By Dennis Kabatto – Organizers permeated sheer exuberance on the impressive and unprecedented turn out of the annual observance of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
Four Hundred people packed to the brim the United Nations (UN) Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Chamber at the UN Headquarter in New York on Thursday for the commemoration, according to official estimates.
The occasion organized by the Permanent Mission of Sierra Leone to the UN and cosponsored by the Permanent Mission of Jamaica to the UN, the Sierra Leone Monument and Relics Commission and the UN Remember Slavery Program was celebrated with the special theme “The Transatlantic Slave Trade: Constructing New Amistad, Bunce Island, Gullah, Maroon and Nova Scotia Bridges.”
It was evident the event was successful in “reestablishing linkages and also shed light on the various ways in which African people can come to understand one another’s histories completely by focusing in key places including Sierra Leone where many people were captured and sold as slaves and ended up in South Carolina, Jamaica and Nova Scotia among many other places.
Since the observance was established 9 years ago, Thursday’s event engaged more Africans from the continent, the Diaspora, Jamaica, Haiti, Trinidad and from other parts of the Caribbean who wanted to learn not only about slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade but more so about their roots.
Christina Gallach, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information said in her Opening Remarks the launch of the UN’s Remember Slavery Program in 2007 was aimed to ensure that current and future generations understand the causes, consequences and lessons of the slave trade as well as the dangers that racism and prejudice present even today,.
“Thursday’s panel discussion and performance is particularly important because many of the slaves in North America came from Sierra Leone. Those slaves left a major and positive imprint in the language and culture of states like North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida — an imprint still with us today,” Ms Gallach said.
During his statement, Ambassador Vandi Minah, outgoing Sierra Leone’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations imparted to the panel that he was pleased and heartened to see a packed room of all those who are interested in celebrating and commemorating the struggle of the move from enslavement, slavery to true cultural, comprehensive and political emancipation for people of color.
Highlighting a statue which he said was sculptured by a Cuban artist who went to Sierra Leone to discover his roots represents a village in Cuba where he said they still celebrate African traditions “speaks to the very concept of building bridges,” Ambassador Vandi added.
Moderator Dr. Sylviane A. Diouf, Director of the Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of the Transatlantic Slavery and a curator at the Schomburg Center for the Research in Black Culture was joined by panelists including Dr. Christopher R. DeCorse, professor of Anthropology in the Maxwell School of Public Affairs at Syracuse University; Mr. Roy T. Anderson writer, director and producer of the award-winning film Akwantu, a documentary on the history of the Jamaican Maroons; Mr. Alfred Marder, Director of the Amistad Committee and Professor Bernard Powers, Professor of History and Chair of the History Department, College of Charleston, University of South Carolina.
Professor Powers who represented the United States and South Carolina on the Panel said African Americans in South Carolina have a very profound and important connection to Nova Scotia as well as Sierra Leone and the linkage can be traced back to the Atlantic Slave Trade but also to the American Revolution.
He said most people don’t have a sense of that history and so “the real significance of the meeting was not only the actual connections made by the representatives of these different places” on the Panel “but the way in which we can work together to make these connections more well known internationally as well as bringing the proper attention to the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the way in which it had played a role in world history.”
Representing Jamaica, Ms Shorna –Kay Richards, Charge d’Affaires, Permanent Mission of Jamaica to the UN reiterated the importance of African people worldwide having the knowledge of their roots
Ms Kay-Richards said “Jamaica’s late great cultural icon Bob Marley reminded us in his song Buffalo Soldier if you know your history then you will were you are coming from, those lyrics were specific to the Blackman stolen from Africa and brought to America who found himself fighting from arrival just for survival,”
According to Ms Kay-Richards the observance provides an opportunity to learn of the deep cultural connection which exists between Africa and the Americas. These links though forged through the abominable evil of slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade demonstrate the resilience of the African culture which served as a root of a dynamic culture of the African Diaspora around the world but especially in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The commemoration cumulated with a performance by Mr. Ron Daise, a writer, performing artist, author and educator.