On maroon communities in the Americas.
History was once again created in historic Charles Town in Portland when Akwantu: The Journey was projected on to a big screen for its world premiere. Never before has such a groundbreaking documentary premiered in any of Jamaica’s main Maroon villages. It had previously been screened in some North American cities.
Akwantu: The Journey chronicles Hollywood stuntman Roy T. Anderson’s search for his roots. Shot in the United States, Canada, Africa and Jamaica, it also tells the story of the indomitable Jamaican Maroons and, by extension, the story of the Jamaican people of African descent. An evening billed as the ‘Night of the Ancestors’, people from all over the island and the diaspora journeyed to Portland to see this new piece of work.
Also travelling from abroad for the premiere were Anderson’s wife, Alison, the co-producer of Akwantu; his brothers Winston, and Adisa Oji, the still photographer, who speaks in the film; his mother, who also speaks in the film; his sister, and her two children. It was a homecoming of sort, which spilled over into St Elizabeth, when Akwantu was shown to an audience of about 100 people in the community of Ridge Pen.
The premiere, which was part of the fourth Charles Town Maroon Conference, got off to a slightly late start, but when the images hit the screen, constructed through sponsorship from the Jamaica Social Investment Fund for the premiere, patrons could not take their eyes off it, and even when the screen and the entire Asafu Yard went pitch black for a couple seconds because of a power outage, viewers stayed put, and waited until the operators sorted things out.
Despite its historical nature, the story is interestingly told, and the entertainment value is quite high. Attorney-at-law Marcus Goffe, of the Jamaica Intellectual Property Office, told The Gleaner, “Generally, I thought it was a well-put-together movie. It has a storyline, a theme that I could identify with … . His sharing his journey with the audience, the quality, and the persons interviewed, I thought was very touching, and fused with an appropriate amount of humour. I thought it was enjoyable overall.”
Yes, patrons laughed at points, sometimes uproariously, at the utterances of some of the people in the film. Of note was ‘Chiney Man’, who made a strong claim to his Maroon heritage; the inimitable Dinah, Roy Anderson’s cousin; and herbalist Bongo Ray, whose description of what a certain bush medicine can do to a man, and his mischievous laughter and facial expressions are memorable.
Anderson’s uncle Clifton ‘Packiman’ Rowe’s use of the word “readical”, and his tribute by way of song to his ancestors as the closing credits rolled, cracked up the audience seriously.
He, however, had no idea that Anderson had used him to end the film like that. Before the viewing, Packiman was called on stage by Anderson to perform the same song in memory of Omar ‘Yankee’ Hernandez, a Charles Town Maroon who was killed late last year. A moment of silence was also observed for Yankee, who briefly appeared in the film dancing with the Charles Town Maroon Drummers and Dancers.
The community of Charles Town got a chance to see some of their own people in what is a world-class production. These were Marcia Douglas, curator of the Charles Town Maroon Museum and one of the dancers; Rodney Rose, blowing the abeng; and Colonel Frank Lumsden, to whom Anderson made two presentations by way of a framed picture of Rodney Rose blowing the abeng, and a framed official poster of Akwantu: The Journey.
Some people of note in attendance were Vivian Crawford, executive director of the Institute of Jamaica, which also significantly assisted and supported Akwantu’s screening in Jamaica; Bernard Jankee, director, Jamaica Memory Bank/African Caribbean Institute of Jamaica; the governor general’s representative, attorney-at-law Nicholas Chambers; Susan Robeson, granddaughter of the late African American singer Paul Robeson; and Professor Verene Shepherd, well-known social historian of the University of the West Indies, Mona campus.
Professor Shepherd speaks in the film, and had presented it at the media and industry launch at RedBones Blues Café on June 20.
Ms Robeson, who was in Charles Town to receive the Quao/Nanny Abeng Award on behalf of her grandfather, said of Akwantu: “Last night was just stunning with Akwantu. I thought it a beautiful way to tell a story through a journey, because it is a journey … . It just had an intimacy to it … and I hope it does phenomenally well.”
In speaking with The Gleaner the day after the premiere, about the turnout, Anderson said, “I was absolutely amazed, really excited about the turnout last night. To have Asafu Yard packed … it was amazing … . The word I keep using all the time is overwhelming … . Last night I felt like the journey continues.”
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