habte Selassie on my radio show. Both men have been participating from the beginning, along with Brother Osei whom I spoke to recently, about the flame he lit in his new home, Charleston, South Carolina.

Their tributes are integrated, as are most except ours and the Caravan to the Ancestors, in October in Galveston, Texas, sponsored by the Black United Front of Houston. Organizers tell me that if they were exclusive, no one would show up (smile). Personally, I like small and intimate, which is the way ours has been each June.

Odunde Festival in Philadelphia is also this weekend, June 9-12, 2011. The big Festival in on Sunday, June 12, and begins with a procession. Begun in 1975, I think Odunde is the oldest Festival of Pan African culture in the United States. One year I had Founder, Lois Fernandez's daughter, and Executive Director of Odunde, Oshunbumi Fernandez, on my radio show with Brother Osei and Brother Bill. It was a great conversation as neither man knew about the Odunde Festival, nor did Bumi know about the Annual Libations for the Ancestors the same weekend as Odunde which means Happy New Year in Yoruba which concludes the community guided procession to the Schuylkill River (at noon), to honor Oshun, Goddess of the River.

"The ODUNDE festival is an occasion marked by joy and hope, a joy which is highlighted by a colorful procession . . . where offerings of fruits and flowers are made to Oshun, the Goddess of the River. The religion, call IFA, embraced by the Yoruba people is very old. It involves the worship of one God and 401 orishas, similar to saints in the Catholic Church. Included in its three tiers of worship is “ancestor remembrance” in the offering of libations, divinations and other such acts" (

I just think spirit moves in all of us at the same time. There are no coincidences (smile). What I like about Odunde and other observances is the active participation of scholars and people from the continent in their ceremonies and festivities. This year Odunde has invited ambassadors from Angola and Liberia (

Next week in Miami, there is another ritual healing ceremony at the Historic Virginia Key Beach Park, there. This year it falls on Sunday, June 19 [Juneteenth], 5:30 a.m. The event is free and open to the public. The Kuumba Artists Collective of South Florida can be reached for information at: (305)751-9791 or

Two themes this year are: 2011 Black History Theme: Black Soldiers in the Civil War (First year of Civil War Sesquicentennial Observance)and 2011: International Year for People of African Descent, proclaimed by UN General Assembly, December, 2010. Visit

Here is a site for Juneteenth Celebrations through out America. It's all about lifting up our people, right? Visit

In reading about the original inspiration and motivation for the annual ritual on Coney Island, 22 years ago, organizers state:

"The Collective believes that we must revere and talk about the Atlantic Ocean that roars beneath the endless blue sky on days when calm is hiding. We bear witness to the Water that has created additional moisture to cry its own tears again and again and again. Tears that turn from blue green to mud brown over dead and poisoned fish that float by our human castles that have claimed the earth and house horrendous deeds and thoughts. The Ocean. Water with a floor of cleaned bones. Bones of Baba, Mama, Cousin Him, Cousin Her, and Neighbor Friend. Bones of those who couldn’t take the darkness, the filth, and the lack of food and clean drinking water. Bones that couldn’t take the systematic beatings and rape. Bones that caved in when eyes witnessed children and loved ones being tossed overboard, providing more food for the sharks. Bones that couldn’t stand being paced like sardines with heavy chains around necks, hands, and feet. Bones that couldn’t take lying in urine and feces and vomit while continuously rocking in the bowels of those ships. Bones that decided to take a chance and fight back. Bones that tried to fly home. Grown-up bones and baby bones. Bones that tried to stay alive. Tired hard to hold on, one hour at a time. But lost. Flesh given to ocean scavengers. Bones lying in the Ocean, the largest single graveyard in the world. We believe that there is a physical and spiritual presence in the Ocean that we must acknowledge and stop throwing garbage upon. We must remember that, like the Earth, the Ocean is sacred, and it demands our recognition and respect.

