This New Afrikan holiday is called ‘Gye Nyame.’ Pronounced ‘Gee-Nah-May’ or ‘Geen-Yah-May,’ it means in the beautiful Akan language spoken throughout Ghana “None is greater than God the Creator.” It is a central symbol among the rich, treasured Adinkra symbols of the regal Akan people. ‘Gye Nyame’ is not an Akan holiday, however. It is a New Afrikan holiday that synthesizes rich principles of faith found in several traditional Afrikan spiritual traditions, most especially the Akan and Yoruba traditions, and of course, Ma’at. Resplendid in its colors of black and gold being pure water sweet, this New Afrikan cultural holiday alternative was given to us by the immortal Khallid Abdul Muhammad.
Gye Nyame –An African Alternative To Thanksgiving By Nayaba Arinde, 1999
A time for family, worship and reflection
“It is not so much a need to replace European holidays, but rather a need to recover, recreate and create our own holidays which celebrate community, culture and reveal the beauty, depth and meaning of African culture,” Kwanzaa founder Dr. Maulana Karenga told The Black World Today.
For the second year running, this Thursday Dr. Khalid Abdul Muhammad will be among the many celebrating his Gye Nyame –an African alternative to Thanksgiving.
“This celebration reaffirms our African spirit our universal experience and relationship with each other and with our God,” said Dr. Minister Khallid Abdul Muhammad, former Supreme Captain of the Fruit of Islam and former National Spokesman for the Nation of Islam Supreme Captain under Min. Louis Farrakhan – and the founder of Gye Nyame.
“We have to reconnect with our sonorous past, in order to channel our energies and sagacity for our powerful future,” Muhammad said of this new African-motivated, Africa-America-based tradition. It was the month before the end of an era, Kwanzaa was due, and Europeans across the globe were talking in thinly veiled code of Y2K, a year to a new millennium–Diaspora African spirits were stirred.
As `Year 2000′ memorabilia peppered every store and newspapers, radio and TV looked back at a century with words and images that barely reflected a global African presence and essential contribution, residents of Africa America became mighty restless.
For years as a new superhighway era dawn approached folks became increasingly aware that something was not right in this state of delusional paradise. Praise was due. Lip service was merely being given to heritage, culture and history. A reawakening was passed necessary.
And so, almost two years to the day in Cleveland, Ohio, Gye Nyame (G-NA-MAY) was born–an alternative to the historically questionable Thanksgiving Day. It was to be an African-inspired day of appreciation, of family, of worship and reflection.
“Africans living in America have a deep yearning to connect with our natural African selves,” said Dr. Muhammad, who is also the convener of New York’s now annual Million Youth March and the nemesis of `First-amendment assailant’ New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
Muhammad said that Africans in America have an innate leaning towards their African heritage. “Whether it is from the guys on the corner pouring a little liquor for their homies – which comes is in fact from pouring libation; or whether it is the wearing of African garments; the wearing of our hair in its natural state or even just going to a drumming circle or African dance class – these are all indications, that even if we do not consciously recognize it–that we have a memory and an inclination towards our real African selves.”
Incorporating spirituality, ritual, ceremony and symbology from Africa, Gye Nyame is celebrated every year on the third Thursday of November.
“It is a fundamental contention of Kawaida philosophy that our culture is our unique way of being human in the world,” said Karenga. “It gives us identity purpose and direction and the capacity to speak our own special truth to the world and make our own unique contribution to societal and human history.”
He continued, “Holidays as a central cultural expression, provide, an essential, even indispensable, framework for our cultural self-presentation to the world of African peoples.”
Muhammad told TBWT that Gye Nyame, is a celebration designed for Africans all over the Diaspora to give thanks for life, love and promise. Although a yearlong celebration, which can be brought into every day life by way of acknowledging the God you pray to, Gye Nyame was created as an alternative to the American Thanksgiving Day.
Understanding that the resistance to change is a significant part of the human condition, the creator of Gye Nyame urges Africans in American simply ask themselves, “Whose Thanksgiving have you been celebrating?”
Given the origins of the American Thanksgiving Day, and what Dr. Muhammad perceives as the essential need for African-Americans to become increasingly in-tuned with their African spirituality and bring a little African tradition into their every day lives. Even just a glance at the origin of Thanksgiving, he says continually, will raise points of concern for Africans and of course Indigenous Peoples.
