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The Black community has a traumatic history it’s yet to heal from. This is demonstrated through its quest to fight for equal opportunities and societal acceptance. The death of George Floyd in 2020 was the tipping point and the rise of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and similar organisations signals their urgency.
As that happens, they’re continuously finding ways of addressing these issues. One way is by having days set aside to reflect on their history and forecast the present and future they want. This is what the Maafa commemoration is all about.
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What Is Maafa Commemoration?
Maafa is a Swahili word that means the great tragedy that happened during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade when millions of Africans were stolen and taken to provide labour in foreign lands.
The Maafa commemoration can be traced back to 1988, but different institutions picked it up at different times in history. The Ashe Cultural Arts Centre in New Orleans started holding celebrations in 2000 and does so every July. It’s commemorated in the third week of September in Brooklyn, New York.
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How Did Maafa Commemoration Start?
New Orleans preacher Johnny Youngblood is credited for starting the Maafa Commemoration in New Orleans. This came after he began talks with his staff about the trauma past that black people are dealing with as a result of this slavery. According to him, the silence around this dark past explains why black people struggle to move on.
He carried on these conversations in his church and community and eventually organised the first celebration in 1995 in his church, St. Paul’s Community Baptist Church.
Speaking to the New York Times, he explained that a visit to Israel where he saw thousands of Jews mourn at the Western Wall in honour of the destruction of a temple in Jerusalem, inspired him to do the same for our ancestors.
“It is like organized grief work. It is a cultural piece of the grief work of a people who lost something.”
“Maafa is a word that describes the African side, the real human side, not the commercial side, of what we know out of American history as the trans-Atlantic slave trade or even the middle passage.”
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What Happens During Maafa Commemoration?
Several activities occur during the Maafa commemoration; The healing journey involves moving, dancing, drumming, singing, healing words, a tribute to indigenous people, and releasing doves.
The participants dress in white to pay respect to their ancestors for the sacrifices they made that allowed African Americans to enjoy present-day America.
Drumming and dancing are a vital part of the celebration as it’s one of the ancestors’ customs. The enslaved people weren’t allowed to use drums as the slave masters claimed that they used them to send messages to one another.
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Additionally, lectures, tours, worship services and workshops facilitate the educating, reconciling and healing of the collective memory of black people.
Were you familiar with the Maafa commemoration? We hope this article helps you understand the complexities of the African American experience. Additionally, we hope it inspires you to learn more about their history and how we can change things for a perfect future.
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