By Rebecca Ejifoma
Badagry, the land of history, civilisation, designation for tourism and a one-time slave port, made history on Saturday, February 16, when it unveiled the world’s tallest drum, measuring 11 feet in height and six feet wide. This was at the Badagry Heritage Museum, during the celebration of the Black History month in the historical littoral city for the first time.
Where else could such history be made, if not the land, where slaves were once shipped away into the unknown? Thus, a reunion of the Diaspora blacks in the city would a highly emotional event for the long-gone brothers and sisters.
According to the Public Diplomacy Officer, United States Consular-General Office, Mrs. Rhonda Watson, the focus on black history stems from the fact that for too many years the contributions and accomplishment of African Americans were never recorded in the history books. “It was as if we did not exist and that we didn’t even matter,” she lamented. “Our children were growing up ignorant of the achievements of black people and consequently had a distorted view of their own potential in life and could grow up with low aspirations in life.”
She drew everyone’s memory back to an event, which had occurred in 1925. “Harvard historian Carter G. Woodson came up with an idea to rectify this deliberate historical omission through the establishment of Negro History Week, which was aimed at highlighting and teaching about the contributions of black Americans. Over the next 50 years, the accomplishment of African Americans soared but the struggle for equality continued, even after the passage of the landmark Civil Right Act of 1964 that outlawed discrimination against racial and religious minorities; ended racial segregation in schools and at the work place.”
Watson also told the gathering about the commemoration of the Black History Week in 1976, which was expanded to a month-long celebration. Though the legal barriers for black progress had been largely overcome, economic progress still eluded many.
“The 2013 celebration of BH month is especially significant, because this marks the 150th year of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves in the US and this is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington D.C, where Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King gave his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.”
In November 2008, she said, the election of Barack Obama as the first black US president was a realisation of Luther’s dream and certainly a cause for celebration but one mixed with dubious scepticism that his victory actually represented the destruction of racial barriers. “So, the need for Black History month goes on and we continue to learn lessons and draw inspiration from the struggles and achievements of our forefathers.”
Having traced her root and history, she discovered there were other Watsons still living in Badagry. “It is a unique experience for me to be here in Badagry to celebrate this, because it is possible that my own forefathers were snatched from these very shores and sold into slavery. My last name is Watson and I have been told there are some Watsons here in Badagry. So if any of you know where they are, I would love to meet them. And if I am from this area, I’m glad to be coming back as an American Diplomat.”
She was glad to let everyone know of her husband’s origin too. “My husband is from the Benin Republic and his name is Ahouandjinou. He knows that he has family here in Badagry from his mother’s side but he has not met them yet. Although our relatives were separated by slavery hundreds of years ago, we find ourselves reunited by love.
“Therefore, it’s an opportunity for me to applaud the creators of the World’s Tallest Drum. African drums have always held a special attraction for me, because it is like a primal call for me to gather to gather with the clan,” she gushed.
According to her, each time she heard the sounds of drums in the night, she would stop to listen and would feel a special tug to follow the sound. “I hope that the World’s Tallest Drum will serve as a call to action for Nigerians to unite as a single family, join forces and play an active role in tackling national challenges such as massive unemployment, eradication of extreme poverty and HIV/AIDS, corruption and violence against women.”
The unveiling of the drum was done in commemoration of the Black History Month, by the director of Femi Arts Warehouse, Femi Coker, in partnership with his counterpart of De Roots Renaissance, Babatunde Olaide-Mesewaku.
“In reminiscence of the aims and objectives of the Black History Month, the tallest drum is a symbolic representation of the gargantuan contributions of the black race to world civilisation. The history of the black race is trapped in the twisted but stoic peregrination from the dark realm of slavery, colonisation, oppression and suppression through iron and blood struggle for freedom and libration to the regain of actual freedom, egalitarianism and global recognition,” Mesewaku said.
He said that through all the vicissitudes, the Blackman could still raise his head, making steady but monumental contributions to science and technology, sports, entertainment, music, academia, business, inventions and politics among others.
He also said that Coker has marked a historic moment in Badagry. “It is the 87thyear of initiating the Negro Black way. We are trying to stimulate and create awareness to black culture; telling people that blacks have contributed to the globe and to showcase through this artistic coronation to develop the world all over.”
According to the News Letter publisher, Mesewaku, the symbols of the Drum represent Africa culture and ways of life. “In African perspective, it is important in the sense that you want to see the drum performing when a child is born, or when a person is getting married or a person is being buried. We use it to symbolise the monumental achievements of the Blacks in the world. In civilisation and world history Blacks achieved a lot.
“We want this drum to be exhibited at the 2014 Black History Month in the United States of America.”
Watson prayed and believed with hope. “May the sound of this drum tug at your hearts and move you to action and may BH month be that of reflection on the accomplishments of the past with a renewed dedication to improve the future.”
According to Coker, the images on the drum symbolise royalty before the advent of the colonial masters. Africans were born kings, princes and princesses. Our culture, African History, Heritage and Humanity; it shows our festivals like Eyo, Ogun Ajabo and Ifa. “I’m trying to tell the religions of our people and that Africa is very rich in culture.”
Meanwhile, the sculptor of the drum is Edward Jonathan. Others present at the event included the representative of the Akran of Badagry Kingdom, High Chief Baala; the master drummer of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Mr. Gbenga Uga, who is also an indigene of Badagry; the representative of the Commissioner for Tourism and Inter-governmental Relations, Mr. Ashamu Fadipe and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation Consultant and Head of Social Sciences, Crawford University, Professor Alaba Simpson among others.
Some of the groups that performed included the Sato, Stilt-walkers’ and the Kpoji dancers, respectively.
After the representative of the Akran of Badagry Kingdom, High Chief Baala, unveiled the drum, at 2.10pm, the three young stilt-walkers of Badagry played the drum to the sound of everyone, which caused them to dance, celebrate and hail the black race.
The 11-foot drum is made of hard wood and sealed at the end with a deer’s skin. Constructed round its long solid body are carved reliefs of various cultural and historical representations and interpretation beautified with cowries.
• Ejifoma writes from Lagos