K. Ibura

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Kwanzaa in Senegal

Posted on 23 January 2022


I took a break from the pandemic struggle and the book pushes to spend two weeks in Senegal with friends. It was a beautiful journey full of road trips, connections and laughter. It was deeply healing and restorative. While there, I thought a lot about lineage. I thought about how you don’t even need to know the facts of every historical moment to be impacted by your heritage. So much is written in our DNA, in our spirits, in our bones.

I remember after becoming an adult, I would meet my father’s friends and they would ask about my travels and I thought, this is why I’m protected. There’s a whole network of elders thinking about my wellbeing. It is an art to move with your ancestors and to allow them to move through you. This year, I’m reaching for more integration between the seen and unseen, the unspoken gifts of my heritage and the way I move in the world.

Ten years ago, I wrote some reflections connecting Kwanzaa to making art here. As I was in Senegal during Kwanzaa, this year I wrote Kwanzaa reflections based on my travels.


Umoja—Unity

Shared birthday meal, Senegal style

I spent Umoja in a multi-family home in Dakar, celebrating the birthday of a friend of a friend. The people who gathered were all childhood friends, mostly from the same small hometown, who have been supporting each other for years. We ate together, reminding me of the many ways culturally, socially, and historically we have banded together to create a way out of no way.

We can point to many examples of lack of unity, but our continued presence on this planet is proof that some unity exists, has existed—without unity we would not be here.

Circle of learning on Goree Island

 

Detail of an installation of a cotton field by Soly Cissé at Le Musée des Civilisations Noires in Dakar, Senegal

 

Installation of a cotton field by Soly Cissé at Le Musée des Civilisations Noires in Dakar, Senegal

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Kujichagulia—Self Determination

The Door of No Return, Goree Island

Every time I travel it reminds me that we are responsible for our reality. We have the power to step into our own realities and reshape our everyday lives.

Standing in the Door of No Return, I thought the more of us from the diaspora who return, we make the name of the door less and less true. We are the return. We determine the future of those who passed through those doors because we are their future. We are what happened next.

Self determination is about setting your boundaries, claiming your expansion, and living a life that aligns with your inner self. It is a life-long journey for us as a people, for us as individuals, for us as thinkers, as community members, as human beings.

 

Sunset at Saly Beach

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Ujima—Collective Work and Responsibility

Painting by Alioune Diof, Selebe Yoon Gallery

Worldwide, this is a time where we are highly aware of how our individual choices can impact the collective. In our upbringing, my parents and the adults in our community always emphasized the importance of the collective. Humans are communal beings, we’re also hierarchical and individualistic. The friction between those impulses is something the entire contemporary world wrestles with.

This year, I started monthly writing sprints to build collective opportunities for folks to advance their writing goals. It was gratifying to see people’s progress and growth. It is also gratifying to see what collective work can create. I wondered, for example, how many hands working together did it take to build the grand Mosque of Touba in Senegal. The scale confirms one person alone could not have built it.

While in Senegal, we’ve also found that many many folks are conspiring to teach us Wolof. Almost everywhere we go, someone works hard to expand the list of Wolof words that we know. It’s like we have a collective of teachers, working together to educate us.

Taxi driver in Dakar giving us an impromptu Wolof lesson

Collective work is what makes the world go round. It’s how we survive, how we thrive. No matter how vehemently someone argues about the power of the individual, we are interconnected, forever drawing from the well of collective work.

Crossing the courtyard of the Grand Mosque of Touba, where shoes are not allowed

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Ujamaa—Familyhood and Cooperative Economics

Handmade fishermen’s boats in Dakar

The community I grew up in added “familyhood” to the meaning of Ujamaa. Practicing anything cooperatively is a way of acknowledging that we are all one family. It’s been an honor to work with my siblings to tag team supporting our parents — a true cooperative in motion.

I’m in three different circles in which we are imagining cohabitating, building a structure very similar to traditional Senegalese homes in which there is a shared courtyard and rooms around the courtyard belong to various family members. It is the dream of many of my friends to live separately together. It was beautiful to see it in action in Senegal and dream about adapting it for our needs and visions.

Most cooperative economics is built by need—families and communities that need to share finances to survive. I think about the economics of the local fishing industry here in Senegal—from the boat builders to the boat painters to the fishermen to the restaurants and community members who buy the fish, whole economies rising and falling on the collective efforts of many.

Boats came up again in an art installation about immigration and justice. Black walls covered with folded paper boats to represent the voyages that immigrants take. And once arrived, they often need to survive in an informal network of economies as they find their way in a hostile new world.

Voyage installation by Babacar Traore Doli at Agence Trames Dakar

The more we diversify economies the more freedom and parity we introduce into the world. The more fluidity and inter-family/community economies we can develop, the more options, health and wealth we can build in our networks. Looking to diversify the economies I participate in in 2022.

Lost in thought at the Voyage Installation by Babacar Traore Doli at Agence Trames Dakar

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Nia—Purpose

Traditional carved coffin at Le Musée des Civilisations Noires in Dakar

Purpose is often thought about from an action perspective, as if all purpose is an action. Our purpose is also the way we show up in the world, our self expression and the way we move in relationship to others. It may take time to reach our dreams and goals but it doesn’t mean there is a pause in your purpose. We can start living our purpose right now. What conversations are you here to bring into the world? What energy do you present in the world? What difference do you make by showing up?

bell hooks book cover—a writer who committed to bringing expansive communications about love into the world

Book cover with an essay by Greg Tate—a writer who made as much impact in his interpersonal connections and generosity as he did with his writing

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Kuumba—Creativity

Basket of weaving tools at MSAD, the Manufactyre Sénégalaise des Arts Décoratifs

Growing up, Kuumba was my favorite night of Kwanzaa. It’s easy to see why… creativity is fun! There was always a dance performance and interesting performances. But as much talking as the other nights, lol. As an adult, I still think creativity is fun. I turn to it for solace, for entertainment, for expression, for connection, for alignment, and for mental peace.

Weaving a tapestry on a loom at MSAD, the Manufactyre Sénégalaise des Arts Décoratifs

Creativity touches every area of life and for me, it’s an unending thrill to see creativity at work. I LOVE all the different and unique ways humans communicate their visions and identities. Wishing you all a very creative year.

Tapestry in progress at MSAD, the Manufactyre Sénégalaise des Arts Décoratifs

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Imani—Faith

Sunset at Saly Beach

My relationship with faith has been evolving over time. I have always leaned into faith, grounded with a healthy dose of planning. Now that I’m older, I can see that lack of faith is a lack of trust. Some of the anxieties that drive us to overwork, neglect ourselves and take on more tasks than what is sustainable is based in a lack of faith. A stubborn belief that if you don’t work harder, perfect everything, be better, things will fall apart.

I heard a quote that said something like we pretend we only need faith for large acts and leaps of faith, but in fact, we practice faith every day when we walk out of our front door. We are more vulnerable than we pretend that we are, and life is more limitless than it seems. Faith allows us to expand our boundaries, to take risks, and to achieve more than we imagined. It is a fluid force that guides us through uncertain terrain to unexpected destinations. It’s about holding your purpose close and taking the next step and the next. Allowing the journey to evolve as you flow with life.

Trees on the side of the highway

I’ve had to draw in faith a lot in the past few years and in 2022, I’d like to use faith to remain joyful in the face of whatever life throws at me. To stay focused on gratitude and to keep the larger vision in mind. The arc of faith tells me the journey is still unfolding and I am here for it!

Be well. Be love(d).

K. Ibura