LAURINBURG — The 25th Annual Kuumba Festival radiated in a rainbow of red, yellow, and green through the dark clouds on Saturday.
Rain that fell during the Kuumba Festival’s silver anniversary was only the third instance in the event’s history, making this festival unique, explained long time organizer Bettie McNair.
“As long as I am black, it will go on,” McNair said. The only thing that could stop Kuumba, she joked, is snow.
Among the copious amounts of food, jewelry and art vendors, there were educational exhibits and blood pressure checks being served as well. Hundreds gathered in the park for the celebration to watch traditional African performances from groups like the Wo’se of Charleston dance and drum studio.
“We come every year to do the drumming, singing and dancing because Kummba means creativity, so we come in as the African part of the creativity,” said Queen Attereery, dancer with Wo’se. “We have been with Kuumba for four years now.”
The group performed a fall celebration called the Harvest Dance to honor the season and heritage of Kuumba. There were also plenty of traditional African dishes being served.
“I make organic fried okra, which is a staple in Africa,” said Vanessa McLaurin, one of the many food vendors. “I also milk my own goats, they are African Nigerian Dwarf goats, and I make cheese and butter from the milk.”
The festival also brought people from all over back to their roots.
“I’m living in West Virginia, but I heard so much about this festival,” said Harold Gay, who was born and raised in Laurinburg. “It’s been going on for some time now and I had never been here — even though it’s raining it looks like they’re still going to have a great turnout.”
Gay also came out to support his sister, Pastor Brenda Gay of Household of Faith Church. Her church came out for their fourth year to sell collard sandwiches, fish, chicken wings, turkey legs and hot dogs as a church fundraiser.
“I’m just so glad to be here, I’m ecstatic, I drove like 420 miles to get here,” Gay said. “It really is a whole town connection and that’s what this is doing, making everyone connected.”
Other vendors sold hand-carved wood sculptures, bracelets, and other assorted jewelry.
“We have been coming here for three years,” said Tenita Bullard, a jewelry vendor out of Maxton. “The tiger’s eye necklace, and the red and white turquoise ones were all made for today’s festival.”
Bullard made some of her jewelry in honor of the Kuumba festival by using greens, reds and yellows. Other attendees honored the day in another way.
“We dressed up last year, but because of the rain we didn’t know if there was going to be anyone here,” said Roy McCook, who came with his wife Carolyn.
For the past 15 years, the couple has been working in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as missionaries. They mentor pastors, who have started some 2,000 churches throughout the region. Returning from visits to those churches, the McCooks usually find themselves with a few new items of authentic clothing made by the locals.
The couple usually wears their handmade attire to Kuumba because it gives them a chance to put it on.
“I like their music, their rhythm and their excitement when they sing in the churches in Africa,” Carolyn said. “They sing for the Lord and it’s really distinct.”
The couple enjoys coming out to the festival because it’s close to home for them. Roy plans to head back to Congo in November.
The celebration brought together many people, young and old, in celebration of the African heritage and festivities.
“I saw everyone out here having a good time so I decided to stop by,” said Joel Worth, a Laurinburg resident. “I like the atmosphere, you know everybody is getting along, the food is good and it’s a nice environment.”
Bettie McNair said despite the rain the festival was a success. She believes that with 25 years of Kuumba, the festival has become a firm enough tradition for the next generation to preserve it for a long time to come.
“You know, your heritage never dies out, so it will definitely be going on another 25 years,” she said. “It grows on you, it does, and once you come to Kuumba once, you keep on coming back.”