Monrovia – A group of diaspora and home-based Liberians are preparing for a historic pilgrimage to the Caribbean island bearing significant historical ties to Liberia.
By Selma Lomax
Under the umbrella of The SANKOFA PILGRIMAGE TO BARBADOS, the trip is being organized by Ambassador Llewellyn Witherspoon in collaboration with the Barbadian government, 159 years after the forebears departed Barbados for Liberia. It is a product of dreams of Barbadian-Liberians in Crozierville and Prime Minister Mottley to “revitalize the deep historical ties between Barbados and Africa.”
Africa and the Caribbean are intimately connected through ties of blood, shared heritage and history. Within the larger context, the story of Africa and Barbados is one of opposites – pain, suffering and eventual joy – that began with slavery during the Sugar Revolution in the 1600s and led to freedom in the 1800s. In 1636, a political directive provided that all Africans brought to the island were to be received as lifelong chattels.
Shipment of slaves from Africa to the broader Caribbean had begun at least a century earlier. Altogether, for three and a half centuries, African captives from the Bight of Biafra, Gold Coast, Bight of Benin, West Central Africa and South-eastern Africa were carried across the Atlantic in slave ships originating in European ports. Following the passage in 1834 of the Slavery Abolition Act by the British Empire a year earlier, slavery was abolished in Barbados. Free Bajan- Africans had begun returning to Africa as missionaries or in search of freedom in the years surrounding Emancipation.
However, it wasn’t until 1864 that a large-scale plan for emigration was put into action. An offer of citizenship and free fertile land from the President of Liberia to “brethren of the Antilles” (as the Caribbean was then called), at the agitation of the Barbados Company for Liberia for financial support from the American Colonization Society, led to the first – and only recorded – post-Emancipation organized mass emigration of African-Barbadians to Liberia in 1865. The brig CORA sailed from Bridgetown to Monrovia on April 6, 1865 carrying 346 persons (50 families), 260 of which were settled in Crozierville, which has since been hailed as a Bajan outpost in Africa. Two of Liberia’s presidents, Arthur Barclay and his nephew, Edwin Barclay, were of Bajan descent, as was the longest serving First Lady of 20th century, Antoinette Padmore Tubman.
The township, where dozens of Barbadians proudly built homes, churches, schools, and community still exists today. Descendants of Bajan- Africans have been researching the origins of their families in Barbados for quite some time. However, building on the findings in a 2020 Paper documenting the research of the PORTE family in Barbados led its Executive Producer, Ambassador L. Llewellyn Witherspoon, to travel to Barbados and, among others, visit the approximate area in Irish town where his great-great grandfather was believed to have last lived and worked.
During his research, including DNA testing, Ambassador learned that his ancestors originated from the south east of present day Nigeria (Igboland), and that one or both of his great-great grandparents were of Irish origin (descendants of indentured servants referred to as Poor Whites). It is widely held that most of the people that settled in Crozierville were of Igbo descent. An audience with Prime Minister Mottley during the visit would prove pivotal to stimulating her interest in both establishing diplomatic ties with Liberia and, especially, solidifying and intensifying engagement and interaction between the families of those who settled in Liberia and those alive and still residing on the island.
Then and there a request was made and a pledge was given to organize and execute a Back2Barbados pilgrimage to Barbados of Bajan- Africans, and a subsequent pilgrimage of African-Barbadians to Africa.158 years after their forebears left Barbados for Africa, Bajan-Africans will Return2Barbados under the auspices of the inaugural SANKOFA PILRGIMAGE TO BARBADOS, intentionally planned to occur during the Season of Emancipation and the “Crop Over” festivities from 1 – 8 August 2023.The event is expected to attract more than 500 Bajan-Africans, their families and friends from across Africa and the global diaspora.