Recovering ancestral links
by Nekaelia Hutchinson
The National Anthem of Barbados speaks about “these fields and hills beyond recall”, in homage of the land we, and our forefathers, have long called home. Yet, history’s pages reveal that our ancestors also abided in another place, thus creating a common link between the millions of people who comprise the Diaspora.
This narrative – the story of the Diaspora – will be at the heart of the 8th Annual African Diaspora Heritage Trail Conference, which is coordinated by the Ministry of Tourism under the theme Our Freedom, Our Identity: Uncover, Recover, Discover. Presenters from Barbados, Canada, France, Jamaica, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago and the US will gather next month at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, from September 17 to 19, to engage on issues of significance to persons of African origin.
One of the presenters at the conference, Professor Pedro Welch, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Education at the University of the West Indies, explained that the event would be of interest to anyone whose roots lead to the African continent.
“[The ADHT conference] has to do with our heritage … and where the majority of our people come from. While we have respect for other cultures that are a part of our makeup, the fact is that the vast majority of our people can trace their origin back to some area of West Africa and maybe some areas of Central and East Africa as well…
“A conference aptly named the African Diaspora Heritage Trail should attract interest from any person who has the slightest modicum of interest in where they come from… That’s where our heritage is, Africa; and things African should concern us,” Welch asserted.
While observing that there were some who did not see the connection between themselves and Africa, the UWI Dean noted: “For persons who look like us, when you look in the mirror, what do you see? Yes, it is true, that we have had a creolisation experience that began during the enslavement period and [it] has kept us here in the Caribbean; but we must not let that experience deny where we have come from.
“My view … is that any person who asks the question ‘Why should I be interested in this? I’m not African’ needs to go check their history again…,” he said, adding that one should not be swayed by the distorted images of Africa, as “our African brothers and sisters live in environments similar to what we live in, with very little difference”.
These parallels also extend to lineage, as Welch noted that “many of our ancestors come from the Akan of Ghana, the Ashanti, as some people refer to them, or Coromantee as they are sometimes called. Some of our people may have come from the Yoruba, from the south of Nigeria.”
For those who may consider an interest in African heritage to be in conflict with their faith or beliefs, the UWI professor observed that while “there are some aspects of African culture that may not necessarily fit well with a Christian worldview …, I do not think the reality should scare us” and encouraged those with an interest to engage their curiosity, as their history could help them discover more about themselves.
Welch’s presentation at the ADHT Conference will delve into this issue, when he addresses Recovering Our Ancestral Links. He explained that the focus will be on “African retentions, with respect to the role of family and kinship”.
“One of the things enslavement did to our people throughout the Diaspora … is the fact that our families were destroyed… My presentation will attempt to identify the kinds of family and kinship structures that our forefathers would have known and to look to see to what extent that was destroyed or interfered with in the Transatlantic slave trade … and use that to see what happened after emancipation, [and determine] whether we were able to recover some of the things we lost,” he revealed.
The importance of that ancestral connection – and the connection among those of African origin – is the essence of the ADHT conference, which Welch asserted “will be an opportunity to touch base with persons from across the Diaspora”.
“One of the things that we encounter in an island culture is that the sea separates us from so many others… It will give us an opportunity to meet with persons like ourselves… and to hear from them about some of their experiences,” he said. “I think it will be a remarkable experience.”
The ADHT Conference’s origins date back to 2001, when it was developed by the Bermuda Ministry of Tourism. Today, it is led by the ADHT Bermuda Foundation, with the event focused on the history of the Diaspora; providing opportunities for those dedicated to identifying, building, promoting and marketing cultural heritage tourism destinations; and creating a forum for people of the African Diaspora to participate in discourse on themes related to uncovering the past, recovering lost memories and discovering African identities.
Persons who wish to participate in the ADHT conference may contact the Ministry of Tourism at 430-7500 or view the website, www.adhtbarbados.com.