A traveller from Great Britain experiences the 10th International Gambian Roots Festival

bridge_to_Kunte_Kinteh_IslandSince my mid twenties, I’ve become a very keen traveller to Afrika.  I really got into it in 1997 - after spending so much time studying about our history, culture and people etc. – throughout the 1980’s.  

My first ever trip there took me to the Gambia, West Afrika, for the 2nd Roots Homecoming Festival in 1997. An exciting, thought provoking and HOT (phew!) adventure that brought to life many of the articles, seminars and videos that I had continuously spent so much time revising. Attempting to solidify my growing knowledge, a blessed number of delegates and I from the UK, spent the next seven days discovering much of what the Gambia had to offer and increasing our cultural consciousness. An absolutely radiant debut/return home.

Well, this travelogue is about my latest visit there to celebrate the same event. Now in its 10th year, it promised to be an apt anniversary to mark the great efforts made by the Gambian government to forge evolving links with Afrikans spread throughout the Western hemisphere – who’s fore parents had once been enslaved – and (quite possibly) could have originally been Gambians themselves!  

Upon arrival, the weather was as to be expected – gloriously warm, with beautiful blue skies and a cool, cool breeze. This instantly put a big smile on my face as I left the plane.  Walking towards the shiny, glass airport doors, I was unexpectedly greeted by friendly festival aides and escorted to a calm sitting room inside.  Once seated, I was offered refreshing cold drinks while several pleasant people enquired as to how my flight was and where I had travelled from. I gotta admit, nobody can make you feel quite as welcome and esteemed as our brothers and sisters in Afrika!  

As the last of the delegates arrived, we were given VIP treatment through the standard airport arrival procedures and then whisked away to our hotels.  The coach was a buzz with people introducing themselves, catching up with each other and talking expectantly.

descendants_of_Kunte_kinteWell, the fun didn’t stop there, as that same evening we were officially registered onto the festival and engaged in a formal reception, introduction seminar and subsequent banquet at the Senegambia hotel.  By the end of the evening, I was pretty tired from the journey and prior events, so I decided to have an (almost) ‘early night’ (about 1.30 pm) so I’d be ‘right and ready’ for the official opening in the capital city of Banjul the next day.  

This is where it really started to heat up (activity and temperature wise) as the President of the Gambia, His Excellency Sheikh Professor Dr Alhaji Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh graciously opened the 10th festival - with its theme being ‘Celebrating African Unity’ – and spoke of the relevance and need for the festival; the lessons learned from the preceding years and how Afrikans in the diaspora must seriously consider building links with the Gambia – and other Afrikan states.  The President is a very amiable leader who is greatly loved and admired by Gambians and his ‘down to earth’ presence can only make you feel warmth towards him.  No ‘airs and graces’ there – just a really approachable, genuine and sincere man!  

As the President’s speech came to a jubilant end, a stunning masquerade and procession of local dancers, performers and griots entertained us, as the cheerful crowds joined in with singing, clapping and dancing.  It was a breath-taking day and I just didn’t want to leave.

From there onwards, we were taken on a fantastic journey to astounding settings such as Juffereh, (the village of one of Afrika’s most famous sons Kunta Kinteh); Albreda, (a neighbouring village filled with affectionate and adoring citizens); the newly named Kunta Kinteh Island (formerly known as James Island); the village of Kanilai, (for our futampaf rites initiation and naming ceremony - you’ve just gotta do this one!) – all sandwiched between world class entertainment, marvellous food and the company of fantastic international travellers from around the globe.

We returned once more to the Senegambia hotel for the spectacular farewell dinner and awards ceremony, which brought us the best in Gambian fashion, art and live musical performances.  What a night!

All-in-all the 10th Roots festival was an undeniable and spectacular success.  With the way in which the event is developing and the vision of the President, I just know we’ll be able to look forward to the 20th anniversary with equal expectation, anticipation and glee.  

See you at the next one in 2013!

Photos: Top left, Bridge to Kunta Kinteh Island (formely James  Island)
Right: Descendants of Kuntah Kinte


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