“A Thousand Ships”; Ray Rickman; Cape Verde Museum opening

October 6, 2008 at 3:51 pm (A Thousand Ships, African Americans in RI, Freedom Festival)

FREEDOM FESTIVAL is launched!

Saturday, October 4th, a quintessential New England Fall day, was my BUSY BUSY BUSIEST day – I began at 11 am listening to Ray Rickman hold forth at the Roger Williams National Memorial (U.S. Park Service) site on “How Providence Became a City: the Impact of the HardScrabble and Snowtown Riots of 1824 and 1831” – an insightful look of how history continues to have resonance in our contemporary lives, and how important it is to remember and retell these stories.

Ranger Chuck Arning, Risa Gilpin, Ranger Sparkle Bryant, Ray Rickman at Roger Williams National Memorial, Prov., RI

Then it was off to the Cape Verde Museum, 1003 Waterman Ave., East Providence, RI for the opening of their “Slavery and the Cape Verde Islands”  – the three curators who were there (Yvonne Smart, Denise Oliveira, and Virginia Gonsalves) enthusiastically showed me around – this is a little known museum site, housed in a row of commercial spaces and well worth a journey – their collection of maps and artifacts is enlightening…

Yvonne Smart, Denise Oliveira, Virginia Gonsalves at the Cape Verde Museum

And then, at 2 pm, I came back to Providence to participate in WaterFire’s “A Thousand Ships” event – a ritual of remembrance marking the bicentennial of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade – an installation by Barnaby Evans and the Museum On Site (Lyra Monteiro and Andrew Losowsky’s site – www.themuseumonline.com

Andrew Losowsky, Barnaby Evans, Mary Tinti, and Lyra Monteiro – the movers and shakers behind “A Thousand Ships” – discussing final details.

Events included:

6:15 pm – A Thousand Ships, A Thousand Libations – pouring 1,000 bottles of water into the river as a libation ritual, in the lights of the burning braziers at Waterplace Basin – each bottle represented a slaveship voyage that left from Rhode Island.

7:00 pm – Remembrance and witness – a torchlit procession traveling to significant downtown sites to bear witness to Providence’s relationship with the slave trade and connected industries.  African drumming and dancing by New Works, led by Michelle Bach-Coulibaly.

8:00 pm – Triangle of trees/Triangle Trade – Paper chains suspended from trees in a triangular configuration, representing the “triangle trade” between R.I., the west coast of Africa, and the Caribbean, were burned and then replaced by luminaria in memory of the victims of the slave trade. Singing by The RPM Voice of RI, Clarice Thompson, Director.

8:30 pm – Actors bring voice to the institution of slavery by delivering pieces collected from the RI Historical Society, the RI State Archives, the John Carter Brown Library, the Bristol Historical Society, and from the poetic works of Kalyana Champlain and Nehessaiu deGannes.

What an incredible day – never to be forgotten!  The relevance and the power of public arts and humanities work was exemplified by these events – planting the seeds for further exploration of the legacies of the slave trade and of the many significant contributions of African Americans to our state and to our nation.

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