June 13, 2019
June 20, 2019
Obafemi Institute for the Divine Study of Ifa was highlighted in the Richmond Times Dispatch for the Annual Juneteenth celebration with homage to ancestors at African Burial Ground hosted by Elegba Folklore Society in Richmond, Virginia.
Over three days this weekend, the Elegba Folklore Society in Richmond marked the annual Juneteenth holiday, which celebrates the emancipation of the last slaves in bondage following the Civil War.
The festivities began Friday with a symposium, an independence day celebration continued on Saturday, and events culminated Sunday with an homage to the ancestors at the site of the African Burial Ground near 15th and Broad streets in Shockoe Bottom.
This year’s celebration was particularly significant because 2019 marks the 400th anniversary of the first Africans arriving on the shores of America, here in Virginia, said Janine Bell, the president and artistic director of the society.
“It was such a long time coming,” she said of the emancipation of those African American slaves who remained in bondage long after the smoke had cleared from the last shots of the Civil War. “Our legacy is elevated because of the strong shoulders on which we stand: the endurance, the resistance, the creativity. But still, the suffering continues. These three days are a time of refreshment.”
The altars, two large stones on the burial grounds, were laden with flowers, fruit and alcoholic beverages, including bottles of Bacardi rum and Heineken beer, as offerings to the ancestors who were laid to rest there and those who never got a burial.
A ceremony re-created a burial for those who weren’t laid to rest properly. Nine women, all dressed in white, each carried a pot of water on their heads. After encircling the crowd of about 100 people, they poured the water into a hole dug near the altars.
The water symbolized the purity of rebirth, while the nine women represent the nine months of gestation, according to Chief Oluwo Obafemi Fayemi of the Institute for the Divine and Universal Study of Ifa, who oversaw the ritual.
“Ancestor reverence is important,” he said. “We honor those who had to endure those atrocities … and survived it.”
By honoring them, Obafemi said they were also honoring themselves. But honoring them doesn’t mean there’s not room for improvement or deviation.
“It is your turn to have an experience,” he said. “You don’t have to do the same things, the same way. … What you can do is make those necessary changes for future generations.”
During another ceremony, a choir sang African spirituals while an egun, the embodiment of an ancestor, danced and prayed over those who bowed at his feet.
Bell said Juneteenth is a time in which the African American community can truly show its culture, which is often otherwise hidden, or even erased, from most histories.
“We get to feel a sense community to reconnect with our culture,” she said. “Our culture is our success.”
At the close of the festivities, Bell told the crowd to take three cleansing breaths.
“This is a place reclaimed,” she said. “Feel empowered in it. Feel loved, feel confident in it. Feel refreshed in it.”
As she said that, Anthony Oduyemi Langston of Suffolk reached down and touched the ground.
“This is sacred land,” said his mother, Robin Ifabamiwa Langston. “We came here to pay homage to the ancestors here. We didn’t know them, but we honor them.”