Monday, April 1, 2013

Cacheu, GB: Forum on Slavery


Some of the many boats I saw on an early morning walk
            It’s funny how sometimes the best trips are the ones that are spontaneous and unplanned. 
            After lots of debate, Abdu, a fellow Rotarian, and I decided to wing it and show up at the Forum on Slavery in Cacheu, GB. I say wing it because we had no ride there, no place to stay once we got there, we had no plan for food, and we didn’t really know anyone who was going to be there, and we didn’t even have an invitation. (We later discovered the event was open to the public). But the forum had been all over TV and the radio the past couple days. It sounded like a fun learning excursions and a great reason to get out of Bissau, so we went for it!
View from the dock in Cacheu
            Cacheu is about 2 hours north of Bissau, which is one of the larger cities north of Guinea Bissau, and it lies on the Cacheu river. Cacheau is a beautiful! It has a thriving population, but you get the feel that you are in an abandoned city.  It is a small fisher town and the down town area only consists of a dock, a church, a little restaurant, and the presidents house (the house built for the President when he comes to Cacheu). There are coconut trees all around and bulanhas, or gardens, filled with subsistence crops (including millet, corn, sorghum, and rice). You’ll also find lots of cattle, sheep, and goats grazing on the grasslands throughout the city.
Sunday's workshop sessions
            Abdu’s cousin’s, wife’s, family is from Cacheu and so he was told we could stop by their house and see if we could leave our things there. What are the odds that the first house we stopped and asked at, which was the house directly next to the bus stop, was the house we were looking for? We dropped off our things and then hopped into Conference. 
            The conference was 3 days long, March 22-24th. The night before was all the fun stuff (from what I heard). There were lots of Music and theater performances.
When we arrived at the storage , Odete “Idontknowherlastname”, who is an acclaimed Bissau-Guniean poet, writer and educator, was speaking about the history of the Language Creole in relation to Portuguese. Essentially creole was very much its own language, but with colonization, lots of Portuguese got incorporated into it. Quick language lesson:

            Portugues- past tense, first person: verb root + ava
               Ex: verb ‘estar’ – to be, + root ‘ava’= ‘estava’

            Creole- to express the past tense, all words or verbs are followed by “ba”
               Ex: sta- to be, in creole, becomes sta ba or  N’sta ba, meaning I was.

Director of AD Bissau (on Right) with dance group
            What’s interesting is that it could easily be mistaken for Portuguese, because it sounds so similar. That’s why creole described as ‘Portuguese mal falado’ or Portuguese spoken poorly. When you break it down, Creole is 80% Portuguese and 20% words from the Pepel and several other ethnicities.
            We also learned that Cacheu was one of the earliest European colonial settlements in Sub-saharan Africa, due to its strategic location on the Cacheu river. Cacheu was the official slave trading point for the Portuguese in the region. It was the point at which duties on all slaves exported had to be paid.
Prepping food for the ceremony
            The second part of the day was a ceremony for good luck and success in future endeavors. Concoran, which I have seen 4 or 5 times now, was in attendance as well as his brother Compu. (They are not actually brothers but they have some similarities in costume and they both come out to play during Fenado, or circumcision ceremonies)
            The evening filled with more music, dance and theater. A group called SOMETHING From Guinee Conakree came up to preform and they were amazing!!
            The whole weekend was really relaxed, and we didn’t actually DO much. What made such a great experience were the interesting people and engaging conversations. I met a professional French photographer who gave me some photography tips. I met a women from France who is just moving back to Bissau and is working on a project that will provide children who need heart surgery a free ride to France to have that heart operation, which is also free. (It’s such a small world because this women is my neighbor back in Bissau AND she knows my step-dad back from when he used to live in France).
Compo shaking his groove thang
            This weekend for me really displayed the beauty of Bissau’s people, culture, and landscape. Tereasa, the mother of the place where we left our things fed us every meal, let us sleep at her place, and refused payment for it all when it was time to leave.  We were also able to catch a ride back with the Director of SOMETHING, who we spent a lot of time talking to throughout the conference, instead of taking the bus back. We spent Sunday afternoon walking along the river talking with people we met along the way.

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