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.