A small crowd of paraders stopped on the South Street Bridge on Sunday to deliver gifts to Oshun, the river goddess in West Africa’s Yoruba belief system. A moment of prayer preceded the throwing of the offerings into the river: whole pineapples, oranges drizzled with honey, sweets and drizzles of wine.
The ritual is central to the Odunde Festival, the Yoruban New Year celebration that has been a staple for Philadelphia’s African diaspora community since 1975. The in-person event returned this year after a two-year hiatus in due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are delighted to be back,” said the festival’s CEO. Oshunbumi Fernandez–West, who carries on the tradition in place of her mother, Lois Fernandez. “Philadelphia has been through a lot, but Odunde has always been a peaceful and safe event.”
Some Philadelphians are feeling nervous about public events following a mass shooting on South and 3rd streets on June 5. watch African dance troupes and catch up with friends at the 15 block event.
On Sunday afternoon, organizers did not have a rough estimate of attendance, but said that over the past few years the event had attracted around half a million people and had an impact of 28 million dollars on the city. It bills itself as the largest African-American street festival in the country.
Tracey Rosa attended the festival with an organization called Black Philadelphia, which works to create a safe space for people to talk and explore their heritage.
“We are all one people,” she said. “We all need that connection, we all need each other.”
She has dated Odunde before, but it was a first for her 12-year-old daughter, who is both African-American and Italian. They both wore African dashikis – Tracey in purple and Alaana in green.
“It’s a representation, it’s who we are,” Tracey Rosa said. “I wanted [my daughter] to experience his African culture like his father takes him to experience his Italian culture.