African heritage celebrated

September 25, 1994|By TaNoah V. Sterling | TaNoah V. Sterling,Sun Staff Writer

Kicking and punching to the beat of a drum, Tayari Casel completed a performance of fast-paced dance and martial arts that brought cheers from the crowd at the Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival yesterday.

Mr. Casel and members of his Afrikan Martial Arts Academy of Washington were the first to perform at the kickoff of the two-day event at St. John's College in Annapolis.

A bright sunny afternoon brought hundreds out for the opening to experience a colorful sampling of crafts, food, music and arts and to welcome the festival's return from a one-year hiatus.

The arts extravaganza, now in its eighth year, was canceled last year after rain on both days of the festival in 1992 held attendance so low that organizers could not finance a 1993 festival. Sponsors hope to attract 9,000 people this weekend.

Gwen Coley brought a Girl Scout troop from Richmond, Va., to the festival yesterday as a way for them to earn their African heritage badges. She said the girls would report on what they learned.

But she said the day also was a learning experience for her concerning Kunta Kinte and African-American history.

"It's interesting," said Ms. Coley, who looked at crafts as she enjoyed the pleasant weather. "I've never seen anything like this before."

The Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival is named after an ancestor of the late Alex Haley, who spent 14 years researching his family's history to write the Pulitzer-prize winning book, "Roots," which then was made into one of the highest-rated television miniseries.

Kunta Kinte was taken from Africa as a youth and brought to this country on a slave ship. He arrived in Annapolis on Sept. 29, 1758.

One visitor yesterday found some of her roots in another book, Philip L. Brown's "The Other Annapolis," a book of photographs about the local black community from 1900-1960.

"This is why I came," Portia Thompson of Washington said excitedly, pointing at a picture of a relative in the book she had bought at the festival.

Ms. Thompson said she had procrastinated about attending the festival, but she enjoyed the atmosphere and activities.

"I love it when we just get together to have a good time," she said.

From the African fashion show yesterday to today's gospel singers and discussion on celebrating Kwanzaa, the festival was designed to educate.

A family educational tent was added this year because in the past "there were so few opportunities to learn about culture," said Jean Jackson, festival chairwoman. Speakers on African cooking, crafts, Nigerian culture and nutrition visited the tent yesterday.

Visitors also could shop for crafts that included colorful rag dolls, scented wreaths and brooms, jewelry, handmade cards and African statues. Face painting was available in the children's tent, where visitors could make everything from pasta to wooden bead necklaces, clothespin dolls and bookmarks.

Vendors provided Caribbean food, soul food and vegetarian dishes.

The festival will continue from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m today.

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