Who We Are

Who We Are: "We are a collaboration of families of African Traditional practitioners coming together to venerate our Ancestors for the perpetual healing of our communities."About our favicon: Fawohodie, an adinkra symbol meaning the "symbol of independence, freedom, emancipation". From the expression: Fawodhodie ene obre na enam. Literal translation: "Independence comes with its responsibilities."

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Purpose of Keepers of the Way

Keepers of the Way is a collaboration of families of African traditional practitioners coming together for the perpetual healing of our communities. It was never our intention that KOW would be associated with our Ile. It is not OUR event. It is a community event that is for elevation of our community through elevation and connecting to ancestors.  At first, there was participation by many people but little by little this participation waned. We do not know why and no one has bothered to say.

Now it is time to be more specific about what our Vision means in literal terms.

What does the perpetual healing of our community mean? Not only is it important that we remember immediate family ancestors but also those who came long before our limited memory allows. It means that we believe that connecting to our ancestors, helps us to overcome the many issues that plague our communities throughout the world. 

Ancestor Reverence in Zimbabwe



In Shona and Ndebele religions, God, or the Supreme Being, is seen as the creator and sustainer of the universe.

Shona Mwari (literally "He or she who is"), or Ndebele uMlimu are both believed to be active in the everyday lives of people. In general, people communicate ith Mwari through the vadzimu (Shona), or amadhlozi (Ndebele). These are the deceased ancestors. The vadzimu are believed to constitute an invisible community within the community of the living, always around their descendants, caring for them and participating in their joys and sorrows. Spirit mediums communicate with the vadzimu on behalf of the people.

In Shona religion, in addition to the guarding characteristics of the vadzimu, there are also the avenging, ngozi, and those who communicate with them. The ngozi are the spirits of deceased individuals who were greatly wronged, neglected by a spouse, murdered, or otherwise neglected. They attack through sudden death of members of the same family or through illness that fails to respond to treatment. The ngozi are the balancing force that are in place to deal with human wrong doing.  

Saturday, June 15, 2013

PERSEVERE - AS OUR ANCESTORS DID, SO MUST WE

Where we are today as African descendants has not been an easy road. We have not come to 2013, still conscious of where we came from, still desiring to understand better and to reconnect with those who came before us by accident or coincidence. That we who call ourselves "Keepers of the Way" are here keeping the way of our Ancestors is a triumph over tribulations. That we know the names of some of those who sacrificed themselves so that we could work, vote, own land, travel, be a citizen, be free, it is a tremendous blessing.

We call ourselves "Keepers of the Way" because we know there was a way before now that got us to where we are now because those before us kept the way. This Annual Ancestor Celebration is one of many ways that we the descendants of Africans keep the way of our Ancestors. And why do we keep it? We keep it because our Ancestors kept it. We keep it because without the keeping of it, we would not be here keeping it. We keep it because it must be kept for those who will come after us to keep it when we are gone. We keep the way of our Ancestors so that the way continues to infinity.



Keeping the way of our Ancestors has been a challenge. When our Ancestors walked this Earth, they were forced to follow other ways that were not their own. They were forced or coerced to give up their own. They sacrificed and they strategized. They never gave up. They persisted and they persevered. Because of those things that they did, conscious efforts that they made, their traditions and beliefs survived the indoctrination, persecution, propaganda and discrimination. We know to honor our Ancestors because they knew to honor theirs and they did it.

Like those before us, then, we must continue on this journey of keeping the way of our Ancestors. They kept the way so that we could have the way and now we must keep it for future generations to have.  The challenges have not disappeared. They are quite different, in fact, that those our Ancestors faced but they are challenges nevertheless. Like our Ancestors, we cannot give up because they did not. We cannot succumb to the questioning and the condemnation. We cannot succumb to the confusion and the misinformation. We cannot succumb to the negativity and the ignorance. We cannot and we must not.

What we must do is heal, wear white, give thanks, work together, sing, dance, pray, give offering, call the names in honor of our Ancestors and in keeping of our way, THE way. As our Ancestors persevered, so must we to keep our traditions alive for the present and future generations. Ire! Ase!