`Thanksgiving’ for European colonizers of the Americas is in effect the noted celebration of the massacre and subjugation of a people and the usurping of their land. Their own annals do***ent it thoroughly. In 1614 a British expedition landed on the North American coast (at Plymouth Rock) took 24 Native people as slaves and left smallpox, syphilis and gonorrhea behind. That plague swept through the so-called “tribes of New England,” destroying some villages completely. In the deep mid-winter 1620 the English ship Mayflower delivered 102 Puritan exiles.
The systematic genocide of the Indigenous People began thereafter; raping, pillaging, bloodletting, theft of land and people and after years of “scalping for bounty” of chiefs and braves, the Puritans established a `thanksgiving feast’ to celebrate the massacre of the Native People.
Just a few decades after the first arrival of whites on the East coast, Massachusetts and the surrounding colonies were in a full-scale war with the great chief of the Wampanoags, Metacomet. As he battled against the marauding invaders, Metacomet witnessed as the expedient use of the so-called `Praying Indians’ (natives converted to Christianity) and other tools of destruction, ultimately defeated the great `Native’ nation, just half a century after the arrival of the first European.
After Metacomet was assassinated, his hands were cut off and sent to Boston and his head went to Plymouth where it was set upon a poke on Thanksgiving Day. Years earlier however, Governor Dudley declared a `General Thanksgiving’ not to celebrate the brotherhood of man, but for: “[God’s] infinite Goodness to extend His Favors… In defeating and disappointing…. the expeditions of the Enemy [Indians] against us, And the good Success given us against them, by delivering so many of them into our hands…”
No turkey, cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie was served, no prayers to the Indigenous People were offered and they did not hear, “Come back real soon y’all.”
“Whose Thanksgiving have Black people been celebrating,” Dr. Muhammad asks. “Like Kwanzaa, which is 33 years old (celebrated December 26th -January 1st), Gye Nyame is not to be seen as `just a reactionary reflex’ to the holidays of others. Gye Nyame is `a self-conscious cultural choice.’ It offers an opportunity for a serious, clear and compelling choice. We have no other `real’ choice. For the only way to fight and successfully defeat an imposed, oppressive alien culture is to live our own with self-affirming focus, commitment, purpose and pride. We have to celebrate holidays that reflect our history, our culture and our natural African selves,” Dr. Muhammad continued, as he prepares for the second year to celebrate Gye Nyame.
“This is an African Thanksgiving, where we give thanks to our God, where we show love and appreciation to our family, friends and community. We have to return to our spirituality and reclaim our African heritage,” said the Pan African Nationalist.
Illustrating the power of `Build it and they’ll come,’ Dr. Maulana Karenga said that after only 30 years, the celebration of Kwanzaa “is celebrated by over 28 million African people on every continent in the world…places as diverse and widespread as Kenya, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Trinidad, England, Turkey, India and China.”
“By giving us Kwanzaa, Dr. Maulana Karenga has paved the way that others might walk in his footsteps,” said Muhammad. A seed in his mind in Harlem, 1995, Gye Name was actually founded two years ago and has been celebrated enthusiastically since in many cities across America.
On Thursday, 27th November 1997, in Cleveland, Ohio Gye Nyame, Egbe Gye Nyame, a small African-centered study group joined Dr. Muhammad and nearly 500 Pan African-Nationalists to celebrate the first Gye Nyame. Gye Nyame, in West African Akhan Adinkra symbolism means; “the omnipotent, the omnipresent, the omniscient god; no power; no force; no combination of powers nor forces should be worshipped–except God.”
Dr. Muhammad explained that in choosing this symbol, Black people born in America (Diaspora Africans) are saying, with no regard for any particular religion, “We are returning to our culture… our spiritual source and core. We are returning to ourselves – and, on this day we give thanks to the one God and to our ancestors.”
Muhammad states that Gye Nyame calls on the rich spirituality of African people to proactively take time out every day to acknowledge their families, friends and communities, their lives, their experiences, their gifts, their lessons -and of course the Creator – in which ever form he or she takes, by which ever name he or she is called–in which ever language.
