DNA Tests Bringing AfricanAmericans to Sierra Leone (Bunce Island) Part 2


After we came back from the adoption ceremony of Fred & Nanette, now uncle Mundalo and aunty Gilo, we spent the next two days participating in TAN conference events including the investment conference and the post conference cocktail at Country Lodge. Uncle Mundalo spoke about the importance of building economic ties between africa and african americans, connecting the dots of our common history to unleash africa’s potential. As the president of the San Francisco Black Chamber of Commerce Fred Mundalo presented a plaque to His Excellency Ernest Bai inducting him into the Black Chamber of Commerce. Uncle Mundalo’s speech was preceeded by a presentation by actor Jeffrey Wright who has spent the past several years working on a sustainable mining project that seeks to add as much value to its stake holders as to the communities in which they mine. His mining company Taia LLC works in partnership with the Taia Peace Foundation the charity arm of Taia LLC. Just this month the Taia Peace Foundation gave Sierra Leone Road and Transport Authority 1.4bn leones ($350,000) raised earlier this year from a benefit in new york city attended by former US president Bill Clinton, Jessica Alba, Ben Stiller, three reprensentatives of  Penguia Chiefdom in Pujehun, Sierra Leone and other important folk. The night was brought to a close by  creole Jazz vocalist Gwyn Jay Allen performing songs from his album “I Love Loius: a creole tribute to Loius Armstrong”. It was a wonderful collection of a diverse group of people connecting all the dots of the african network. The festivities went well into the late of night but i excused myself in preparation for our trip to the slave castle ruins on Bunce Island.

The folks over at Visit Sierra Leone had organized several trips to Bunce Island in previous years but I had been unable to make the trip. To complete Fred and Nanette’s narrative experience back to Sierra Leone we had to visit Bunce Island, a slave castle that could have once been the place of no return for Fred and Nanette’s ancestors. According to anthropologist and historian Joseph Opala, more slaves went directly to the Carolina & Georgia Rice Plantations  from Sierra Leone than from any other slave castles on the African coast including Goree & Elmina.

We chattered two speed boats from the Pelican Water Taxi courtesy of Visit Sierra Leone that provided us with a tour guide for the trip. The view heading to the island was spectacular and the sea breeze was good too. It was a one hour journey to the island with a short pit stop on one of the surrounding islands to pick up Mr. Brima, an elderly temne pa, the self appointed custodian, tour guide, and keeper of the visitor’s log of uninhabited Bunce Island.

We got off the speed boat and i was overwhelmed by the silence; no people, no beep beep, no disturbing smells, no nothing, nothing. It was serene and i loved it. When we began the tour i was immediately struck by the difference between Goree and Elmina and Bunce which seemed like it belonged in a category all of its on. What we saw were the ruins of a castle on an island that is poorly cared for and over run by trees and shrubs and grass. Pa Brima who struggled to speak krio tried to reconstruct the story of slavery in Sierra Leone and the history of the castle that had passed through Dutch, Portuguese, and British slavers. He spoke of a temne man by the name of Adams who served as servant/care taker/slaver under all three European slave eras and he would eventually show us the broken and efaced tombstone of Adams as locals now struggle to claim ownership of the island that has now been declared a national heritage site as well as a UNESCO world heritage site. A week after i visited Bunce I met a direct desecendant of the slaver Adams and jokingly suggested that his family pay reparations.

As Fred and Nanette walked through the Island they were most touched by the explanation of the treatment of slaves at Bunce Island. According to Pa Brima and our VSL tour guide, female and male slaves at Bunce Island were kept for up to 4days without food and then forced to run around the castle up to six times. Anyone who could not complete the obstacle course was whipped merciless and set aside as a weakling unfit for the sale. Those who made it up to the 4th through 6th round would be separated and branded for sale. We saw the canons left over from several attacks on the castle over decades of scrambling for Africa’s human resources. We walked over to what would have been the door of no return and i entered into a cave that would have held the slaves for the last time before they left for death or the new world. the cave was pitch black, and the wings and screaches of what felt like hundreds of bats frightened me and i jumped out of the cave. We concluded our tour by signing Pa Brima’s guest book as he rememebered to tell us that Colin Powell had made the journey to Bunce Island some years before. In his autobiography My American Journey Colin Powell’s expresses his feelings after visiting Bunce Island, he writes “I am an American…but today, I am something more. I am an African too. I feel my roots here in this continent”

Before we left the island i asked Fred Mundalo Songai Jordan two questions: What do you think we can do to bring more African Americans to Sierra leone and will you come back? “I will be back sooner than you think. But most importantly i hope to spread the word and tell others of the hospitality that i have been shown here in Sierra Leone and the beauty of its people and the country. I intend to go on a campaign to convince the San Francisco Black Chamber of Commerce to have their annual conference here in when Sierra Leone turns 50 in the year 2011. But as to what will bring African Americans to Sierra Leone, it is simple. African Americans need to know that they are welcome with open arms, that they will be safe and that there are people here who can facilitate their visit. African Americans are a proud people who are not only proud of being black but they are also very proud of being African and i believe that they will come.”

Fred signs the guest book and we take a photograph together a memory I will always cherish.  I believe that as many more African Americans use DNA to trace their ancestry we will find that many more are willing to make the journey Salone and even go so far as to making substantial contributions to the country’s national development. We just need to do our part to make sure that when our DNA brothers and sisters come home they actually have facilities and facilitators to make the trip a worthwhile experience.

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