Friday, June 14, 2013

HEARING ANCESTRAL VOICES

Wouldn't it be just lovely to hear a grandmother's voice again telling a story of her life on the farm in a small community near the sea? How wonderful it would be to hear her sing or laugh or give a word of advice! Only certain people have the gift of hearing the voice of Ancestors and many these days are afraid of this ability. Fortunately, the traditional practices that exist to venerate Ancestors also provide the opportunity to hear their voices through trance or possession.

Egungun dancer
Yoruba Egungun dancer.
Photo by Egba-Egbado Descendants Association
Spirit possession is a norm at ancestral celebrations and when they happen, those present get to hear the voices of Ancestors. At these times, the family, individual or the community is told whatever they need to know from their Ancestors. It is quite amazing to experience that, to actually be able to speak to a great grandmother or grandfather you had never met in your life and who had transitioned to the realm of the Ancestors before you could interact with them in life.

We are fortunate to know this tradition of honoring Ancestors and being able to communicate with them. Many may not understand it and many more condemn it but we are among the blessed ones who remember a way that was our way for thousands upon thousands of years. That way that allowed us to hear our Ancestors' voices guided us, supported us, protected us. That way got us through many tribulations. That way saved our lives.

Our 3rd Annual Ancestor Celebration will give us the opportunity to raise our own voices in praise and gratitude to our Ancestors. Perhaps we might be fortunate enough to hear their voices as well.  May we hear the message and receive the blessings in the voices of our Ancestors. Make it to Omenala Griot Museum, 337 Dargan Place SW, Atlanta, GA 30310 for this year's celebration which starts at 11 am this Sunday, June 16 (Juneteeth), 2013. It's time to gather for healing, strengthening and blessing. Ire! Ase!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

WHITE - THE COLOR OF HEALING AS WE HONOR OUR ANCESTORS

Akan Ancestor stool wrapped in white cloth
and elevated on rocks. Photo by Phil Bartle



According to Akan tradition, white is never worn at a funeral because it is a color that symbolizes joy, purity, cleansing and victory. While paying homage to Ancestors, they wrap a special Ancestral stool in white cloth to protect it from negativity.
In Voodoo tradition of the Fon kingdom in Benin, white is worn during rituals of healing and cleansing.
Voodoo healing procession. Photo by Kwekudee
           









Women as well as men in the Candomble tradition of Brazil often wear white during important spiritual events. 


White is also significant in Yoruba tradition and is worn for honoring Ancestors as well. So, as our Annual Ancestor Celebration draws nearer, prepare your white clothes  and join as a community with those who will be gathering in celebration and reverence to Ancestors. This is a color that will surely emanate the spirit of unity as well as healing that will be important to this year's event. The activities begin at 11:00 am this Sunday, June 16 (Juneteenth) at the Omenala Griot Museum, 337 Dargan Place SW, Atlanta, GA 30310. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

HONORING ANCESTORS - A HEALING PROCESS

Spiritual healer (Buyei) leading the Garifuna Dugu celebration
When the Garinagu of Central America conduct a Dugu (the Feasting of the Dead), it would often be because someone became ill and no doctor could determine what was the problem. The family would then take the ailing person to the spiritual healer and in that consultation would find out that an Ancestor wanted a feast. The family and by extension the community would then engage in preparations that usually would take a year.

When the celebration itself actually occurs, the ailing person becomes better as if nothing had ever happened to that person. There would be numerous instances throughout the week that the Dugu would be taking place when some kind of healing or the other would occur. It would not be strange for someone to become possessed and while in trance would go and massage an elder with aching knees or would give instructions to family members of some herbal remedy that should be prepared to help someone who was ill. So, while this major event in honor of Ancestors in the tradition of the Garinagu would be about feasting and celebration, it would also be about healing.

Sangoma: healers in Xhosa tradition. Photo by Zilba Raubach
 African traditions believe in the power of Ancestors to bring healing to the individual, the family and the community. They have faith that Ancestors can see what troubles us physically, mentally and emotionally. They trust in the Ancestors' ability to help solve the problems that the living face. Celebrations in honor of Ancestors, then, create the environment for healing. Whether it is physical illness or lack of unity within a family or community, the Ancestors bring people together to feel better, do better, be better.  A celebration of Ancestors is inevitably a celebration of healing.

