Umoja is Unity
In 1991, the City Council of Portsmouth, Virginia affirmed its commitment to understanding cultural diversity. It was most appropriate that the City of Portsmouth selected the Kiswahili word UMOJA as the name of its African-American Festival. Umoja, a Kiswahili word meaning unity, is the first principal of Kwanzaa, an African-American cultural holiday celebrated from December 26th through January 1st. This principal emulates unity in the family, community and nation.
Umoja Processional - "Drums of Africa" Group - The UMOJA Festival opens with a traditional African drum call sending polyrhythms through the air, a ceremonial processional and the blessing of the elders, are all facets of ancient tribal cultures, customs and traditions. For two and one-half days, the beautiful waterfront of Portsmouth is transformed into an image of its Sister City Eldoret, Kenya.
It begins with permission from the elders: In African tradition, permission from the elders of the village is often sought because of their wisdom, knowledge and experience. The Umoja Festival has always observed this tradition in seeking permission from the elders of the Portsmouth community.
2014 Umoja Festival Elders:
2013 Umoja Festival Elders:
2012 Umoja Festival Elders:
2011 Umoja Festival Elders:
Elders for 2010 Umoja Festival:
Festival visitors are introduced to Africa through sights, sounds and smells. Ethnic foods such as jambalaya and larderbout, and a marketplace of sculptures, paintings, prints, baskets, quilts and other assorted hand-crafted wares contribute to the ambiance of the Festival. Entertainment is a unique combination of contemporary and ancient art forms. Nationally acclaimed musical guests perform jazz, reggae, gospel, rhythm and blues. Children's activities are a specialty at the festival. Storytelling, games and crafts with origins in several African countries are all participatory.
A Community Forum on issues facing African-Americans is hosted by leading community experts and gives citizens a chance to dialogue pertinent concerns. The Red Cross, Sickle Cell Anemia, PRIDE in Parenting and other social service organizations set-up exhibits to educate Festival participants about programs available in the community.
The Festival's closing activity features a gospel jubilee of musical talents from throughout Hampton Roads.
Umoja VIP Reception - The Umoja Festival links the citizenry of Portsmouth to the continent of Africa by a common thread of rhythm, culture and values, and shares this experience with thousands of Festival participants from diverse communities across the nation, thus providing true to the Festival's theme of unity in the family, community, and nation. The Umoja Festival is a superb example of a community's dedication and commitment to insuring an understanding of cultural diversity through a Festival "representing" the Kiswahili word UMOJA . . . UNITY in the family, community and the nation.
A Great Location - Portsmouth, Virginia
An historic seaport city in southeastern Virginia, the City of Portsmouth is located on ones of the world's deepest, natural harbors. Over 29 sqaure miles in size, we are centrally located within the Norfolk - Virginia Beach - Newport News Metroplitian Statistical Area (MSA). This MSA ranks as the 27th largest population of over 1.4 million, and we're growing fast.
Portsmouth is in the heart of the region referred to as South Hampton Roads; we're bordered by 4 neighboring cities: Chesapeake, Norfolk, Suffolk, and Virginia Beach. In relation to the rest of the country, Portsmouth is within 750 miles, or one day's drive, of two-thirds of the nation's population and industrial activity.