Monrovia – The Sankofa Pilgrimage to Barbados, jointly organized by descendants of Barbadian immigrants to Liberia and the Government of Barbados, and endorsed by the previous Government of Liberia, is pulling in all the ingridents to take the Liberia – Barbados relationship to a new and higher level.
By Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]
The Pilgrimage is a brainchild of Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley, expressed to Ambassador Witherspoon in 2021 when she held discussions with him at Ilaro Court, the Official Resident of the Prime Minister. Ambassador Witherspoon had been invited to present copies of the Report of his tracing of the Porte family’s origin in Barbados, Portes Find a New Home in Liberia – Story of the Post-Emancipation Emigration of the John Prince Porte from Barbados, West Indies to Liberia, West Africa in 1865 & The family’s Quest for Ancestral Citizenship.
During their discussion, the Prime Minister learned that since the 1864 negotiation that enabled the emigration in 1865 of 346 Barbadians to Liberia, and despite two Barbadians becoming presidents of Liberia (Edwin and Arthur Barclay), the two countries had never had diplomatic relations. She then instructed her Minister of Foreign Affairs to ensure that changed.
During the meeting, Prime Minister Mottley requested Ambassador Witherspoon to collaborate with her government to plan an event which would enable the mass pilgrimage to Barbados of descendants of those Barbadians who emigrated to Liberia, along with their kith and kin, for a homecoming featuring, among others, heritage and cultural festivities.
Ambassador Witherspoon, following his retirement from the United Nations, assembled a global team of volunteers, mainly descendants of those Barbadians, to plan the Sankofa Pilgrimage to Barbados. After nearly three years of planning, the event will be held in Barbados from 6 – 13 May 2024.
But that’s not all.
A key aspect of the Sankofa Pilgrimage is a Business/Marketplace Forum organized by Ambassador Witherspoon and sponsored by Export Barbados and under the auspices of the Liberian and Barbadian Chambers of Commerce. In 2023, Ambassador Witherspoon connected the two Chambers of Commerce, and facilitated a Zoom meeting where both agreed to explore more meaningful collaboration in areas of tourism, agriculture and other productive sectors of their respective economies. Tourism in the largest contributor to the GDP of Barbados.
Further exchanges between the respective Presidents of the BCCI and LCC ensued, and
it is expected that the incoming President of the LCC, Mr. O. Natty B. Davies, is keen to capitalize on, indeed, increase the gains made by his predecessor, Counsellor Oswald Tweh.
By extension, the broader Liberian business community should be keen to enter this open door of opportunity to not only the Barbadian market but the wider Caribbean market. Barbados, a high income country, imports most of what it eats, and this presents an enviable opportunity for Liberian businesses, small and large alike. Barbados/the Caribbean and Africa feeding off each other, is another intergrationist dream of Prime Minister Mottley.
The Pilgrimage also features visits to the James Street Methodist Church, where the Thanksgiving Service was held before the Brig Cora sailed for Liberia on April 9, 1865, a screening at the Barbados Museum of The Children of Lemongrass Street, a docu-series by Barbadian-Liberian Historian Cherrine Goodridge-Smith, an Open Mic session at the University of West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, under the theme Many Lives, One Story, visit to the Newton Burial Grounds, where deceased slaves were buried, a reception hosted by Prime Minister of Barbados, nightly after-hour events, island bus tours, and many touristic activities, among others.
The pilgrimage comes as the Liberia Chamber of Commerce inducts its new corps of officers today with O’ Natty B. Davis, former head of the National Investment Commission set to take over the helm. His counterpart, James Clarke was recently elected at the Barbados Chamber of Commerce Annual General Meeting. Mr. Clarke is the Director of Engineering – Power Systems at TMR Sales & Service Ltd and has a member of the Council of the BCCI since 2018.
A highlight social event is a Liberia – Barbados Cultural Night at site of the famous Oistins Fish Fry (https://www.tripadvisor.co.za/Attraction_Review-g1183194-d1771793-Reviews-Oistin_s_Friday_Night_Fish_Fry-Oistins_Christ_Church_Parish_Barbados.html) featuring foods of both countries, live music, dance, and sales of products and artifacts.
In September 2022, Liberian and Barbados exchanged Notes expressing the desire to establish full diplomatic relations.