Pinkster Festival: when African slaves take a break from the struggles and mock racial discrimination

Stephen Nartey November 01, 2022
The Origins of Pinkster: An African American Celebration. Image courtesy of Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site/News10 ABC

Pinkster Festival has become one of the important holidays for African Americans in the United States. What was once a Dutch celebration to usher in Spring and give them the opportunity to fraternize with friends and family, has become a period of remembrance of the toil and sweat of the millions of enslaved Africans who were oppressed.

The last time the Dutch Pinkster celebration in America was held in full swing was in 1655 following a green light from the Court of Fort Orange to burgher guard of Beverwijck to celebrate parrot shooting and Pentecost.  

It continued till the mid-19th century when the political authority decided to halt its celebration among the Dutch because of the popularity among African Americans, according to the Low Countries. The Pinkster Festival since then became a means of escape for the enslaved people in Northern America who reconnect with their families and share tales of their struggles for liberation.

It was also considered a period of rest from the daily struggles and their associated pressures where slaves expressed their reservations about racial injustice and discrimination through storytelling and songs, according to the National Park Service. It also became a platform for passing on information about African customs and traditions to their offspring and families.

The way and manner the Pinkster Festival was embraced by the enslaved people in the mid-19th century compelled the state authorities to cancel the celebration over fears it would become a means of uniting the African-American community for one purpose.

There were fears that if the Pinkster Festival celebrated by the Dutch was not banned, African Americans will agitate and spark a series of protests. It was however reinstituted in the 1970s at Phillipsburg Manor House in Sleepy Hollow, New York where it is commemorated.

Pinkster has been institutionalized as one of the oldest African American holidays among the 13 colonies which make up the United States. As the celebrations evolved in the 17th century, the enslaved Africans began incorporating customs and traditions from the African Bantu culture of Congo and Angola. 

In the 18th century, it became a carnival drawing sizable crowds to New York City that sold wares from beverages to herbs to oysters in an atmosphere of dancing, singing and drinking. The celebration usually spans a period of three to four days as participants are treated to a variety of sporting events and cultural dance displays.

A king or queen is nominated from among the gathering and it is their responsibility to supervise the smooth running of the festival. In the 17th century, the enslaved who was nominated king or queen exercised his fleeting authority within the jurisdiction where the festival is being held.

The organization and supervision of the festival are in the purview of the African Burial Ground National Monument that works closely with the African-American Pinkster Committee of New York in the reading of proclamations, wreath laying, pouring of liberations and other performances.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: November 1, 2022


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