Thursday, December 3, 2015

Probable Ghanaian Sources For The New Orleans Customs Of Twirling Parasols & Waving White Hankerchiefs During Second Line Parades

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post presents my theory on the Ghanaian (West Africa) source of two elements of New Orleans, Louisiana second line parades: holding & twirling parasols and waving white handkerchiefs.

The content of this post is presented for folkloric, historical, and cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are featured in the videos that are embedded in this post. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post and thanks to the publishers of those videos on YouTube.

"It's Hot Outside" theories
(italics added to highlight a sentence) Julia, September 6, 2012
"Parasols and umbrellas are as important to a New Orleans wedding as red beans & rice are to Monday. But why? Where did the tradition come from? And what is that second line handkerchief all about? Heck, what’s a second line? I know many of you already know the answers, but for all of you destination brides and your confused family members, I thought a little explaining was in order.

The second line tradition is one of my favorite ‘only in New Orleans’ wedding traditions. After the ceremony a brass band plays celebratory music as the couple, holding his and hers parasols, dance behind. This is called the ‘first line’. All of their wedding guests, (and often times random people in the French Quarter) are invited to dance behind, waving white handkerchiefs in the air, to celebrate the newlyweds. The band leads the entire wedding ensemble to the reception venue. Think of it as your own little personal parade. I mean, what bride doesn’t want that?
The tradition is based on the famous New Orleans jazz funerals, where the band would play somber, slow music to honor the life of the deceased person. A second line of family and friends would form behind twirling umbrellas and parasols (it is New Orleans after all, and HOT practically all the time!). Those who didn’t have a parasol would retrieve a white handkerchief from the breast pocket of a nearby gentleman and twirl it above their head to join the parade.

So next time you go to a New Orleans wedding, and are handed a handkerchief at the ceremony, you’ll know it’s not to dab your tears or blow your nose but to celebrate the couple in a parade afterwards!"

From onetwobucklemyfoo, July 24, 2007
"Reason for white handkerchiefs in New Orleans style wedding?
I have a friend who is getting married and is thinking of doing New Orleans style wedding, but she is curious of why they wave white handkerchiefs after the wedding. Does anyone know?

That is part of a uniquely New Orleans tradition of second-lining! It started back in the mid-late 1800s when a band would march and play behind a casket for a funeral procession. They were known as the first line. The people who would join in behind the band, marching and singing and dancing, were known as the second-line. Because New Orleans is SO hot and humid for much of the year, when these processions would take place, people would carry umbrellas to help keep the sun off their heads--that's still done today in New Orleans--people carry open umbrellas when the sun is out! Also, they would carry handkerchiefs to wipe their faces and dry them by waving them in the air. Second lining is done quite frequently at celebrations like weddings and festivals in New Orleans.
Source(s): I'm a New Orleans tourguide"

Waving White Handkerchiefs
I believe that the custom of waving white handkerchiefs in New Orleans, Louisiana or elsewhere in the United States while marching in second line parades have their sources in the traditional customs of waving or dancing with white handkerchiefs in the Ewe cultures of Ghana, West Africa and Togo, West Africa, as well as the Igbo culture of Nigeria, West Africa.

Coincidentally, the "it's hot outside" response was also given in response to a commenter asking why Africans wave white handkerchiefs in church:
From Atta Boafo - Double Double (Blessings)
callmeblessings, 2012
in reply to sisteryaime
@sisteryaime lol it doesn't really have a meaning as far as I know. Its just people in africa have these little scarves or cloth because of the heat. For some reason they started using it in church as an extra to praise God. It looks nice too when the whole church does it I think lol."
That comment is included in the first post of a four part series on traditional customs of waving or dancing with white handkerchiefs in certain West African cultures. Click for Part I of a four part series. The links to the other posts in that series can be found in that post.

Twirling Parasols (Umbrellas)
I believe that the custom of people holding parasols and twirling parasols in first line and second line New Orleans parades have their source in traditional Ashanti (Ghanaian) traditions. In Ghana (and in Egypt and some other African nations) umbrellas were used and are still used to protect royalty from the heat. But I wonder if twirling those umbrellas had (has) a spiritual meaning, similar to the Islamic custom of whirling dervishes or the Buddhist custom of spinning a prayer wheel. Even if there was (and is?) a religious element to the large twirling Ghanaian umbrellas, my guess is that this custom also has an aesthetic element- those twirling umbrellas look good.

I'm also not denying that the white handkerchiefs that are twirled by Ghanaian church goers might sometimes be used to wipe off their sweat. But white handkerchiefs are twirled as a way of expressing spiritual joy. And one comment that I found online indicates that the traditional Igbo dances which include twirling white handkerchiefs had a spiritual meaning:
Groundwork of Igbo history - Page 754
Adiele Eberechukwu Afigbo - 1992
"Because the Ogbaru people associated the white colour with deities, the dance was first performed with costumes made of white cloth under the priestess, the dance had a religious character... However, white handkerchief was introduced to accentuate the white symbolism."
It should be noted that in the above mentioned West African traditions and in the New Orleans second line traditions that derive from those African traditions, the handkerchief color is "white", though other colors might be used nowadays.

