Though painful to revisit, Dr. Clarke, noted historian and champion for social change, affirmed that remembering the struggles of our African ancestors can ultimately lead to a process of reconciliation and healing.
In an effort to engage the New Orleans African-American community and embrace the legacy of the Middle Passage, Ashé Cultural Arts Center presents MAAFA — In celebration of Our Ancestors on Saturday, July 3. This marks the 10th annual community-wide commemoration that honors the memory of the millions of African people and their descendants who suffered or perished during the period of African capture and enslavement in America.
"We've adapted the motto, "The past we inherit, the future we create," says Ashé Executive Director Carol Bebelle. The past is out of our control; The Maafa commemoration defines what we can do on a day-to-day basis to better our future."
The Maafa (also known as the African Holocaust or Holocaust of Enslavement) refers to the 500 years of suffering of Black Africans and the African Diaspora, through slavery, colonialism, oppression, dehumanization and exploitation. The terms also refer to the social and academic policies that were used to invalidate or appropriate the contributions of African peoples to humanity as a whole, and the residual effects of this persecution, as manifest in contemporary society. The term Maafa is derived from the Swahili term for disaster, terrible occurrence or great tragedy.
While Maafa can be considered an area of study within African history in which both the actual history and the legacy of that history are studied as a single discourse, it can also be taken as its own significant event in the course of global or world history. When studied as African history, the example highlights the legacy of the African Holocaust on African peoples internationally. The emphasis in the historical narrative is on African agents, in opposition to what is perceived to be the conventional Eurocentric voice; for this reason Maafa is an aspect of Pan-Africanism. As a philosophy, Pan-Africanism represents the aggregation of the historical, cultural, spiritual, artistic, scientific and philosophical legacies of Africans from past times to the present. Pan-Africanism as an ethical system traces its origins from ancient times, and promotes values that are the product of the African civilization and the struggles against slavery, racism, colonialism, and neo-colonialism.
The local commemoration begins at 6:30 a.m. at Congo Square in Armstrong Park. Attendees are asked to wear white attire. "The white attire represents purity," Bebelle added. "You look back in time, our people were dressed in white to take part in those sacred rituals."
The vision for the Maafa commemoration has continued to grow and was influenced by the work of St. Paul Baptist Church in Brooklyn, then led by New Orleans-born Rev. Johnnie Ray Youngblood, where annually a month-long series of activities form the Maafa commemoration there.
The Maafa continues from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., with breakfast and entertainment at Ashé Cultural Arts Center, 1712 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. in Central City. Activities will include spoken word, dance, and music. There will also be inter-generational celebrations and discussions around topics of racial healing and unity.
"This is not just an event for African Americans, but for all Americans," Bebelle told The Louisiana Weekly. "The Native American community and other ethnic communities have participated in the past and we invite people of all races to attend."
All Maafa activities are free and open to the public. For more information, contact the Ashé Cultural Arts Center at (504) 569-9070 or visit www.ashecac.org.
Kelly Parker is a contributing writer to The Louisiana Weekly.
Photo by Peter Nakhid.
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