Date: Wed, 2 Apr 1997 23:55:47 -0500 (EST
Subject: *Gambia's hosts Roots festival for Africa's children*
The Final Call Online
BANJUL, Gambia--A special June festival is planned in this beautiful West African country. Organizers hope the "Roots: Homecoming Festival" will attract Blacks from throughout the Diaspora to Gambia to celebrate African history and culture.
The festival was first conceived by the late author Alex Haley, who traced his family roots to Gambia. Mr. Haley, who wrote the 1970s bestseller "Roots," which was later made into a movie and inspired Black Americans to trace their family ancestry, asked Gambians to "call home" all Africans for a celebration of their history and culture. Mr. Haley died in 1992.
The festival is in its second year and planned for June 14th-21. The event promises to bring Black people together in Gambia, a land which could easily be renamed "the land of God" because of its colorful landscapes and natural beauty.
"Twenty-years ago, Alex Haley's book "Roots" and the t.v. serialization of this novel directed the eyes of the world onto the plight of the Africans taken into slavery and their struggle for emancipation," said Gambia's Minister of Tourism and Culture Susan Waffa-Ogoo, who is leading Gambia's efforts to receive the hundreds of descendants of African slaves expected to visit the country.
"This story is the story of millions of African-Americans and Africans in the Diaspora," the tourism minister added.
The festival has become a much anticipated event for Gambians, and several groups from all over the Black Diaspora are being lined up to perform, including diverse Gambian drumming and cultural groups, gospel groups from the U.S., poets, the Chuck Davis African-American Dance Ensemble and others.
The festival will include tours of Gambia, cultural shows and exhibitions, a carnival parade through the country's Independence Stadium, where Gambia's president will open the one week festival, an African dinner and cultural evening and time for religious worship at mosques and churches.
Festival-related forums on Investment in the Gambia, African Youth in Africa and the Diaspora, as well as a forum discussing "From Slavery to Reunification--Bringing the African Diaspora Together "will be held.
Also, "Chains," a movie about the Atlantic Slave Trade, will have its world premiere during the seven-day festival. A pageant will also be held at the Senegambia Hotel, where a "Ms. Roots" will be crowned.
The festival has come to seriously rival the bi-annual Panafest of Ghana in attracting people from the Black Diaspora to Africa, festival officials said.
Given the history of Kunta Kinte, Mr. Haley's ancestor from the story "Roots," the festival is highly recommended for Blacks eager to reconnect with their heritage and discover one of Africa's most important cultures.
"Alex Haley talked about this before he died, he wanted this to happen," said Bakari Sidibay, chairman of the Roots Festival.
"We are experiencing great joy with this great union, of African-Americans coming back," said the great granddaughter of Kunta Kinte during a welcoming event for Black journalists from America, in front of the home of Alex Haley's ancestor in Juffureh village.
"It fills us with joy, like a part of the family is coming back, that the relatives and descendants of Kunta Kinte have returned. This was the hope in the era of Kunta. Villagers were saddened, hoping and praying that one day he would return," she explained.
Siamou Mboob, an elder in the Albreda village, which borders Juffureh, said the Roots festival will join Blacks in Africa with their long lost brothers and sisters who left in chains.
"African-Americans and Gambians will sit together, talk together and exchange ideas, cultures and understand each other," the village elder said. "Kunta Kinte suffered a lot at the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, but left family here. Coming back to us, we can begin to understand what happened to Blacks, on the eastern and western coast of the Atlantic, and with this great understanding it will bring us together and make us one people," he predicted.
"What you got over there in the 300 years and what was left here in the 300 years, can come together."
"I would encourage other Blacks in America to not only come here, but also suggests that this is one of the African countries that they will feel most at home in," said Charles Berrin, a Black man from America who recently moved to Gambia.
The environment is friendly, the political situation is stable, there is a sense of family and vast investment opportunities, Mr. Berrin said. "People here will assist you without even asking you your name," he said.
Gambians need jobs and better health care, an area for potential Black American investment, Mr. Berrin noted. "There is definitely a need for medical supplies, a need for people who are convergent in developing medical and clinical services, also medical delivery systems, particularly in Gambian rural areas, where these services are not so accessible," Mr. Berrin said.
"We want to stress the word homecoming," added Omar Taal, of the Roots Festival planning committee.
Air Afrique airlines is the official carrier of the Roots Homecoming festival. A festival package is\ available which includes round-trip airfare from New York's JFK Airport to Dakar, Senegal, with a 15 minute layover, then on to Banjul, Gambia. The package includes six nights hotel accommodations, based on double occupancy, airport to hotel transportation, a city sightseeing tour, a tour to Juffure Village (the home of Kunta Kinte and admission to the Roots festival.
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