Suggestions for planning and hosting your own remembrance events
If you are unable to participate in any of the remembrance activities that are being hosted by members of the International Coalition to Commemorate the African Ancestors of the Middle Passage, we encourage you to host your own. This is a practical guide to planning and hosting your own remembrance events for the African Ancestors who perished during the Middle Passage – the Maafa.
Meaning of the word Maafa: The Maafa is a Kiswahili term for “terrible occurrence” or “great disaster”. It refers to the African Holocaust when millions of Africans died making the journey of captivity from the interior of Africa to the shores of America, known as the Middle Passage.
Why it is important to REMEMBER:
When we commemorate our ancestors, we understand our conditions better, realize our strengths, and determine solutions for our collective future. These activities help us commemorate and honor the struggle of our ancestors, the continuing struggle of our people worldwide, and encourage and support the hope that is ours. Our ancestors already paid for us, and they provide clues, keys, and instructions for our survival as well as our restoration in the many ways they speak in words and signs and symbols. They suffered for us, lived and died for us, because they loved us so. Let us now love ourselves enough to restore and repair ourselves, to continue to build a brighter future for those who will come after us.
Suggested Activities to Remember the Ancestors
- Begin by remembering and acknowledging. This is the first and most significant step in the process to commemorating the Ancestors.
- Gather with family, friends or alone to say a prayer for the Ancestors. If a family member or friend passes away, do we not have a service or say a pray to uplift and send them on their way to meet the Creator? The same should be done for our ancestors who perished during the Middle Passage. Let us remember to say a prayer for them. Consider saying your own prayers on any of the days that African Ancestral commemoration activities are being hosted nationally or internationally.
- View consciousness-raising films with friends and family about our history and culture such as, “Sankofa” by renowned filmmaker Haile Gerima; “500 Years Later,” dir.
Owen ‘Alik Shahadah; “Maangamizi: The Ancient One,” dirs. Ron Mulvihill and Martin Mhando; “When the Spirits Danced Mambo,” dirs. Marta Moreno Vega; “The Language You Cry In,” dirs.., Alvaro Topke and Angel Serrano, “Sacred Journey’s with Robert Shepard Osun-Osogbo” (pbs.org). Have a discussion about the content and what it means to you.
- Read serious books by and about Black people. Highly recommended authors include: Dr. John Henrik Clarke, Dr. Chancellor Williams, Dr. Asa Hilliard, Dr. Ivan van Sertima, Dr.Yosef Ben-Jochannan, and Dr. Tony Martin, Dr. Marimba Ani, Dr. Frances Cress Welsing, Dr. Wade Nobles, to name a few.
- Ask your spiritual and/or religious leader to dedicate a service to the remembrance of the ancestors lost during the Middle Passage – the Maafa.
- Write a poem or a song to the Ancestors.
- Create art to depict your remembrance of the Ancestors.
- Plant a tree which can serve as your own memorial to the Ancestors.
- Have children interview elders in the family about their ancestors.
- Organize an educational forum with students, community organizations, or religious organizations around a theme that reflects this period of African history and discuss its significance to you and our conditions today.
- Celebrate the resilience of people of African descent in overcoming enormous obstacles by singing, dancing and drumming.
Pouring Libations and the Ancestral Altar
The Libation is a ritual maintained from our cultural roots in Africa. Never forgetting the foundation established and venerating for the good deeds committed while on Earth is why we pay homage to our Ancestors in the Family. It is the traditional way of beginning any important event throughout Africa. Many of you who celebrate Kwanzaa are probably quite familiar with the libation ceremony inasmuch as the “pouring” of libations is an integral part of the Kwanzaa ceremony. The pouring of libation is not a requirement for honoring our Ancestors, but is an accepted way of acknowledging the Ancestors, and inviting them to join your event. When done in a group setting it usually follows a call and response format. In some traditions libation includes the following:
- Establishing or claiming a physical space as sacred (setting up the altar)
- Giving praise/homage to the Ancestors by calling their names while simultaneously pouring water or clear liquor into a container or the earth or pouring water from a glass into a plant or on the ground. Family Ancestors are called along with National/Historical/ Cultural Ancestors and giving praise to Ancestors whose names are not known.
- Asking the Ancestors for their blessings for those who are living on this plane, and concluding by acknowledging God Almighty, and the Universal forces of the earth and heavens.
The Altar: In the African tradition, veneration of ancestors took place in multiple ways. One has been through the construction of an altar; the altar is simply a physical area in our environment which serves as a focal point to express feelings and emotions within a sacred space. It is the place where we let the Ancestors and the world know how much we value our connection to them. In the most ordinary sense, an altar is a place where an assortment of special objects is arranged for purposes of focusing our spiritual energy. Ceremonies performed using altars can be transformative in that they help give meaning to our daily lives by bringing us back to the Divinity within ourselves, and reminding us of our connection to each other and the Divine Creator. This tradition, which began in ancient times, can be seen universally in virtually all cultures and religious expressions. For example, “going to the altar” is a common feature of the Black church tradition, where members will come down to the altar to say special prayers and to be closer to God.
An altar can be as simple or as complex as desired. However, the elements of a basic altar are these:
White fabric, clear glass of water, white candle or votive, potted plant or vase of flowers/fresh herbs, and pictures or other remembrances of one’s Ancestors. These objects are arranged on the white fabric and form the focal point for prayers, libations, and other forms of Ancestral acknowledgement and homage
Consider creating means and activities not mentioned here that are representative of your own family traditions. What is most important is making an effort to acknowledge and venerate those who have come before us, and made it possible for our current existence.