gene-tinnie_web.pngSpecial to South Florida Times

VIRGINIA KEY — To the beating of drums and the blowing of trumpets, prayers were chanted and a Caribbean tribal Indian queen performed ancient cleansing rituals.

It was the annual sunrise celebration to honor the lives of captive Africans forced to make the journey across the sea to be sold into slavery in foreign lands.

The annual Ancestral Remembrance of the Middle Passage drew more than 50 people of different ages to the service held at the historic Virginia Key Beach in Miami on June 19.

The service has been held annually for 17 years and is co-organized by Altine Baki and Dinizulu Gene Tinnie with the two-fold purpose of mourning those who perished in the crossing of what came to be known as the Middle Passage and also to celebrate the lives of those who survived and became ancestors of Africans in the diaspora of the Americas.

Baki, who said her son Asata was 7 days old when the first ceremony took place, said it is the responsibility of the descendants to give their ancestors a proper memorial.

“If we don’t do this, who will?” Baki asked. “Everyone mourns a death and, with the many people that died during that transition, we have to remember them. Out of all the events we do each year, this one is the most special.”

Tinnie, like Baki, is an artist, who heads the Virginia Key Beach Park Trust, echoed her sentiments.

“This celebration is to honor our ancestors who have no graves. We don’t know their names and they’ve been forgotten through history. But it is also to honor those who lived and gave us life,” Tinnie said.

The service began with an ancient cleansing and purification ritual and a blessing of the land performed by Catherine “Hummingbird” Ramirez, a Caribbean tribal Indian queen.

Using natural oil taken directly from a rosebud, as well as feathers and smoke from white Californian sage and corn, Ramirez prayed in her native tongue to the “Great Spirit” and performed rituals that she said cleansed every participant.

Ramirez said she was thankful to be a part of the ceremony because ancient African traditions are very similar to those of the native peoples.

“Going to Africa was an experience for me. I used to think we were different but we are the same. We eat the same and our ceremonies are the same. This is so important, what we are doing,” Ramirez said.

Baki added, “We always include the native population because they are the true owners of this land. In our holocaust, we have to remember theirs because [the European settlers] wiped them out to bring us here.”

After the cleansing ceremony, ceremonial drinks were poured, testimonials were given and participants loaded a handmade raft of coconut leaves with fruits, grains, flowers, oils and sage and set it adrift in the sea as an offering to the ancestors.

“Sending off the offering is a tangible way for us to let the ancestors know that they are remembered.”

Tinnie continued that  this year’s ceremony was extra special because the United Nations has declared 2011 the “International Year of People of African Descent” and the organizers of the service would try to get it into the  official record.

“The Middle Passage is very important because the slave ship was a violated womb that gave birth to new African people on this side of the ocean,” Tinnie said. “They brought their knowledge, spirituality, culture and nation-building skills to make America what it is today,”  Tinnie said.

“Those millions of people who died, each one was a human being whose life mattered. They had families and communities and people that loved them. There are no unimportant lives and no unimportant babies born. They deserve to be remembered.”