Umoja Festival

Portsmouth, VA 23701

Festival History:
In 1991, the City Council of Portsmouth, Virginia affirmed its commitment to understanding cultural diversity. It was most appropriate the City of Portsmouth selected the Kiswahili word Umoja as the name of its African-American Festival. Umoja, a Kiswahili work meaning unity, is the first principal of Kwanzaa, an African-American cultural holiday celebrated from December 26th through January 1st. This principal emulates unity in the family, community and nation.

Umoja Processional - "Drums of Africa" Group - The Umoja Festival opens with a traditional African drum call sending polyrhythm through the air, a ceremonial processional and the blessing of the elders, all facets of ancient tribal cultures, customs and traditions. For two and one-half days, the beautiful waterfront of Portsmouth is transformed into an image of its Sister City Eldoret, Kenya.

It begins with permission from the elders: In African tradition, permission from the elders of the village is often sought because of their wisdom, knowledge and experience. The Umoja Festival has always observed this tradition in seeking permission from the elders of the Portsmouth community.

Festival visitors are introduced to Africa through sights, sounds and smells. Ethnic foods such as jambalaya and larderbout, and a marketplace of sculptures, paintings, prints, baskets, quilts and other assorted hand-crafted wares contribute to the ambiance of the Festival. Entertainment is a unique combination of contemporary and ancient art forms. Nationally acclaimed musical guests perform jazz, reggae, gospel, rhythm and blues. Children's activities are a specialty at the festival. Storytelling, games and crafts with origins in several African countries are all participatory.

A Community Forum on issues facing African-Americans is hosted by leading community experts and gives citizens a chance to dialogue pertinent concerns. The Red Cross, Sickle Cell Anemia, Pride in Parenting and other social service organizations set-up exhibits to educate Festival participants about programs available in the community.

The Festival's closing activity features a gospel jubilee of musical talents from throughout Hampton Roads.

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