Two Sundays ago, on Oct. 8, I rose before dawn (way before) to drive a friend to Ocean Beach in San Francisco and take part in Ma’afa, what turned out to be an extremely moving ceremony marking the estimated 100 million African ancestors who perished during the Transatlantic Slave Trade, commonly referred to as the Middle Passage.
Close your eyes, if you will, and picture hundreds of black folks all dressed in streaming white cloth gently tossed by the breeze blowing in from the bay as they/we silently, reverently listen to the prayers, acknowledge the suffering, witness the libations, answer the calls for songs and poetry in remembrance of the men, women and children who came before us—ripped from each others’ arms, languages and cultures; crammed into the hulls of filthy wooden ships: raped, beaten and murdered—all of these sad, searing memories accompanied by the steady rhythm of African drummers lifting us, carrying us through daylight and a short walk to the water’s edge where we toss our flowers and prayers into the receding waves.
Ma’afa is a Kiswahili term that means great catastrophe or disaster; a holocaust of tremendous, life altering proportions. The American involvement in the African slave trade was just that; its residual affects, while greatly in evidence, have been largely unaddressed. Many black people, particularly hopeless young men, seem to be on a mission of self-destruction that too often includes taking innocent people down
with them. Their lives have become so devalued that they neither seek nor find value in the lives of others. Standing on the sandy shore that Ma’afa Sunday, I wished that these troubled young men were there with me, listening and learning about a history not taught in most public schools. I wished that they could witness the elders walking through the crowd with a natural sense of dignity and grace; who were treated with such reverence you could swear they wore crowns. I wished these young men and women whose only allegiance seems to be to a fractured sense of self defined by turf and trifles, could be a part of this huge village family where the children were obviously
wanted, loved and nurtured and no one hesitated to offer a helping hand.
Close to 300 black people gathered together on Ocean Beach and there was no fear, no need for security, no foul language, no screeching cars, no blaring radios and no garbage left behind. As I soaked in the warmth, compassion and beauty of all of these various brothers and sisters, I felt overwhelmed with love and appreciation for who we are, who we were and who we are yet to become.
“This is who we are,” I thought to myself as I looked around me. “This is who we are. Not the robbers and murderers we are depicted as in daily media. Look at this. At these people. The public never sees this side of us.”
While new to me, this was the 12th anniversary of Ma’afa, founded by Wanda Sabir, a Bay Area educator and journalist. Her face was glowing as she circled through the crowd, directing one group and embracing another. Through collective memory, documentation and storytelling, Ms. Sabir is doing her part to contribute not only to the healing of African descendants in this country but to those left behind on a continent decimated by the loss of manpower, brainpower and resources that took place during a
period of over 400 years.
“More people should know about this,” I commented to my friend as we prepared to leave. “They should do more advertising.”
“No,” he disagreed. “I think they have the people here who need to know about it. I think they’re doing just fine.”
And I thought, perhaps he was right. Ma’afa is a unique event which draws particular people to it, for specific reasons. It isn’t about entertainment. It doesn’t need to be on television or the front page of any newspaper. It is a ceremony of remembrance and
acknowledgment for historians and for healers; for teachers and for families who choose not to follow the norm—a norm which is generally unhealthy and full of holes. The Ma’afa community is growing a new kind of African American community based upon one of the world’s oldest civilizations.
“The whole world doesn’t need to witness this,” I realized. “That would probably detract from its significance. We see it. We know it. We feel it, deep in our bones. And perhaps that is how it is meant to be. And that is enough.”
In honor of the Black Holocaust, there are numerous cultural activities and healing events taking place this month. Most notable is an upcoming panel addressing the role of fathers in healing the black community on Oct. 26 at the Malonga Center Theatre in Oakland. For more information, see www.maafasfbayarea.com.