As we prepare for the kick off of the Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project in Baltimore during August, 2012 a clearer explanation and background is required for those who question the expenditure of energy and other resources on such an undertaking. We always cite proper burial, an internationally recognized human right; and we also include the anticipated healing that will take place as a result of this initiative. Clearer still, Stanford University Professor James Campbell in his book Middle Passages: African American Journeys to Africa, 1787-2005 (2006) states:

The importance that Africans attach to ancestors is most evident in the rituals surrounding death and burial. … a proper burial [is] essential to the well-being of the deceased spirit, and of the community of which he or she remains a part.

Understanding African ideas about ancestry, and the matrix of ideas about place, time, and identity that underlay them, casts the transatlantic slave trade in a fresh and horrifying light. The trade represented not only a physical but also a spiritual holocaust, a rupture in the relationship between past, present, and future. Communities were bereft not only of their living but also of their dead, and of the protection that their presence might have afforded. The rupture must have been even more devastating for captives themselves, who were ripped from the ancestral train, cut off from both past and future.

Those of African descent in the Western Hemisphere and Europe embody ancestors who are lost to their communities. That is a unique concept and one that for most will take a bit to process. For each person who returns to the Continent, especially to a region of ancestral origin, and partakes in a ceremony or libation of remembrance either in the Diaspora or in Africa, it is a negation of the betrayal and of loss that has occurred over centuries; “…a glimmer of hope, the possibility that harmony might be restored ….”

As vessels journeyed on the Atlantic Ocean the two to six million people who died during the voyages received no proper burial. They essentially have been forgotten, and we now have the opportunity to remember and honor them in an appropriate manner. Ashe. Selah.

Hopefully as each person contemplates the ramifications of this project and the need for it, also reexamine the project’s logo and explanation of the symbolism: Logo Design, September 29, 2011 post. The other related blog post is At Least One, September 11, 2011.