Sunday, December 09, 2007

Amistad arrives in Freetown

FREETOWN, Dec 9 (Reuters) - A replica of a 19th century slave ship, which became a symbol of the anti-slavery movement after kidnapped Africans rose up on board against their captors, arrived on Sunday in Sierra Leone.

Cheering Sierra Leoneans lined the docks to see the 129-foot (39-metre) schooner, topped with three billowing sails and the Sierra Leonean, U.S. and Canadian flags, make its first stop in Africa since it set sail in June from New Haven, Connecticut.

imageThe Amistad's voyage commemorates Britain's abolition of the transatlantic slave trade 200 years ago this year.

The ship has already stopped in Britain and Portugal on a voyage expected to last 14 months, retracing the routes of the slave trade between Europe, Africa and the Americas.

"Our people were torn from their culture to become slaves. It's the first time a schooner has come in instead of going out," said Mohamed Bangura, a British-based Sierra Leonean on the dock in the capital Freetown.

The original La Amistad, was seized at sea by 53 kidnapped Africans led by Sengbe Pieh, who became a national hero, who rose up against their captors.

They eventually won a long court case in the United States, which ruled that free men, if captured, must be returned to their homelands. The 35 who survived returned to Africa in 1841.

image John Kamara, the only Sierra Leonean to make the journey on board the replica craft, heard the story of the Amistad from his grandmother as a small boy.

"This means a lot to me and my people. I'm so proud," said Kamara, 34, wearing a bandana in the green, white and blue of Sierra Leone's flag.


The former British colony's hilly ocean-side capital is named after freed slaves who resettled there in 1787, but it has suffered a brutal 1991-2002 civil war and elections this year revealed deep frustrations over grinding poverty. Many assembled at the wharf grumbled that African American descendants of slaves are better off than Sierra Leoneans.

Bystanders hoped the ship's voyage could symbolise a happier future for the country, which elected President Ernest Bai Koroma to power in September on a ticket to deliver development and clamp down on widespread corruption.

The ship is due to sail on Dec. 18 for Senegal and Cape Verde, before crossing the Atlantic again for the West Indies.

The voyage retraces the triangular Atlantic trade which shipped European goods to Africa to pay for slaves, who were taken to plantations and mines of the Caribbean and South America to produce commodities for export back to Europe.

Sierra Leone | Africa - Reuters.com