I'm the writer from the Golden Isles Weekend newspaper that sat in during the conference at Epworth. Thank you for letting me join you. I learned a lot.
I'm sending a copy of the article that I wrote the next week in case you had not seen it. Also attaching four photos and # 19 appeared in color in the paper to show off the costumes.
I've had a number of comments from readers of their renewed interest and genuine warmth of understanding of the Igbo event. Your group made a community-wide impact here.
Thanks again, and come back to see us.
Ebo Landing 2002
Even though there is not a monument or marker, most locals know the location of "Ebo Landing." It's along the bluffs of Dunbar Creek behind the waste-water treatment plant on St. Simons Island. Many have also read accounts of the tragic event that occurred there in May, 1803 in books of Island history, lore and legend.
But now the story of the Igbo slaves who drowned themselves rather than face a life of slavery is gaining worldwide attention. And today they symbolically represent millions of Igbos in their homeland of Nigeria who are still not free. (Ebo is the English word for the Igbo people of West Africa and is pronounced the same.)
Over this past Labor Day weekend, a group of 75 cultural historians, religious leaders, scholars and Igbo descendents gathered to pay tribute to their long lost brothers' cry for freedom. They came from mid-western and southern States, Canada and Nigeria. In a conference held appropriately at Epworth-by-the-Sea, they presented research papers, and performed traditional sanctification/dedication and burial rites.
Wearing traditional Igbo dress, they began the proceedings with the breaking of the kola nut ceremony. By sharing in the bitter taste of the kola nut, participants were reminded to preserve the norms and values of Igbo society. They spoke of Igbo proverbs and spirituality. They told history and made history.
For after nearly 200 years, the site and the lives lost at Ebo Landing have finally been recognized. Those martyrs are also seen as representing a million more Igbo people lost to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. And, in the modern day Igbo homeland of Nigeria, the three million others who have died, first through civil war and then from an economic blockade policy of starvation by the current Nigerian government.
Researchers have found that a substantial number of African Americans in southern States are Igbo descendents. Most Haitians and many citizens of the West Indies are also Igbo. It's hoped that in the future DNA science will be able to identify Igbo genes for those who need such verification.
The original Igbo slaves, men, women and children were captured in 1802 by a notorious underworld clan from Arochukwu in Igboland. The Igbo were prized for their knowledge of agricultural tools and crops such as yams, rice and maze.
According to the research of H. A. Sieber, The Factual Basis of the Ebo Landing, 1989, a slave broker at a Gulf of Guinea seaport delivered them to a sea vessel which brought them to Skidaway Island, just south of Savannah. A Savannah importer sold 75 of the Igbo arrivals for $500 each to Thomas Spalding of Sapelo and John Couper of Cannon's Point on St. Simons Island.
When the schooner York reached its landing place in Dunbar Creek, a tributary of the Frederica River, the Igbo rebelled. In the confusion, Couper's overseer and two sailors jumped overboard and drowned attempting to reach shore. Directed by a high Igbo official, the slaves went ashore but then turned and walked in unison back into the water. They sang an Igbo hymn as they entered the creek, "The Water Spirit brought us. The Water Spirit will take us home." Ten slaves drowned.
Through the years ghost stories have been told of unrequited Igbo spirits appearing at night in the marshes at Ebo Landing. Even during the day fishermen and crabbers avoid the location.
Survivors of the disaster passed their recollection of the event to descendents in the St. Simons Island communities of Harrington and Cannon's Point and on Sapelo Island. The detailed accounts recorded by the slave importer, and research since 1980 from Africa and the United States have verified the factual basis and historical content of what used to be the legend of Ebo Landing.
It establishes Ebo Landing as the only known Plymouth Rock for an ethnically identifiable African group in the United States.
Why would these people choose mass suicidal drowning? An answer may be found in a long-standing pacifist tenet of Igbo philosophy which states, "if they deign to take your life or liberty away from you, swallow it in your stomach."
Dr. Philip Aka in his tribute described them as the ultimate freedom fighters. He said, "You thought your graves would be unmarked. How incorrect you were. Your graves have turned out one of the most marked monuments the world has known. It exists in human minds where the markings no hands can erase."
"If you think in terms of human landmark or monuments, as mortals do, your graves, beloved ancestors, are still not unmarked. Your graves are in Dunbar Creek, St. Simons Island. We gather here to salute your Igbo spirit and your gallantry. Adieu, beloved ancestors, and may your souls rest in perfect peace."
The main program for the conference was initiated by the U. S. non-profit research organization for the study of the Igbo people. Named EKWE NCHE (pronounced equencha), the organization is based in Chicago and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org . Many of their members traveled overnight from Chicago via tour bus to attend.
Local activities for this honoring event were coordinated by the St. Simons African American Heritage Coalition. Copies of the speeches and research papers presented at the conference are on file at their office, email@example.com .HOFFMAN REPORTS 9/02/02 for Issue # 272