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  Saturday, May 28th
Kenny Burton Grieves at Bunce Island Slave Fortress Ruins, Sierra Leone
Kenny Burton Grieves at Bunce Island Slave Fortress Ruins, Sierra Leone
Notes From Kenny:
Day Three:
The participants of Priscillaís Homecoming departed for a Day Trip to Bunce Island which lay about an hour away by boat from Freetown. Joseph Opala had given a thorough lecture on the history of Bunce Island the previous evening at the U.S. Embassy, but that lecture and power point presentation for me did not convey the emotional impact that setting foot on the island would. Whereas the trip to Bunce Island was a mostly academic or intellectual experience for most of the group besides Thomalind and Antawn, I knew that very strong emotions would be conjured up in me because of a connection I had made to Africa.

In May of 2004 I had submitted a DNA sample to African Ancestry, one of a number of companies which use advances in genetics to trace ancestry. The results that I received last June pointed to a mitochondrial DNA match with the Mende people of Sierra Leone.

After exiting the boats, the group assembled at a traditional landing spot, at which time Joseph Opala explained the layout of the island and the ruins of the old slave fort that lay at the top of the hill. There at the shore I took note of the baobab trees which appeared to be very old and I imagined them to have even been on Bunce Island to witness the height of her commercial enterprises during the British involvement in the slave trade during the mid 1700s.

As we walked up the path towards the slave fort my gait became slower and slower, and the closer I got to the top the more I could sense the sorrow, heartbreak, and despair. Sierra Leone had, since my first day, torn at my emotions, partly because of just being in Africa, and because of my seeing the condition many were dealing with during this period of reconstruction, but here at Bunce Island, the thought of what my kin, my ancestors had to endure washed my face with rivers. I began to dread that I had made the visit. The pain I felt was so great.

After gaining my composure, I determined to look at Bunce Island from a historical rather than personal perspective, and noticed the gleam in Toniís eyes. Toni Carrier besides having the foresight to start the Africana Heritage web site was also an archeologist in the Anthropology Department of the University of South Florida. I knew for her that the site of the Bunce Island Fort would again cause her enthusiasm to rise up. Except for a few earlier surveys, the Bunce Island site, in Toniís words was a pristine archeological site, whose only real disturbance since its abandonment by the British was due to the elements and time. As Joseph explained to Thomalind and Antawn the many features of the fort, and its slave prison, Toni and I had our eyes to the ground. I could tell from our conversations that she was already formulating how she would excavate the site if given the chance. I hope she is given the opportunity.

After we left Bunce Island, we briefly visited a nearby Temne village. There we were greeted on the beach by musicians and children from the village. Through an interpreter, Priscillaís descendants Thomalind and Antwan were blessed and received by the village chief, a man 100+ years old. I hung out with the musicians who probably thought it strange that I took my sandals off and played them like instruments.

Notes From Toni:
Today was a very emotional day for everyone. Many in our group were dreading the trip to Bunce Island, although we knew that it would bring some sort of closure, however painful it was.

On the boat ride to the island, some folks were even-keeled; others quite somber. We disembarked and felt the tragic history of this place under our feet for the first time.

As our tour commenced and anthropologist Joseph Opala narrated, the cloud descended, and the weight of the sorrowful history of this place was almost crushing.

I missed Kenny for a moment and found him alone in the men's holding yard, grieving. We had a long cry, and then composed ourselves and tried to go into rational mode for the rest of the tour. I commented to Kenny upon artifacts that we saw upon the ground surface as we pulled ourselves together.

It was so painful to see Thomalind's courageous attempt to remain composed for the Press and the film crew; conscious that all eyes were upon her.

I lowered the camera. I could not bring myself to photograph Thomalind's anguish.

As the tour moved away from the slave castle ruins and on to the graveyard, the weight lifted a bit and folks were able to regain themselves somewhat.

I'm sure we will all be processing this visit for quite some time to come.

After the Bunce Island visit, our group visited Tasso Island, situated across the river from Bunce. It was here, more than twenty years ago, that Joseph Opala first informed paramount chief Alimamy Rakka that the Gullah people of South Carolina and Georgia were rooted in Sierra Leone.

Before this moment, the oral history of Sierra Leoneans held that those who were taken from Bunce Island had been taken to England, where they perished in the colder climate. The paramount chief who received this joyous news years ago, is now more than one hundred years old. He received us with joy.

As we approached, the villagers gathered on the shore to greet us. We disembarked to a wonderfully noisy greeting of laughter and music. We needed this moment after our emotional experience at Bunce Island.

We gathered in the village center, where Joseph Opala spoke to the villagers through an interpreter, and told the story of his long ago visit to the paramount chief. The chief then poured a libation and blessed Thomalind, Antawn and the Priscilla family.

As the ceremony drew to a close, a thunderstorm rolled up and we retreated to the boats and managed to leave before the rain began. In all, it was a poignant and emotional day, but one of the most memorable of the entire journey.

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