Nationals urged to assist in tracing African roots

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Antiguans and Barbudans are being encouraged to offer information about the history of their families to help get a better understanding of the country’s African heritage.

The request was made by Desley Gardner, of the Heritage Department of the National Parks Authority (NPA), during a ceremony in tribute to eight enslaved Africans who were killed in an explosion on March 8, 1744, while they were working at Nelson’s Dockyard.

Sunday marked the 276th anniversary of the tragic event, and the NPA unveiled an exhibition at the Dockyard Museum to memorialise the group, whose names include James Soe, Caramantee Quamono, and Scipio Johnno.

The 8 March Project, as it has been aptly called, is at the centre of ongoing research being undertaken by the Heritage Department, and which has been established as the foundation for a more extensive project.

 “The 8 March Project is not just about the past. It is also about the present and the future. Using these names as a start, we are working on a genealogical project, connecting contemporary families with their ancestors, and celebrating the traditions, skills, and continuity of our cultural landscape,” Gardner said during Sunday’s ceremony.

 “We invite any person or organisation who wishes to participate in putting together these resources, family histories, and collective knowledge to get involved and help uncover our African past, and make sure that Dockyard History is African History.”

The Governor General’s Deputy Sir Clare Roberts unveiled the eight-foot memorial inside the Dockyard Museum.

Giving remarks, Chairman of the Board of the NPA, Ambassador Arthur Thomas put the event into perspective.

“Today, on the 8th of March, the anniversary of a terrible event, but one which brings us closer to our history, we wish to commemorate the Africans who were brought here and forced to build this place, celebrate their skilled contributions, and restore them and their names to their rightful place in the Dockyard’s history,” Ambassador Thomas said.

Moreover, the project aims to showcase the significant contribution made by African slaves during the construction phase of Nelson’s Dockyard, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Gardner said that hundreds more enslaved Africans are being identified and, going forward, the annual observation will bring attention to their place in history.

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