AFRICAN-AMERICAN HOMECOMING: Facts and Misconceptions

09 August 2019
Author  Sibeta Mundia, Barotseland Post

In 2017, when Barotseland Post first featured a report about some African-Americans planning to relocate to Barotseland in a Home Coming Project organized by Diversity Restoration Solutions (DRS) Inc. (USA), which was planned to start with the August 2019 commemorations of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of African slaves in the English colonies at Point Comfort, Virginia, in 1619, many readers of the publication started to ask questions concerning the Americans’ eventual homecoming.

This was when Eric Antony Sheppard, the President and Founder of Diversity Restoration Solutions (DRS) Inc. (USA) first visited Mongu, on June 19, 2017, to meet with the Litunga, King of Barotseland, Lubosi Imwiko II and the Barotse Royal Establishment (BRE) over the imminent return of hundreds of African Americans back home.

As this story was shared and published on several other media in Zambia and Barotseland social media, questions concerning the story even multiplied, some of which we must now answer, especially in view of the euphoria and innuendo that has characterised Eric Antony Sheppard’s present return to Barotseland with more African-Americans for the commemoration of the 400th anniversary of slavery in the US!

1. THE TRANSATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE

It is a recorded fact that around 1501 to 1875, Africans seized by slave traders on the continent were taken not only to the United States of America but also to South America and the Caribbean. Some enslaved Africans were also taken to the Middle East and Asia by Arab slave ships through the Red Sea, while others were taken to European countries such as Portugal, Spain and Britain.

However, we must focus on the arrival of Africans in the English colonies at Point Comfort, Virginia, in 1619 to explain how Barotseland comes in the mix and help answer some common questions we have encountered on the subject recently.

In August of 1619, exactly 400 years ago, a ship arrived in Virginia, bearing human cargo. The arrival of these first twenty (20) enslaved Africans in 1619 is what has been considered as the beginning of U.S. slavery, although as noted by E.R. Shipp in a Special Article published in the ‘USA TODAY’ on February 8th 2019, it is far more complicated than that.

Nevertheless, what is also true and acknowledged in African-American history is that these first Africans who arrived in 1619 on the ‘White Lion’ were from West-Central Africa through what is now the port of Lobito in present-day Angola, where after having been kidnapped from their villages, they were forced onto a Portuguese slave ship bound for what Europeans then called the New World. As fate would have it, however, the slaves were reportedly stolen from that ship by English pirates in a confrontation off the coast of Mexico, after which “some 20 and odd Negroes” landed at Point Comfort in 1619, in the English settlement that would become the state of Virginia in the present-day USA.

A few days after the White Lion arrived, another ship, the Treasurer, arrived, also from Angola, according to E.R. Shipp, winner of the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, and a founding faculty member of the School of Global Journalism and Communication at Morgan State University in Baltimore, USA.

Although estimates vary, SLAVEVOYAGES.ORG estimates that at least 12.5 million people were seized in total from coastal regions of Africa for international slave trade, with more than 5.6 million of them coming through Lobito Port in Angola, during the period 1501 – 1875 with other major points of departure being Senegambia, Sierra Leone, Bight of Benin, Bight of Biafra, Windward Coast, Gold Coast and Southeast Africa.

It is this slave activity around West Central Africa that affected the entire surrounding region, including present-day Barotseland, in which the Portuguese and Arab slave traders got their supplies for shipment to the American and Caribbean markets.

2. WAS THERE SLAVE TRADE IN BAROTSELAND?

As the Portuguese and Arab slave traders spread eastward using the enterprising, uppish, cheeky Va-chokwe or “Ba-joko” who were then the main slave-traders of South Congoland and Eastern Angola, according to D. W. STIRKE, once Native Commissioner for Northern Rhodesia, in his book ‘BAROTSELAND: Eight years among the Barotse People’, the slave trade may have met strong resistance as King Maimbolwa Santulu, ruler of the Alui Kingdom, which incorporated some va-chokwe communities in the western side of his territory, scorned the slave trade.

According to recorded history, King Maimbolwa Santulu, who began his reign somewhere around 1780, loathed the idea that one could sell humans, and therefore, ordered the slave traders to buy dogs instead!

