Ceremony Marks Rite of Passage for Black Students Graduating from the University of Miami

Senior Mwambo Celebrates the Achievements of Black UM Students and Honors Transition to Life Beyond Graduation

To the beat of drums – and wearing decorated mortarboards, fraternity/sorority stoles and proud smiles – close to 200 students marched into Gusman Concert Hall for the University of Miami’s 22nd Senior Mwambo.

The Senior Mwambo is an African rite of passage ceremony that marks the transition of black graduates from their lives at the University of Miami to the workforce, graduate/professional schools, and beyond.

Abigail Nichols, who graduated from the UM College of Arts & Sciences with a B.S. in criminology and psychology, called the ceremony “very interesting and unique.”

“I appreciated the recognition of multicultural and ethnic diversity,” she said. “It gave us something familiar in a setting where we really are a minority.”

Nichols has already found a job, as a security supervisor for the UM Department of Housing and Residential Life. She plans to apply to graduate programs in forensic science for next fall.

Dr. Edmund Abaka, associate professor of history and chair of the Africana Studies Program, served as the presiding ceremonial elder for the ceremony, during which he “poured libation – an important African religious rite to invoke the presence of the ancestors.”

“During the ceremony we celebrate the achievements of our students of color, and we ask for the blessings of the ancestors as they make this transition,” explained Abaka as he began the libation.

The ceremony had four symbolic components: food, to nourish the body and the spirit; music, to invoke God and the ancestral spirits; water, to represent the medium of life; and kente cloth, to symbolize African cultural identity.

The libation was performed in both Nana (Twii) and English. It included an invitation to God to receive drink, a blessing of the earth, and a blessing of respect to the ancestors. Libation ceremonies accompany all important life events, such as birth, marriage, and death.

 “Today you embark on a journey. May you soar like eagles. We invoke our ancestors from the north, south, east and west to celebrate you, encourage you, and see you through this transition,” Abaka told the 2014 graduates.

In concluding the libation, he added, “May your initiative, energy, creativity and wisdom be utilized for the benefit of yourselves, your families, your community, your nation, and your alma mater. Whatever your state, your situation, your condition in life, never forget to be humble.”

Senior Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education William Green told the graduates it is their time to “step outside and use what you have learned here as a foundation to craft a life.”

He added, “We are blessed to be in a place that celebrates diversity as a political, cultural and social good. Pluralism is a necessity for excellence in an educational setting. Homogeneity is the enemy of thought.”

Green said the graduates were leaving an indelible mark on the University of Miami. “Your presence and work, inside and outside the classroom, have made this a better place.”

Patrick Masala – a graduate student from Malawi, East Africa – brought the Mwambo ceremony to UM in 1992. It is a popular ritual in his home country. The ceremony is organized by the UM Office of Multicultural Student Affairs.

May 09, 2014