diaspora History

Spirited tribute at the water’s edge

The following article, written by Donna Lamb, was published in Caribbean Life News, June 13, 2012.

Ceremony at water’s edge.
Photo by Donna Lamb

Sad and celebratory. Searing and uplifting. How can these words possibly go together? Last Sat., they could be experienced as one at the Annual Tribute to Our Ancestors of the Middle Passage, held each year on the Coney Island boardwalk in Brooklyn to honor the tens of millions of Africans who, after being kidnapped from their homelands, died during the voyage across the Atlantic – the Middle Passage – their bodies plunged into the ocean.

Why Coney Island? Because although that name is now synonymous with amusement park rides and games, Coney Island was once the site where slave ships pulled into harbor to sell their human cargo on the auction block.

Some of these human beings, most of them children, became the property of the City of New York (previously New Amsterdam) itself. As examination of their bones in the African Burial Ground show, they were literally worked to death building this city. Many others were “sold down the river” – shipped to the South where they suffered some of the worst cruelty known to man as their unpaid labor was exploited to create the wealth that built this nation. These were crimes against humanity for which the United States still owes reparations.

Ancestral Orchestra leads way to Atlantic Ocean.
Photo by Donna Lamb

This year’s tribute began with a libation ceremony performed by Mdut SeshrAnkh and Mut Nfrt Ka Raet. Following it was a drum invocation led by Guyanese Master Drummer Menes de Griot and Shanto New Generation, the Congo Square Drummers, joined by many others in the Ancestral Orchestra. During this invocation, carried out in all four directions, Grandmaster Kham chanted sacred recognition of the ancestors.

This Youtube video features some highlights of the 2011 Tribute to the Ancestors.

For the full original report: Spirited tribute at the water’s edge • Caribbean Life.