All denominations celebrated by Africans are acknowledged in Gye Nyame celebrations. Whether called `Ogun,’ `Jehovah,’ `Chuku,’ `Amen-Ra,’ or `Shango’ Muhammad said, “There is but one God known by many names according to the different languages and lands. On this day we call on the creator in the name most comfortable for us and most comforting to us.”
For inspiration and throughout his research, Dr. Muhammad points to the teachings of Rev. Dr. Ishakamusa Barashango, particularly his book “African People & European Holidays: A Mental Genocide.” Muhammad also cites “grand master teachers” as guides, such as: Dr. John Henrik Clarke, Dr. Yosef Ben-Jochannan, Dr. Leonard Jeffries, Dr. Na’im Akbar and Sis. Iyanla Vanzant, Dr. Ashra Kwesi, Dr. Jack Felder, Bro. Anthony Browder and Bro. Steve Cokely. Though it is officially a one day celebration, Dr. Muhammad says that the spirit of Gye Nyame must be carried on throughout the year.
“Like Kwanzaa (created by Dr. Karenga in December of 1966), Gye Nyame follows and joins in a celebration of self and the celebrating of that which is in our own image and interest.”
Muhammad says that this new African Cultural Holiday not only serves as an alternative to Thanksgiving, but this “African Thanksgiving – based in a philosophy striving for, `Self determination and breaking the chains from our brains,’ is a special and cultural occasion, a time to give thanks to God and to our ancestors for the many rich blessings bestowed upon us. It is a time of celebration, commemoration, thanksgiving, praise and prayers, fun, food and feasting shared by family, friends, church, spiritual circle and community.”
The Symbols of Gye Nyame, said Dr. Muhammad are designed to reconnect people to and reinforce pride in Black folk’s glorious past. “From time honored and ancient traditions to contemporary customs developed in the Diaspora, Gye Nyame indeed captures the very spirit of the African/African born in the America experience.”
There are the nine cardinal categories of cultural and spiritual symbols that represent Gye Nyame, including: FITILA (Candle holder/Candle): used to symbolize fire, light and spiritual illumination; IFE IREPO ASHE (Communal Unity Cup) passed for each member of the family; ITILE ASHE SANKOFA / and GARETA (Golden Sankofa Staff and Ancestral Mask), the staff is spiritual and the Sankofa bird atop the golden staff enlightens and instructs us to reach back into our past, in order that we can go forward into the future; and BUREDI and IPESE represents the Daily Bread and Basket of Abundance/Offering of Plenty.
Greetings during Gye Nyame are in the Yoruba language (Nigeria), like; `Se Alafia Ni (pronounced Shay Alafia Nee) How are you?’ and `O Dabo ! (GOD be with you till we are together again).”
While symbolism and prayer, giving thanks and communing with family and friends make up a huge part of Gye Nyame – victuals are traditionally a significant part of African celebration. So, Muhammad suggests, roasted meats, plentiful vegetables, grains and pulses, fish and sweet potato pie – family favorites from across the globe can fill up the dinner table.
“From vegetarian to vegan to down home soul food from Big Mama’s repertoire of recipes. It’s all good.”
Sharing food is always a beautiful way to show love and Africans from the Continent, the Americas, the Caribbean and the entire Diaspora -have always taken a special pride and effort in preparing food for the enjoyment of family and friends.
“Our organization Us (Us African people) has taught since the 60s that all we do must be based on tradition and reason,” said Karenga. “This principle of practice which is rooted in Kawaida philosophy stresses the need to begin at the beginning, to ground ones history and culture. For only then can you truly call a thought or practice African. But African tradition is a living tradition and a varied tradition. We are obligated to constantly dialog with African culture. This ongoing conversation with our culture includes deep discussion with our elders, the keepers of the culture and interpreters of its profound and varied meanings. But again, we are morally obligated, not simply to inherit tradition, but to actively embrace it and contribute to its shaping by what we, ourselves bring to it.”
“As, Dr. Karenga says, we have to play an active role in recalling, defining and recording our culture,” said Muhammad. “A celebration such as Gye Nyame -founded in America – an amalgamation of African ideologies and traditions, for all people of the African Diaspora – seeks to do just that. For us, by us.”