Giving thanks and honoring the Spirits of the Earth: African and African Diaspora Celebrations for a Good New Year

December 26th is the first day of the African American Celebration of Kwanzaa. This celebration founded by Dr. Malena Karenga in 1966 is based on seven principles to guide the African American community towards cultural healing, peace, and prosperity in the New Year.  Although  it is a western new world African celebration, it is rooted in traditional ancestral practices of West Africans including Ghana and Nigeria where communities gather for harvest celebrations such as the Yam Festivals which generally take place prior to the rainy season.  Yam is an important food staple in the West African diet and people are aware that in order to survive the upcoming year and to avert famine and drought they gather in community to offer prayers of thanksgiving to the Earth for her support and nourishment for the New Year.

Giving thanks to the Earth and the spirits of nature is grounded in the belief and knowing that all living things in nature such as rivers, oceans, tress, mountains, birds, bees, and the Earth have spirits.  In the African Diaspora devotees and initiates of the Oricha have various earth celebrations to prepare our spirits so we can harvest good character, purify ourselves, and honor the Oricha to prepare us for whatever lies ahead in the new year.   Many celebrations abound and in December we honor and celebrate the Oricha Olocun where we clean with grains, meat, fruit and vegetables to give thanks to Olocun the owner of the deepest parts of the sea and ports for our wealth, and to purify ourselves to be able to accept with humility, abundance for the New Year.  In the Oricha community I lead in the Oakland/SF Bay Area we do our celebration at the mouth of the Bay to give thanks to the waters which is the source of nourishment, healing, life, and prosperity for humans and nonhumans in the Bay Area and beyond.

In these times when our collective actions contribute to excessive  climate change, and wreck havoc on the planet, connecting in to the rhythms of nature through ceremony, creativity, celebration, meditation or prayer can bring healing to allow us to begin to give reparations to the Earth. In 2011, we have experienced a reduced harvest in much of the world as extreme weather decimated many regions. According to an article in the Boston Globe of the United States is in prolonged drought, as well as much of Europe. In India, the monsoon is 20 percent off the annual average. Food prices are expected to rise again in 2013 as demand taxes supplies.”  As Bill McKibben the founder and leader of the global movement states “”Civilization is what grows up in the margins of leisure and security provided by a workable relationship with the natural world. That margin won’t exist, at least not for long, as long as we remain on the wrong side of 350. That’s the limit we face.”  350 is the number that leading scientists say is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide—measured in “Parts Per Million” in our atmosphere. 350 PPM—it’s the number humanity needs to get back to as soon as possible to avoid runaway climate change.”

 I’m reminded of the sacred holy Odu in the Lucumi tradition, Odi Osa which says to lift your hands as high as they can go to remind us that we can’t go pass the length of our hands, we must respect and honor our limits.  This Odu can also be applied to our collective consciousness to ensure that we respect and honor the limits of the Earth by curbing our greed and reminding us of the awareness and humility necessary for restraint.  This is particularly important for those of us living in the United States, where we consistently go beyond our limits in our consumption of the Earth’s treasures.

 Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, Olocun Awan Oricha ceremonies, and other earth honoring ceremonies can help us to learn to have a cooperative relationship with the natural world.  So as the principles of Kwanzaa state let us harvest Unity, Self  determination, a Cooperative Economics , Creativity, Purpose, and Faith grounded in honoring the earth, knowing and respecting our limits and harvesting peace, humility, courage, justice and good will.

I give thanks for the ancestors and honorable elders for their wisdom, knowledge and the medicine of the Oricha.  It is through African and African Diaspora Earth honoring ceremonies and healing practices that I am reminded and taught to give thanks to the spirits of the Earth, to be aware of and honor my limits and to repair my relationship to the Earth to renew my mind, body and spirit for the New Year.

Coyright: J.Phoenix Smith, MSW

Oricha Priest of Aganyu, Ecotherapist, Writer, Mentor and Founder of EcoSoul

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