Join us at our Annual Ancestor Celebration on Sunday, June 16th, 2013 (Juneteenth) where as we celebrate we also heal. It's all happening at the Omenala Griot Museum, 337 Dargan Place SW, Atlanta, GA 30310. Take advantage of this opportunity to experience the healing power of our Ancestors.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

WHY CELEBRATE ANCESTORS? WHY NOT?!

Need it be a question to ask? Have we come so far away from OUR way that we must ask the relevance and importance of celebrating and honoring our Ancestors?  In the time when we were truly civilized we would not have asked this question. It would not even cross our minds to ask in the same way we would not ask why must we breath oxygen. It was simply natural for us to honor those from whom we came. It was natural to be grateful to them for having existed and passed on their knowledge to us and their genes so that we could exist.

For those who argue that God rather than Ancestors should be honored, consider the fact that one would not know of God or feel any connection to God were it not for Ancestors. They fill that gap between the present and the beginning. Our spirituality is based on what we have learnt from those who walked the Earth before us. What we know of any Supreme Being, we know because our Ancestors believed and passed those beliefs on to us.

Masked dancers for Egungun/Ancestors. 
In addition to that, many of the blessings we currently enjoy are given to us by our Ancestors. The skills we have in the jobs we do, the talents we display that have gained us recognition, the many opportunities that we have been given have come from those foremothers and forefathers who watch over us and open the way for us. We owe the physical traits we have to our Ancestors. We owe aspects of our personality that make us easy to talk to or very organized or very humorous or very courageous to one Ancestor or another who exhibited similar traits when they walked the Earth. It would be a folly to deny this when our ancestral heritage is written in our DNA. We descend from people who were here before us. Without their existence, we would not exist today.
That fact alone is sufficient for celebration and gratitude.

So, as we prepare for this year's Annual Ancestor Celebration, let us reflect on those who came before us and "upon whose shoulders we stand." Our Ancestors have been there and continue to be there. Just because we cannot see them does not mean that they are absent from our lives. They are our true angels, guiding and protecting us. Our celebration will emphasize their significance in our lives and highlight the importance of celebrating them. Because we exist today, that is reason enough to celebrate our Ancestors. Join us in this worthwhile tradition that has survived slavery, colonialism and globalization. It starts at 11 am on Sunday, June 16, 2013 (Juneteenth) at the Omenala Griot Museum,  337 Dargan Place SW, Atlanta, GA 30310.

Monday, June 10, 2013

DANCING FOR ANCESTORS

It usually involves singing, dancing, drumming and a circular formation. All four are very important to any celebration of Ancestors on the continent or in the diaspora. The 'ring shout', for example, is one of several dances done in the diaspora to honor Ancestors. Enslaved Africans in the Caribbean and the United States would gather at night after their work day at a location usually in the forest to do this dance of shuffling feet, clapping hands, and singing voices moving in a circle going in a counterclockwise direction. This was one of the ways Africans who were brought to the Americas  figured out how to preserve certain aspects of the traditions they were forced to leave behind.

The McIntosh County Shouters doing the Ring Shout. Image posted by Steve Kiviat.

Kumina dancing in Jamaica. Photo from www.embracingspirituality.com
The Kumina dance in Jamaica has drums and other instruments but it is also done in honour of Ancestors and in circular formation. Many communities around Jamaica retain this traditional practice and sometimes the African language Kikongo can still be heard in the songs that are sung for Kumina. Because it is so powerful in its veneration of Ancestors, spirit possession is typical during the Kumina which makes it clearly an ancestral dance. Offerings to Ancestors are also done during this dance.
Dancing in the Dabuyaba. Photo by Judy Lumb

The Garinagu of Central America also have a dance that is done during the Feasting of the Dead (Dugu) which is the largest ancestral celebration in Garifuna tradition. The dance Hugulendu is done in circular formation with specific songs that are sung during the Dugu. The three large Segundo drums are played while the leading singers (gayusa) call songs that participants in the dance respond to. The dancing would go in a clockwise direction and then when a different song is called, the dancers would turn and dance in a counterclockwise direction. It is normal for spirit possession to happen during this dance as well but unlike the Kumina or Ring Shout, the Hugulendu is only done inside the Garifuna spiritual temple the dabuyaba.

