Masanyiko ya Utani- “The Gathering of Allies”
Since the early 1990's Africans across the St. Louis metropolitan area give tribute each year to the connection and shared experiences between the Indigenous people of this land and the Africans brought to this world -- both had something stolen from them. This recognition is held on the morning of the third Thursday of November. Recognition of Utani is coordinated by T.E.A.C.H Society, Sudan Illustrators and Progressive Emporium.
Masanyiko ya Utani is a Kiswahili phrase meaning “The Gathering of Allies.” It acknowledges the historical connection between Afrikans and the Indigenous peoples of the western hemisphere, which predate European invasion. Utani celebrates the shared struggle for liberation and self-determination between both groups and sheds light on the nefarious tradition of “Thanksgiving.”
Historians have shown that Afrikans have been in the Americas since the empires of Nubia, Mali and Songhai. There is evidence of both cultural and commercial exchange between Afrikans and native peoples as seen by the artifacts gathered from both sides of the Atlantic. Ivan Van Sertima, the leading scholar of this field, reveals that the natives of Hispaniola told Columbus in 1496, that prior to his arrival, they already had encounters with “(B)lack people who have the tops of their spears made of a metal which they call guan-nin.”
There is also a noted presence of Afrikans in Mexico revealed in the Afrikan or “Negroid” features of the stone colossi heads and reliefs from the Olmec cultures centered in La Venta and Veracruz. The stone markers have been dated as far back at 680 B.C.E., well before the enslavement of Afrikans in Mexico.
The history of Thanksgiving can be traced back to the feast held in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621 between white settlers and the Wampanoag. During this period, the Wampanoag provided the settler colonialists with invaluable food provisions and knowledge of the terrain. In return, the Pilgrims waged a genocidal war against the Wampanoag to take control of their land. This scene would play out many times over, resulting in the mass dispossession of Native Americans, which also paved the way for large land tracts to be cultivated by enslaved Black labor. Thus, “Thanksgiving,” celebrates white prosperity made possible by Native American genocide and Afrikan enslavement.
Facing a common enemy, Afrikan and Indians forged important alliances against the onslaught of white supremacy. Of note, the collective struggle of Afrikans and Native Americans in the 19th century Seminole Wars made this bloody campaign the longest conflict in U.S. history prior to Vietnam. There are also other important examples such as the successful Natchez revolt of 1729 which led to the eventual removal of France from North America.
We are also clear that Afrikan and Native American relations have not always been harmonious. Some indigenous groups captured escaped Afrikans, and others, namely the Five “Civilized” Tribes of the southeastern US, enslaved Black people. Some native groups even supported the Confederacy and dispossessed Black people of land. Also concerning is the history of Afrikans, namely the famed Buffalo Soldiers, who participated in the imperialist march across the American West that resulted in the genocide of Native Americans. Both groups were unmistakably junior partners in the larger project of white supremacy, but collective healing still must take place in light of this history. We are clear that the course of slavery in the United States, fed by Eurocentric greed, was only made possible by the genocide of Native Americans. Genocide and enslavement are twin forces birthed by the same parent of white supremacy.
History also teaches us of the revolutionary potential of alliances between natives and Afrikans. The Seminole and Natchez Wars are only two of many examples during the period of enslavement. Similar struggles outside of the U.S. in places such as Brazil and Jamaica sustained longstanding maroon societies which protected natives and Afrikans from slavery and European colonialism. These examples give us a charge and direction for our continued healing and ongoing struggle for freedom.
How to Celebrate
In recognition of the shared history between Afrikans and native people, whose beginnings predate European imperialism, we celebrate Masanyiko Ya Utani. In the home, before eating the big meal with family on “Thanksgiving” day, words can be said about our historical connections with the native people of this land. The meal can be dedicated to this shared connection and can include dishes we ate together such as beans, corn and squash.
A small candle can be lit and placed in the center of the table in honor of this connection, to give thanks for our blessings, and for our victory in our common struggle for liberation and self-determination. Later that day, or shortly thereafter, a small rock can be taken from the coast of a nearby river or body of water. Positive intentions for Afrikan and native people can be said over the rock before tossing it into the water.