H i s t o r y

The history and meaning of Nakumbuka...


Nakumbuka is a Kiswahili word that means I remember. Nakumbuka is the name given to the annual day of observance for the Maafa (The African slavery holocaust).

Jomo Nkombe, a Tanzanian who lived in Canada, pioneered the idea of Nakumbuka as a public ritual in 1990. From early youth, Nkombe was mindful of the slave trade that had been carried out from the East African Coast. On coming to North America as a student, he met Americans and West Indians of African Heritage and became drawn into the history of the Transatlantic slave trade from the West African Coast.

November 11 each year is observed as Veterans' Day in the USA (Remembrance Day in Canada). The English, French and Americans honour the Unknown Soldier; so Nkombe reasoned that we of African Heritage should also be honoring our unknown warriors who fell resisting slavery.

Observance of November 11 started as the anniversary of the Armistice, which was signed by the Allies and the Germans in 1918, ending World War I. In the early years following, Armistice Day was observed all over the world and particularly by the Anglo-Europeans in schools and churches and at the tombs of the Unknown Soldiers, where the Chief Executive or his representative placed a wreath. In many other communities, the American Legion was in charge of the observance, which included parades and religious services. At 11 A.M. all traffic stopped, in tribute to the dead, then volleys were fired from cannon and taps sounded.

November 11 has become a time to honor all those who had fought in various American wars, not just in World War I but servicemen of all America's wars. Although servicemen of African heritage lost their lives in the World Wars and subsequent imperialist wars Veterans Day or Remembrance Day did not resonate with people of African heritage. These wars were not pursued for the benefit of African liberation commemoration of them was not so meaningful for Black people the world over.

Nkombe's idea was to commemorate Africans who died in slave rebellions and resisting slavery on the same day 11th November that America and the rest of the world commemorated their dead. In 1990 Nkombe met with Charles 'Mende' Roach, a Canadian jurist born in Trinidad and requested him to take the idea to the World Pan African Movement which was holding a Conference in Lagos, Nigeria in 1991. At that conference it was resolved that the World Pan African Movement promote Nakumbuka specifically with the idea of raising consciousness of the Maafa (African slavery holocaust) in which many millions died. Nakumbuka was also tied into the idea of reparations for slavery. Among those who attended the Lagos Conference was an African American, Duane Bradford. Bradford promoted Nakumbuka in the United States and made the idea a reality beginning in 1994.

The World Pan African Movement had established Nakumbuka in the belief that persons observing it would do so in whatever form and with whatever rituals they choose to develop, so long as certain central themes are observed. The central theme is that those who perished resisting slavery whether they are known or unknown be remembered with honour.

In some Nakumbuka ceremonies some people honour personal ancestors and African American heroes of the 20th century; but if this is done, it should not take precedence over honoring the martyrs of the Maafa (African slavery holocaust).

The first Nakumbuka ceremonies in Canada were in the early Nineties in Toronto organized by Nkombe and Roach. It consisted of street processions symbolically called Bwagomoyo to Ujiji. This symbol memorialized the slave route from Bwagomoyo in the interior, to the slave trans-shipment point of Ujiji on the shores of what is now Tanzania. The participants regaled themselves in African clothing and some in slave garb with shackles. At the end of the processions there was the breaking of chains ceremony and the oath of Nakumbuka which involved a pledge for a lifelong struggle for the liberation of Africa and African people.

Part of the Nakumbuka ritual involves a call-and-response recitation of the names of ports from which enslaved Africans were taken away; participants say "Nakumbuka!" in response.

In 2003 February 20-21, Nakumbuka was celebrated for the first time in Jamaica when Basil 'Ku-Soonogo' Lopez introduced it there with the support of the faculty and administration of The Mico College in Kingston. That commemoration was qualitatively different as officialdom of the country was involved. The Governor General of the country participated in the procession.

The Maafa is the unique historical fact that binds together those of African heritage together. The aspiration of the Pan African Movement is to have Nakumbuka observed worldwide wherever people of Black African Heritage are found.

