The Chosen Family Tradition Goes Back Much Further Than You May Think

three black women standing together
Via Pixabay
Graciella Ye'Tsunami
September 22, 2023

We all have those chosen family members who aren’t related by blood but we still call them “auntie,” “uncle,” or “cousin.” 

But these bonds are more than familial. They’re sacred. And they started in the bellies of the slave ships.

Enslaved Africans were often chained to one another in pairs while on the slave ships. Throughout the African Diaspora this pairing is referred to under different names like “sippi,”, “mati,”, or “shipmate.”

Because of the unimaginable horrors shipmates encountered together, their bond was more than familial. It was sacred.

Shipmates who survived the middle passage were sometimes sold to the same enslaver. Having been stripped from their blood family, shipmates often adopted each other as kin and protected each other on the plantation

Enslaved children would call their parents’ shipmates “auntie” or “uncle” and this tradition of chosen family was passed down.

The support of chosen family is unmatched. Chosen family is deeply ingrained into Black history and culture, be it church family, fraternity and sorority bonds, sports teams, LGBTQIA+ communities like bklyn boihood and ballroom houses, and even within day-to-day relationships we build amongst our neighbors.

Family, blood and chosen, is what sustained our ancestors historically. Community is our super power and what must be centered as we create new pathways forward. 

Liberation can’t be achieved in isolation. In what ways do you show up for your chosen family?

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