Children play the drums during the First Annual PACF of San Antonio.
Children play the drums during the First Annual PACF of San Antonio. Photo courtesy of La Juana Chambers.

The First Annual Pan-African Cultural Festival in San Antonio on Saturday, May 7, was not your average Pan-African cultural fête. On that day, ancestors were honored in a commemorative spectacle truly befitting of honorable mention.

Allow me to muckrake the significance of the Pan-African fête that was the first of its kind in San Antonio. There is not much certainty in declaring this fête the first ever, since much of the history of the Pan-African movement in San Antonio remains largely undocumented.

Generally, I have come to understand the truest essence of Pan-Africanism, an indigenous movement that emphasizes the repatriation of Africans throughout the Diaspora, as akin to that of the revolution not being televised.

I hold high the assumption that, throughout the world, festivities celebrating African ancestry are typically unacknowledged by Western media as these celebrations are not as popularized by eurocentric cultural proclamation and are commonly relegated to folklore, a sort of philosophical intellectualism that is expressed by oral storytelling and mythos.

Embracing Difference

Folklore is a critical aspect of society. It creates and recreates unspoken norms, introduces the intersectionality of culture and truths and (hopefully) builds the respect and curiosity for difference in the interest of inclusion and mutual admiration. In actuality though, the act of derivation to folklore in its most tangible form – music, dance and food – is a political act, lending the act itself uncomfortable, open to criticism, and personally challenging. Because in folklore, the tripartite of knowledge is sometimes justified and believed but not always true. Because in folklore, truth is multivariate and inclusive of difference.

The African Drum Circle dancers, Tribe of Umoja/Unity Queens, at the First Annual PACF of San Antonio.
The African Drum Circle dancers, Tribe of Umoja/Unity Queens, at the First Annual PACF of San Antonio. Photo courtesy of La Juana Chambers.

Fête Folklore

Ai Weiwei once said that any question of reality, truth, or fact will always be a political act. In an attempt to reclaim and remember what has long been written out of history and, therefore, retained through folklore, the First Annual Pan-African Cultural Festival in San Antonio boldly endeavored to reintroduce and galvanize the African experience throughout the Diaspora–the world’s largest forced migration of any people–namely the Middle Passage.

The fête was hosted by the Carver Branch Library and the proceeds were donated to the Friends of the Carver Branch Library supporting the effort to increase readership and encourage the conscious community to frequent the Carver for events that infuse the memory, significance, and proper commemoration of the black experience in San Antonio. A check for nearly $500 was presented during the KwanzaaSA’s Message to the People: A Story of Malcolm X to the Friends of the Carver Branch Library on Saturday, May 14, for their support and stewardship to increase literacy and reclaim knowledge of the black experience in San Antonio.

The Fête

The festival began at 11 a.m., with the pouring of libations and permission of the elders in attendance to proceed, in blessing and respect, with the program for the day of festivities. Immediately thereafter was an hour of community conversations, moderated by KwanzaaSA’s Baba Aundar Martin, featuring an astute panel of elders, each selected in advance to speak about their experiences as Africans, especially in the places that they have lived.

Several of the panelists reported having lived in more than seven countries and countless numbers of cities and states therein throughout their lifetimes. The conversation that ensued was extremely telling of the similarities that each of the elders had in language, heritage, food, and music. The spoken differences, however, were even more telling and engaging.

For me, the aha moment of the community conversation took place during the discussion about blackness and who among the panelists considered themselves black prior to relocating to the United States. The question, I believe, framed blackness into a regional perspective, where it drew attention to the trivial nature of race in other parts of the world, which thereby drew attention to the function of race outside of the U.S., ultimately reminding us of the heterogeneity of the Pan-Africanists’ approach to unifying black people throughout the world.

A community member speaks with Mr. and Mrs. Harris about their experiences in Ghana and the origin of the pieces that they sell.
A community member speaks with Mr. and Mrs. Harris about their experiences in Ghana and the origin of the pieces that they sell. Photo courtesy of La Juana Chambers.

Pan-Africanists like George Padmore, Kwame Nkrumah, Marcus Garvey, and Thomas Sankara were visionaries that approached reclamation in epistemology, environmental justice, and spiritual being. Their approach to Pan-Africanism, like that of the differences in afrocentrism, strengthen the core of the Pan-African movement, that is folklore with many tributaries leading us to the same wharf on the way to the tide that uplifts and improves the living conditions of African peoples throughout the world, with specific focus on those inhabitants of the African continent, in homage to our fallen and their steel-wrought manacles that chained their bodies but not their souls.

At about 12:45 p.m., the community conversations came to a close and festival participants were encouraged to partake in activities outdoors, in the parking lot just behind the Carver Branch Library. The vendors that were in attendance offered everything from black comic books–written by black artists and featuring black heroes – to beard butter, kente cloths and dashikis, and banana flavored dokon from Benin.

There were several amazing performances celebrating the richness of the African experience like the jaw-dropping dance of Capoeira Luanda and the African Drum Circle dance of the Tribe of Umoja/Unity Queens. Mondrea Harmon, Nwanediya Chinedu Orji Okele and Nakita Reddic-McClure graced the audience with spoken words and poetry that invoked critical thought and reflection. Like-Minded Entertainment performed a few lyrical crowd-pleasers that were truly befitting of the event.

Children were running up to drum players like Mr. Milton Wilson and T-Bow Gonzales to play and gain some familiarity with the rhythms of the conga, djembe, djun djun drums, and percussion. Others were enjoying the face painting tent where they were decorated with tribal markings and symbology that honored concepts, adages, and legendary tales of gallant and brave ancestors from West Africa.

For these reasons and many more, the First Annual Pan-African Cultural Festival in San Antonio was a true spectacle and treat. In all of its diversity and inclusion, the fête brought together descendants of Pan-African meta-ethnic cultural movements that usually do not interact. In its meta-ethnic deftness, the First Annual Pan-African Cultural Festival in San Antonio made familiar foes in thought and practice come together in commonality, Pan-Africanism and for a worthy cause of improvement, reclamation, and repatriation of African peoples throughout the globe.

Here’s to the continued success of the Pan-African Cultural Festival in San Antonio and its planning leadership for bringing awareness to the need to continue to carve out space for remembrance and commemoration in celebration of African culture and folklore.

Top image: Children play the drums during the First Annual PACF of San Antonio.  Photo courtesy of La Juana Chambers. 

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La Juana Chambers

La Juana Chambers works at the American GI Forum's National Veterans Outreach Program as a Management Information Systems (MIS) Evaluator, specializing in programmatic best practices White Papers, database...