Saturday, November 21, 2009


It’s beginning to look a lot like Kwanzaa! Yes African people, it is that time of year again. Time to celebrate, celebrate, celebrate Kwanzaa!

Kwanzaa is a cultural Pan-African seven day celebration which begins on December 26th and finishes on January 1st. The celebration of Kwanzaa began in the USA in 1966 during the political and social changes that took place when many African Americans were beginning to be “Black and Proud.” The creation of Kwanzaa served as a way to reconnect African Americans to African culture and to celebrate family, community and culture. Kwanzaa is a celebration for all Africans regardless of their religion or country of birth. It is a time to celebrate our culture, learn about our history and spend time with family and friends. Millions of Africans - not only in the USA but across the globe – celebrate Kwanzaa each year. Africans from the Americas, the Caribbean, Europe and wherever we live, come together with family and friends to honour African ancestors and traditions and look to our future as a people. We gather in homes, in schools, in places of worship and in community centres. The Kwanzaa celebration inspired racial pride in African Americans who, like other Africans in the Diaspora had been brainwashed into thinking that European culture was superior. Many Africans in the Diaspora still do not know their history and do not recognize that the continent from which their ancestors were stolen is a rich continent that was underdeveloped by Europe. The values articulated in the seven Kwanzaa principles “Nguzo Saba” resonate with Africans and the celebration which began with a few people in the USA in 1966 is now an international celebration. In 1998 it was estimated that Kwanzaa was celebrated by 18 million Africans worldwide.

Kiswahili, the most widely spoken African language is the language of choice during the celebration of Kwanzaa. The celebration of Kwanzaa can be used as an opportunity to learn the words of an African language, Kiswahili. Kwanzaa comes from the Kiswahili phrase "matunda ya kwanza" which means "first fruits. Decorating the Kwanzaa table is certainly an opportunity to learn. There are seven symbols that make up the table setting of a Kwanzaa celebration. The mkeka (mat) is the foundation upon which the other symbols are placed. The kinara (candle holder) holds the mishumaa saba (seven candles). The kikombe cha umoja (unity cup), mazao (fruits and vegetables), muhindi (ears of corn) and zawadi (gifts) are placed on the mkeka. To the greeting/question, “Habari gani?” the answer is the principle of the day. The seven principles which are recognized one day at a time are Unity (Umoja), Self-Determination (Kujichagulia), Collective Work and Responsibility (Ujima), Cooperative Economics (Ujamaa), Purpose (Nia), Creativity (Kuumba) and Faith (Imani). Each principle is represented by a candle (mshumaa). The colours of the candles (red, black and green) are significant because they are the Pan-African colours chosen by the Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey. The red, black and green bendera (flag) is oftentimes a part of the Kwanzaa decoration. Black represents the African people; red represents the blood shed in our struggle for freedom and green is the symbol of our future and the richness of the African continent.

The Mishumaa saba (seven candles) used during Kwanzaa are placed in the kinara with the black candle in the centre, the three red candles to the left of the black candle and the three green candles to the right. On the first day of Kwanzaa, December 26th, the central black candle, representing Umoja (unity) is lit. On the second day of Kwanzaa, the first red candle next to the central black candle, representing Kujichagulia (self-determination) is lit. On the third day of Kwanzaa, the first green candle, next to the central black candle, representing Ujima (collective work and responsibility) is lit. The candles are lit in this alternating pattern until the last green candle, representing Imani (faith) is lit on the last day of the Kwanzaa celebration. The seven principles can be our guide throughout the year and do not have to be relegated to the Kwanzaa celebration from December 26th to January 1st.

During the celebration of Kwanzaa it is important that we practice Ujamaa (cooperative economics) so that our money circulates in the community at least seven times. The decorations for the Kwanzaa table can be found in stores owned by members of our community. The place to buy a beautifully carved wooden kinara is at an African owned store. That is also the place to buy your mkeka, kikombe cha umoja and African fabrics e.g. kente cloth. An important part of the Kwanzaa celebration is the recognition of those who went before us. We must remember those who paved the way for us and be thankful that they never stopped striving for their freedom. Celebrating Kwanzaa encourages buying educational African centred gifts for our children. There are excellent books written for our children about the heroes and sheroes who can serve as inspiration and role models. The titles include: Mathieu Da Costa: First to Arrive, The Kids Book of Black Canadian History, Mary Ann Shadd, John Ware, Elijah of Buxton, To stand and fight together, My name is Henry Bibb.

