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Blog / Category_African Heritage

We're So Excited and We Just Can't Hide It! Bravo Niagara:The North Star Festival

Zawadee - Bring Africa Home is pleased to announce we're going to be part of Bravo Niagara! - The North Star Festival: Voices of Freedom. Niagara-On-The-Lake - October 2-4, 2015.

Celebrating and honouring the courageous freedom-seekers who followed the North Star to Niagara - a terminus of the Underground Railroad, this inaugural festival showcases the sights, sounds, history and tastes of the Niagara Region's rich black history and African origins. Great music, fascinating history, mouth-watering food and a boat cruise down the Niagara River. Entertaining, fun and educational, this festival is a terrific experience for the entire family! 

Friday, October 2nd, 2015: Niagara Historical Society & Museum - 2 to 4 p.m. Free Admission Join us to experience local historian Dr. Wilma Morrison with presenters from Canadian universities, as well as scholars from the Harriet Tubman Institute to explore Niagara's rich black history and the courageous freedom-seekers who "followed the North Star".

Friday, October 2nd, 2015: 8 to 10 p.m. - St. Mark's Anglican Church Canadian Jazz Icon Joe Sealy performs the Juno Award Winning Africville Suite, with special guest Jumaane Smith.

Saturday, October 3rd, 2015: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. - The Market @ The Village Food for the Soul - Free Admission

Bravo Niagara! and The Market @ The Village co-present “Food for the Soul, bringing together vendors of local chefs, food trucks, music, artisans, local produce, Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake and more in a celebration of the culinary contributions of people of African descent.

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Check out our blog about the fascinating Tuareg People and their ancient silversmithing techniques. Please stop by. We'd love to meet you. Saturday, October 3rd, 2015: 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. St. Mark's Anglican Church Nathaniel Dett Chorale - "Freedom Has a Voice" As a response to being enslaved during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, men and women of African heritage created spirituals, songs of sorrow, love, faith, and hope. Many of these songs were encoded with covert messages as a way to sing freedom into existence. The Nathaniel Dett Chorale is dedicated to Afrocentric music of all styles, including classical, spiritual, gospel, jazz, folk and blues and has shared the stage with internationally recognized artists such as Juno Award-winning jazz pianist Joe Sealy, singers Molly Johnson and Jackie Richardson, and opera star Kathleen Battle and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

Sunday, October 4th, 2015: 2 to 4 p.m. Community Concert @ Harriet Tubman Public School - Free Admission Blues Sensations Diana Braithwaite and Chris Whitely Canadian blues icons Diana Braithwaite, a descendant of freedom-seekers who settled in Wellington County, and Chris Whiteley will perform “Sugar & Gold: A Musical Story of the Underground Railroad.” Students will display artwork inspired by Harriet Tubman.

Sunday, October 4th, 2015: 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Freedom Cruise on the Niagara River

Featuring Blues & Motown Legend Harrison Kennedy

The weekend will conclude with the inaugural Sunset Freedom River Cruise aboard the majestic Niagara Belle featuring Blues and Motown legend Harrison Kennedy. Join us on a musical and historical tour along the Niagara River, on the very water where many courageous freedom-seekers crossed and risked their lives to reach freedom in Canada.


"In its desire to celebrate, commemorate and examine the experiences of persons of African descent in Canada, the festival aligns with the 70th Anniversary of UNESCO and the 21st Anniversary of the International Scientific Committee UNESCO Slave Route Project: Resistance, Liberty, Heritage. The North Star Festival: Voices of Freedom will contribute to the ongoing work to unite the Niagara Region in a global movement of promoting deeper cultural understanding, peace and dialogue for current and future generations. 

P.S. Looking back at this blog, we seem to have channeled both the Pointer Sisters (or maybe Donna Summer?) AND Marvin Gaye.

No apologies. We were about to lose control and we know we like it! Comment if you know which songs and no peeking at the links first.

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Spy? Humanitarian? Abolitionist? The Amazing Harriet Tubman

It's very hard to define Harriet Tubman. Her dedication and bravery overwhelms us. Born a slave, beaten and whipped, Harriet Tubman's devout Christianity allowed her to pray for her "master", despite his treatment of her. Harriet's finely honed sense of right and wrong steeled her resolve and ultimately she escaped to Philadelphia.

