As spring moves toward summer, we are in the time of an historic celebration dating to New York’s colonial era known as Pinkster – the Dutch word for the religious holiday of Pentecost.
Pinkster was a three- to five-day celebration beginning the Monday following Pentecost Sunday held in Dutch Colonial New Netherland and later New York from the 17th century through the late 19th century.
This year, Pinkster began Sunday, May 31, and will run through Thursday. While revival of the Dutch version of Pinkster began in the Hudson Valley in the early 20th century, recently there has been a push to revive a unique expression of the holiday by enslaved Africans of that earlier time.
A ban by Albany city lawmakers enacted in 1811 against African Pinkster put an end to the tradition. But in 2011, this prohibition was symbolically lifted by the city after two centuries, opening the way for the celebration’s return to the Capital Region.
Past celebrations at Crailo State Historic Site and Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site have helped spread the word about this important historical event which documented early African cultural expression in our state.
Scenes from the 2019 Pinkster celebration at the Crailo State Historic Site and Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site.
Contemporary newspaper articles, a pamphlet of the ‘Pinkster Ode’ a poem detailing the celebration, and other documents about Pinkster celebrations describe African drumming, languages and other cultural expressions or Africanisms used to uplift spirits of the enslaved during a time of rest before the summer planting season. Pinkster also helped maintain cultural links between family and friends, even as they lived under the yoke of slavery.
To attend a Pinkster gathering, the enslaved often had to travel many miles to get to the appointed place. Walking, riding in a wagon or on a horse, by boat or any combination of these meant time and physical effort, when many were already tired from work.
There were enslaved who could not or chose not to attend these large gathering. Even when permission was granted, the travel requirements were often daunting. Despite all that, Pinkster was still celebrated, but in smaller groups or even perhaps alone.
“The Dutch residents retained many of the old customs of their mother land, and no reminiscence of Holland was more earnestly kept in remembrance than Pinkster. This occasion by consent had been made a holiday time for the blacks, and they enjoyed it in a good, old fashioned measure of hilarity and carousing. The meadow in front of Col. Schuyler’s house, between it and the river, was the place usually selected for the celebration, and here they met and danced and frolicked with all the zeal they could… Occasionally they would go to Albany and aid their neighbors in drinking to Prince Charlie, but this was too often a hard day’s work and did not always pay for the trouble it cost in rowing down and back.” — Troy Daily Times, 18 September 1874
In years past, the Pinkster celebrations brought people together to rejoice in spring and the opportunity to see family and friends again. Here at State Parks, our celebrations planned for 2020 have been cancelled as we live in the time of COVID-19 and social distancing.
However, like many of the enslaved we gathered to remember, celebrating African Pinkster does not have to stop because we aren’t able to gather in those ‘big’ places.
We can still celebrate Pinkster and we invite you to join us!
All photos by NYS Parks
Post by Lavada Nahon, Interpreter of African American History, Bureau of Historic Sites, NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation
Resources To Host your own Happy Pinkster 2020 Celebration
Be a part of this spring gathering to honor those enslaved in New York, the African cultures they came from and the lives they lived here. Here are some of the ways:
ANCESTORS & LIBATIONS
Honoring the ancestors with libations opens African celebrations across the continent and throughout the diaspora. Pouring libations is the act of honoring the ancestors, those who have come before us by sharing water, one of nature’s greatest gifts. Prayers said or thoughts shared during the pouring of libations center around showing gratitude for what we have in our lives, honoring our ancestors or people important to us by calling their names, keeping the memory of them alive. Remembering the names and lives of loved ones in our own family and other’s lives is a great way to begin. In preparation, make a list of people you would like to honor, perhaps create a family tree to help you remember. How far back can you go over the week of Pinkster?
Libations can be poured on the ground, into a plant, or a few drops of water on your fingertips can be sprinkled on the floor. A simple glass or a special pitcher can be use. Create a ceremony of your very own and film it!