On Thursday, December 31st, to celebrate Kuumba (Creativity), the sixth Kwanzaa principle there will be a Kwanzaa celebration at 100 Devonshire Place (across from the Varsity Stadium.) The community is invited to this free event. If you have not celebrated Kwanzaa, now is a good time to start. Kwanzaa yenu iwe na heri! May your Kwanzaa be happy!!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thursday, November 12, 2009


What's in a name? Shakespeare wrote that a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet. He could afford to think, write and even say those words. He was a White male who had power and privilege bestowed on him because of the colour of his skin. His parents probably named him; he was not given a name by people from another culture who had stolen his name and language from him. For enslaved Africans who did not have a choice in naming themselves it is a very different matter. Europeans re-named us. Under pain of death we were not permitted to use our own names or speak our mother tongue. Africans in the Diaspora are the only group of people who do not collectively know who they are. There are individuals and groups who will acknowledge that they are African, but as a people we do not yet know and take pride in who we are. Other groups whose ancestors left their places of origin many years ago are proud of who they are. There is a reason for this difference in attitudes. Our ancestors did not choose to leave; they were kidnapped, dragged out of their countries, out of the continent in chains and held captive their entire lives. Were it not for the 400-year enslavement of Africans we would all know that we are Africans and our names would reflect this knowledge.

Deliberate, strategic methods were used to alienate Africans from tradition and from each other, and to teach African inferiority and European superiority. Europeans first attacked African culture; then they denied that African culture ever existed. Stripped of their names and identities, our ancestors were no longer Africans; they were made "Negro" by White slavers. The names many of us carry today reflect the nationality of the Europeans who enslaved our ancestors. Had this not been the case, my great grandfather's name would not have been Kelly Murphy Jonas. His name would probably have been Kofi. Kofi is the Akan name given to a male born on Friday. My name would probably have been Abena, because I was born on Tuesday. My childhood friends Staye and Faye Daniels would probably have been Taiwo and Kehinde because they are twins. Taiwo and Kehinde are the Yoruba names given to twins. Africans in the Diaspora cannot claim one particular country as the country of their ancestors either; our history of enslavement with the accompanying destruction of family units makes it impossible. Since everyone has two biological parents, four grandparents, eight great grandparents and so on, it is possible that one person can have ancestors from more than eight different African groups. European slavers knew that divided we were vulnerable. They designed a system to make us lose the basis of our collective identity. We were separated, and then our names, our language, our stories, our songs, our family structures, even our understanding of God -- the things that bound us together -- were beaten out of us. Then, they had to make us believe in, protect and even demand White supremacy. We had to be taught to love and revere Europe and European culture more than life itself. We were also taught that Africans had contributed nothing to the world.

There has been continued African resistance to this attack on our sense of self since the first Africans were kidnapped and enslaved. There were always people who resisted. Some of these freedom fighters are well known; many others are not. In 1971, Richard B. Moore wrote in an "Open Letter on Our People's Name" to Bayard Rustin, Executive Director of the Asa Phillip Randolph Institute: "This term 'Negro' has long been a synonym for slave, loaded continuously with scorn and hostility, and still linked in the public mind generally with a vile and repulsive image." Born in Barbados on August 9, 1885, Moore moved to New York as a young man. In the 1960s he created the "Committee to present the truth about the Name Negro". He also published the book, The Name Negro, Its Origin and Evil Use, as part of his campaign to encourage Africans to reclaim their names. He made the connection between the use of the word "Negro" and the beginning of the African slave trade. He proved Europeans used it in their attempt to instill an inferiority complex within Africans. Moore died in Barbados in 1978, but his work and his words live on. Carter G. Woodson initiated the celebration of Negro History Week in February 1926. Woodson chose
February to honour the memory of Frederick Douglass. At the time when Woodson started the recognition of African heritage and history as a public entity, African Americans still used the name they had been given by Europeans. During the 1960s and '70s the "Negroes" and "Coloureds" of the U.S. renamed themselves Black. It was the time of being "Black and Proud."