Harriet then returned to Maryland to rescue her family, bringing them slowly (one group at a time) out of the state. Harriet went on to guide dozens of other slaves to freedom. Code named "Moses", traveling by night and in utter secrecy, Harriet "never lost a passenger". After the United States Fugitive Slave Law was passed (in 1850), Harriet helped to guide freedom seekers further north into Canada - following the Northern Star to freedom. She provided further support once they reached freedom - helping them find work and settle their families. During the Civil War, Harriet worked for the Union Army - first as a cook or nurse, then as an armed scout and spy. She was the first woman to lead an armed expedition in the Civil War when she guided the raid at Combahee Ferry - liberating over 700 slaves. For over 11 years, after escaping herself, Harriet repeatedly returned to Maryland, rescuing over 70 slaves in about 13 expeditions. Such chutzpah that woman had! She employed a variety of disguises and carried a revolver she wasn't afraid to use! With a large bounty on her head, she had to be on constant alert.


After the Civil War and the emancipation, Harriet was told by a train conductor to "move to the smoking car". Sound familiar? A precursor of Rosa Parks! Harriet refused and told the conductor about her government/war service. Did he respect it? No, he cursed her and enlisted two passengers to force her and in doing so, they broke her arm. Despite Harriet's years of amazing service, she did not receive a pension for her Civil War services until 1899 and never received a regular salary during service. In her later years, she worked to promote the cause of women's suffrage. When asked by a white woman if she believed women should have the right to vote, she replied "I suffered enough to believe it". While promoting women's rights, Harriet worked along women such as Susan B. Anthony and Emily Howland. We owe an amazing debt to Harriet Tubman. Not just for her efforts to assist freedom seekers along the Underground Railroad but also for her war service, support of women's rights and her demonstration that free will is something to fight for and value highly. Look at the map below to get an idea of the vast distances these brave freedom seekers and their guides had to travel. At high risk, being sought by "law enforcement" and bounty hunters.


We learned so much about the Underground Railroad and the freedom seekers following the North Star at Bravo Niagara's North Star Festival: Voices of Freedom. Pencil this amazing three day festival into your calendar for next year. You won't want to miss it! Register for our blog to get updates on this and other events.

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The Tigray of Ethiopia & Eritrea

Keepers of the Ark of the Convenant?  The Ark of the Convenant was venerated in the First Temple of Jerusalem during the reign of Solomon (circa 970-930). Then, it vanished!!

For centuries, Ethiopian Christians have claimed that the Ark of the Covenant is housed in a chapel in the town of Aksum, located in the northern highlands of the Tigray state. The Chapel of the Tablet at the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in Axum allegedly houses the original Ark of the Covenant.

They claim it arrived about 3,000 years ago and has been closely guarded by anointed monks who are forbidden to ever set foot outside the chapel grounds. The majority of the Tigray people are located in Tigray state in Ethiopia, although some reside in Eritrea. The regions they occupy are, for the most part, a high plateau, separate from the Red Sea by an escarpment and a desert. Most of the Tigray people place a high value on their verbal skills. Therefore, poetry, riddles, tales and puns are part of Tigray entertainment. In fact, they engage in the art of "poetic combat". Many heroic figures in Tigray folklore are known for their skill and the clever ability they had to compose poetic couplets. Tekle Haymanot, an Ethiopian Saint, (pictured below) is reputed to have verbally outwitted the devil!

The Tigray and the Amhara people were converted to Christianity hundreds of years before most of Europe. The arrival of Christianity in Tigrayan lands is dated to about the same time as Christianity arrived in Ireland. The church is a very central feature of Tigray communities, most communities having a church with a patron saint. Most Tigray holidays are associated with the church calendar. Tigray art is also associated with the church. The church architecture alone is amazing with many churches cut into solid stone (as pictured below). Icon painting is also popular. 

They have a lovely way of greeting each other. As a sign of respect, a stranger may be greeted with "khamihaduru", which means "how are you, my honoured equal". Pretty nice, in our opinion! The Tigray don't consume much alcohol, certainly in the rural areas where the household beer that is brewed is low in alcohol content. Honey wine is also brewed but is usually reserved for special occasions. Most houses start out as "gujji", a practical, unassuming structure, with a thatched roof. Later, a family may add masonry walls and a domed roof. If very successful, stone walls may be added around the yard. As a matter of fact, guests often bring stones with them to be added to the walls. A charming practice and a sign of respect. Traditional clothing is white with very little embellishment. Men and women both wear a gabbi (a shawl like garment). Food is often a problem. There simply is rarely enough to go around. Many households receive government subsidies to compensate for lack of available food. Bread is an important staple and is often eaten with a spicy stew. Families and guests eat "messob" style (from a shared food basket), breaking off pieces of bread from the communal basket and dipping it into the stew which is placed in the centre of the basket..

Church music and praise songs are important to the Tigray. Church deacons may sing and accompany the voices with drums and a marroca-like, shaken instrument called at "sistrum". A game much like field hockey is played but in a cross-country manner! Some seriously sports-minded Tigray "grow" their own hockey sticks by training saplings into the desired curve. While like field hockey, the Tigray play across country - even through creeks and over fences! Now that's track and field combined with field hockey! The Tigray are a fascinating people, with interesting customs and traditions. Don't miss any of our articles, blogs, updates or recipes! Sign up for email updates.  

