Home
 
Choose Your City
Change City

Old African-American celebration given second life in New York

By Sebastien Malo

NEW YORK (Reuters) - An African-American celebration called Pinkster dating back to the 17th century is enjoying a quiet revival in New York, giving the city a fresh glimpse at the largely ignored contribution that black colonists made to America's emerging culture.

Considered the oldest African-American holiday, Pinkster was virtually unknown to generations of New Yorkers until three years ago when a group of black history enthusiasts decided to resurrect it.

The festivities, now an annual event, take place this weekend in lower Manhattan at the site of a colonial-era African-American burial ground that itself was almost lost to history until unearthed during a 1991 construction project.

"Africans are always left out of history," said Christopher Paul Moore, a historian and retired curator at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City's Harlem. "The revival of Pinkster helps us to just have a fuller understanding, awareness of what was happening in this country."

Pinkster was brought tothe New Worldby settlers from the Netherlands, itsnamederivedfromthe Dutchword "Pinksteren," meaningPentecost, a Christian holiday falling on the seventh Sunday after Easter.Slaves and free colonists withAfricanroots soonfusedthe holiday with their own traditions, giving Pinkster a distinctive American character.

In its heyday, Pinkster was an week-long celebration thatfeatured African music and dancing,andthe crowning of aPinkster king, portrayed bya slavedressed like a military officer.

The holiday was pushed underground in New York state after a ban in 1811, long after the British ousted the Dutch from their foothold in North America. Pinkster gradually receded into the history books as the Afro-Dutch community losttouch withtheircolonial traditions.

The New York City revival began whencomposerJohn Derek Norvellran across the word "Pinkster"time and againwhile reading aboutearly African-American musicwhen he was a doctoral student.

"As I was reading about it, I said-you know what-we need to bring the holiday back," said Norvell,a 61-year-old Harlem resident.

The highlight of the event, organized by theAfrican American Pinkster Committee of New York, is the crowning of the Pinkster King, and the telling of the holiday's story in traditional songs, percussion-driven music and dance.

It is not the first of its kind in the state. The Philipsburg Manor in the Hudson Valley town of Sleepy Hollow has hosted a Pinkster celebration since the mid-1980s.

Pinkster's resurrection in New York City comes at a time of renewed interest in its former slave market, with legislators pushing for a historical marker at the site.

"People don't fully know how pervasive slavery was across the country - they think it's a southern issue and that the North didn't really deal with slavery," said Councilman Jumaane Williams, who backs theplan. "It's nothing further from the truth in New York City."

For Norvell,it is also important torecognizethat African-Americansin the northeast forged traditions of their own, though not as well known as Southern traditions such asbanjo playing and juba, a dance style also called hambone.

The event takes place at the African Burial Ground National Monument, housed on the ground floor in a federal office building. The original 6.6-acre cemetery, located just outside the original Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam, was the final resting place for an estimated 15,000 free and enslaved Africans, according to the National Park Service, which manages the facility.

"One of the things I feel is so important is that there's no shame in being the son or grand-son of slaves,"Norvellsaid. "The body may have been enslaved but not the creativity or the soul or the spirit, and we need to honor that. Pinkster does that."

(Editing By Frank McGurty and Chris Reese)

 

Have Your SayLeave a comment

Consider AlsoFurther Articles