The nodding heads, sometimes pained but enlightened eyes, and postures of pride throughout the audience during my performances at the United Nations are affixed in my memory! They affirmed that my selections had been chosen well for the 2016 International Day of Remembrance observance. That they supported the event’s theme: “Remember Slavery: Celebrating the Heritage and Culture of the African Diaspora and its Roots.” I performed songs and a poem from my “Gullah Tings fa Tink Bout” CD (http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/ronalddaise). I am thankful for the opportunity I’d been afforded to inform, inspire, and empower.
On March 25 of each year, the United Nations honors the memory of millions of Africans forcibly removed from their families and homelands over hundreds of years. The Panel Discussion and Performance on which I participated on March 24 was themed: “The Transatlantic Slave Trade: Constructing New Amistad, Bunce Island, Maroon, and Nova Scotia Bridges. (To view the event, visit: http://http://webtv.un.org; Meetings & Events, Recent On Demand, 24 March 2016).
Following the opening remarks and before the panel discussion, I sang “Tears an Horra,” a song I’d composed in 2005 after visiting the Bunce Island Slave Castle and Slave Prison in Sierra Leone. The lyrics reveal my experience as I’d walked about the ruins that have been uninhabited since 1840:
“The ancestors’ heartaches prevail/In the winds their voices wail,
‘Dey march us out to de slaves ships/We last see ouah homeland/When we lef from Bunce
At times, audience members silently sang the refrain: “Africans on slave ships last saw their homeland/When they left from Bunce Islan.”
I will remember the informative and powerful presentations of the esteemed moderator and panelists with whom I was seated: Dr. Sylviane A. Diouf, Director of the Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery and a curator at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture of the New York Public Library; Alfred L. Marder, President of The Amistad Committee, Inc.; Bernard Powers, professor of history, College of Charleston in Charleston, SC, and a board member of the International African American Museum, a developing museum in Charleston that will mark the most significant port for the Transatlantic Slave Trade in North America; Dr. Christopher R. DeCorse, professor and past chair of the Department of Anthropology in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University in Syracuse, NY; and Roy T. Anderson, writer, director and producer of award-winning movies about the Jamaican Maroons.
We remembered. We gave honor. We constructed bridges that connected our shared cultural legacies.
I followed with the performance of my spoken word poem, “African Diaspora.” As reinforcement of the information the panelists had imparted about the dynamic culture and traditions of Africa that continue to enrich life in the countries that were once involved in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, I encouraged the audience to participate.
“African Diaspora set the seeds afloat./Diaspora./The seeds and the spores went
to unknown shores,/scattered throughout Diaspora./Diaspora…/Diaspora…/
And the seeds and spores landed in communities including Jamaica, Cuba, the West Indies, the Caribbean Islands, Brazil, Nova Scotia, and the Gullah Geechee communities of the southeastern coastal United States. I received numerous comments from attendees afterwards that they had utilized the word “Diaspora” before without fully realizing the heaviness and extreme horror of its meaning. That would never happen again, they confided!
“Africa’s influence and legacy are plain to see in the vibrant music, bold art, rich foods and inspiring literature that infuse modern culture,” read a printed “Message on the International Day of Remembrance” from Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations. “Less recognized, perhaps, are the contributions that the people of the African diaspora have made to medicine science, governments and general leadership in society.”
Such cultural legacies, in addition to invaluable assets including fortitude, courage, strength, tolerance, patience, and compassion, should be celebrated and honored! They are when cultures of the African Diaspora follow the interpretative framework of “Tellin We Story!” as established by the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission in its Management Plan of 2012. When members of once enslaved cultures learn about and then tell their truths, the generational shame of slavery dissipates. It vanishes. Empowerment reigns. I witness this firsthand time and time again during my weekly “Gullah Geechee Program Series” at Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet, SC, and wherever I perform my cultural programs.
Following my closing selection of “Well Known fa Growin Rice,” I sensed a shift in the way shoulders were raised, heads were held erect, and pride beamed from eyes…
“Sierra Leoneans were well known fa growin rice/Well known fa growin rice/
Well known fa growin rice/Slave traders sought them out and for them paid a
higha price/They were skilled/They were not born slaves”
I’m thankful for my visits to Ghana and Sierra Leone, West Africa in 2004 and 2005. I saw firsthand connections with my Gullah Geechee heritage and received inspiration for the songs and programs of cultural heritage that I share with others. Regrettably, the Panel Discussion and Performance ran short on time to shine a spotlight on prevailing racism and prejudice today. Nonetheless, the event indeed was impactful, and I’m honored to have been asked to participate! The Secretary-General’s message concluded: “Let us renew our resolve to fight racism and celebrate the heritage of Africa that enhances societies around the world today.”
Will I remember slavery and the Day of Remembrance and renew my resolve. With Gullah Geechee gusto, I say. “Dat so!” and “Fa tru!”
When leaving the event, I visited “The Ark of Return,” a Permanent Memorial in the United Nations Visitors Plaza. Designed by Rodney Leon, an American architect of Haitian descent, it invites visitors to experience three elements: Acknowledge the Tragedy, Consider the Legacy, Lest We Forget.