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Exploring the Global Migrations of African Peoples

Our blog series exploring the peoples and cultures of Africa has been such a success with our readers, we thought you might be interested in a series of publications available from the Harriet Tubman Institute - about the Global Migrations of African Peoples. We have found these publications to be immensely interesting as we learn about where African people migrated to (willingly or unwillingly) and, more positively, about the tremendous influences in music, arts and customs they brought to bear.

We enjoy learning about and celebrating the positive effects of the African Diaspora. It has made us look at art, music and cuisine differently. We have come to more readily recognize the sounds, the sights and the tastes of Africa that are all around us! Especially pertinent to our recent blog - The Yoruba of Sub-Saharan Africa, is the publication seen above - The Yoruba Diaspora is the Atlantic World . There are many other publications currently available and a list of upcoming publications as well. "The Harriet Tubman Series explores the African Diaspora in historical and contemporary times. It is named after Harriet Tubman (c. 1820-1913), who as a young woman fled slavery to help others escape to Canada on the Underground Railroad and subsequently fought in the U.S. Civil War to end slavery. The Tubman Series examines all aspects of the global migrations of African peoples, whether under conditions of slavery, or more recently as a product of the postcolonial conditions of the global society." Don't miss any of our articles, blogs, updates or recipes! Sign up for email updates.

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The Mandingo of Sub-Saharan Africa

Referred to as Mandingo, Mandinka or Malinke, the Mandingo represent one of the largest ethnic groups in sub-Saharan Africa. Based primarily in West Africa, the population of Mandingo peoples is about 11 million. Spread across Mali, Senegal, Mauritania, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Burkina Faso, Ivory Cost, Chad and Niger, the Mandingo are thought to have links with the ancient Central Saharan lineage. Mandingo is a branch of the Mandé, which also includes ethno-lingual groups such as the Bozo, Bambara, Kpelle and Ligbi. 

The Mandingo people are purported to be descendants of the Mali Empire (1230 A.D. to 1600 A.D.) Some scholars think the Mandingo's roots go back even further - to the legendary ancient city of Djenné-Djenno (3rd century B.C.) The Mali Empire was established in the Senegambia region, deep in the heartland of West Africa. It is believed that they migrated there in the search for better agricultural lands and to expand their territory. More than half of the tribal group converted to Islam (from their indigenous pantheist belief structure) after reaching West Africa. Sadly, although the Mandingo people existed very nicely with the other settlers in the region, in the 15th century, Westerners arrived looking for human labour. The desire for farmland and the Industrial Revolution contributed to a period of slavery for the Mandingo.
Unfortunately, many Mandingo merchants were themselves involved in the transatlantic slave trade. It is difficult to understand, but many Mandingo were sold as slaves by their own people! As a result of the despicable slave trade, more than a third of the Mandingo population was sent to the Americas. This is why a large number of African-American people residing in the United States today are descendents of the Mandingo. The Mandingo culture is both spiritual and musical. Griots are well-known for their "praise singing" in which they tell stories, sing songs and proverbs. They are the keepers of oral tradition spanning centuries. Take a look at the video we've included below. This is a fascinating recounting by Imiuswi Aborigine ~ Prince Diabata - a griot musician from West Africa - of the history of the griot legacy and their long traditional of oral history.


Music also includes drumming and playing a unique instrument, called the "Kora", which has 21 strings and is made by hollowing out half of a large gourd and covering it with cow or goat skin. It looks pretty complex to us!

Clan society is patriarchal with many people living in family compounds in rural areas. The Mandingo have a natural bent for seeking autonomy and self-rule, incorporating leadership by a chief and a group of village elders. Their homes are largely centered along trade routes built by merchants known as "Dyulas", who supervise the overland, coastal and inland trading. Trading in rice, groundnuts (peanuts), corn and millet along with animals, the economy is labor-intensive.

Traditionally, marriages are arranged, particularly in rural areas. The family of the potential groom sends a gift of kola nuts to the male elders of the family of the potential bride. If the gift is accepted by the family of the bride, the courtship is then allowed to begin. Since their pre-Islamic days, the Mandingo have practiced polygamy, allowing a man to have up to four wives - only if he is able to care for each wife equally. The first wife has authority over subsequent wives and wives are expected to live communally, sharing responsibilities like cooking, laundry and house-keeping. The Mandingo people have an interesting history that can be traced back many centuries. Kofi Annan, the former U.N. Secretary General is of Mandingo ancestry. Don't miss any of our articles, blogs, updates or recipes! Sign up for email updates.

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