Declaration

DECLARATION

Written by Ku-Soonogo and Dr. Clinton Hutton

Nakumbuka is a confrontation with our past, particularly that aspect which has to do with the slave trade. We are simultaneously ridding ourselves of whatever residual trauma might still be left in our psychic concatenation as well as embrace the life-giving sustenance embodied in the systems of high African culture, so that: when we say 'Nakumbuka' we remember the nameless millions who sought release in the waters of the Atlantic, and we believe that from this watery grave will rise up a fountain of unquenchable aspirations, that the laws that govern the past govern also the future and the righteousness of our reasoning is based on cosmic justice; when we say 'Nakumbuka' we remember the flaws inherent in our division, those senseless brutes who sold their brothers like carrion, and we believe that the spirit of healing will transcend the multiplicity in our perceptions and our resilience nurture corrections to the unforgettable opportunity given to our enemies; when we say 'Nakumbuka' we speak of those who are presumed dead, but whose dialogue live in the syllables of nature and we believe that the songs we carry have no beginning nor end, but are whispered from one generation to the next; when we say 'Nakumbuka' we remember the culture carriers: (libation to be poured at the speaking of each name) Grandi Nanni, Ana de Sousa Nzinga, David Walker, Henry Highland Garnet, Frederick Douglas, Daddi Sam Sharpe, Kofi, Antonio Maceo, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Iba B. Wells Barnett, Paul Bogle, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Amilcar Cabral, Patrice Lumumba, Walter Rodney, Cheikh Anta Diop, Chief Albert Luthuli, Bob Marley, Amy Jacques Garvey, Leonard Howell, Toussaint L'Ouverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Boukman, Macaya, Henri Christophe; when we say 'Nakumbuka' we remember the high cultures of Africa - Egypt, Nubia, Zimbabwe - and the wisdom enshrined in the ways of the Orishas, Isis and Osiris, the vision of Ogatumelli and the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari: and when we say 'Nakumbuka' we remember the best in ourselves and we believe that in each of us is a divine seed whose growth may be deferred but never destroyed.

Nakumbuka's Poem
POEM
written by Ku-Soonogo


We shall sit by the sea, by the sea, by the sea;
we shall sit by the sea at the close of the day
watching the children play

We shall sit by the sea, by the sea, by the sea;
we shall sit by the sea, by the doorway of the sky
watching the John Crow fly.

We shall sit by the sea
listening to the hissing, to the whispering of the sea
listening to the griots tell
of the snatching into hell,
one hundred million Black lining the track
back to Africa.
Nakumbuka.

We shall sit by the sea
waiting for the day
the ship will carry us to the way
of our ancestors - religious, not fictitious;
sit and wait for the date;
it is not for us to calculate the mathematics of infinity;
we live on the affinity with the bones that line the track
taking us back
to Africa.
Nakumbuka. Nakumbuka.

Yes, we will remember the sardine-packed ships,
the brutality of the whips,
shitting in the dark
and the sharks nyaming human flesh from the dinner-makers,
human cargo-takers to the America's.

We shall sit by the sea, by the sea, by the sea;
we shall by the sea at the close of the day
watching the children play,
no matter the sharks on the flood
looking out for blood,
no matter the John Crow, eyes on its head,
looking out for the dead;
we have others, saints,
who live free
at the bottom of the sea,
one hundred million Black
lining the track
taking us back
to Africa.
Nakumbuka Ba Ba! Nakumbuka Ba Ba!

We shall sit by the sea, by the sea, by the sea;
we shall sit by the sea,
to the doorway of the sky
letting our spirits fly.

Nakumbuka Song
written by Charlie Roach

NAKUMBUKA

amandla baba
nakumbuka baba
amandla baba

amandla ngweitu
amandla ngweitu
amandla ngweitu
nakumbuka baba

OGUN OLORUN
ogun olorun olodumare
obatala oduduwa
ogun olorun olodumare
obatala oduduwa

obatala o odatala o
obatala oduduwa
obatala o

PENDA AFRICA
sisi ni wata wa afrika
sisi ni wata wa afrika
sisi ni wata wa afrika
sisi ni wata wa afrika
penda afrika
tunai penda afrika
penda afrika
tunai penda afrika

