Notes From Kenny:
| Members of the Priscilla's Homecoming Family Enjoy a Buffet of Sierra Leonean Food, Lighthouse Restaurant|
By now Thomalind and Antwan seem to have become seasoned veterans as far as handling the various dignitaries with whom the participants met. In downtown Freetown we visited the Sierra Leone Museum, where Thomalind presented Josephine Kargo with a copy of the Priscilla’s Return Painting. Afterwards a reception has held but I can not report on it because I had snuck downstairs to view the many artifacts housed at this modest facility.
From the museum, we proceeded to the Light House Restaurant where we were treated to a buffet lunch of traditional African foods from Sierra Leone hosted by BIPI (the Bunce Island Preservation Initiative). Hmm Hmm good.
Professor Joseph Opala and others explained to the audience the purpose and vision of the ongoing efforts to survey the remains of the British slave fort on the Island and also revealed that recent archaeological study had discovered the remains of a six year old near the slave prison area of the fort, and the efforts underway to erect a monument to the children that were lost on the island. The Students from the Cape Community School treated us to some very fine music and girls from the International Primary School put on a very moving presentation which chronicled notable women in Sierra Leone’s history. Notable last week also was the initiative that Valerie Tutson made to do something about the conditions at Cape Community School in procuring new desk and benches through a local carpenter from donations within our group. It’s nice to effect positive change.
Later that evening the Priscilla’s Homecoming and the general public witnessed the presentation of the play “From Under The Carpet”, by playwright Raymond DeSausa George at Fourah Bay College. This drama dealt with the history of Sierra Leone from colonization to the present. George explored the effects that the slave trade had on both the psyche of the native Sierra Leoneans who had sold their “brothers and sisters” into slavery and the ongoing conflicts of "divide and conquer" that still cause this rich nation to be exploited by outsiders.
He displayed in rather urgent fashion the mindset of many who believe their salvation will be brought about by obtaining an exit visa in order to get to America or somewhere else. In the play DeSausa George personified the Statue of Liberty on the one hand and another cast member represented Bunce Island and the unresolved issues surrounding slavery and what it had done to sicken this nation. As an American in the audience I felt a disconnect with the Sierra Leoneans and I think they had difficulties understanding why we would choose to come to this West African country when for them the United States is a place of refuge.
I am hopeful that “From Under the Carpet” will be presented throughout Sierra Leone and the United States.
I wish to thank Toni Carrier for affording me the opportunity to participate in Priscilla’s Homecoming. I am not at this time able to fully comprehend the magnitude of this experience, but I do hope and believe that the impact of Thomalind’s return will resonate loud and bring about healing from the hurts, scars and wounds of history that remain from the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.
(a poem for Thomalind and Antwan)
I’ve cried so long my tears have watered the sea
And so long ago my heart was full
But my hope faded as my years
Now I must rest from my looking from my longing
I have grown so very tired
Come here children
I shall tell you a story about my tears filling the sea
So long ago so very long ago
My child was taken from me
She was so young her age like you
I can still see her now
She looks just like my sister
My sister sadden me when I see her cry
So long ago the sea took my child from me
Each day I’d hope to see her
She reminded me of myself
I remember she had ways like me
I used to play and laugh just like her\…my fathers says
when I was a little child
Don’t forget your child don’t forget your sister
Don’t forget your family
I know in my heart that she has not forgotten
She will return to me
Just as my tears return to the sea
Notes From Joyce:
I awoke feeling yucky with some aches from a jolting van ride that still had my shins and forehead sore. After a quick trip into town I spent the rest of the day interviewing a student from the university on Susu culture and language. Kandeh was a wealth of information on his people and history. After about 9 hours of interviewing and repeating vocabulary for a small phonetic dictionary I was hoarse, grumpy and ready for bed.
Notes From Toni:
It would be very difficult to top yesterday's experiences, but today certainly came close to it. We began our day with a trip to the Sierra Leone Museum, where Thomalind presented artist Dana Coleman's original portrait of Priscilla to the museum curators. The museum treated us to a reception and museum tour after the presentation.
From the museum, we proceeded to a lunch at the Sierra Lighthouse Restaurant, which was sponsored by Celtel, The Sierra Lighthouse Restaurant and the Bunce Island Preservation Initiative (BIPI). Our lunch was a buffet of traditional Sierra Leonean foods: Jollof Rice & Stew, Groundnut Soup & Funde, Cassava Leaves and Rice, Foofoo & White Sawa, Palm Oil Stew & Country Rice, Abobo, Rice Akara, Beans Akara, Pepper Chicken, Roast Meat, Rice Bread, Groundnut Cake, Ginger Beer, Tombi Drink and Palm Wine. We sampled some of all the dishes and found them to be quite tasty, although some were very hot and spicy.
During our luncheon, we were treated to wonderful performances by students from the International Primary School Limited. All of the performers were ten year-old girls, which brought a special poignancy to the presentation. Looking at these beautiful children, one caught a glimpse of Priscilla's spirit. Some of the children were tall and stout, while others were tiny and frail. Which was Priscilla when she was taken from her family? Looking at these beautiful girls brought tears to my eyes as I pictured Priscilla at their age, bound and trapped aboard a slave ship bound for America.
The students presented two programs. The first, entitled "Welcome from Sierra Leone Communities," was a celebration of the diversity among Sierra Leone's tribes. Each girl was dressed in the traditonal dress of a particular tribe. Each performer introduced herself, stated which tribe she represented, and bid Thomalind and other guests welcome in the native language of that particular tribe. Each child carried a small gourd bowl. At the end of the presentation, all of the children raised their bowls to reveal that each had a letter printed on the underside. Together, the gourd bowls spelled out a message of welcome to Thomalind, Antawn and their guests.
The second performance, entitled "Dear Priscilla ... Sierra Leone Women through History," was equally moving. Each performer portrayed a different Sierra Leonean woman who had aspired to greatness. The program ended with the question, "Dear Priscilla ... Which One of Us Would You Have Become?" Needless to say, our hearts were moved by this poignant question.
After the performances, members of the Bunce Island Preservation Initiative outlined their plans to preserve the ruins and site of the Bunce Island Slave Castle. It was encouraging to hear that, despite the economic setbacks that Sierra Leone has suffered as a result of the tragic ten-year war, efforts were nonetheless underway to preserve and protect this deeply significant historic site. We ended our luncheon on that hopeful note, and returned to the hotel for a short rest.
This evening, the "Priscillas" enjoyed a performance of the drama From Under the Carpet, written by playwright Raymond DeSouza George and performed at Kingsley Auditorium, Fourah Bay College. The event, which was open to the public, also included performances by the Freetown Players and Ron Daise. Please be sure to read Kenny's narrative for a description of the play.
And so, our week ended on a positive note. We were left with much to ponder and reflect upon, from our brief visit to Sierra Leone. Throughout our trip, we were warmly received by our hosts and hostesses, and by Sierra Leoneans that we met along our way. Priscilla's Homecoming has officially ended, but the impact of our journey will continue to unfold as research, preservation and goodwill efforts continue.
Tomorrow we bid farewell to most of our Priscilla family. Joyce and I will take the day tomorrow to wrap up our research with Kandeh, to pack our luggage, and to reflect upon the incredible experience that was Priscilla's Homecoming. We thank Joseph Opala and our Sierra Leonean hosts for affording the USF Africana Heritage Project the opportunity to be a part of this historic event.
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