Maafa Commemoration

Maafa Commemoration

Date Observed: Third week in September
Location: Brooklyn, New York

During the Maafa Commemoration in Brooklyn, New York, members of the African-American community come together to memorialize and honor the millions of Africans who suffered the horrors of the TransAtlantic Slave Trade and Middle Passage of the 1700s. It is held each year during the third week in September.

Historical Background

Maafa (mah-AH-fah) is a Kiswahili term meaning "great disaster" or "terrible occurrence." It has come to refer to what some call the African Holocaust - the transporting of millions of Africans in the holds of ships through the Atlantic Ocean to lives of slavery. Those who survived these indignities and peril arrived in foreign lands, no longer in control of their own destinies, subject in most cases to decades of oppression, emotional and physical injury, and even death.

Dr. Marimba Ani is credited with appropriating the word "maafa" to collectively commemorate this historical occurrence. In a 2000 Essence article, Ani noted:

We needed a term that would let us claim this experience for ourselves. So I contacted friends who knew various African languages and asked for a term for disaster. The Middle Passage and slavery had their own horror, which brought on a new kind of horror. We have been duped into believing that we are free and healthy, but we are still living in Maafa. Only by going through the pain and the grief can we find our way to Sankofa, an acceptance of our being, our spirit.

Creation of the Observance

In 1995 New Orleans-born preacher Johnny Youngblood, pastor of New York City's St. Paul Community Baptist Church, organized the first Maafa Commemoration to help African Americans heal from the psychic and spiritual damage that he felt had gone undetected and untreated for centuries. Since that time, the annual Maafa observance at St. Paul's Community Baptist Church has grown considerably. Through word-of-mouth and outreach efforts, other religious communities have been receptive, and the practice of commemorating Maafa has spread to other locations in the U.S.


Various activities occur throughout the Maafa Commemoration. There are repeated performances of a moving theatrical production, "Maafa Suite - A Healing Journey," that is aimed at educating, reconciling, and healing collective memories. In addition, there are worship services, lectures, tours of the Maafa Museum, opportunities to participate in a Garden of Gethsemane Sweat Lodge Journey, workshops on resisting institutional racism, special programs for both seniors and youth, and a ceremony on the shores of the Atlantic.

Contact and Web Site

St. Paul's Community MAAFA Resource Center 859 Hendrix St. Brooklyn, NY 11207 718-257-2884; fax: 718-257-1965

Further Reading

Anderson, S. E. The Black Holocaust for Beginners. New York: Writers and Readers Publishing, 1995. Black, Albert W. The Other Holocaust: The Sociology and History of African Ameri- cans, Vol. I. Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing, 2002. Cose, Ellis. Bone to Pick: Of Forgiveness, Reconciliation, Reparation, and Revenge. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005. McKinney, Lora-Ellen. Christian Education in the African American Church: A Guide for Teaching Truth. Foreword by Johnny Ray Youngblood. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2003. Southgate, Martha. "Memorializing the Middle Passage: How a Brooklyn Church Is Starting a Movement to Honor Our Ancestors Lost in the Slave Trade." Essence, February 2000. Thomas, Laurence Mordekhai. Vessels of Evil: American Slavery and the Holocaust. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994.
African-American Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2007

Maafa Commemoration

Third week in September
The Maafa Commemoration is an annual week-long remembrance of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the experience of Middle Passage. The word Maafa, a Kiswahili word meaning catastrophe, is increasingly being applied to those historical events.
The commemoration, held at the St. Paul Community Baptist Church in Brooklyn, N.Y., centers around a dramatic presentation put on by the church's drama ministry. "The Maafa Suite ... A Healing Journey" depicts the history of African Americans, from Africa to the Jim Crow South. As many as 100 performers in music, dance, and theatre contribute to "The Maafa Suite." The work's creators describe it as a transformative psychodrama that aims to educate and heal the collective memory of African Americans. It is open to the public by paid ticket. Other events during the week include lectures, worship services, Maafa museum tours, a Garden of Gethsemane sweat lodge, and special activities for senior citizens and young people, many of them free of charge. The commemoration first took place in 1995. The play has toured to other African-American churches in the United States, and many churches have created their own Maafa commemorations.
St. Paul Community Baptist Church Maafa Resource Center
859 Hendrix St.
Brooklyn, NY 11207
718-257-2884; fax: 718-257-1965
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.