To celebrate this years Black History Month, Birkbeck Cinema showcased the first ever screening for Ghosts of Amistad, a documentary film by Tony Buba. The film was inspired by Marcus Rediker’s book about the famous slave revolt which took place in 1839.
The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey unravels the connections between London, Cuba and Sierra Leone during the slave trade.
King Siaka (Sha-Ka) of the Mende Tribe agreed to sell his people to Pedro Blanco – a spanish slave trader, in exchange for gun powder and weapons, supplied by London.
Sengbe Pieh – a father and rice farmer was illegally captured by Pedro and his men. Whilst on a ship – heading to Cuba, Sengbe formed a revolt with other captives. Both captains of the ship were taken hostage and Sengbe ordered the them to take the ship back to Sierra Leone.
The captain instead drove the ship to America where Sengbe was arrested and placed on trial for mutiny and murder. He managed to find a Mende interpreter who was able to tell his side of the story. The court ruled in favour of the captives – Sengbe was free man.
Sengbe joined the Poro Society – a secret society of men from the Kono, Mende, Shabro, Goala, Vai and other tribes. It was here he would go on to become one of the first leaders of the Ghosts of Amistad.
In May 2013, historians and a film crew began their journey to Sierra Leone in an attempt to trace the steps of Sengbe Pieh. They also set out to find the long-lost ruins Lomoko – a secret island Pedro Blanco had built to capture Africans. The crew travel to Bo, the land of the Mende tribe.
Tazief Karoma a Sierra Leonian translator from the area, took the crew across the southern region so that they could meet direct descendants of Sengbe Pieh.
Shockingly – they located some of the weapons that belonged King Siaka. The weapons lay abandoned on a beach. It’s an uncomfortable feeling to see the very same weapons that hurt a lot of people, become ‘thingyfications’ of slavery. I thought about all the suffering those people went through and questioned if weapons were worth trading lives – especially as the weapons eventually became nothing of actual value.
Sierra Leone was one the first african nations to rebel against the slave trade. Its countrymen formed as secret society through the help of Sengbe Pieh and other Poro Society members – which now has around 40-50 tribal men. It was the secrecy of this society that helped Sierra Leone to develop warriors who would fight back and regain control of their lives.
Being a Sierra Leonian myself, I found this documentary to be very intriguing and rewarding as I learnt about the hero’s of my country. It saddened me, knowing that it was difficult for the film crew to collect information, due to the lack of elderly people.
One of the important cultural values in Sierra Leone is for people to honour their ancestors – who they believe, live on in spirit. Sierra Leonian’s also pray through their ancestors as a way of being closer to God.
A tragic civil war that took place 1990 – 2001 saw thousands of people killed and amputated – many of them being you children and elderly people. This made the journey even more difficult for the crew as not many people had any recollection of the slave trade.
I believe that if the crew were able to locate more elder people it could even widen their search to other areas and people across the southern region who could also hold vital information.
It would have been interesting to learn more about the eastern regions – especially Kono – which is home to Sierra Leone’s diamonds. It was the sole reason for the 1990 Civil War. I questioned whether slave masters were aware of this land and if it contributed to the slave trade.
Most of the people featured in the documentary film come from a region of Sierra Leone that is now badly affected by the Ebola outbreak, which has already claimed over 5,000 lives.
When I think about the past and present Sierra Leone it highlights the failings of the Sierra Leone Government.
I too, experienced the civil war in 1998. I went to Sierra Leone for a family holiday. I remember seeing amputations as well as having to walk past dead bodies, broken roads and open sewage systems. I have been travelling to Sierra Leone since the end of the civil war – the only thing that changed is the fact that the war has ended!
Poor infrastructure, sanitation and lack of basic education have all contributed to the spread of Ebola. There is no electricity, toilets still did not flush and rubbish is still piled up on the streets.
It is yet another example of the direct impact of corruption in Africa and a clear sign that President Bai Korama should be doing a lot more to improve the lives of people living in Sierra Leone.
This film documentary pays tribute to Africa’s hidden hero’s who fought back against injustices. The documentary made me appreciate and in some ways, honour the idea of human rights. Everybody deserves to have some sense of freedom, regardless of race or gender.
I’m now curious to know more about Afro-Latin people. I discovered that blacks living in Cuba are descendants of Sierra Leone. More literature should be provided on South America and the slave trade it could build new connections as well as allow people to learn untold facts regarding the slave trade.
Sierra Leone to me is more than just a country, it is an education. It’s all about ensuring we maintain and establish our history so that we can never forget the great things that our ancestors did for us. There are so many untold stories that are yet to be discovered, I hope that Ghosts of Amistad: The journey Rebellion is the start of many more to come.
*** Wellbody Alliance is an organisation that is dedicated to helping fight the spread of Ebola and other infectious diseases in Sierra Leone. If you would like to make a donation, please click here for more information***