Annual Kunta Kinte fest a celebration of Africa

Culture: The event aims to `expose the public to the arts, talents and skills of African people.'

August 08, 2004|By Mary C. Schneidau | Mary C. Schneidau,SUN STAFF

Kunta Kinte arrived in Annapolis aboard a trans-Atlantic slave ship more than 235 years ago. Visitors to the city can see his presence here today - in a memorial to him on the City Dock, in a festival in his honor, and in calls for understanding and reconciliation in his memory.

The ancestor of author Alex Haley immortalized in Haley's Pulitzer Prize-winning book Roots is a part of the celebrated and sometimes ugly history of Anne Arundel County. But the community has embraced Kunta Kinte and his journey, hoping commemorations of the present will heal wounds of the past.

The annual Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival, a two-day event celebrating African culture, will be held Aug. 14 and 15 at the Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds in Crownsville. The 18-year-old event drew more than 10,000 people last year, organizers said, and more are expected this year.

Organizers said they hope local residents who have never attended the festival, which moved last year from its previous home at St. John's College, will discover it this year, and tourists will recognize it as an opportunity to learn the history of the area.

"The whole purpose is to expose the public to the arts, talents and skills of African people," said Jean Jackson, the festival chairwoman. "It provides an environment where individuals can taste, feel, participate [and] be interactive with ... all walks of life."

The festival will include about 70 arts and crafts vendors with African-based merchandise, said Ramona Green, an office manager at Kunta Kinte Celebrations, which sponsors the event.

Items to be sold this year include clothes from Aziz, banana leaf artwork made by African village boys and sold by African Connection, and T-shirts made by Baltimore-based Alkebu-Lan, Green said.

Dozens of jazz, gospel, reggae, R&B and African music and dance acts will be featured on two stages throughout the festival, Green said. Acts confirmed include the Legendary Orioles, Sankofa and Premium Band and Horns.

About 30 businesses and community groups will have educational booths, and the Chesapeake Children's Museum will operate a tent. It will feature drumming, storytelling and arts and crafts about the four African biomes: desert, mangrove, savannah and rain forest. Ten vendors will sell traditional African and American food.

The event is a draw for visitors, said Carol Treiber, executive director of the Anne Arundel Cultural Arts Foundation, which is helping fund the festival.

"We're really proud to have it here in Anne Arundel County," she said.

While the festival is a celebration of African culture, people of all ethnicities are welcome and encouraged to attend, Jackson said.

"It is a festival that may be highlighting a particular group, but it is open for everybody, and the audiences reflect that," she said. "You see diversity at its best."

The festival's entertainment and atmosphere emphasize education and are geared toward families, Jackson said.

"You come because you can see your friends and neighbors," she said. "It's just one of those kind of rare times where the entire family can go and enjoy something together."

About six weeks after the festival, on Sept. 29, a commemoration of Kunta Kinte's landing in Annapolis aboard the Lord Ligonier will be held at the Annapolis City Dock and on a walk through the city.

The commemoration and walk, sponsored by the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Foundation, this year will feature white people in shackles and chains to represent penitents and African-Americans behind them to represent forgiveness, said Leonard Blackshear, the president of the foundation.

The walk will include Chris Haley, Alex Haley's nephew, and will begin at 11 a.m. at the City Dock. It will go up Prince George's Street past the William Paca House and to the State House, ending at the Thurgood Marshall Memorial. A reception will follow at the Banneker-Douglass Museum on Franklin Street.

The Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Memorial on the Annapolis City Dock, which includes a statue of Alex Haley reading to schoolchildren and a story wall with excerpts from Roots, is open all year.

The Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival will be held from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Aug. 14 and from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Aug. 15. Tickets are $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and $3 for children ages 4 through 12. Children 3 and younger get in free, and group rates are available. Parking is free at the fairgrounds on Route 178.

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