WEB POSTED 07-13-1999
||Mosque dedication, Roots Festival and Ghana visit
makes historic trip complete for Muslim travelers
by Dionne Muhammad
BANJUL, The Gambia--The Gambia has been called the smiling coast of the West African Sub-region and the quintessential home of the African Diaspora. It was personified in Kunta Kinte, the forefather of author and historian Alex Haley who traced his roots to the Gambian village of Juffureh on the Gambia River. It also was the venue for the 4th International Roots Homecoming Festival.
This years theme was "Building a Bridge and Sharing a Vision for Africas Growth and Development." The festival featured the June 25th opening of the Alex Haley Mosque and a skills center in the Gambian village of Juffureh, funded and built by the Nation of Islam.
Gambian President Dr. Alhaji Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh opened the festival at Independence Square in Banjul, Saturday June 26th. In his welcome address, which was broadcast live on radio and television, the President expressed his pleasure in extending a very warm and fraternal welcome to the homecomers that traveled long distances to join the celebration. He told them to feel at home and wished them a pleasant and enjoyable stay among their Gambian brothers and sisters.
President Jammeh reiterated and emphasized that The Gambia took a bold step of organizing such a gathering, not only to commemorate the forced separation of the sons and daughters of Africa during the infamous Slave Trade, but more importantly to lay a solid foundation for building a bridge and sharing a vision with Africas children on the continent and in the Diaspora towards the socio-economic development of Africa.
"We have since the inception of the Roots Festival striven to progressively include new events in the program in our bid to further strengthen the bonds of kinship and unity that bind us together as Africans, and provide platforms to discuss our common problems and aspirations as we prepare to enter the new millennium," the President said.
The crowd cheered at the announcement of the presence of Mother Khadijah Farrakhan, wife of The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, whose delegation was in the country for the festival and the opening of the Alex Haley Mosque, a structure financed by the Min. Farrakhan to complete Mr. Haleys vision for such a structure. The mosque dedication was part of the official Roots Festival program.
In brief statement, the Ministers son, Mustapha, told the crowd of nearly 4,000 in the packed stadium that all Africans in the Diaspora should feel honored to be in The Gambia. He stated that though language and national identity may divide Black people, they are all the same people.
Brother Mustapha observed that ethnic or tribal wars in Africa have created hatred among Africans. He pointed out that there has to be way of discovering the Black man and womans true root, which is found in the word of God.
"The only way to overcome our division is to go the root, which is Allah who created us, the heaven and the earth. The process by which we heal the wounds that we have inflicted upon each other is the process of atonement." he continued.
Brother Mustapha then outlined the steps of atonement and reconciliation first presented to the world by Min. Farrakhan during the historic 1995 Million Man March in Washington, D.C.
"Let us rediscover our true roots and our true root is the One True god. And if we go to our true root then all tribal, racial and ethnic lines of division will disappear and we will become a true family, nation and people under the umbrella of the True God," he said.
Speaking on behalf of the African-British from the United Kingdom, David Sunders and Mamading Ceesay thanked government and people of The Gambia for the wonderful family gathering.
Onward to Ghana
The mosque and festival openings were just the begining for the group of 40 travelers from the United States and Europe who would visit Gambia and Ghana. While in The Gambia, travelers visited the National Museum, which chronicles the history of the budding country. During the Gambia stay, Abdullah Ceesay and Muhammad Njie gave travelers the history of every village, school, and building they passed on a tour of the area. Both men are graduates of Fourbah Bay College in Sierra Leone and were well versed in their countrys history. In addition to Arabic, English and French, Bro. Abdullah speaks seven other languages. Bro. Muhammad speaks 14 languages and is currently learning Chinese. Both have the Holy Quran committed to memory.
"They really made the trip," commented Sister Aminah Muhammad of Houston, while the travelers drove through the city of Banjul. "There is nothing about this place they dont know."
"Education is very important to The Gambians," Bro. Muhammad said to the tourists. "We regard the mother as the first teacher and when children enter school, mothers still play an important role in their education."
The tour guides took the group to Khadeejah Primary School, a small Muslim School that teaches Quranic studies as well as general subjects. Students as young as 3 years old sat quietly as their teachers explained the schools curriculum.
The students begin studying the Quran at an early age. They first have to copy the Quran, then remember each Surah as they go. It is not uncommon to find children as young as seven who have memorized and can recite the entire Quran.
Located on the Gulf of Guinea bordering the Atlantic Ocean, Ghana has a population of 17 million. Formerly, the British colony of the Gold Coast, it was the first colony to receive independence.
On the agenda was a visit to the future site of the Nation of Islams mosque and school in Ghana, as well as a visit to Kwame Nkrumahs museum and the home and burial site of W.E.B. DuBois.
The visit to Cape Coast presented a dichotomy. What meets the eye is a serene, picturesque, sandy beach-lined coast with a likeness to paradise. Soothing waters beat against the rocks where Ghanaians stand to fish.
Cape Coast wasnt always as peaceful, as it was once the place where the evils of the slave trade took place. "In everlasting memory of the anguish of our ancestors. May those who died rest in peace. May those who return, find their roots. May humanity never again perpetrate such injustice against humanity. We, the living, vow to uphold this," reads a sign at the doorway leading to the slave dungeons.
It was eerie to imagine the cries of hundreds of helpless men and women, ripped from their homes, chained, branded with hot irons, and held hostage in dark, damp, unventilated dungeons for months before being shipped like cargo to foreign lands.
"I felt like the tour guides who worked at the museum glossed over much of the history and the horrors of what really took place. It seemed like he was being sensitive to the white tourists that were visiting the dungeons," said Bro. Mark Muhammad of Baton Rouge. "We, Blacks in America, are a living representation of those who were forced into those dungeons and we should do more to make sure the proper story is told, not a white-washed version," he said.
On the last full day in Ghana, the group gathered at the home of Minister Akbar Muhammad and his wife Miriam. The hosts prepared cake and presented gifts to the travelers celebrating birth and wedding anniversaries and those on their honeymoon.
Joan Cartwright, a well-known jazz singer and music historian from Miami, entertained the group each night in Ghana at a quaint little jazz café called, The Baseline. Her exquisite voice bellowed tunes from Ella Fitzgerald to Celia Cruz.
"Not only did she sing," said Malcolm Muhammad from Atlanta, "but she gave a short history on each artist before singing their songs."
Ms. Cartwright summed up the trip saying, "I have been all over the worldLondon, Paris, Switzerlandbut nothing compares to this trip."
Photos: #1-Gambians gather during festival; #2-President Jammeh waves to crowd; #3-Dancers at Roots Festival.
1999 FCN Publishing