In 1976, as part of the American bicentennial celebrations, "Negro History Week" became Black History Month. Since then we have been expressing our kujichagulia (self determination) by naming our celebration Black History Month, African Heritage Month or African Liberation Month. In Canada, the Canadian Negro Women's Association pioneered the celebration of Black history in the 1950s. The Ontario Black History Society was instrumental in the recognition of Black History Month as a citywide celebration in 1979. In 1993, the celebration gained province-wide recognition. In 1996, due to the intervention of MP Jean Augustine in December of 1995, Black History Month became a nationally recognized celebration in Canada.
Whatever you are comfortable naming yourself, educate yourself about your history.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


The enslaved Africans of Berbice, Guyana, led by Kofi and his lieutenants, Atta, Accabre and Akara, seized their freedom on Feb 23, 1763. Kofi, a former “house slave” was the leader of this revolution of enslaved Africans.

Guyana, formerly British Guiana, is a country of 83,000 square miles that is situated on the Northeast Coast of South America. The country was colonized by the Dutch at that time (1763), who had unsuccessfully tried to enslave the indigenous population. Beginning in 1616, the Dutch established a trading post over 25 kilometres upstream from the mouth of the Essequibo River, ostensibly to trade with the indigenous people. As other Europeans were claiming native territory in the area around South, Central and North America the Dutch laid claim to the land on the Essequibo. Eleven years after establishing the trading post, in 1627 the Dutch West India Company established the Berbice colony on the Berbice River southeast of Essequibo. Demerara, situated between Essequibo and Berbice, was settled in 1741. Although under the general jurisdiction of the Dutch West India Company, the three colonies of Berbice, Demerara and Essequibo were governed separately. The three counties of Berbice, Demerara and Essequibo were united as one country, British Guiana after the former Dutch colonies were ceded to Britain in 1815.

The Dutch colonizers were eager to put their new possession to use in producing products that were needed in Europe like sugar, cotton and coffee. The large plantations that were established needed tremendous numbers of workers and the Dutch attempted to coerce the indigenous population into forming a cheap labour force. The indigenous populations, familiar with their home territory, fled the plantations where the Dutch attempted to hold them in captivity. Many of the indigenous people died from exposure to foreign European diseases and still others were worked to death by the Dutch plantation owners. With the near extermination of the indigenous population, the Dutch resorted to using enslaved African labour to run their plantations.

The Berbice revolution began on Plantation Magdalenenburg up the Canje River and soon spread to other plantations upstream and eventually up the Berbice River. As the victorious Africans conquered plantation after plantation, the European slave holders fled until approximately half of the white population who had lived in the colony remained. Within one month, the Africans took control over almost all of the 19 plantations in Berbice. Some of the Dutch soldiers fled while others were killed in battle with the Africans.

Having enough numbers and strategic advantage, the Africans could have retained ownership of Berbice, but instead they chose to negotiate with their former enslavers to share the colony. While the Africans were negotiating in good faith, the Europeans were marking time until troops from neighbouring French, Dutch and British colonies arrived. The Africans held the colony of Berbice for one year until March, 1764. Once the Europeans regained control of Berbice many of the Africans were brutally killed as a warning. Forty were hanged, 24 broken on the wheel and 24 were burned to death. Some fled to neighbouring Suriname while others were re-enslaved, but Kofi was never captured. Many of the Africans preferred to die fighting, rather than surrender and become re-enslaved.

