Wednesday, 28 May 2008

The Gambian Experience Part Five (Roots...). From January 2008.

Photo's above from the top :-

Haddy at Albreda 'Freedom Pole'.
Exhibit from Slavery Museum.
Fort James Island.
Ditto:- Plaque.
Ditto:- Haddy and tour guide.
Welcome from the two villages (Albreda is coastal and Juffereh about half a mile inland).
Exhibit from Slavery Museum (The real live 'Cinque' from Steven Spielberg's film Amistad is bottom right).
Exhibit from Slavery Museum.

Today is Thursday and we did the 'Roots' tour.
It's a coach and boat trip with a pick up from the hotel.
Christ !
It is so humbling.
I think that is the only way of describing it.
I mean, I can understand the tour operators going into overdrive to sell the trips and get the tourists to pay through the nose and I really have no problem with that, but...
The poverty that these people live in is astounding to Western eyes.
Don't get me wrong. I've been poverty stricken in England and had to live and pay bills on a weekly income of forty pound a week and I did it for over five years but I'd never have been able to do that if I hadn't owned my own place but that pales into insignificance when you look at what these people have, which is why, I suppose, that everything is done for money over here ?
Take a picture ? Pay the man. Carry your bag ? pay the man. To guide you through the intricacies of what is or what is not permitted ? Pay the man (or woman or child) whatever ?
I wish I could think of a better way of earning money for these people ?
I was bought a necklace at the craft market. I could have bought the equivalent item
at an English market for 99p. Here it cost me the equivalent of £2.50 and yes, I know it's touristy stuff but we did go to Alex Haley's Kunta Kinte's village and I now have a signed document from the head of the village to say I was there, but I also made sure we gave the young lad of about 14-16 who played the kora 50 dalasi.
Given the opportunity to practise his playing that lad could go as far as Toumani Diabate (hope I've spelt that right ?) in about ten years time so I begrudge nothing.
The lad is very good now and he only needs the opportunity to leave the village and take his undoubted artistry to the world. The burning question is will he get the opportunity ? God knows he deserves the chance.

Ok, I know that Haley's ancestry re. the Kunta Kinte/Toby bit is flawed, and he would have realised that too if he had studied a little while longer, but you cannot begrudge the village the opportunity to make money out of it for they have nothing else.
There is a 'Slavery Museum' in the village.
A lot of the information contained within it I knew from my own reading habits and the odd film or two.
If anybody hasn't seen Steven Spielberg's 'Amistad' with Anthony Hopkins as John Quincy Adams then get it out of your local DVD library. It is about as accurate as Hollywood can get when faced with trying to tie down historical fact into a watchable story and I reckon that after reading all about it in the slavery museum then it is probably more accurate historically than Schindler's List but it is regarded in the movie canon as a minor work.
I dunno why because I would say it's about ninety percent accurate which is about fifteen or twenty percent more accurate than Schindler's List and yet that won all the awards going and definitely had a few more million dollars spent upon it.
Oh well...

After we left the villages we set sail (Ok, that's me doing the pirate king and
Errol Flynn'y bit...) for Fort James Island.
A forgotten little footnote in England's proud history... NOT.
It was originaly named St Andrew's Island by the Portuguese after they buried a dead sailor on it. The French took it from the 'Guese and then we took it from the French and then they took it back and then we... You get the drift I'm sure, but in the end we managed to keep it despite losing the buildings to fire at least three times.
There are only ruins upon it now and the slave quarters have vanished into the sea through natural erosion but there is enough of it left to scare people rigid if they think about the implications ? It may be bleak and desolate and only have ruins left upon it but with a little imagination you can fill in all the blanks and images that you would need to complete the picture for Fort James was the slavery staging post and slaves were transported here to be sold off and then shipped abroad to the colonies.
Sometimes you have to stand up and say you actually feel ashamed to be a member of the human race and this was one of those times.
When slavery was abolished here in 1807 there were just under one hundred slaves on the island who were immediately freed...
Then the ships sailed off leaving the slaves to starvation unless they could reach the village of Albreda and touch the 'Freedom Pole' Of which there is a pic' of Haddy doing just that somewhere up above. (They have to keep replacing it as the termites get busy round here) Only three of them made the swim of about two nautical miles. All the rest were drowned.

It is a strange thing but all the Gambians I have met have no problem with their slavery past. They seem happy to explain the triangular nature of it along with the history of it...
Now I have to argue this point all the time in England with the politically correct arseholes but usually just get called a rascist for my trouble by complete tossers who actually know fuck all about the subject, but such is life as it is lived in England... Maybe if the schools taught English history then the new generation might actually glean some knowledge rather than a politically correct soundbite (which is actually a lie) then it wouldn't occur ?
But they don't and so it does.

Domestic slavery which is African on African took place from about 700 AD
through to about 1100 AD when Trans Saharan slavery took over.
Now from the title you should be able to work out what that is ?
Arabs !
Yep, the Moslem world did their bit too, and there's no escaping it because it is FACT.
They managed to keep a hold upon it until in 1492 somebody discovered the stuff that Noah had shovelled off the ark (Joke) and when that occurred it immediately became Transatlantic slavery and this lasted until abolition in The Gambia in 1807.
Now look, I know you don't like it seeing your all your p.c. bollocks get flushed down the pan but please, pray tell...
How the fuck did us Europeans invent slavery ?
These are the fucking dates for Christ's sake and not only did I know that before I came here, it was confirmed by the descendants of those families who were left behind after their loved ones were taken away into bondage, so why is it that I can get all this confirmed by the horses mouth let us say, and then have the same argument when back in England with a horses arse ?
Europe DID NOT invent slavery in Africa.
The Africans did and used it just as we did as another branch of commerce.
No, I don't like that last sentence either, but it happens to be true so we're going with it despite it sounding like I'm dismissing it.
I'm not.
I'd just like the facts and not the lies...
Fort James Island (named after England's King James the second) is just a reminder of a shameful couple of hundred years in England's past and that is all.
Believe me, after walking over the place it is enough and everybody should feel ashamed...
Ashamed but not guilty.
No, we just have to accept it occurred and make sure it never occurs again, and lying about historical fact to suit a politically correct agenda will do no good at all.

Haddy is quite moved by the whole experience.
This is her country after all.
She would like to take her children on this trip but cannot afford to so I've said when I get home I'll try and send her some money to do it if it can be arranged ?
She is right.
All Gambians should come here.
They would only need to do it the once and after having seen it myself I am happy to support the existence of the museum, but I very much doubt I will ever return to Fort James Island.
Let the sea wash it clean for mankind does not seem to have it in it's heart to do so.
You only have to look around you at what is occurring elsewhere in Africa (Middle East, Asia and parts of Europe too) to realise that slavery takes many shapes and forms but remains slavery nevertheless.
Some people never learn.

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