We are told that 245 years ago on September 29, 1767, the ship Lord Ligonier arrived at the port of Annapolis with a cargo of 96 persons from the Gambia. According to Alex Haley, Kunta Kinte was one of those 96 and so his family’s story in the Americas began. There were, however, between 1757 and 1772 more ships and more Africans whose arrival to Annapolis is documented*. On September 29, 2012 years later, many of us celebrated our ancestors, ourselves and our possibilities – especially in terms of young people. We did this all day with music, food, stories, plays, dance, sailing, conversation, prayer and libations.
Video tape and photographs can only partly convey the energy that took place, but the memory of it all is indelible. The morning began at the City Dock with a drum call, a short tribute to Alex Haley, a unity prayer and an “awakening” libation to the ancestors. Then the Annapolis Drum and Bugle Corps led a procession down to Susan B. Campbell Park on the waterfront. The city of Annapolis this year declared that into the future September 29th is an official day of celebration.
From late morning through the afternoon we enjoyed the Kunta Kinte Story enacted by The Ebony World Network, and music ranging from step dancing to jazz, folk, blues, Afro-pop jazz and gospel. Participants shared good food, easy social exchange, and the presence of the Haley family. Ayanna Gregory, daughter of Dick Gregory, produced an inspired range of music from rhythm and blues to folk. After that we were wrapped in go-go by an all female dynamic band, Be’la Dona. Attendees were charged with energy, rhythm.
Fittingly, the last group to perform was Nazu and Company, a traditional African dance and drumming group. With an afternoon full of diverse forms reflecting our creativity, this talented troupe reinforced our cultural roots. Whatever we have become over centuries, this troupe reminded us through dance and music of our shared African origins. The company beautifully and joyfully brought together the old and the young, male and female, who with movement and words reminded us of who we are – a people with a rich culture and heritage beginning long before our ancestors arrived in the Americas.
Following this celebration, the Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project and a Yoruba priest said a prayer for the ancestors, asking everyone to face the harbor. As the sun set on a beautiful day, members of the Universal Sailing Club with a full harvest moon overhead, glided into the harbor. A drummer aboard the head vessel called to a drummer on the pier from the African troupe, and they responded back and forth. The sailing club symbolizing the free descendant community and those at the Annapolis pier watching them came together in commemoration.
After the drumming, an elder and a priest led people in pouring libation and placing rose petals in the water as they called out the names of ancestors known and unknown, but now finally acknowledged. The climax was unforgettable. As we stood on the pier having finished the libation, Nazu declared that he would lead us all in an ancestral dance in honor of those who had come before us. Our bodies became living prayers of remembrance as we moved and swayed together in harmony, reverence and peace. At the end of the festival I felt that I had participated in one of the most spiritually fulfilling events ever, and I was not alone in that sense of things. I thank the ancestors for opening this opportunity for the descendant community.
Recorded ships that arrived in Annapolis
7/8/1757 Fox from Africa (90 people)
8/28/1759 Upton from Gambia (205 people)
7/15/1760 Jenny from Angola (333 people)
9/24/1760 Molly from Virginia (30 people)
7/29/1761 Alexander from Africa (110 people)
8/19/1762 The Favourite Polly from Gold Coast (80 people)
9/7/1763 Marquis of Rockingham from Windward/Gold Coast (188 people)
9/7/1763 Hannah from Africa (315 people)
8/9/1764 Africa from Senegal (81 people)
6/7/1766 Nancy Newport (28 people)
9/29/1767 Lord Ligonier from Gambia (96 people)
8/23/1768 Matty from Windward Coast (120 people)
6/7/1772 Friendship from St. Vincent (74 people)