An African American Festival on South Street, Philadelphia

By: Helen Schenck

Originally Published in 1999

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Thomas B. Morton has been attending and photographing ODUNDE since 1976. An exhibi­tion of 30 of his black and white photographs is on display at the University of Pennsylvania Museum until January 16, 2000. It was orga­nized by the Philadelphia Folklore Project, in collaboration with ODUNDE, Inc., as part of their effort to document African American folk arts and institutions in South Philadelphia. Morton is a photographer, linguist, and commu­nity relations specialist. His goal in photograph­ing the festival was originally to capture the per­fect ODUNDE moment—when everything comes together, “culturally, visually, intellectually, and emotionally.” We picture some of those captured moments here.—Ed.

South Philadelphian Lois Fernandez, one of the original organizers of the ODUNDE festi­val, was inspired by a visit to Nigeria in 1972 where she participated in a ceremony held annu­ally in honor of Oshun, a Yoruba river goddess. “We have a river,” she thought. “We’re between two rivers. Why don’t we do an African Ameri­can event? Why don’t we go to the river?” And so ODUNDE, which means “Happy New Year” in Yoruba, was founded. The festival arises out of the tradition of African American culture that integrates the sacred and the secular. A procession led by a Yoruba priest or priestess, and accompanied by a battery of drummers and dancers, culminates in an offering to Oshun made by throwing fruits and flowers from the South Street bridge into the Schuylkill River. Infused with deep religiosity. the event also has the festive atmosphere of a block party, with organized vendors, scheduled performers, and an African marketplace.

From its modest beginnings in 197 the fes­tival has expanded over time to draw more than 200,000 people_ It has survived and flourished despite opposition and the gentrification that has threatened the neighborhood, a historic African American community. When the cer­emonies begin on June 11, 2000, ODUNDE will have been celebrated on South Street for a quarter-century.

Cite This Article

Schenck, Helen. "ODUNDE." Expedition Magazine 41, no. 3 (November, 1999): -. Accessed June 19, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/expedition/odunde/

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