His recorded statement ‘Mu ula mbwa, Munu Nino loto’ translated to mean that ‘one buys a dog, but not another human being’ was in direct scorn of the slave trade, and consequently made his kingdom a no go area for the European and Euro-African slave traders – Akashambatwa Mbikusita-Lewanika in his book ‘FREEDOM PARK Inaugural Memorial Lecture on King Lewanika I of Barotseland 1842 – 1916, a legacy of indigenous African Nationalism’.

Accordingly, it was from this siLuyana statement that King Maimbolwa Santulu was nicknamed Mulambwa. However, what started as a nickname later became the King’s official name inspired by his stern stand against the slave trade!

To date, King Mulambwa is the longest recorded reigning king over what later became known as Barotseland after a long illustrious reign spanning well over fifty years until his death in 1830!

As Dr Akashambatwa Mbikusita-Lewanika further observes in his book, not only did Mulambwa stop the slave trade but he is also prominently remembered for founding and promulgating laws relating to marriages and property. He established the constitution and foundational jurisprudence in his Kingdom and ruled it firmly as a multicultural plural nation, by welcoming, settling and integrating the Mbunda refugee communities and inter-linking governance, economic, and cultural relationship between the different communities in his Kingdom based on unity and brotherhood in diversity and reciprocity.

Another piece of evidence to the presence of the Arab slave traders is a small lake in Lealui called 'Kaasa ka ma Mbali' (the Arabs’ small lake), which was so named after the Arabs (ma Mbali), and also the fact that, to this day, Barotseland maintains a ‘no Arabs’ policy in the Kingdom, which still bans them from engaging in any trade or from settling there!

Kaasa ka ma Mbali is a small lake in the Barotse plains at Naloko village recorded to have been the resting place for the Arab Slave traders during the 17th century before they proceeded with their slaves to the West coast port of what is now Lobito in Angola, where they would be transported to the Americas across the vast Atlantic ocean.

So, although it is quite fair to say that there are no written or oral records to prove how much the slave trade flourished particularly in Barotseland, there is overwhelming circumstantial evidence that the trade must have existed significantly enough for the late 18th Century King Maimbolwa Santulu to have had to end it, and for a particular lake to be named after the Arab slave traders (Kaasa ka ma Mbali) as well as for Barotseland to maintain such a longstanding national policy that forbids Arabs from trading or settling in Barotseland to this day!

3. WHY ARE THE AFRICAN-AMERICANS COMING TO BAROTSELAND NOW?

Did the African-Americans prove that their ancestors came specifically from Barotseland, and why do they want to build a multi-million restoration centre that will serve as the continental headquarters for the African-American homecoming activities in Africa or are they mere fortune-seeking capitalists hoping to re-colonise Africa or maybe they wish to finance Linyungandambo activities for Barotseland’s independence from Zambia?

The answer to all the above, now frequently asked questions, is an emphatic no!

So far, no African-American is reported to have carried out any DNA test to prove that their ancestors came from Barotseland, and there is no current requirement for any African-American to do so to come to Barotseland for a visit or settlement! Nonetheless, some may have done or may wish to do the DNA test to ensure that they return to what is truly their ancestral homeland as, for many, this is a highly spiritual generational reconnection!

However, the decision to allow the African-Americans to come back to Barotseland was made by the currently reigning King of Barotseland, Imwiko II, after lengthy consultations with His Majesty’s Privy Council in view of the above stated considerations which prove that some Africans taken as slaves from the Angolan port of Lobito may have come from all the surrounding territories of present-day Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Congo DR as well as Barotseland, well before King Mulambwa Santulu stopped the abhorrible trade in his Kingdom.

While DNA testing will be one of the services offered at the planned DRS Restoration Center in future, the test is currently not and will probably not be a requirement for the African-Americans who wish to settle or visit Barotseland.

Recently, some famous African-American celebrities have publicly announced their DNA test results which prove their West African or South African ancestry, among them TV personality and business mogul, Oprah Winfrey, who reportedly traced her roots from South Africa through DNA, while movie megastar, Samuel L Jackson traced his roots from Gabon and the honourable Bishop TD Jakes reportedly traced his from Nigeria.

They are also not fortune seekers or capitalists who wish to exploit Barotseland’s natural resources, although as citizens of Barotseland, they will be free to engage in business activities or bring the much-needed expertise to the nation and promote any other national activities that will help reconnect families and communities, previously separated by institutions of slavery, for mutually beneficial socio-economic restoration.

They are not coming to bring the much-desired economic development in Barotseland overnight, although it is hoped that some of their planned projects will be beneficial to Barotseland's national economy eventually if not immediately!

