About Winchester’s Black History Month Celebration

On Sunday, February 11, 2018, at 2:00 pm in St. Mary’s Parish Hall, Winchester folk came together to celebrate the 25th Year of Black History Celebration in Winchester. Initially begun by a Winchester resident born in Uganda, Ms. Agnes Lugira sought to supplant several instances of overt racism in Town with a positive, educational event focusing on African-American history and heritage. Within just a few years, this became an annual event co-sponsored by the St. Mary’s Peace and Justice Committee and the Winchester Multicultural Network. Over the years, this February event has brought renowned writers, speakers, panelists, activists, rap-poets, “hidden” historical figures, singers and dancers illuminating facets of African-American history and culture.

Our 2018 Black History Month Program

Last Sunday, the audience of some one hundred strong and of all ages were treated to two vibrant Ugandan dances presented by the Karolines, a youth and young adult group from Waltham’s St. Mary’s Catholic Church. Initially introduced by Aba Taylor, Executive Director of the Network, emphasizing the importance of recognizing African-Americans’ centuries of contributions, efforts and continuing challenges in the U.S., the troupe took the stage and each member identified the specific clan in Uganda that each, although living and growing up here in the U.S., was part of.

The first dance, titled “OTWENGE” or “elbow,” a dance from North Uganda, was accompanied by one of the dancers as a singing soloist, along with several sizes of deep drums and adungus, Ugandan guitars with long curved wooden arm reminiscent of the shape of a harp. While the men as accompanists wore simple white robes with slight embroidery at the drawstring neck, the five young women dancers were much more vibrantly attired with layered white, pink and green skirts and red “grasses” belted behind. With the drummers and musicians establishing strong beat and melodic rhythm, the five dancers spun, stamped, and waved with varied pattern of movements particularly emphasizing their arms and elbows. The audience was entranced!

While the Karolines changed outfits, the honorees of the day took center stage: State Representative Michael Day brought for the Peace and Justice Committee and the Network a Citation each from the Massachusetts Legislature recognizing this as the 25th Year of our Black History Event. Sal Caraviello of St. Mary’s (Win.) and Sandy Thompson of the Network gave tribute to Agnes Lugira as Founder of the Event and handed Aloysius Lugira, Agnes’s very proud husband and also originally a native of Uganda, a handsome plaque to present to his wife. Christa Lucas gave St. Mary’s tireless volunteer Kathy McCarthy the Rev. Richard Messina Community Service Award for her years of boundless volunteer service; Robert Kennedy presented this year’s Ubuntu Award to Meghan Moran.

When the Karolines returned onstage for their second piece, while the men were still attired in their simple white robes, the young women were now dressed in red and yellow flare-sleeved tops, long red, orange and yellow striped skirts, black animal skins around the back of their waists and black anklets with bells – all emphasizing their feet and hip movements. Initially assisting with accompaniment on the large hollow tubes of the wood table xylophone and a wood pan-flute, the women soon moved entirely to dance and song, once again with complex beat, now including gourd shakers, excellent pitch and pace! The piece chosen was “TWEYANZE” or “thank you” a Bakisimba traditional dance from Central Uganda which through various sections parallels the planting of banana seeds, tending, harvesting and making of a local beer which made the king – rather than drunk – very “happy.”

At the end of this exciting piece, the audience thanked the Karolines with highly enthusiastic and lengthy applause, delighted that these wonderful dancers and musicians brought this portion of their rich heritage to our celebration.