“No matter where you come from, as long as you’re a black man, you’re an African” – Peter Tosh.
The American observance of Black History Month which apparently has caught on here comes in the midst of our We Gatherin’ celebrations, in which we are encouraging members of our diaspora to return home or in some cases, the homeland of their grandparents.
At the same time, it would seem as though there is now a greater willingness among some Barbadians to remember the land from which the majority of us came, with the screening of Marcia Weekes’ latest movie, Joseph and the recent visit of representatives from Ghana’s tourism sector to our shores.
Ghana is presently on a high after staging a highly successful “Year of Return” series of events commemorating the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in the New World in 1619 when a group sailed from Ghana and landed in Virginia in colonial America.
Chief Executive Officer of the Ghana Tourism Authority, Akwasi Agyeman, said the Year of Return rekindled interest in the Motherland in a big way.
He said: “While we are not proud of what happened, on a more positive note, what we have been able to accomplish as a people have gone through that difficult time shows the resilience of the African spirit.
“Initially we thought the Year of Return was just a ‘Ghana thing’, but little did we know it was going to become a global campaign for the African diaspora and we have seen a surge in conversation about Africa across all continents.”
Much like the writer Alex Haley in the 1960s when he traced his ancestry to Gambia in 1750, which was documented in the book that became the landmark television mini-series Roots in 1977, many people of African descent have expressed an interest in, or acted on, tracing the heritage.
This was one of the catalysts for Marcia Weekes’ latest movie project, Joseph. In her words: “The idea came to me that we needed to do a film that would actually tell the story of reconnecting us with Africa.
“We were in Rwanda and I met filmmakers from different African countries and I thought it would be good if we could do a project together.
“Later, a delegation from the Pan African Commission contacted us because they wanted us to film them when they went to Ghana for the Year of Return, but I thought, instead of just documenting their trip, why not come up with a narrative, and that was how Joseph was born.”
The story behind Joseph is a common challenge West Indians and other people from the African diaspora often experience when they in some cases even mention the word “Africa” in connection with their ancestry.
Joseph, a young Jamaican doctor whose grandfather often told him stories about Africa, desires to reconnect with his tribe. Here comes the conflict, as his family feels they should not look back, but eventually he goes to Ghana, finds his roots and stays there.
Members of the cast spoke of a highly emotional experience when they travelled to Ghana to film parts of the movie.
Caribbean Soca Queen Alison Hinds, in her first acting role, said: “We went to Cape Coast Castle, one of the main castles where the captured and enslaved Africans would have been held before being sent off to the Caribbean.
“If any of you ever get the opportunity to go to Ghana, go and visit this castle or one of the others, because it is not a story, it is reality and part of our history.
“One day we had to film some scenes there, and some of the cast members were in tears when we finished.”
In meeting with his Ghanaian counterparts, Minister of Tourism Kerrie Symmonds said the two countries would soon hold discussions on an air service agreement and then seek to establish charter flights that would ideally travel directly between the two countries, as opposed to current arrangements where Barbadians have to go to London or New York first.
Realistically, we may not expect daily or weekly flights from Accra, as it would be a costly undertaking and both sides would want to operate with full aircraft.
If it has not been considered, Barbados could possibly be a regional hub; indeed as it was in the days of slavery when ships often stopped here first before going on to other territories in the West Indies.
Perhaps a plane could Leave Ghana and travel not only to Barbados, but connect with flights to other destinations such as Jamaica, Trinidad, or into Guyana and ultimately South America.
But we believe it would be more cost-effective to make this a regional effort. We always seem to baulk at the idea of coming together as a region, but boosting our tourism product by incorporating our African heritage should be driven by the Caribbean Tourism Organisation, bringing together all the players in its member states.
After all, every country in the Caribbean had unique experiences in the era of slavery and colonialism, and to our would-be visitors, some countries may be more fascinating than others.
So the first order of business would be to set up an office in one of the larger African countries like South Africa, Ghana, Kenya or Nigeria, as visiting these countries for a few weeks at a time would not accomplish as much as having teams on the ground and conducting intense market research on what African visitors might want from us when they come our way.
Once we find that out, then we can tailor our product to suit their needs and both regions should benefit as a result.