The examples provided here clearly illustrate the importance of dancing, singing, drumming and circular formation in the celebration and honor of Ancestors. Our Annual Ancestor Celebration that is fast approaching will be no different in giving honor to Ancestors through song and dance. A workshop is planned for participants who are interested in learning a dance in honour of Ancestors. It is among several activities that will be taking place on Sunday, June 16, 2013 (Juneteenth) in Atlanta for our 3rd Annual Ancestor Celebration. May there be an overflow of positive energy that could be felt in the singing, drumming and dancing that is a must in honoring Ancestors.

Friday, June 7, 2013

SINGING: A MUST IN HONORING ANCESTORS

Singing, usually by call and response, is a significant and prevalent aspect of African tradition. Cultures with an African foundation have singing in just about every aspect of life from birth to death. Most songs are written to express life's experiences - the joy of a new child, the achievement of a particular goal, the reunion of a family, the overcoming of a challenge - whether joyous or tragic. Songs are sung to do particular tasks and many times songs are composed during the conduct of daily work. Among the Garinagu (African and indigenous descendants of the Caribbean and Central America) for example, women who would be working together to make cassava bread would compose songs for specific tasks in the process to motivate them through the hard work of washing, peeling and grating cassava.
Garifuna women peeling the bitter cassava tubers to make cassava bread.
These songs are then passed on to the younger generation through their involvement alongside elders in particular activities. This type of action helps to build that connection between old and young, past, present and future. It creates an opportunity for the transmission of traditional cultural practices to the younger people of the community who would then have the task of passing it on to those younger than them in years to come.

The Garinagu, like many other African descendant communities, have songs that are sacred and reserved for rituals in honor of Ancestors. These songs would not generally be heard on a regular day-to-day occasion. Instead, such songs would be called during a Dugu, the Feasting of the Dead to welcome Ancestors into the dabuyaba (ancestral temple). In some cases, the singing of certain songs causes the energy to intensify in the celebration and in these moments Ancestral spirits come forth and speak to family members in attendance. Members of the community get to learn these songs while attending the Dugu but for those who are the gayusa (special group of singers), they learn the songs from elders or from Ancestors in dreams.

Country | Kenya | Singing Masai Women Image
Maasai women of Kenya singing. Photo by Borft
Our Annual Ancestor Celebration will also create this opportunity for cultural preservation in a song workshop. In this particular activity, participants will get to learn songs in honor of Ancestors. In the same way Garifuna people get to learn songs at the Dugu celebration, the song workshop at this year's Annual Ancestor Celebration on June 16th in Atlanta will give participants the chance to learn African and African-American songs in honor of Ancestors. There surely cannot be a celebration of Ancestors without the singing of songs in their honor.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

CHILDREN AND ANCESTORS: COMPLETING THE CYCLE

It could be said that children are ancestors reincarnated. When elders look at children, they can easily recognize their own parents, relatives or friends long gone to the realm of the Ancestors in the laughter, expressions, physical features, voice or other traits`children bring alive. Children, then, form a link between past, present and future. Their participation in any celebration of Ancestors is pivotal to the transfer and continuity of African tradition. Were it not for the deliberate actions made by Ancestors when they walked the Earth to pass on their knowledge to the children, what we know today would be completely lost.
Children at Vodoun Festival in Benin
Our Annual Ancestor Celebration, therefore, is conscious of the importance of children's participation and makes accommodation for children to be involved in the celebration. As part of the day's events, a workshop will be held specifically for children to engage in a creative activity that would express appreciation for Ancestors. In this way, children are not only placed in an environment where they see adults and elders doing something traditional as an example to them but they also become engaged in the process and get to make something that reflects their own expression of appreciation for Ancestors.

No celebration of Ancestors would be complete without children's participation. Considering that the preservation of traditions relies on children learning and embracing those traditions, events such as the Annual Ancestor Celebration provide the opportunity to transfer that knowledge from one generation to the other. The children are the future. The children are the present. The children complete the cycle between us and our Ancestors.

