WATERFIRE, September 27th – A Thousand Ships

September 15, 2008 at 4:21 pm (A Thousand Ships, African Americans in RI, Freedom Festival)

The official opening event, kicking off our month-long, statewide FREEDOM FESTIVAL, part of the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities On the Road to Freedom: African American Heritage in Rhode Island initiative, is a very special ritual of remembrance at WaterFire, the amazing art installation by Barnaby Evans, with help from The Museum on Site, and marking the bicentennial of the Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

At sunset on September 27th, four small boats travel up the river from the historic Providence harbor on the edge of the Atlantic.  Tens of thousands of people are gathered at WaterFire but many may not know the full history of the water by which they stand.

This is a night of remembrance – an occasion to commemorate the bicentennial of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, but also a night to acknowledge and mark Rhode Island’s century-long inivolvement with this trade.  Merchants from Rhode Island mounted more than a thousand slaveship voyages on these waters, carrying over 100,000 Africans into New World slavery.  One of these ships was called the Providence, and more slaveship voyages sailed from Rhode Island’s harbors than from any other state.

A Thousand Ships is a night for contemplation and recognition – a ritual observance acknowledging the state’s historic involvement with human bondage.  A night filled with music and silence, dance and stillness, fire and water.  Echoing a traditional African ritual, a thousand people will join together to offer a libation to the ancestors by pouring into the river and onto the ground a thousand vessels of water, each representing a slave voyage from Rhode Island.  Actors will walk through the crowds giving voice to historic figures from Rhode Island, sharing their stories of freedom and bondage and the struggle to abolish slavery and the slave trade.  Torches will be lit, the infamous triangle trade will be demarcated, chains will be burned and broken, and our entire community will gather together to remember, honor, watch, listen and feel.

This event at WaterFire is dedicated to the memory and work of the late Professor Rhett S. Jones and a formal West African libation ceremony in honor of Professor Jones will be poured by Professor Anani Dzidzienyo of the Brown University Department of Africana Studies.

A Thousand Ships will be a time for remembering, and a night to remember.  We cannot allow ourselves to forget.

To make it happen, we are going to need lots of volunteers. Please e-mail Lyra Monteiro at lyra@TheMuseumOnline.com or call 401-261-3441 if you are interested in participating.  Slots available are from 2-6 pm and 6-10 pm.  Thanks for helping to make this all possible!

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