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BigLogo.gif UN Member States on the Record
Silence broken in memory of slave trade victims
25 March 2009 / 04:10

[Dateline: New York | Author: iSeek]

The crowd listens to drummers | Credit: Fred Fath/iSeekAs the sounds of drum beats made their way to the upper floors of the Secretariat building, children were on hand to discuss the lasting impact of transatlantic slavery.  Visitors took in an exhibit designed to illustrate the drum’s unique and enduring significance as a link between descendants of African slaves and the African continent. 

Drum beats were also heard at the United Nations Office at Nairobi (UNON).

These events are part of the many activities taking place this week in connection with the 2009 Commemoration of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

The following is a short overview of what has taken place so far in New York and in Nairobi.

New York

Drum performance

The SG with Cameroon’s Minister of Culture Ms. Ama Tutu Muna | Credit: Fred Fath/iSeekOn Wednesday, the Secretary-General symbolically launched the week’s events by hitting a few notes on a drum imported from Cameroon along with musicians, drummers and steel bands who performed on the lawn near the Peace Bell. 

The SG was joined on the drum by Cameroon’s Minister of Culture, Ms. Ama Tutu Muna. 

The event featured performances by solo and group percussionists: Vado Diamonde from Ivory Coast; Manhattan Samba featuring the music of Brazil; Magbana Drum and Dance from Brooklyn; New Yorkers Chauncey Yearwood and David Freyre; Harmony Music Makers, a steel band group from the Caribbean; a group of children from the French-American School of New York; and a performance by drummers and a typical spirit-invoking singer (griot) from Cameroon.

Students performing | Credit: Fred Fath/iSeekAlso attending the event were students participating in the morning videoconference, some of whom were invited to dance along with the musicians. 

Speaking at the event were Permanent Representatative of Grenada Ms. Demissa Williams in her capacity as Chair of CARICOM who announced that CARICOM will soon be selecting a Goodwill Amabassador and establishing a trust fund to work towards erecting a permanent memorial to the transatlantic slave trade at UNHQ.

In his capacity as Chair of the African Group, Sierra Leone’s Permanent Representative Mr. Shekou Tourey also addressed the crowd.

Drum Exhibit

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (third from right) listens to a performance at the opening of the drum exhibit | Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras (362219)The drum collection on display includes a wide array of secular, sacred, religious and non-religious, ceremonial, entertainment and talking drums mainly from Cameroon and the Caribbean, some of which have never before been displayed. 

At the exhibit’s formal opening on Tuesday, 24 March, the SG said, “Drums have provided the pulse of our history, and they continue to help us celebrate our common humanity.  We must beat the drum to proclaim that whatever our colour, whatever our gender, we are one people, with one common future.  Let us ensure that that future is one of peace, respect and freedom.”

For this exhibit, the Government of Cameroon dispatched a delegation of 30 artists to New York, specialists and officials headed by Culture Minister Ama Tutu Muna. 

One of the artists is 76-year-old drummer Pauline Andela Tsala, one of the last practitioners of the talking drum tradition, renowned for her extraordinarily-rare ability to decipher and translate rhythms and patterns of drum beats.

A very special item flown in from Cameroon is the Ndek, a 230-year-old drum weighing 400 kilograms and believed to be the soul of the Gounoko people in the country’s north-western region.  The rare sacred drum was used to transmit signals warning Gounoko youth within a 10-mile radius to flee impending wars and slave traders.

Before permitting the authorities to collect the Ndek and ship it to New York, the Gounoko King (Fon) presided over a special ceremony which set preconditions, including a prohibition against anyone beating it and a commitment by the authorities to return it promptly and safely home to the Cameroonian grasslands. 

To facilitate that safe return, the Gounoko made the symbolic gesture of lending the authorities half the road to the community hub, thereby clearing, in a spiritual sense, all potential obstacles to the Ndek’s safe return.

Also on display are drums belonging to the late legendary Nigerian master drummer, Babatunde Olatunji.

Film event

Eric Falt, DPI's Outreach Division Director and Georges Collinet at the film screening | Credit: UN Photo/Jenny Rockett (362156)On Tuesday, 24 March, three documentary films were shown in New York providing an introduction to the history of the slave trade and exploring the social and cultural repercussions of slavery, as well as the extraordinary achievements of those who descended from slavery and who had accomplished great and inspirational acts.

Filmmakers were on hand to take questions from the audience, including Georges Collinet who has over 38 years experience as a film and video producer, journalist, and radio personality, in the United States, Europe and Africa. He hosts the highly successful and award-winning weekly Public Radio broadcast, Afropop Worldwide heard in the United States, Europe and Africa. For 35 years, Mr. Collinet has worked with the Voice of America and the Television and Film Service of the United States Information Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau, attracting daily listening audiences of over 110 million people per show.

Nairobi commemoration

At least 300 people participated in the UNON commemoration which was held concurrently with the ceremony marking the International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members.

This UNIC-organized event included staff members and participants from the Kenya Model United Nations who interrupted their conference schedule to take part in the Remembrances.

One of the Sarakasi Drummers at the UNON commemoration | Credit: UNIC NairobiThe event got underway with six drummers, from a community group called Sarakasi Drummers, beating the drums in the main lobby of the UNON headquarters.

With the area thronging with students and staff members, and pulsating with the sounds of the drumming, Mr. Charles Emer, Chief Information and Communication Technology Section, explained the meaning of the drumming and what it represented on this solemn day. 

He was followed by UNEP's Director of Communication and Public Information, Mr. Satinder Bindra, who called for a minute of silence in remembrance of the victims of slavery and then read the SG's message.

The audience cheered loudly when they were treated to the Model UN Secretary-General, Ms. Brenda Malowa, reading the SG's message for the International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members.

She was followed by Roger Lewis, Deputy Chief of Security, UNON who talked about the difficulties staff faced by working in hazardous places. He also called for the immediate release of all detained staff members so that they could rejoin their families and colleagues.

Throughout the programme, staff and students alike, were visibly moved and delighted with the rhythmic sounds generated by the Sarakasi Drummers.