Jamaican poet Claude McKay wrote in 1919:

If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursèd lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! We must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

Although Kofi’s struggle to free himself and other enslaved Africans from the Dutch was not successful, he has been recognized as a heroic revolutionary figure and is Guyana’s National Hero. He lit the torch that was passed on to subsequent generations of Guyanese until Guyana gained its independence from the second colonialists, the British, on May 26, 1966. The day that Kofi struck a blow for freedom (February 23, 1763) is immortalized in the Guyanese constitution with a public holiday (Republic Day) on February 23rd of each year since 1970. The highlight of Republic Day (February 23) celebrations is The Mashramani festival and parade, reminiscent of Toronto’s Caribana Parade. The Republic Day celebration of the Guyanese community in Toronto is a bit more staid with a dinner and dance to raise funds for educational projects in Guyana.



The Africentric Alternative School which received unprecedented public scrutiny and even ridicule when it was first presented to the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) is now a reality. When the proposal for an Africentric Alternative School was presented by Angela Wilson and Donna Harrow many of us in the community were pleasantly surprised because discussion and advocacy for the establishment of Africentric schools had been vigourously discussed and pursued within the African Canadian community for several decades. The community supported the establishment of the Africentric Alternative School and was taken aback by the extensive, intensive and intrusive public scrutiny. After all, this was not the first alternative school of the TDSB. It was not even the first alternative program that was established to address the concerns of a marginalized community. The First Nations School was established as an alternative school in 1977 and the Pink Triangle Program (for students who identify as gay, bisexual, lesbian or transgendered) in 1992 with no public hearings. The Globe and Mail (Toronto newspaper founded in 1844, ten years after slavery was abolished in Canada) ran a cartoon under the heading “Africentric Math” where they portrayed an African male with exaggerated features standing in front of a chalkboard with a math equation that was done incorrectly. The mathematics “teacher” in this offensive cartoon was speaking in what is popularly considered African American Vernacular English (AAVE) instead of “standard” English. This was an obvious attempt to ridicule those who support an Africentric education.

With the alarming 40% drop out rate of African Canadian students as a tipping point, the trustees of the TDSB voted to establish the school for the 2009 -2010 school year. A decision was made by TDSB staff to house the Africentric Alternative School in an unused wing of Sheppard Public School which was built in 1958 to accommodate 1,000 students but was down to an enrollment of less than 400. Parents who enrolled their children in the school decided that the students should wear a uniform of black pants or skirt and white top with a vest made of African fabric displaying the adinkra symbol Gye Nyame which means Except God, I fear none.

At the African centred assembly on the first day of school, students, staff, parents, community members and visitors were given a traditional welcome by drums. An elder of the community, Clem Marshall poured libation while community activist, artist and educator, Tiki Mercury Clarke, led the assembly in the singing of the Canadian National Anthem and the Black National Anthem Lift Every Voice And Sing. After the assembly, the students, accompanied by their teachers, went to their classrooms which are decorated with African fabric, including; kente cloth, adinkra cloth and various other African fabric. Each classroom also has the Nguzo Saba (seven principles of Kwanza) prominently displayed. The seven principles are: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-determination), Ujima (Collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (Co-operative economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith). These principles will be used as the guiding principles for the school. This school is long overdue and there was much rejoicing on September 8th as the community gathered to celebrate. In spite of the negative media reports and efforts to derail its establishment, the school is off to a successful start with enrollment exceeding the expected numbers. By the end of the first day of school there were 115 students enrolled and on the second day of school, Wednesday, September 9th, parents were lined up in the admissions office waiting to register their children.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


The mango is a fruit, shaped like an egg and most of them are about four inches long. When I bought them on Monday the skins were smooth and green with just a hint of red. There is no “give” to the skin when the green mangoes are squeezed. Cutting the green mangoes needed a sharp knife because the flesh of the mango clings to the seed. The seed is large, oval shaped and is about one third of the mango. The flesh of the green mango is pale green and very firm to the touch. Grating the flesh of the green mangoes produces a tart tasting juice which I discard because I only need the grated flesh. The texture of the grated flesh is a bit fibrous.

