Juneteenth: A Day To Celebrate Our Ancestors

The Omnira Institute (OI) will hold its annual Juneteenth celebration in Oakland on Saturday June 14.

This ritual of remembrance observes the roots of freedom for African Americans with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, which declared freedom for enslaved people held in the South during the Civil War.

The news didn’t reach Texas until June 19, 1865, hence the name for the most prevalent festival celebrating the freeing of the enslaved in the U.S.

< p>Omnira Institute reshapes the celebration by making it an occasion to acknowledge the sacrifice of the enslaved people, and therefore more spiritual than political.

Now, in the eleventh year that OI has been holding the ceremony, and the sixth at Lake Merritt, prayer remains its hallmark.

Prayer and faith were powerful weapons that those who were captured and enslaved used in their fight for freedom, says Wanda Ravernell, executive director of OI.

“Therefore we honor them in the pathways of their origins: First Nation, (American Indian) Yoruba, Kongo and Vodun from West African tradition,” she said. “There were also captives who were African Jews, Christians and Muslims.”

Toward the end of the slave era, when capturing Africans and selling them as slaves was banned in the United States, East Indians and Chinese were brought in to work alongside the creole blacks. Therefore, “We also try to have representatives of Hindu, Buddhist and Taoist traditions,” Ravernell said.

The event is framed by music in the form of voice and percussion. “We use the chant and drum from the West African Yoruba people who lived in what is now Nigeria,” she said. “We also use the African American ring-shout tradition of Georgia, where much of the slave population had origins from Kongo and Angola.”

The choir owes its knowledge of the ring-shout to the McIntosh County Shouters of Darien, Ga., who have been handing down the tradition, generation-to-generation, uninterrupted for more than 200 years.

OI’s Juneteenth “is welcoming and warm,” says Wanda Sabir, host of Wanda’s Picks, a radio show, and English professor at Alameda College. “It really embraces what it means to be a Diaspora citizen.”

Not only do “(t)hey put together the historic aspects with the readers of the Emancipation Proclamation, they provide insight into our people by bringing in the African music and the costumes taking us back,” and allowing us “to do these dances that our people once did,” she said.

Sponsored in part by a grant from the Alliance for California Traditional Arts, the event also features OIs chorus and drummers, Awon Ohun Omnira (Voices of Freedom), which will lead attendees in the ring-shout, and they will close the ceremony with African drumming.

Also on June 14, Africans and African Americans in the San Francisco Bay Area and around the world will be joining in the 27th annual International Libations for the Ancestors Day.

Throughout the African Diaspora, ancestors will be revered simultaneously by pouring water and calling the names of those who have gone before them. For those living on the West Coast the hour of pouring will be at 9 a.m. at the Fountain at Lake Merritt (across from Merritt Bakery and Restaurant).

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