The end is better than the beginning of a thing, the popular saying goes. Which is why in spite of the horrors that form the historical background of the events of which gave birth to the International Roots Festival, the festival itself has become a celebration in commemoration of a homecoming and a return to the roots, instead of the remembrance of slavery and forced departure from the motherland.
Initiated in 1994 by the government of The Gambia led by President Alhagi Dr. Yahya A.J.J Jammeh, the biennial festival was inspired by the publication of Roots written by African-American author Alex Haley and the subsequent television adaptation of the story. Published in 1976, while the TV series started showing the following year, Roots details the life of Kunta Kinteh, an 18th century African captured in his teens and sold into slavery in the US, and the lives of his progenies down to the author himself. Kinte’s roots were traced by Haley to the Juffureh in The Gambia.
Billed when it was initiated as Homecoming, the International Roots Festival is usually held around May with great fanfare and cultural activities, educational symposia, musical concerts featuring international stars, and historical tours to places like Juffureh and other important places. While the ugly and grim realities of the slave trade cannot totally be blotted out of human memory, or from the annals of history, the commemoration has transformed into a joyous occasion of a great homecoming experience and a chance for Africans in the diaspora to connect with their roots and African heritage.
The 11th edition of the festival was held from the 9th to 16th of May 2014. It commenced with Jumma prayers at the mosque, followed by registration and welcome reception. The evening was marked with a Night of Griots. Guests and participants took the early part of Saturday to rest, visit sites and do some shopping, while the musical concert took place at the Independence Stadium in Bakau from 9pm.
The official opening took place on Sunday afternoon with a carnival procession from the July 22 Square to the iconic Arch 22. On Monday, the Roots Pilgrimage takes place with boat trips to historical places like Juffureh, Albreda, and Kunta Kinteh Island (formerly James Island), where participants had a chance to meet the local chiefs, see the ancestral home of Kunta Kinteh, the slavery museum, and other historic places.
The festival continued on Tuesday with a symposium in the morning followed by a regatta at the Banjul wharf. Activities include, boat races, pillow fights, traditional dances and greasy pole climbing, among others. By evening the people started departing for Kanilai village in preparation for the next day. The Futampaf, a Jola rites of passage ceremony took center stage early on Wednesday. The ceremony was hosted by His Excellency, the president who is actually from Kanilai.
On Thursday, the participants go on an eco-tour to Makasutu forest in the morning. In the evening, they were hosted to a Taste of Africa, a gala dinner and award night at the Senegambia Beach Hotel to bring the festival to a close, while everyone departs to their respective places on Friday.
The 12th edition of the International Roots Festival was held on the 6th to the 13th of May 2016.
For more information about the International Roots Festival, please visit:
The Ministry of Tourism & Culture
Banjul, The Gambia
+220 422 4756, 422 2376
The Gambia Tourism Board, Kotu
Bakau, The Gambia
+220 446 2490/1/5/6
National Centre for Arts & Culture
National Museum Premises
Banjul, The Gambia
+220 422 6244, 422 7980