On Sunday, November 11, a group of Africans will gather at 20 Grosvenor Street (close to College and Yonge) to remember our ancestors who died during the 400 year European enslavement of Africans. There will be a procession from 20 Grosvenor Street to Queens Park where our ancestors, especially those who died resisting slavery will be recognised. Nakumbuka (Kiswahili for “I remember”) is the annual November 11th public remembrance ritual for the victims of the Maafa. It was the brainchild of Jomo Nkombe, a Tanzanian who lived in Toronto, Canada and pioneered the idea as a public ritual in 1990. His original idea was to remember the Africans who had been enslaved from East Africa but after meeting Africans in the Diaspora and learning about their ancestors who had been enslaved through the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, those victims were also included. Nkombe met Charles ‘Mende’ Roach who is a Canadian activist lawyer/jurist, and asked him to take the idea of Nakumbuka to the World Pan African Movement Conference which was held in Nigeria in 1992. At that conference it was resolved that the delegates at the World Pan African Conference would promote Nakumbuka to remember the Maafa in which millions of Africans died. Since 1992 Nakumbuka has been promoted in Nigeria by Naiwu Osahon of the World Pan African Movement. Baye Kes-Ba-Me-Ra and Adande Ima-Shema-Ra of the Pan African Associations of America who were attending the conference in 1992 returned to San Diego, California and established the Nakumbuka observance which was celebrated for the first time at San Diego State University, California on November 11, 1994. Trinidadian born Roach went to Kingston, Jamaica in 2003 and with Jamaican writer/educator Basil “Koosoonogo” Lopez, established the first Nakumbuka Ceremony at Mico College. Roach has also been the driving force behind the Nakumbuka observance in Toronto since the 1990’s.
Observing Nakumbuka reminds us that we can never afford to dismiss, minimize or simplify these past five hundred years of horror and devastation. It is a day to remember those Africans who died unknown except by the relatives who mourned them. We remember the countless Africans who were kidnapped and taken away from their families and friends on the continent who were never able to say goodbye and never saw their loved ones again. On this day Africans are urged to take time to read and talk with their friends and family, children of all ages about the Maafa and what we must do to prevent it from ever happening again. Those who do not know their history are at risk of having it repeated.
We have not found a way to bring psychological, emotional and spiritual closure to the trauma we have experienced in the last five hundred years. The Maafa has been the least discussed human tragedy in the past five hundred years even among African people, yet this period of time has stunted the growth of a continent, its people and its children of the Diaspora. The inability of its victims to freely and openly express their grief and speak about the trauma has made this tragedy even more horrific. There has hardly been any discussion of the negative effects of the Maafa on the social, economic and cultural evolution of the African continent and the people that it lost due to the genocidal nature of an emerging European Capitalism seeking free labour to build its empires. The European aggression against African people reached an apex of violence and brutality as centuries of the trade in human beings destroyed and erased the existence of villages, communities, empires, peoples, traditions, rituals, ceremonies, histories and languages. As a result of this barbarity it has been estimated that 60 to 90 million African lives were lost in the Middle Passage, on plantations in the Caribbean, North America, Central America and South America and households in European countries.
African people were worked to death for the sole purpose of increasing the wealth and domination of white skin people at the expense of Africa and her people. Untold numbers of Africans also perished under various types of white domination, oppression and terrorism including colonialism, neo-colonialism, apartheid, segregation and cultural assimilation. It has resulted in many Africans being lost and disconnected, denying their Africanness, hating themselves and those who look like them. They can only see themselves reflected through the eyes of people who despise them.
It is important that we know our history including our history on this continent where we live so that we are not doomed to repeat the tragedies or have them repeated. The stories of Africans who struggled to rise above the status to which they were relegated are numerous. So too are the stories of white people who were determined that Africans should remain in a subservient position. Prosperous African communities have incurred the envy of their white neighbours in Canada and the USA and the Africans have suffered physical violence including lynching. On November 10th 1898, an armed white mob of “Red Shirts” in Wilmington, North Carolina, murdered untold numbers of African Americans, forcing others to flee for their lives, their homes and businesses destroyed by the howling, covetous mob. Wilmington was North Carolina’s largest city in 1898 and was considered a shining example of African American achievement. African Americans owned numerous thriving businesses and real estate, they were also elected officials in city government. That could not be allowed to continue in a white supremacist culture. In a similar manner to the attacks on the African Canadian community of Shelburne, Nova Scotia in July 1784, the African American community of Tulsa, Oklahoma in June, 1921 and the African American community of Rosewood, Florida, in January 1923, the African American community of Wilmington, North Carolina was attacked and destroyed by its white neighbours on November 10th, 1898.
A 13-member “1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission” reported to the North Carolina General Assembly in 2006 that “Unknown numbers of Blacks were killed in the conspiracy designed to end black political power and the progressive government in Wilmington and establish white supremacy and a control by a new government.” In a summary of the commission report it is also stated that “Blacks lost positions in government, in professional arenas and as skilled artisans. Black businesses and workers suffered economic decline.” On October 12th 2007 as part of the 64th Annual North Carolina NAACP State Convention at the Wilmington Hilton Riverside Hotel, hundreds of delegates attended a national NAACP “Symposium on the 1898 Wilmington Terrorist Attack.” Carolyn Coleman, national NAACP Board member, said in her speech; “The 1898 Wilmington terrorist attack provided a model and framework for white supremacy across the nation.”
During this year as we remember and commemorate the abolition of the British Trans-Atlantic slave trade we need to remember those of our ancestors who died resisting their enslavement. The significance of this year must not be allowed to deteriorate into a praisefest for white “abolitionists.” We must remember, recognize and praise our freedom fighters who sacrificed their lives for freedom. Nakumbuka, I remember, we all need to remember.
Written in November 2007