DALLAS — One weekend each year, Esudele Fagbenro and Safisha Hill transform a Texas farm into an 18th century African village, replete with thatched huts, craftsmen and rites of passage into adulthood.
Hundreds travel to the village to learn about life in Africa and to hear a history that’s been largely untold. They taste foods from around the African Diaspora and enjoy the rhythmic sounds of tribal drumming in the village.
The tranquility, however, is suddenly shattered by the arrival of slave traders, who raid the village, capture hundreds of men, women and children and herd them, bound and chained, into the crowded bow of a replica slave ship. Some cry while others simply stare off into space. Women wail each time villagers are taken.
The purpose of the re-enactment, Hill says, is to make certain that one of the most painful chapters of American history is never forgotten.
“We wanted to do something where people could remember their ancestors and tell their story,” she said. “It changes people’s perception, which is often relegated to black people were slaves and we never think to ask, ‘What happened before that?’ It’s like a realization that this is our history.”
The annual two-day event began Saturday to coincide with Juneteenth, the celebration commemorating the arrival of Gen. Gordon Granger in Galveston on June 19th, 1865 with news that the Civil War was over and Texas slaves were free.
While the anniversary of that momentous day was first celebrated in Texas, the observance has since spread to other parts of the U.S. and even other countries.
Called the Sankofa Experience, participants in the re-enactment help portray what life was like for enslaved Africans in the U.S.
Hill and Fagbenro, both directors of Act of Change Inc., a Dallas-based nonprofit, said they came up with the idea while on a morning walk.
A West African word that means “to go back and fetch it,” Sankofa offers attendees an opportunity to go back and reclaim a part of their past, Hill said.
It takes about two hours for each group to complete the series of re-enactments that take them from African village to auction block and, eventually, a plantation.
About 300 people took part in 2005, the event’s first year, and 500 are expected this weekend, Hill said.
Hill said most Juneteenth celebrations include guest speakers and parades, but few focus on the personal tragedies and triumphs that slaves faced.
Like cattle, participants are chained, shackled and led away from the comfortable confines of the village through the “Door of No Return” and onto the slave ship.(p2)
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