Mixing the grated flesh with salt and pepper is one way to make the flesh of the green mango edible. The salt easily dissolves into the mixture and the pepper adds colour to make achar which changes the taste from tart to tangy and spicy.
Over a period of time the green mangoes go through three stages, 'turn', 'ripe' and 'overripe'. 'Turn' mangoes are mangoes that are almost ripe and the still firm flesh is sweet and easy to eat. The ripe mangoes are fairly firm to the touch with a bit of “give” in the skin and flesh is crisp and juicy. After 48 hours in a paper bag the remaining mangoes were at the “turn” stage. The colour had changed to a glorious orange-yellow, with more than a hint of red.

Overripe mangoes usually “give” very easily to the touch, ooze juice and are very messy to eat. Eating an overripe mango, you may end up covered with juice oozing down your chin, arms and onto your clothes.


According to Weber sects and churches are oriented toward (a) distinctive types of religious intensity or experience and (b) competing “organizational expressions” and membership standards against an existing religious tradition, new religious movements begin by recruiting from those seeking a higher truth, a more intense experience. They are unfulfilled, uninspired by tradition and so are willing to risk joining/exploring something new. SECT: A voluntary association of those who have been called, chosen, enlightened, inspired, who are thus charismatically qualified – commonly follow exacting purity requirements, engage in intensive spiritual activity, zealous commitment to the faith – “true believers.” The early Christian sect began with a charismatic leader and his followers who deviated from what was acceptable to the larger society. He challenged the authorities, e.g. attacking the money lenders in the temple and the fiscal power of priests (sacrificial offerings a revenue source.) He was seen as the fulfillment of prophesies – riding into Jerusalem on an ass (prophecy in Jeremiah 9:9)

The modern Rastafari religion started when a disenfranchised group in Jamaica, deviated from what was acceptable in that society. Following a charismatic leader who encouraged them to look to Africa where a king would be crowned during a time of colonization by Europeans who had taught that Africa was the “dark continent” with no civilization. Marcus Mosiah Garvey is viewed as the prophet who foresaw the anointing of Ras Tafari who was crowned Emperor of Ethiopia on November 2, 1930. Rastafari began as a belief system rooted in the back to Africa movement and enslaved Africans’ struggle for freedom. Even before there was a name for this belief system, it existed among those freedom fighters who had been “rebelling” against the people who enslaved them. The Rastafari movement is a Pan-African movement. Africans understood that in spite of their separation from Africa and the many centuries attempt to nullify their connection to Africa by slave holders it was important to their spiritual and mental health to maintain that connection. In Rastafari Roots and Ideology, Barry Chevannes writes: “Repatriation is one of the cornerstones of Rastfari belief. The doctrine of repatriation is kindred to a lineage of ideas and forms of action four hundred years old.” Chevannes further explains: “They arose first in response to European slavery and then, following emancipation, in response to the system of social, cultural, and economic oppression on which modern Jamaica was built.”

Although there had been attempts to form an African centred religious movement in Jamaica as early as 1784 when George Liele founded the Ethiopian Baptist Church, the modern Rastafari movement did not emerge in its present state until the 1930s. Leonard E. Barrett wrote in The Rastafarians: “Long before Ethiopianism came to America, the term had been adopted in Jamaica by George Liele, the American Baptist slave preacher who founded the first Baptist church in the island in 1784 - which he named the Ethiopian Baptist Church.” According to Barrett, Liele’s Ethiopian Baptist Church was a combination of “the African religion of Jamaican slaves and developed outside of the Christian missions, exhibiting a pure native flavor and was the religious expression most suitable for the political and social aspirations of the slaves.” This is considered the genesis of the modern Rastafari movement. The disadvantaged descendants of formerly enslaved Africans saw in Ethiopia, the sole African country that had never been colonized by Europeans, an ancestral home to which they could look with pride. Marcus Garvey was the most important prophet of this new movement and Ras Tafari, crowned His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the tribe of Judah, Elect of God became the God of Rastafari.