Monday, June 3, 2013

WE ARE ONE - CELEBRATING ANCESTORS

"The social fabric of the African community is woven together by ancestor reverence," says the Encyclopedia of African Religion, Vol. I. The truth of this statement can be seen in any celebration of ancestors in any society of African origin. There is no celebration of ONE when it comes to Eegun (Ancestors). Yes, individuals may give offerings in honour of Ancestors on special occasions or in expression of gratitude; however, ancestral celebrations in Africa and in the diaspora bring families and entire communities together.
African descendants in Nicaragua in a large gathering honoring Ancestors. Photo by Kwekudee
Our Annual Ancestor Celebration maintains this tradition of unity, of collective effort and responsibility. Several individuals have been doing work, holding meetings and making plans in preparation for the event that will, as it has over the past two years, bring together many African descendants who are conscious of their African heritage and are willing to join with others in celebration of Ancestors. The spirit of unity in this celebration is not just among people of like mind or people of a particular African tradition; rather, the solidarity in this Annual Ancestor Celebration intertwines different traditional practices in honor of Ancestors. This celebration, then, is not only a celebration of Ancestors but also a celebration of our connection, our oneness as African descendants.

Tribute to Our Ancestors of the Middle Passage in New York. Photo by Tony Akeem
No matter what part of the world we hail from, whether we were born and raised on the continent of Africa or born and raised elsewhere, we share a common root that has merely spread itself across seas and continents. Our Annual Ancestor Celebration to be held June 16, 2013 (Juneteenth) in Atlanta makes us reconnect to the root that makes us ONE.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

CELEBRATING OUR CONNECTION: The Annual Ancestor Celebration on Juneteenth

There was no plan that our Ancestors made in the past that made the occurrence of certain experiences common to all of us as African descendants in varied locations. The plan would have to  have been a divine one that then has made the observation of certain special days in history meaningful to African descendants around the diaspora and on the continent as well. Even though specific dates may differ, the important thing is that we can relate to these events and have common reasons to celebrate.

The selection of the June 16th weekend - celebrated in the United States as "Juneteenth" - for this year's Annual Ancestor Celebration is quite appropriate because of the significance of that celebration in the history of African descendants in the US. June 19th, 1865 is the date when the enslaved who should have long been free from slavery finally received official word that they were no longer to be kept in captivity and forced to work without compensation. It was then that our Ancestors in the US could finally walk away - without looking back and without overwhelming fear of re-capture - from the plantations that held such harsh memories of life under the oppressive watch and whip of slave owners. This was freedom day at last!

In other parts of the Americas and the Caribbean, emancipation occurred at different times. But the emotions felt, the glee, the jumps for joy and even the anxiety were certainly familiar to many of our Ancestors. They may not have known each other and the details of their experiences may not have been the same but they could surely relate to each other one way or another. They knew what oppression felt like. They knew the desire to be free. They knew anger, frustration, hope and determination. No matter where they were and what their circumstances, they were connected to each other.

So, this year we gather as African descendants at 337 Dargan Place SW, Atlanta, Georgia on Sunday, June 16, 2013 to celebrate our oneness as Africans through our Ancestors. Their accomplishments and their triumphs over adversary have contributed to the life we enjoy today. They have given us so much to be grateful for and proud of. It is surely time to celebrate!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Because of Them We Celebrate: One Month, One Day, Every Day

The month of February is the shortest month of the year but it is observed yearly as African-American History Month. It is one deliberate effort at remembering the experiences - challenges overcome, achievements made, battles won, tears and blood shed - that our Ancestors endured so that we could be here enjoying things that may seem mundane now but that were denied us back then.  Is it sufficient, this one month of remembrance and celebration? Does it succeed in taking us, African descendants, back to way back where we came from - not "up from slavery" but "down from the pyramids?"

Measuring this success or failure may be difficult. We could never know all efforts made to remember our Ancestors or to forget them - some people actually do that. We can remain encouraged, though, that each year this month is observed and celebrated. Many a class discussion is held talking about our Ancestors' struggles and successes. Many events are held acknowledging the contributions of key individuals who took action on our behalf at the sacrifice of their lives.  Many documentaries and films are shown that are recreations of our Ancestors' rich and powerful stories. And all who participate or benefit from these efforts form a percentage of the success of this month of remembrance and celebration.

It is a month celebrated annually in a place, the United States of America. In other places, it is months or an entire year dedicated to Ancestors. In yet other places, it is every day that Ancestors are remembered and revered. However long it is though, and whatever form it takes, it is a celebration of those whose existence in the past has made our existence now possible.  For that fact alone we owe our Ancestors gratitude and we have much to celebrate whether it be one month, one day or every single day.