Thursday, September 20 – 26, 2007
A tearful tour
By: MOSES DOTSEY AKLORBORTU, New York
EMOTIONS, tears and feelings of self-pity poured out freely during a tour by some African journalists to a historical and tourism site in Manhattan, New York where bones and possessions of more then 200,000 African slaves have been discovered in mass graves.
The visit coincided with the screening of a 30-minute documentary and the launch of a report by anthropologists and archeologists who discovered the location where freed and enslaved Africans who died through maltreatment and in line of service to their masters lay buried. The site has been designated as a sacred Space.
According to the report released by the team of researchers, the positions of the skeletons in the graves showed the pathetic state in which the slaves died. It identified most of them as women and children who were buried in groups with the skeletal remains of children in the arms of their mothers.
About 419 coffins were discovered before the excavation work at the site was halted ahead of the establishment of the African Buried Ground.
The researchers did not only uncover skeletons but also handy works of slaves such as waist beads, buttons, symbols and cowries believed to have been on the Africans before they were sold into slavery.
This made it possible for the team to trace the victims’ origins to West Africa and to conclude definitively that “most of the cowries, beads, buttons, symbols were from the Gold Coast in present day Ghana”.
Some of the dead could not be buried within the city walls of New Amsterdam (as New York was previously known). As a result, an area of steep hills known as the Klatch-Hook also became the burial ground for the black community.
The place was outside the boundaries of the settlement of New York and now New York City and was lost to history due to landfill and development.
In one of the graves, specifically grave 340, a woman believed to be about 50 years, was wearing a bracelet alternating yellow and black on her waist, wore dark blue beads and cowry shells then the trade mark of royals from West Africa.
The establishment of the project followed the victory won by advocates for the establishment of a burial ground and the release of millions of dollars by the Federal Government for the establishment of a memoriam.
The grounds were rediscovered in 1991 during the construction of a Federal Office building at the site which was met with fierce resistance from Africans and African Americans.
Work on the ground is expected to be completed by next month. The President of the United States, according to Ms. Monique Singletary, a Park Ranger, proclaimed the African Burial Ground as a National Monument at a major ceremony at the site.
Although the Centre is still under construction by the General Service Administration, the National Park Service and AARIS Architects, the park receives numerous visitors to have a feel and reconnect with the past.
There is also a Visitors Centre which provides educational programmes and interpretes the commemorative art works commissioned for the burial Ground.
The Visitors Centre is currently in the Federal office building, where visitors go through a post 9/11 airport-style screening before entry. The centre has a circle which contains symbols of many tribes and clans in Ghana and other parts of the West African Coast. The ethnic groups represented include the Ewes, the Akans, Gas and the Ashantis all captured in many Adinkra symbols.
In this encounter with some of the ugliest chapters in human history, Ghana is well displayed on the walls of the Centre which is decorated with Adinkra symbols from Ghana with the huge embossment of Sankofa and Biribi Wo Soro symbols on the sides.
In the inner perimeter of the centre, there were other symbols like, ‘Akoma’, meaning the heart and representing patience and tolerance, ‘Akoma Ntoso’, symbolizing understanding and agreement, divinity of mother earth, ‘Asase Ye Duru’, followed by the ‘Denkyem’ (Crocodile) which tells one to be adaptable to situations as the crocodile does on land and in water.
Others include, ‘Dwennimmen’ for humility and strength, ‘Funtunfunefu-Denkyefuntunefu’, (Siamese twins) symbolizing, unity in diversity and the symbol of ‘Gye Nyame’ which holds that history cannot be erased except by God and his supreme powers.
It was a fascinating experience for the group of African journalists from Ghana, Tanzania, Guinea, Zimbabwe and Mozambique who entered the monument with smiles, but left broken hearted with a lot of questions unanswered.
GRAPHIC SHOWBIZ - Thursday, September 20 – 26, 2007 Page: 19