MUSIC – DRUMS PLEASE
African drums were played during Pinkster celebrations up and down the Hudson River Valley. Drums are voices calling to us, to the ancestors, and to the Divine. Drums bring joy, encouraging us to move our bodies to their rhythms freeing us of stress and everyday worries and concerns, as they did the enslaved. Other instruments were played too. Hands were clapped, pieces of metal were beat together to keep time or accent the drum’s rhythms. Voices were lifted in song. There are so many ways to produce music for your Pinkster 2020 celebration.
YouTube and Spotify are just two of the many places you can find African drum music. Create your own playlist or check out one of these amazing musicians!
Babatude Olatunji – a master drummer who was a great influence on many famous musicians, Including Carlos Santana and the Grateful Dead.
Fatala – Exhilarating traditional African music from Guinea-Bissau in West Africa.
Bolokada Conde—Experience the complex rhythms of the popular djembe drum.
Where there’s music there is dancing! Moving our bodies to the rhythm or our own tune is a human activity we all can enjoy. Dancing takes many forms and there is often nothing better than taking a dance break to help you feel better. The enslaved in New York danced in both the African and European styles. Today, we can move in a more formal style or however we please. Take some of the music you found yesterday and get up and dance! Be sure to send a picture!
Dance Africa 2020 – A virtual Celebration — The 42nd Anniversary of the oldest African Dance festival in New York.
Games were a big part of the entertainment of Pinkster and life overall. Board games like Mancala and Nine-Men’s Morris, Draughts (checkers), other games like marbles, string games, cards, running games like tag, all the way to wrestling were just a few games children and adults enjoyed during Pinkster. Take a break and play a game today! Pull out your favorite board game, make your own Nine-Men’s Morris board and learn to play or go outside and jump rope, play tag or fly a kite. Inside or out, there are so many ways to play!
Nine Men’s Morris Board & Instructions
Dressing up the Pinkster grounds with branches of flowering trees, and the official Pinkster bloom, a pale pink Azalea, were part of making things festive. Creating a place for your own Pinkster celebration can be simple and fun. Decorating with flowers immediately brightens up the space. Fresh flowers are great, so are those that are handmade. Coloring your own Pinkster blooms and hanging them up can do the trick as well.
Pinkster Bloom Coloring Pages
The seasons of the year dictated what was available to eat during the colonial and New Nation periods in New York. Late May and early June offered very few garden or field crops for people to enjoy. Dried beans and grains, fresh dandelion greens, left over root vegetables from last year’s harvest, fresh eggs, fish, fowl, and small game filled cooking pots of the enslaved celebrating Pinkster.
Travel also restricted the amount of cooking equipment people could carry with them. Cooking in one or two pots, spit roasting, and baking or roasting in the fire’s ashes connected them to their African roots. Traditional Central and West African meals centered around a main dish (soup/stew), a side starch (pounded yam/rice), and fresh fruit for dessert. One pot soup or stew meals, a mixture of beans/meat/fish and vegetables or whatever is on hand, can be found in every culture in the world. For your feast cook up your favorite stew or try this delicious Vegetarian Peanut Soup adapted from several West African recipes.
Vegetarian Peanut Soup Recipe
The soups are often accompanied by a starch of some kind. For enslaved Africans in New York, many of whom came from the Kongo/Angola area, the traditional starch would have been a pounded yam dish called ‘foo-foo’ or rice. In New York many would make maize pudding or Johnny cake in its place. Native to the Americas, ‘maize’ was historically called ‘Indian Corn’ in cookbooks, but today we simply call it corn meal. Maize pudding or corn meal mush was popular with New York’s colonial Dutch, who called it Sapahn. Recipes for variations of this Native American dish can be found in cookbooks all over the world.
Create a Pinkster feast of your own and share your results with us!
We look forward to joining you next year at a large gathering. Till then thank you for joining in our Pinkster 2020 Celebration!
New York is rich with a variety of information on those enslaved in New York and the African celebration of Pinkster. From the arrival of the first in 1625 until the end of slavery in 1827, Africans or people of African descent were a vital part of the development of our State and the region. Pinkster is just one of many ways to honor their memory, celebrate their lives, and rediscover the African cultures they were from.