Rastafari consider Garvey a prophet because apart from prophesying the crowning of the Ethiopian emperor, his philosophy is fundamental to the movement since many of the early Rastas were Garveyites. Garvey has been compared to John the Baptist who prophesied Jesus’ coming to earth as the Messiah. Garvey is considered the father of modern Pan-Africanism. Hakim Adi and Marika Sherwood describe Pan-Africanism in Pan-African History: Political Figures from Africa and the Diaspora Since 1787: "Our definition includes women and men of African descent whose lives and work have been concerned, in some way, with the social and political emancipation of African peoples and those of the African Diaspora." Garvey was a descendant of the Maroons; Africans who fled the plantations and slavery, lived in the hills of Jamaica and engaged in guerilla warfare with the British “red coats” soldiers and the colonial slave holding government. He was born on August 17, 1887 in St Ann’s Bay, Jamaica. He founded the United Negro Improvement Association and African Communities (Imperial) League (UNIA-ACL) in 1914, with a philosophy of “Africa for Africans, at home and abroad.” With the motto; One God, one aim, one destiny Garvey encouraged his followers to among other things, worship a God that was in their image instead of a white god. In 1918 Garvey launched a newspaper, The Negro World, to spread his message to his followers who were scattered across the globe. He travelled the world spreading his message of Pan-Africanism, frequently speaking at regional conferences of the UNIA. In September 1937, after the regional conference held in Toronto from August 21 to 31, Garvey opened the School of African Philosophy in Toronto to train Africans for world leadership in the UNIA.

Garveyites and Rastafari were Africans who were considered lower class in Jamaica. Garvey left Jamaica and took his message to Africans in Europe, Central, North and South America. The early members of Rastafari were routinely harassed by the white colonial powers and those Jamaicans who ascribed to a Europeanized middle class status. Rastafari did not subscribe to what was considered respectable in Jamaica. They were not Christian and even though Rastafari used the bible, they interpreted the messages with Africa and Africans at the centre of the stories. The Rastafari believe that the Ethiopian emperor is a direct descendant of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon and from the same ancestry as Jesus. Rastafari also believed that they should separate themselves from those who were not believers. Their quest was to avoid Babylon (the state and what they view as its corruption) and return to Zion (Africa.)

Garvey’s philosophy which is a very important part of Rastafari belief has been immortalized in the lyrics of songs sung by Robert Nesta Marley who is considered one of the high priests of Rastafari. The teachings of Rastafari gained international notice with the popularity of reggae sung by artists such as Marley, Peter Tosh and Burning Spear. The music of these Rastafari artists became so popular that many people who admired their music took to wearing their hair locked like the Rastafari even though they did not subscribe to the Rasta belief system. Some others were attracted to what they considered drug use since the Rastafari used marijuana as a sacred herb. The early Rastafari were willing to endure the discrimination that came with observing the lifestyle of their faith which included not eating meat or salt, allowing their hair to grow and lock and living in communes. When the modern Rastafari movement began to gain momentum in the 1930s, Jamaica was still a colony of Great Britain and the planter class was in power. Africans in Jamaica lived in abject poverty therefore the converts were those poor and exploited. Rastafari rejected the idea of heaven in the sky and believe that there is no afterlife, the promise land is Zion and Rastas living in Babylon strive to get to Zion. The lyrics of Marley’s Get up, stand up illustrates the Rastafari belief of heaven on earth and the philosophy of resistance.

Preacherman, don't tell me,
Heaven is under the earth.
I know you don't know
What life is really worth.
It's not all that glitters is gold;
'Half the story has never been told:
So now you see the light!
Stand up for your rights!

Get up, stand up: stand up for your rights!
Don't give up the fight!

Most people think,
Great God will come from the sky,
Take away everything
Make everybody feel high.
But if you know what life is worth,
You will look for yours on earth:
Now you see the light,
Stand up for your rights.

We sick and tired of your ism-skism game -
Dying and going to heaven in Jesus' name.
We know when we understand:
Almighty God is a living man.
You can fool some people sometimes,
But you can't fool all the people all the time.
So now you see the light stand up for your rights.

Rastafari is a religion of resistance and struggle. The historical resistance against slavery has been replaced by resistance against all oppression, poverty, exploitation, racism and all the other “isms.” It has maintained only a modest social presence because there has not been a movement to routinize the beliefs of the religion. It remains mostly a Pan-African religion worshipping an African God, with the adherents being responsible for their own participation without a structured priesthood or hierarchy of leadership.