"We believe that it is a place for both our fun and our seriousness, a place for our children’s laughter And our grown-up Tears, some of Which are caused By Memory, that Life force that Keeps our Ancestral Stories alive. And while we Do all the Various Things that Must be Done in our Daily lives As we Struggle For Survival, Quality, justice, And peace, we Must continue to find the time and the space to create an ongoing memorial for those people who are buried in the Ocean. It is then and only then that their Spirits will be able to rest in peace and offer us blessings as we continue our trek on Earth. We believe that we must listen to the wind over the Ocean, and hear the voices from the past calling out to us. If we dare, we might hear the ancestors telling us what needs to be done. We must listen to the quiet voices within our Black selves while we are at the Ocean, and hear out Kushite hearts beat with the call of the drum, the drum call for justice, freedom, and peace. We must make certain that the world never forgets those wicked slave ships and slavers, and the human flesh and hearts that were destroyed by greed and beliefs in racial superiority. We must remember that today the great, great, grandchildren of the wicked slavers often wear designer suits and ties. They carry new types of whips and build new types of holding cells while they poison the water and the air, and attempt to destroy our memories through continuous and deliberate mis-education.

"We believe that we can win the war against ignorance and misinformation when we collectively stand up to win" (

In its 15th year now, organizers in South Carolina state: "Each year is unique depending on who gathers to remember ... to heal ... and perhaps to share a gift with the community. While there are many touching and meaningful moments each year, many participants are especially moved when they offer their flowers, throwing the petals in the water to mark the graves of those souls who perished during the Middle Passage. For others, it's the Libation (12:00 noon EST) with its powerfully poetic oratory, each year led by those assembled.

"We all gather to honor the millions who perished in the horrific voyage, the Middle Passage. We feel and understand that if we don't remember and honor them, who will!"

So back at the ranch

Running a bit late this morning, when I arrived Sister Afua began to set up an altar facing the fountain and assembled birds. She lit incense in a holder next to a Shona sculpture. Another sister, Gale "Nasia" Jordan, visiting from Ghana where she now lives, brought a basket of musical instruments which released our inner children as we played.

In a traditional role call we stated our birth years to decide who would begin pouring first. Since our numbers were so small, each person poured with another person(s), all hands on the container or in one case, containers. (Sister Nasia brought water she'd blessed). I think for most it was their first time participating. One sister cried she was so happy to have made it this year, after trying to get here for the past three years. I spoke to friends later on who wanted to come but missed a bus or an alarm, so they poured at home.

Unlike the annual Maafa Ritual in October at Ocean Beach, Libations for the Ancestors is a lot looser in its programming. We call the ancestors into our space, then offer a reflection of what's on each of our hearts. Often people bring prayers to share, as Sister Afua did along with a proclamation from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I brought a few books I thought lent themselves to the spirit of the moment: American Hunger by Richard Wright, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson, and two by Gayle Jones: The HeALing and CoRregidora.

What Wright says about identity gave rise to many comments. We closed the circle with final libations and thanks to the angels in our midst, then paused for a moment of silence.

From American Hunger by Richard Wright:

"(Color hate defined the place of black life as below that of white life; and the black man, responding to the same dreams as the white man, strove to bury within his heart his awareness of this difference because it made him lonely and afraid. Hated by whites and being an organic part of the culture that hated him, the black man grew in turn to hate in himself that which others hated in him. But pride would make him hide his self-hate, for he would not want whites to know that he was so thoroughly conquered by them that his total life was conditioned by their attitude; but in the act of hiding his self-hate in him, he could not help but hate those who evoked his self-hate in him. So each part of his day would be consumed in a war with himself, a good part of his energy would be spent in keeping control of his unruly emotions, emotions which he had not wished to have, but could not help having. Held at bay by the hate of others, preoccupied with his own feelings, he was continuously at war with reality. He became inefficient, less able to see and judge the objective world. And when he reached that state, the white people looked at him and laughed and said:

"('Look, didn't I tell you niggers were that way?'"

"(To solve this tangle of balked emotion, I loaded the empty part of the ship of my personality with fantasies of ambition to keep it from toppling over into the sea of senselessness. Like any other American, I dreamed of going into business and making money; I dreamed of working for a firm that would allow me to advance until I reached an important position; I even dreamed of organizing secret groups of blacks to fight all whites. . . . And if the blacks would not agree to organize, then they would have to be fought. I would end up with self-hate, but it was now a self-hate that was projected outward upon other blacks. Yet I knew--with that part of my mind whites had given me--that none of my dreams was possible. Then I would hate myself for allowing my mind to dwell upon the unattainable. Thus the circle would complete itself.

"(Slowly I began to forge in the depths of my mind a mechanism that repressed all the dreams and desires that the Chicago streets, the newspapers, the movies were evoking in me. I was going through a second childhood; a new sense of the limit of the possible was being born in me. What could I dream of that had the barest possibility of coming true? I could think of nothing" (6-7).


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