The 11th Edition of the International Roots Homecoming Festival is here again and activities marking this year’s celebrations have since kicked-off on May 9th, 2014. Hundreds of ‘home-comers’ mainly from the United States, Carribbean including Jamaica, United Kingdom and other European countries have made it to this year’s occasions.
The Festival is providing the opportunity to these ‘home-comers’ to reflect on the genesis of the infamous Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade that has been described by analysts as one of the most ostracized chapters in human history when people out of their search for material scavenging ended up subjecting their hosts to all sorts of maltreatment.
Because the slave trade uprooted their ancestors from Africa who could have otherwise been the pillars of building a continent that is today portrayed in the West as a land of poverty, destitution, diseases, hunger and malnutrition, poverty, wars and so on, the home-comers who visited the Kunta Kinteh Island in Juffereh, formerly the James Island were outraged by the story of the island’s contributions during those periods.
Being children who traced their roots to Africa through their ancestors, the ‘home-comers’ have since been speaking of the significance of The Gambia’s International Roots Homing Coming Festival, organised by the government of The Gambia in bridging this serious divide existing between African descendants in the Diaspora and those on the continent. Since inception, the festival has helped to draw a lot of African-Americans and African Diasporas in general to reconnect with their roots.
A recognised Festival in Africa, the event gives Africans in the Diaspora one of the single biggest platforms to discover their identity, reconnect with their roots, learn their lost cultural and traditional heritage, and more importantly, establish stronger family bonds and ties with the African family in The Gambia. Over the years, the festival which started as an annual event in 1996 and later transformed into biennial in year 2000, has been viewed as one of the windows through which African Diasporas see the greatness and richness of their ancestral land in terms of culture and natural beauty.
This historical, cultural and educational Festival commemorates the enforced enslavement and transportation of millions of Africans to the Americas and the Caribbean Islands for forced labour in plantations belonging to mostly white majority. The Festival by itself brings a completely different taste each edition. For instance, it had in the past attracted the attention of some world class and highly celebrated personalities, among them, Jamaican music icon, Luciano, Jermaine Jackson of the Jackson family in the United States, Rockmond Dunbar, renowned artist, Chaz Guest, all in the United States, who joined thousands in the 10th edition, held in 2011.
In fact the 10th edition was spiced up by a superb tribute concert by Jermaine Jackson for his late world renowned pop superstar, Michael Jackson. That concert was attended by thousands of Gambians and non-Gambians at the Independence Stadium in Bakau.
This year’s event is being attended by the son of Marcus Garvey, Dr. Julius Garvey, and renowned Jamaican dancehall stars like Sizzla Kolonji, Mutaburaka, Scratchylus and daughter Empress Reggae as well as the award-winning African American singer, Dr. Yewande Austin. Teaming up with a pool of finest Gambian artistes, these international singers delivered a grand musical concert at the Independence Stadium in Bakau on May 10th. The mixture of Gambian artistes and their Jamaican counterparts has been described as a force to the success of the event.
Looking at the history of Jamaica, a black Caribbean Island nation, their participation is very much in line with the objectives of the
initiative since most of them trace their ancestral roots to Africa. If for anything, their involvement will further popularise the festival in that part of the world and encourage Caribbeans to attend future editions. Festival and tourism: a means for development The Festival has a great potential to promote the development of the country’s tourism sector, the second foreign exchange earner of the nation. The Gambia is a well known tourism destination, widely preferred by European tourists for its smiling atmosphere, beautiful ecosystem, clean white beaches, sun as well as the sea, coupled with the numerous safaris along the iconic River Gambia.
However, the Festival could encourage a new form of tourism – festival tourism if you want to put it – where thousands of people could travel wide and far to grace it. During the period they are bound to integrate with the Gambian community, be exposed to the traditions and cultures, and spend their money through lodging in hotels and guests houses as well as on a variety of local Gambian products and services including transportations. All these breed income for the nation, thus all the more reason why it should be organised at even a larger platform.
We have seen the likes of the Rio de Janiero carnival in Brazil which is attended by an unprecedented number of people around the world. But Brazil might be even far, just look at the ”Pan-African Historical Theatre Festival” in Ghana, a neighbouring West African nation. Since its inception in 1992, Panafest, a biennial festival has been promoting Pan Africanism through Arts and Culture. Its theme reflects the political, social and economic advancement of the African nations and the African Diaspora at large. The Gambia’s own is rapidly gaining greater recognition. Given its beautiful concept, it could propel further into greater recognition only if more efforts, resources and energy are employed to achieving that. This could be done through further aggressive marketing of the festival as a tourism product in the international tourism market, backed by great innovations and creativity in terms of making it more interesting and appealing. But given the current positive results it has registered since inception, the possibilities for it to become one of the continent or even the world’s biggest festivals is not necessarily a far-fetched objective.
One rich cultural activity that is featured prominently in the International Roots Festival is the Jola cultural extravaganza known
as ‘Futampaf’, which is an ”initiation to manhood and rites of passage”.
”Futampaf” ritual has been described as the oldest African cultural and traditional school of teaching, and according to research, it has existed at least since the 12th Century. This event, which was held on Wednesday in Kanilai was graced by the ‘home-comers’.
History has it that before colonisation, it was the only method of formal education in preparing young men to take their place in