we are an african people
love africa, we love africa
How to celebrate at home
For African people who will not be able to participate in a formal Nakumbuka Day Ceremony, there is still the option of observing Nakumbuka Day in their homes and with friends and neighhors in small ceremonies. The day is started with creating an alter of historical and family ancestors, both recently and long passed on. We also recommend that it actually be set up the day before but the best thing to do is have a permanent standing alter already in the home. The alter should be covered with some kind of white cloth which is symbolic of mourning in the traditional African world. A white candle should be lit on the alter that morning by a member of the family. At some point during the day the family or group should find time to assemble around the alter. At the designated time of the family gathering four more candles should be added to the alter. The family ceremony starts with the lighting of the four candles which represent the four cardinal points of the earth where African people exist. The lighting of the candles is reserved for the elders in the group. If a male and female elder are present, both should light two candles each. If only one elder is present then that elder lights all four candles. If there are no elders present then the oldest person in the group will light the candles. Once the candles are lit the group may listen to a rendering of the song "Nakumbuka" or they may all sing it together. If the group does not have that song it can sing any song that reflects remembrance of African people (not religious or national anthems). Passages may be read by different members of the group that deal with the brutality of enslavement, apartheid, colonialism, segregation, or even civil war (between African people). Starting with the elder in the group each member is offered an opportunity to express a feeling on what the passage meant to that person. Once everyone has shared, each member of the group, starting with the elder, will remember an ancestor, recent or past, and how that person was victorious in his/her ability to cope with the Maafa in our lives. As this is being done a bowl of ash is placed in front of the person speaking. When the speaker has finished she/he then dips a forefinger into the ash and places a mark of mourning/celebration from that ash in the middle of her/his forehead. Once this is completed, starting with an elder, a bowl of salt is passed around to each person in the group to dip a finger into. No one will taste the salt until the elder signals everyone to do so. When the signal is given, everyone will place the salt on the tip of their tongues and taste it. The elder will remind them that the salt represents the pain of the Maafa in its various forms including enslavement, colonialism, apartheid, civil war and economic oppression. Then a bowl of honey is passed around to each person in the group to dip a finger into. Again no one will taste the honey until the elder signals everyone to do so. When the signal is given everyone will place the honey on the tip of their tongues and taste it. The elder will remind them that the honey is symbolic of the sweetness of our future victory because we remember the ancestors and their struggles against the Maafa today. The elder tells the group that African people may have victory delayed but they will, ultimately, defeat their oppression as long as they remember the Maafa without shame or embarrassment, understanding that we will never allow such a thing to ever happen to us again under any circumstances. Once this is done the elder will take a small replica of the Liberation Flag (Red, Black and Green) in his/her hands. While holding onto the flag the elder will make a commitment to the ancestors that no one in the circle will ever forget the pain and suffering that the ancestors endured, and that each person will remember through behaviors that build a positive future to the improvement of African life throughout the world. The elder will emphasize that differences in religion, politics, wealth, education, cultural ways and mixed ancestry should never divide African loyalties to our self-determination, and that no alien elements introduced to the African worldview should be allowed to separate us from each other. Once this has been stated the elder will kiss the Liberation Flag in commitment to this covenant, and will pass the flag around to each person in the circle to kiss. The elder will then clap once in front of each candle and blow it out. After that is done the group will say seven Nakumbukas with the seventh being the loudest. Everyone in the group will hug each other and the family ceremony is completed for the year. The one lone candle that was lit during the day will stay lit until the last person in the house goes to bed. If the ceremony takes place in another location that candle is blown out with the others. The ash should remain in the forehead until bedtime. While Nakumbuka Day is a solemn occasion of remembrance, it is not necessarily, a sad one. In the African world view, and in keeping with ancient and many contemporary indigenous African communities, it is also a time of celebration because the loved ones have returned home to reinforce our spiritual power. We are to remember that they still watch over us and guide us when we are sensitive to their presence. It is a loss and a gain, and like everything else in the universe it is never lost, just different. Some options include the family having a good cultural meal together that day and a small plate of that food should be placed in front of the alter. After the meal has been eaten, it can be removed. This should be done by the children (or youngest people) in the family/group, and serves to remind them of their immediate link to the ancestors. Remembering others entails fond and joyful memories even in difficult times. Our ancestors managed to find joy in the midst of the most brutal aspects of the Maafa and we should maintain that tradition. Finally from the African world view we believe that the ancestors surround us and interact with us even during the ceremony so it is important to cultivate this feeling of their presence throughout the day by using quotes and expressions of theirs to help maintain that linkage. NAKUMBUKA!