Family reunions have served a great purpose in the African-American Family. The tradition is rooted in the yearning to maintain the family structure after being ripped apart by former slave masters. As one article says “It was the structure of the African American family, grounded in unavoidable collectivism, that enabled survival from slavery and sustenance throughout the tumultuous days of Jim Crow and widespread white supremacy.”
Family reunions were the vessel used to restore culture and bring oneness among family members. They were used as the tools to build strong foundations for future generations. At these reunions, African American elders were sought for their wisdom and guidance and the family would in turn give them strength, power and authentication.
The roasting and eating of the pig is a tradition held in African American Family Reunions. Generations of men and women who proudly trace their roots to Georgia, South Carolina, and Michigan highly revere this animal to this day. The night before the reunion, the pig is slowly roasted into the early morning hours of the day of the reunion. When the pig is finally done, people gather around and the elders use the opportunity to discuss “expectations, responsibilities, pride, disappointments and betrayals, losses and victories.” **As a note, this relates to storytelling, a tradition used in African culture to pass down stories from generation to generation; which slaves also used to keep tradition in families upon being brought to the United States.**
A respectable quality of family reunions is that they give meaning and purpose to older men and older women who emerge as transmitters of culture (or ones who pass down culture to the next generation); and they educate and empower future generations of African Americans. They receive a sense of positive self-worth and value as they become elders. This comes through intergenerational communication; the transformation of relationships; the resolution of past conflicts; and the creation of meaning through shared stories, themes, and rituals.
⁃ “Many researchers have studied the family reunion as ritual. Myerhoff (1984) describes the connective and futuristic nature of rituals as they refresh yesterday’s memories, authorize today’s knowledge, and present expectations for tomorrow. Vargus (2002) describes African American family reunions as being constructed of networks of both biological and fictive relatives. She advises that African American family reunions transmit social values, help to shape personal and group identity, facilitate communication, support well-being, identify role models, and institute effective educational opportunities.”
One of the closing ceremonies of the reunion is the family meal. While sharing a meal, significant educational experiences occur. The final family action is worship. Many African American family reunions include attending one or more Sunday worship services: this provides a way to reconnect with spiritual traditions and seek God in the health and welfare of the family.
I’ll end with this paragraph that an author said so well:
⁃ “African Americans would have been unable to endure the violence and exploitation of racism without a strong, cohesive family to provide guidance, education, support (both emotional and financial), and safety. Family reunions have served to stabilize the African American family as it struggles to survive amid rapidly changing and increasingly complex social conditions. The need for rituals that activate and use the wisdom of elders has never been greater. Survival for this generation of new elders has different meanings.”
Click the link at the top of this post to check out this video of the O’Jays singing “Family Reunion”! *NOTE* the link may seem as if it doesn’t work, but when prompted, click on “watch on YouTube”