Rastafarians observe Africa Liberation Day: "When I work is over, I will fly away home"
Listen to the voices:
"Take a step
Take another little step
Hold on and never let go
A bredah is a bredah
An' ah sister is a sister"
Listen to the drums:
Now look at the bright colours of the flags and the skirts and the headpieces-the red, the green, the black and the gold and as they march sing along:
"Now that I'm here
Now that I'm here
I will chant a chant
Now that I'm here"
And the drums talk softly, always the drums, enchanting you with your- feet-can't-stay-still rhythms.
That's the sights and sounds of the traditional African Liberation Day (ALD) march through the streets of Roseau. The 2018 version of ALD was held on Friday evening as the yellow sun prepared to close its eyes as it goes to bed over the horizon of an island still struggling to rise on one knee after Hurricane Maria knocked it down for the full eight-count last September. The fight is not over by any means. The struggle continues. The catch words are: Resilience. Persistence. Patience.
"Take a step
Take another little step
Hold on and never let go!"
One would think that after most African countries, such as South Africa and Angola and Mozambique have experienced some form of liberation the chants in Dominican streets would have died down. After all ALD or Africa Freedom Day or Africa Day, according to Wikipedia, "is the annual commemoration of the foundation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) (now known as the African Union) on 25 May 1963.
"The First Congress of Independent African States was held in Accra, Ghana on 15 April 1958. It was convened by Prime Minister of Ghana Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, and comprised representatives from Egypt (then a constituent part of the United Arab Republic), Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia and the Union of the Peoples of Cameroon. The Union of South Africa was not invited.
"The conference showcased progress of liberation movements on the Africa continent in addition to symbolizing the determination of the people of Africa to free themselves from foreign domination and exploitation. Although the Pan-African Congress had been working towards similar goals since its foundation in 1900, this was the first time such a meeting had taken place on African soil.
"The Conference called for the founding of an African Freedom Day, a day to "...mark each year the onward progress of the liberation movement, and to symbolize the determination of the people of Africa to free themselves from foreign domination and exploitation."
But Imani Shaw, the spokesman for the House of Nyahbinghi, the local Rastafari movement, says AFD is still relevant because "we still have movements to make."
"Our people have been struggling for so long for independence and freedom having fought guerrilla warfare we were not prepared for the next stage of the struggle," Shaw said. "Just like we here in the Western Hemisphere we gained our independence but we were not ready for the next stage so we were handed down all the things to us, all our systems were handed down to us. That's why we still see the need for the liberation of our people."
We spoke to Shaw on the streets of Roseau as the group of about fifty Rastafarians and supporters drummed and sang on their way to the Newtown Plaza to listen to speeches and to socialize. As Shaw spoke and walked the Rastafarians chanted:
"Five hundred years inna Babylon…
One bright day
I will fly away to Zion
One bright morning
When I work is over
I will fly away home"
We asked Shaw whether the numbers of Rastafarians in Dominica are dwindling since the people attending the march were fewer than in previous years.
"We are still very powerful, we are still very alive," said Shaw. "We don't count people. Generally the struggle is not for putting on dread locks; the struggle is for the conscience of the people. It's a matter of black people coming together as one people."
At the Harlem Plaza, Black history activist Franklyn Georges said he was not amused at the low level of participation in ALD 2017.
"This year the same blinking thing," he said
Georges went on to say that our ancestors ensured that they dropped the chains of slavery but now is the time "to drop the chains that is in the mind" and as his wont he called for the teaching of Black history in schools.
"Have we taught Black History since independence 40 years ago," Georges said. "Every government should ensure that we teach Black history in our schools. Our children need mentors."