PORTSMOUTH —The Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire will hold its closing Juneteenth celebratory event on Sat., June 19, 3:00 p.m., at the African Burying Ground in Portsmouth with a special program: Dance of the Ancestors: Ritual, Chants, Drumming, and Movement. The event is free and open to the public.
Fashioned after a traditional West African Egungun ritual and live streaming from the Portsmouth African Burying Ground, the event features chants and dance by Ifa priest Chief Wande Abimbola and Chief Oscar Mokeme from the Nmuo Society. The Chiefs will be accompanied by drumming from the Akwaaba Ensemble, to invoke and honor ancestral spirits and to offer healing.
For many West African cultures, ancestor veneration often takes the form of a masquerade in a ritual called egungun. Egungun is the Yoruba language for the visible manifestation of the spirits of departed ancestors who periodically revisit the human community for remembrance, celebration, and blessings. As the masquerade unfolds, a portal between the seen and unseen world opens, allowing the ancestors to descend to the earthly realm. Blessings, guidance, and healing are dispensed to the living to strengthen the bonds that unite families and communities of departed ancestors.
Chief Wande Abimbola, a Nigerian academician and professor of Yoruba language and literature, was installed as Awise Awo Agbaye (Voice of Ifa in the World) in 1981 by the Ooni of Ife on the recommendation of a conclave of Babalawos of Yorubaland.
Chief Oscar Mokeme comes from a long lineage of Igbo Royal family healer practitioners called ‘Umu-dibia.” A direct inheritor of this sacred, ancient wisdom, he holds the traditional priesthood title of Ugo-Orji and Ozo-dimani of Aborji-Oba in his native Nigeria.
Theo Marley and The Akwaaba Ensemble, which means welcome in the Twi language of the Ashanti tribe of Ghana, are returning, by popular demand, for their third year, due to their energetic and engaging performances of West African drumming and dance that bring Highlife music to vivid life. Theo, songwriter, recording, and teaching artist, was born and raised in Accra, Ghana, West Africa. Members of the Akwaaba Ensemble include Namory Keita—Master Djembe Fola—kpanlogo drums and backing vocals, from Guinea, West Africa; Josh Williams—Djun Djun Drummer, hand percussion and backing vocal; Michael Osendah—dancer, backing vocal and lite percussion, from Ghana, West Africa; Monique Williams—dancer, singer, and lite percussion.
Juneteenth is the oldest, nationally celebrated event commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation declared that, as of January 1, 1863, all slaves in rebellion against the Union “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” However, it was not until June 19, 1865, two years later, when the US army took possession of Galveston Island in Texas and began a war against defenders of slavery, that enslaved people in Galveston could begin their journey towards freedom.
The 2021 three-day celebration, "Found Lineage: Celebrating African American Roots and Branches" is sponsored by Eastern Bank, ReVision Energy, People’s United Bank, the University of New Hampshire, The Portsmouth Music Hall, McLane Middleton, and Centrus Digital. To register for this program or to access information about other Juneteenth programs, please go to www.blackheritagetrailnh.org or call 603-570-8469.
The Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire, located at 222 Court Street, Portsmouth, works to visibly honor and share a truer, more inclusive history through exhibits, educational programs, curriculum development, and tours that can change the way our country understands human dignity when it is free of stereotypes. Its mission is to promote awareness and appreciation of African American history and life in order to build more inclusive communities today.