By: Kofi Taharka -NBUF National Chairman, Black Guerilla Media (BGM)
The National Black United Front (NBUF) will celebrate 25 years of hosting the Sankofa Caravan to the Ancestors. Pre-caravan events will take place on Saturday, October 1st (All White Day Party/Boat Cruise), Saturday, October 8th (Youth Fun Day) and Friday, October 14th (Panel: How to make Spirituality & Black Liberation a life commitment), and the caravan itself is Saturday, October 15th, 2022. This is a spiritual, cultural, and historical event which is a physical caravan of cars, buses, vans from Houston, Texas to the shores of Galveston, Texas. At the beach, a ceremony is held with prayer, song, drumming, dance, martial arts, and speakers honoring our great Black/African ancestors whose shoulders we stand on. It is an act of Self-determination and Black Power personified. This year we are pleased to have as special guests Brother Professor James Small (Organization for Afro-American Unity/Sons of Africa, New York City) and Mama Charlotte Hill O’Neal (Black Panther Party/United African Alliance Community Center, Tanzania) on the 14th and 15th. Information about all the 25th anniversary events can be found at 2022sankofacaravan.eventbrite.com. Community support and participation are essential. As with all NBUF activities, the Caravan is not funded by grants or sources outside our community. Rather, it is funded by us for us!
Let us look at the history of this amazing experience. The Creator and Ancestors spirit was sweeping through the country in the form of the African-centered movement throughout the 1990’s. This movement emphasized reconnecting to African history, culture, spirituality, and traditions, placing Africa at the center of our worldview. One manifestation of this sweep was the release of the movie SANKOFA by independent film director Haile Gerima in 1993. This film helped to expose to a wider audience our understanding of African history, cultural and spiritual traditions. The acclaimed work built upon centuries of effort put in by our historians, cultural and spiritual practitioners to reclaim our traditions. SANKOFA is a West African concept coming from the AKAN people meaning ‘Go Back to Your Past and Retrieve What You Have Lost, Bring Past Values Forward To Today…,Go Back And Fetch It…Go Back And Get It.’ One of the more recognized Adinkra symbols of SANKOFA is of a mythical bird flying forward while looking backwards, with an egg in its mouth, the egg symbolizing the future. The SANKOFA movie put on the big screen what we were reading, hearing in lectures, seeing in performances and some had experienced through travel back to Africa.
In 1998, Sister R. Akua Holt founder of Amandla Productions along with Brother Lorenza Jelani Williams President of Ta-seti African Historical Society, brought the idea of an Ancestral Veneration ceremony to be held in Galveston, Texas to NBUF. Sister Akua was born and raised in Galveston, Texas, being familiar with its history. The idea was inspired by consistent interaction with African Spiritualist/Culturalist Baba Kwame Ishangi and the ancestral veneration ceremony already being held on Coney Island in New York City. A picture in a book by Chester Higgins depicting the Coney Island ceremony crystallized the idea for Sister Akua of a large public ancestral veneration in Galveston. Brother President Jilani Williams was an ardent financial backer of projects that promoted African history, culture and spirituality including many endeavors of Amandla Productions. Therefore, we have Amandla Productions & Ta-Seti African Historical Society, both internationally connected formations bringing speakers and productions to Houston, Texas partnering with the National Black United Front to bring into fruition what spirit was calling us to experience. Collaborations, sharing of ideas, lending of talents, and supporting each other was very much the norm for groups in Houston, Texas during this time.
Brother Omowale Olanrewagu (NBUF-Houston Chapter Secretary 1998) was a part of those initial meetings and took the assignment to further research African people in Galveston, Texas. As a participant in the creative process from the beginning Brother Omowale’s role in the very foundation of this effort cannot be overstated. He produced a paper entitled: African History in Texas: The Connection To The Caribbean, Central and South America and The Myth Of The Passive Slave. This paper further provided NBUF with the written historical foundation for why we should incorporate this ancestral veneration into our 19th annual National Convention. NBUF members locally & nationally under the leadership of National Chairman Emeritus/Ancestor Dr. Conrad Worrill selected as the theme for the convention SANKOFA with the subtitle: American Genocide: Public Policy Assault on People of Afrikan Ancestry. As opposed to having a lecture on African Spirituality we wanted to have a collective spiritual experience. We planned to make this experience happen during the Saturday activities of our convention. In the creative exchange between NBUF, Amandla Productions and Ta-seti African Historical Society and supporters the name “CARAVAN TO THE ANCESTORS ” was chosen. For a number of years after the inaugural CARAVAN Brother Omowale was the chief strategist and major financier of activities. The members of the National Black United Front – Houston Chapter have represented the core of workers each year, accepting the honor, privilege, and responsibility of hosting the event. Baba Yawo Abdul (Reverend George Milligan), Sister Norma “Nana” and Brother Earnest “Babalola” Goodrich and Sister Iya Osunbunmi Gaidi Fagbenro are among the NBUF members that have consistently worked on this project from the early years through today. NBUF did not ask for permission from anyone to declare the 3rd Saturday of October each year to be a “Holy Day”. This is the act of a self-determined people. Countless testimonials have come to us over the years declaring the experience at the Caravan to be life changing.