Videos Of Men Holding & Twirling Umbrellas (Ashanti Culture, Ghana)

Example #1: New Video of Ashanti Historic Festival in Koforidua, New Juaben, Ghana, Africa, World

Hunter Gatherer, Published on Apr 4, 2013

Akwantukese Festival of the good people of New Juaben, Koforidua. Depicted are twirling umbrellas, the Ruler of New Juaben, Nana Oti Boateng II borne aloft in a palanquin.
Women dancing with white handkerchiefs can be found throughout this video. There is also a brief clip of the Ruler of New Juaben waving a white handkerchief (around 2:50 in this video). New Juaben is a constituency in the Eastern region of Ghana.

Example #2: Akwasidae Festival, ashanti region, kumasi, ghana

voodooalpaca Uploaded on Aug 27, 2010

Akwasidae Festival, ashanti region, kumasi, ghana
celebrate with the king!...
Also, notice the scenes of shields being spun, beginning around 3:58 in this video.


Hunter Gatherer Uploaded on Aug 30, 2010

The durbar held by the late King of Ashanti, Otumfuo Opoku Ware II, to commemorate his 25th year on the Golden Stool. Shown here is the arrival of the King of Juaben and his people--the Juabens.
Update: December 4, 2015
I think that in African context, a durbar is a festival held to honor royalty.

As somewhat of an aside, notice the large fans that two women hold at around 6:00 of the video. Those fans are similar to fans held by some members of (African American (New Orleans, Louisiana) Social Aid & Pleasure Clubs when they strut during Mardi Gras and other parades. Click for a pancocojams post that features several videos of New Orleans Social Aid And Pleasure Clubs.


Nana Wiafe Akenten II, Published on Jun 9, 2014


Videos Of New Orleans Second Line Weddings
Example #1: Bella & Brian New Orleans Wedding: Second Line Parade

brellafarrelly, Uploaded on Mar 29, 2009

Footage of the second line parade from our wedding. Music courtesy of the amazing New Orleans Potholes.

Example #2: Courtney & Troy's Wedding Second Line part 1

Nola1176 Uploaded on Sep 26, 2009

Courtney and Troy's Second Line
Guardians of the Flame and To Be Continued Second Line Band***

Example #3: Jackson 2nd line wedding reception

babyboy478, Uploaded on Jan 16, 2012

We couldn't have the wedding at home in New Orleans so we brought home to Texas... :~)

Example #4: Rare Wedding Parade on Decatur Street in the French Quarter New Orleans

tazjazzman, Published on May 11, 2014

Saturday afternoon May 10th a rare wedding parade occurred on Decatur street in the French Quarter of New Orleans Louisiana. The parade had the bride and groom holding umbrellas, followed by a six piece traditional jazz band dressed in white, then followed by the wedding party waiving white handkerchiefs with some wearing Mardi Gras masks. Many onlookers enjoyed the parade, taking pictures and waving and even a few joining it. The wedding parade was video taped outside of the Gazebo Cafe and ended at Jackson square. The chess master who gives lessons on the game of chess you see in the video said that he has not seen a wedding going down Decatur Street for at least 5 years.
Here's a comment from that video's discussion thread
Casey Jarvis, 2014
"I"m the bride in this video. Thank you so much for posting this! I want to give a shout out to Free Agents Brass Band who did an incredible job."

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1 comment:

  1. According to sources quoted in the Wikipedia article about second line (parades), "Some scholars believe that second lining has its origins in traditional West African circle dances, where children formed a periphery circle outside the main circle of adult dancers. The dance was brought by slaves to New Orleans, where it became incorporated into processions, such as funerals, forcing the ring to straighten into a line.[2] Others note the similarity of the steps – exaggerated, loosely coordinated strutting – to dances performed in Congo Square by the enslaved given the day off on Sundays. These dances were officially banned for a time because they were deemed threatening to the white inhabitants of the city, and their resurgence in second lining suggests a similar celebration of individual freedom.[3]". (retrieved December 4, 2015

    Richard Brent Turner (11 August 2009). Jazz religion, the second line, and Black New Orleans. Indiana University Press. p. 108. ISBN 978-0-253-22120-9. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
    3.Jump up ^ Roger D. Abrahams (2006). Blues for New Orleans: Mardi Gras and America's Creole soul. University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 31–2. ISBN 978-0-8122-3959-1. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
    However, as can be shown by the Ghanaian videos embedded in this post, processional movements are traditional in Ghana and elsewhere in West Africa and Central Africa (where most Africans enslaved in the United States came from). Some of those processions were for funerals and some were for festivals and other special occasions. For that reason, it seems to me that there's no need for the theory cited above that New Orleans, Louisiana second lines "has its origins in traditional West African circle dances, where children formed a periphery circle outside the main circle of adult dancers."

    Also, the dance/strut that is characteristic to second lining doesn't necessarily have the same source or sources as the custom of waving white handkerchiefs and twirling umbrellas or parasols.