Gambian 9th Roots Festival Commemorates Enslaved Africans

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Today descendants of enslaved Africans begin a week-long pilgramage through The Gambia in memory of their enslaved ancestors. The journey is part of the "9th International Roots Festival" which opened in the Gambia on Saturday May 31, 2008 with a carnival of jubilant ethnic groups sharing their cultural heritage through song and dance. The festival ends on June 7, 2008.

The United States has done nothing to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the closing of its Trans Atlantic slave trade this year. I'm grateful that The Gambia is doing something

Today descendants of enslaved Africans begin a week-long pilgrimage through The Gambia in memory of their enslaved ancestors. The journey is part of the "9th International Roots Festival" which opened in the Gambia on Saturday May 31, 2008 with a carnival of jubilant ethnic groups sharing their cultural heritage through song and dance. The festival ends on June 7, 2008.

The festival, themed "Celebrating unity through culture," is a bi-annual commemoration of the forced enslavement of Africans to the Americas. It is a platform used by The Gambia to build bridges between Africans on the continent and those in the Diaspora.

The Gambia is the smallest country on mainland Africa, yet one of the largest percentages of Africans enslaved were taken along its main river -- the River Gambia. Captives spent their last days at Fort James slave trade post -- now a World Cultural Heritage site. Today, the nation is known as the "smiling coast" for its luxurious beach resorts and warm friendly citizens, and is frequented mostly by European tourists.

For the first time in the festival's history, descendants of enslaved Africans will be given an opportunity to experience their ancestral African life by sleeping over in villages critical to the Trans Atlantic slave trade. The pilgrimage begins in Janjanbureh Village where prisons still stand that held captive Africans before transport to Fort James. Another stop will be to the village of Juffureh, homeland of Kunte Kinte, ancestor of author Alex Haley upon whom the book and TV miniseries "Roots" is based.

The last stop will be at the village of Kanilai, the home of President of the Republic of The Gambia, Dr. Yahya A. J. J. Jammeh. The highlight of this visit will be a two day "rite of passage ceremony" for men and boys. President Jammeh will conduct the elaborate two day ceremony entitled "Futampaf" from the tradition of the Jola ethnic group.

African Americans participating in the events include: John Watusi Branch, Founder of the Afrikan Poetry Theatre; Kalilah Allen Harris, winner of the 2007 Miss Black USA Scholarship Pageant; and Deadria Farmer-Paellmann, Executive Director of the Restitution Study Group.

"I hope to connect with the land, people and culture I lost as a result of my ancestors being brutally enslaved to build the wealth of Western nations," said Farmer-Paellmann. "The United States has done nothing to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the closing of its Trans Atlantic slave trade this year. I'm grateful that The Gambia is doing something," she said.

For more information about the festival visit: http://visitthegambia. gm/roots.

For interviews on the festival contact: Momodou C. Joof, Chairman at: (Gambia) 220-422-7980 or 220-422-7461.

Media outlets covering the festival include British ethnic satellite firm "Ben Television": website: http://www. bentelevision. com; and Chi I. Ezekwueche, Photographer and artist/volunteer at the Tubman African American Museum in Macon, Georgia, phone: 478-737-2962.

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DEADRIA FARMER-PAELLMANN
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