The purpose of the Sankofa Caravan to the Ancestors is to:
- HONOR our Creator divine mother essence and father essence
- VENERATE/UPLIFT our Black/African Ancestors. Acknowledging the shoulders, we stand on
- LEARN about our African & African in America spirituality history and culture
- RECEIVE blessings to achieve our goals and overcome our challenges
- SETTLE conflicts/disputes[
- ENERGIZE ourselves for the work we must do.
On Saturday, July 18, 1998, NBUF members, convention attendees and allies from across the country loaded buses and cars at the NBUF headquarters 2428 Southmore Blvd. Houston, Texas for the first “CARAVAN TO THE ANCESTORS”. An all-Black Police Motorcycle Escort with sirens blazing shut down HWY 45 from Houston to Galveston, Texas. Much in the same way as an exceptionally large funeral procession. But this was different. We were not going to lay to rest one person, instead to honor, awaken thousands of souls of our Black/African ancestors. The excitement, anticipation, energy we felt when the Caravan pulled onto Seawall Blvd & 29th Street is hard to describe. Receiving the Caravan in Galveston was Sister Sue Johnson of Nia Cultural Center, Inc. She and her husband brother Banjoko (ancestor) helped us lay the logistical and historical ground-work for the activities to take place in their city. The bright morning sun rising over the beach and waves crashing on Galveston Bay was a site to behold.
Brother Professor James Small (Harlem , New York), Sister Professor Phavia Kujichagulia (Oakland, CA), Sister Yemoja (Oakland, CA), and Chief Priest Awo Adeyemi Ogunde (Nigeria & Houston) were among the invited guest/allies charged with helping us to honor the Creator and Our Ancestors. Brother Professor Small had the primary responsibility for the ceremony on the beach. The Texas heat and humidity of July gave us a sense of what our enslaved ancestors must have felt coming into those shores. Wearing all white representatives from diverse spiritual communities attended hearing the beat of the drum and seeing the Red, Black & Green flag blowing in the wind. Several attendees became overcome with the spiritual and historic gravity of the day. It was Brother Professor Small that decreed that we should make this a “Holy Day” and have the Caravan annually. Sister Akua, Brother President Jelani, Brother Omowale and all who had worked so hard towards this day were able to experience this idea inspired by spiritual powers be brought into reality.
Spiritually, mentally, and physically fulfilled but drained participants walked directly across the street for the CARAVAN luncheon. Brother Professor Small spoke to the weary group to help us process what we had just experienced. The 19th NBUF Convention continued that night and the next day with notable presentations by Brother Dr. Jacob Carruthers and Sister Professor Phavia Kujichagulia.
Water ceremonies, rituals, and events to honor our ancestors is nothing new to African people. What we were able to do is simply reconnected to those traditions, we SANKOFA’D it with the Caravan. This was the first large public ancestral veneration ceremony in this area of which we are aware. We give thanks to all who came together for the 1st NBUF Sankofa Caravan to the Ancestors, most especially the Creator & Ancestors. The members of the National Black United Front – Over the last 25 years, a host of drummers, dancers, martial artists, spiritualists, organizations, sponsors, technicians, media, and other volunteers have helped make this collective spiritual, historical and cultural experience worthy of our efforts. NBUF’s Sankofa Caravan to the Ancestors has welcomed participants from around the world including spiritualist, activist, organizers, revolutionaries, scholars, royalty, entertainers, television, and movie personalities to share the experience. So many allies have added their special gifts to this experience over the more than two decades since that first Caravan, NBUF can never thank them enough.
We look forward to seeing everyone this year.
For updated information about NBUF’s 25th Sankofa Caravan to the Ancestors activities call 832-422-7806, email: [email protected], follow us FB NBUFHOUSTON, IG&Twitter:NBUF_HOUSTON. Follow Kofi Taharka @kofitaharka FB/IG/Twitter/TikTok.