Remembering the millions of Africans who perished

By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)

While a crowd gathered at Queens Park to celebrate/commemorate Remembrance Day on Friday, November 11, a handful of African Canadians gathered a few yards away to commemorate Nakumbuka (I Remember).

Nakumbuka is the Kiswahili word used to remember our ancestors who perished during the Maafa (a Kiswahili word used to encompass the trans-Atlantic slave trade and enslavement of Africans).

The commemoration of Nakumbuka was the brainchild of Jomo Nkombe, a Tanzanian who lived in Toronto and pioneered the idea as a public ritual in 1990. Nkombe asked Charles ‘Mende’ Roach, an activist lawyer/jurist to take the idea of Nakumbuka to the 1992 World Pan African Movement Conference which was held in Nigeria. At that conference it was resolved that the delegates would promote Nakumbuka to remember the millions of Africans who perished during the Maafa.

In 1992, Nakumbuka was promoted in Nigeria by Naiwu Osahon of the World Pan African movement. Baye Kes-Ba-Me-Ra and Adande Ima-Shema-Ra of the Pan African Associations of America established the Nakumbuka observance which was celebrated for the first time at San Diego State University, California on November 11, 1994. Roach has also led the Nakumbuka observance in Toronto since the 1990s and in 2003 he went to Kingston, Jamaica, and with Jamaican writer/educator Basil “Koosoonogo” Lopez, established the first Nakumbuka Ceremony at Mico College.
Nakumbuka is not about the glorification of war but we can definitely recognize those of our ancestors who perished fighting for their freedom and ours. Very different from the wars fought by Europeans as they battled each other in covetousness and greed to possess the lands of racialized people. Our ancestors, in many cases, had to wage what has now become known as guerilla warfare because they were invariably outnumbered and outgunned by the White people who strove to keep them enslaved.

The Maroons of Jamaica, led by Nanny and others, are an excellent example as are the Quilombolas of Brazil led by Zumbi and others, the various Africans who fought for their freedom against the Spanish throughout Central and South America, the Djukas of Suriname and Kofi, Akkara, Akkabre and Atta, leaders of the 1763 Berbice Revolution in Guyana, who fought the Dutch.

Nakumbuka is a day to remember even those ancestors whose names we do not know who resisted in various ways as El Hajj Malik El Shabazz said “by any means necessary”. And they did resist! Some ran away, others worked as slowly as they could, destroyed buildings, crops, livestock, tools etc., to cause the White slaveholders as much grief as they could.

On November 11, while there is much pomp and splendour in remembering and praising those who died during the great European tribal conflicts of 1914-1918 and 1939-1945, it is very instructional to observe the faces displayed in the newspapers and other media. The contributions of racialized people to these wars are not recognized.

African Canadians have fought in every war in which this country has been involved even before it was known as Canada. In 1783, when Britain was forced to recognize American independence, there were Africans among the United Empire Loyalists who had supported Britain during the revolution and fled to Canada.

Although the contribution of the Coloured Corps to defending Canada during the war of 1812 is recognized with a plaque, the entire story cannot be told in one small plaque and that history is usually ignored. There were more than 30 Africans defending this country during the War of 1812. When Canadians left these shores to do battle in other countries African Canadian men were always involved, even when they had to fight the White power structure to be included.

The myth that the war fought from 1939 to 1945 was a war for freedom is often touted on Remembrance Day. The fact that African Canadians who returned to Canada after fighting in that war were subjected to the same White supremacist oppression to which they had been subjected before, certainly explodes that myth. Other well hidden secrets of that war are exposed in Trading With the Enemy: An Exposé of The Nazi-American Money-Plot 1933-1949 by Charles Higham. The cover blurb of the book states: Here is the extraordinary true story of the American businessmen and government officials who dealt with the Nazis for profit or through conviction throughout the Second World War: Ford, Standard Oil, Chase Bank and members of the State Department were among those who shared in the spoils. Meticulously documented and dispassionately told, this is an alarming story. At its centre is ‘The Fraternity’, an influential international group associated with the Rockefeller or Morgan banks and linked by the ideology of Business as Usual. While Americans were dying in the war, McKittrick sat down with his German, Japanese, Italian, British and American executive staff to discuss the gold bars that had been sent to the Bank earlier that year by the Nazi government for use by its leaders after the war. Long and shocking is the list of diplomats and businessmen alike who had their own ways of profiting from the war.

On November 11, during the Nakumbuka ceremony, we commemorate the sacrifices our ancestors made. We must never forget, dismiss, minimize or simplify the 500 years of horror and devastation of the Maafa. It is a day to remember the countless Africans who were kidnapped and taken away from their families and friends on the continent, never given the chance to say goodbye and never to see their loved ones again.

Take time to read and talk with friends and family, children of all ages, about the Maafa and how to ensure it never happens again. Those who do not know their history are at risk of having it repeated.

We have not found a way to bring psychological, emotional and spiritual closure to the trauma we have experienced in the last 500 years. The Maafa has been the least discussed human tragedy even among African people, yet this period of time has stunted the growth of a continent, its people and its children of the Diaspora. The inability of its victims to freely and openly express their grief and speak about the trauma has made this tragedy even more horrific. There has hardly been any discussion of the negative effects of the Maafa on the social, economic and cultural evolution of the African continent and the people who were lost due to the genocidal nature of an emerging European capitalism seeking free labour to build its empires.

The European aggression against African people was extremely violent and brutal as centuries of the trade in human beings destroyed and erased the existence of villages, communities, empires, peoples, traditions, rituals, ceremonies, histories and languages. As a result of this barbarity, it has been estimated that up to 100 million African lives were lost in the Middle Passage, on plantations in the Caribbean, Central America, South America, North America and households in European countries. African people were worked to death for the sole purpose of increasing the wealth and domination of White people at the expense of Africa and her people. Untold numbers of Africans also perished under various types of White domination, oppression and terrorism including colonialism, neo-colonialism, apartheid, segregation and cultural assimilation.

This has resulted in many Africans being lost and disconnected, denying their Africanness, hating themselves and those who look like them as they can only see themselves reflected through the eyes of people who despise them.

Just as some people have said ‘Lest We Forget’ and others have vowed ‘Never Again’, we say: Nakumbuka! I Remember!

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