LAURINBURG — With its own history of celebrating African-American heritage, Saturday’s 23rd Annual Kuumba Festival also looked to the future in both old and new ways.
The festival began in the mid-1980s as a cultural expo, spearheaded by Martha Gibson, then director of the Scotland County Arts Council and featuring the Chuck Davis Dance Company. The festival became Kuumba in 1991. Some 2,000 people attended this year’s incarnation at Market Park on Lee’s Mill Road.
“I come out for my kids to celebrate black heritage and people just trying to have a good time,” said Aljuan Jones of Laurinburg. “I’ve always come here ever since I was little. I remember the drums and the performances and all the good food the same way it is now. It’s just tradition.”
One of the event’s original organizers, Fayetteville attorney Allen Rogers, expressed his elation at Kuumba’s continued vitality.
“There’s a lot of information here and resources here to help people, and I think that’s a good aspect of it,” Rogers said. “Kuumba 2013 reflects not just a celebration of African-American culture, but reaching out to meet the current needs of the African-American community and the community at large.”
With education and mentoring booths in addition to the 20 food vendors — who made sure that no one in need of a collard sandwich was left wanting — Rogers said that Kuumba offers youth a window to the future in addition to reminders of a long and colorful history.
“As young people recognize their rich culture, I think their expectations and their self-worth rise,” he said. “Sometimes they’re not exposed enough to the culture and perhaps they’ve only seen Africans in a negative light, but when they celebrate their culture and hear about the rich heritage, I think they expect more and do better.”
Kuumba began as usual with the Miss Kuumba Pageant on Friday evening, with Maya Addai winning the Queen division and Ramiya Harrington taking the junior prize.
This year was Addai’s first time competing in the pageant, which she won by demonstrating her talent in spoken word and modeling a dress brought back by her father from his homeland of Ghana.
“I’m African, my dad is African, but that’s not the only reason I did it — I really did gain more confidence doing this,” said Addai.
Though she has not yet visited Africa herself, Addai hopes to do so in the coming year.
“I’ve lived in America my whole life; I know my American half because my mom’s American, but I really want to know the other part of my heritage,” she said. “I have pride in it, but I want to actually experience it.”
Saturday’s entertainment included African dancing and drumming performances by Wo’se Dance Theatre of Charleston, S.C. and by dancer Shea-Ra Nichi of Elizabethtown. Nichi drew inspiration from traditional African dances, but her performance represented the flair of the African diaspora extant throughout the Americas.
“A lot of times when people think about the traditional diaspora, they think of just West Africa, but I’ve traveled to Brazil and Cuba and different places where that diaspora has spead all over the world, and it is those movements that I really perform,” she said.
Nichi danced in honor of the Orisha, the elemental spirits of the ocean, earth, wind, and natural forces revered in West African Yoruba culture. Before bringing the audience in to participate in a drum circle, Nichi demonstrated a dance for Eshu, the crossroads Orisha.
“It’s like that natural voice within you that says you should do this and sometimes we question it,” said Nishi. “When we don’t follow that, then we end up making a mistake, and that’s considered the Trickster. That Trickster is us, well all of it is us, but the Trickster is when we question that initial voice within us… . I believe that these types of dances are needed today, but in a way that we can understand it.”