ARCH 566 /AAS 406

Feb. 8 -- Roots Festivals, Slave Castles, and
Heritage Tourism

Guest Lecturer: Liam Buckley


Above Left: Scene from the ABC-TV miniseries "Roots," first aired on eight consecutive nights during week of Jan. 22-31, 1977. Above right: Tourists in Elmina Castle, view from the women's dungeon. Photo by Frank Fournier; reprinted in article by Edward M. Bruner article.

Class Outline

I. Excerpt from "Alex Haley's Roots" (10 mins.)
II. Discussion of Rose and Wright articles (15 mins.)
III. Excerpt from "Sankofa" (20 mins.)
IV. Liam Buckley's presentation
/discussion of Bruner article (1 hour)

BREAK (10 mins.)

VI. Presentation of student projects (1 hour)

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Background on Liam Buckley's Presentation

The "International Roots Homecoming Festival" (est. 1996) is celebrated annually in The Gambia in commemoration of the enslavement and transportation of Africans to the Americas and the Diaspora. The festival is structured around a text and a location that have gained a sacred status in the West - Alex Haley's Roots and the village of Juffure, the birthplace of Kunta Kinteh.

Each June, tourists from America and the UK arrive on chartered flights for a week in which they experience what it might be like to "come home." They attend a series of "cultural events," the biggest attraction being the boat trip up river to Juffure and the opportunity to meet Binta Kinteh, the oldest surviving member of Kinteh lineage. In the Kinteh compound, large photographs of Alex Haley's first contact with the family are displayed around the meeting area where tourists re-enact Haley's formative encounter.

Under girding the tourists' experience of "coming home" is a dynamic of local experiences of what it is to be "at home" in The Gambia. Since its inception, the festival has annually provided occasion for the elaboration of local discourses that mobilize the idea of having (and creating) "roots" beyond Haley's original framework - reflecting recent social changes at the local and global levels. As a venture into the international tourist industry, the festival brought valuable foreign currency into the country's economy, allowing it some recovery from the sanctions that followed the 1994 military coup. The development of the festival has coincided with the fostering of non-traditional "roots" in the West - with the Nation of Islam, for example, which funded the building of the Alex Haley Mosque in Juffure (opened by Minister Louis Farrakhan during the 1999 Roots Festival).

For those living within the national boundaries of The Gambia, having a festival of this sort has allowed the emergence of new social practices and ways of participating in the nationhood of the country. For example, residents in the "provinces" voice their critique of the uneven distribution of both tourist and national development monies during festival days. Refugees from Sierra Leone, Casamance (Senegal), and Guinea Bisseau create a legitimacy for their current social status by participating in the festival's series of "national cultural events." Finally, the "African Redemption Day" has, in the last two years, begun to overshadow the trip to Juffure as the festival highlight. This day consists of a Jola initiation for men (fatumph) that takes places at Kanilai, the birthplace of the current president - sending out local signals regarding current shifts in power along regional and ethnic lines.

Assigned Readings
  • Willie Lee Rose, "An American Family," The New York Review of Books 23 (Nov. 11, 1976): 6-8.

  • Donald R. Wright, "Uprooting Kunta Kinte: On the Perils of Relying on Encyclopedic Informants," History in Africa 8 (1981): 205-217.

  • Edward M. Bruner, "Tourism in Ghana: The Representation of Slavery and the Return of the Black Diaspora," American Anthropologist, Vol. 98, No. 2 (June 1996): 290-304.

  • Selections from US/ICOMOS, Conservation and Tourism Development Plan for Cape Coast (available on Clemons reserve; copies to be handed out in class on Feb. 1): 14-53.

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Digital Resources

Cape Coast Archive

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