Mr Sheppard’s team which has just arrived in Barotseland are not here to stay as they will be returning to the USA soon after this year’s commemorative activities on the 14th of August, 2019.

Additionally, their coming has nothing to do with Barotseland’s quest for self-determination which is a separate struggle that was conceived nationally after many frustrations encountered by the people of Barotseland because of the failure and continued refusal to honour the Barotseland Agreement of 1964 by successive Lusaka governments, five decades after the Zambian State unilaterally abrogated the pre-independence state to state tripartite treaty involving Barotseland, Britain and Northern Rhodesia concerning the positioning of Barotseland in independent Zambia.

Therefore, Barotse people are urged not to politicise their brothers and sisters' return or overbear them with unrealistic expectations!

Their return should also not to be viewed as an achievement by Zambia’s ruling PF government as the African-Americans are coming back home to Barotseland sincerely desiring, like many other African-Americans elsewhere, to reconnect with their ancestral homeland! Therefore, they must be very warmly received, not as the answer or panacea to all Barotseland’s political and socio-economic problems, but as fellow citizens, sons and daughters returning home after 400 years lived in far-away foreign lands!

On the decision to build the African headquarters in Barotseland, and not Ghana which was the alternative, Diversity Restoration Solutions (DRS) was motivated mainly by two important factors, apart from the likelihood that some of the first African slaves shipped to the USA may have come directly from Barotseland using the now Angolan port of Lobito:

(i) THE KING MULAMBWA FACTOR!

While many African rulers at the time were helping and directly benefitting from the slave trade, King Mulambwa’s action to stop the slave trade in his Kingdom stands as a rare exception, and so to honour his unique courage and wisdom, Barotseland was finally decided as the place where the multi-million US Dollar state of the art Restoration Center Headquarters for Africa would be built at Sefula.

(ii) THE DISMAL SWAMP SIMILARITIES WITH BAROTSELAND!

The second factor that was considered is that the Great Dismal Swamp in the Coastal Plain Region of southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina which was a sanctuary for hundreds or maybe thousands of fugitive African-American slaves has a landscape, so we understand, with a striking resemblance to the landscape of Barotseland where the construction of the Restoration Center Headquarters for Africa has been proposed.

The Dismal Swamp Canal, which borders the Swamp, was hand dug by slave labour in 1805.

Moses Grandy, an enslaved waterman who worked in the swamp and on the canal, told of his experiences in the 'Narrative of the Life of Moses Grandy'. He and other slaves managed to earn enough money working on the canal to buy their freedom.

Therefore, besides the festivities to commemorate the 400 years since the first slaves arrived in the English-speaking colony of what would become the state of Virginia in the present-day USA from the now Angolan port of Lobito, the African-American team will in this week’s visit present honorariums to Captain Moses Grandy, the African-American author and abolitionist who was a slave himself in the first four decades of his life, while King Mulambwa of Barotseland will be recognised for ending the slave trade in his Kingdom in the late 18th Century.

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  • Maketo Mubyana Maketo Mubyana Friday, 09 August 2019

    Thanks very much Barotseland Post for putting record Straight. Some people are trying to mislead the public on the actual objective of the mission. However, as you correctly put it, the political and socioeconomic environment in which Barotseland finds itself at the time of the event justifies the interpretation. There is no doubt that our Brothers and Sisters from America share the same ancestors with us. In actual sense Barotseland will be lucky to have a DNA testing centre. Someone commented that the first DNA test should actually be done between the Litunga Lubosi Imwiko and Eric Shepherd as the two seem to resemble in a lot of ways. Whoever, was born and raised in Barotseland by parents indigenous to that area can not deny being told stories of slave trade. My Grandfather who is more 100 years old is still alive with very good memory except for poor hearing. He narrates how his parents gave stories of people hiding in forests for fear of being sold to the traders and how the cruel activity used to be done. We welcome our brothers and sisters home and wish them God's mercies. Barotseland is their heritage which is not developed today because a good stay. If there was enough time why not do hopani, kulu and some ngóko for taste before they go back. You can not say you visited Japan if you did not taste sushi, tempura, okonomiaki etc.

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The Barotseland Post, also known as The Barotsepost, is an online media platform, for now, that is dedicated to reporting stories and news around Barotseland and beyond, giving exclusive coverage and access to the people and the nation of Barotseland to fully express themselves in their aspirations for self- determination.