It’s like a travel diary that Senegalese director Maky Madiba Sylla gives us through the story he gave us about his trip to Quibdó, 570 km from the Colombian capital Bogota. It is in Colombia, a country of stories, part of which is steeped in Africa, that the documentary film producer who loves to tell stories through his camera, tells us his story in this country that he discovers for the first time in his life. His trip is part of a film festival where he presents his latest documentary film on “Laba Sosseh”.
Maky Madiba Syll: After four days in Bogota, here I am in Quibdó, 570 km from the capital. Quibdó is a Colombian city, capital of the department of Chocó. It is one of the main cities of the Colombian Pacific and a river port located on the Atrato River. I’ve never heard of Quibdó in my life.
This invitation to present the documentary film El Maestro Laba Sosseh in such a remote corner of the planet had never crossed my mind. Unlike Bogota where there are very few Afro-descendant people, Quibdó is mostly composed of 90% black. I feel strangely in Africa, yet thousands of miles from my continent.
Unlike Bogota, the first thing that strikes is a certain poverty, because it is a place neglected by the state authorities. There is only one university for 300,000 inhabitants with a population where young people are more than 70%. If there are so many Afro people in Quibdó, it is undoubtedly because of slavery.
It is an agricultural region, but also a mining region. My meeting with Bantú has completely upset me. Throughout his life, he invested himself body and soul in the preservation of Afro-Colombian memory.
He opened the museum he founded and gave me a tour. During this guided tour, I learned that many of the slaves sent to Quibdó came from Senegal, Ghana and the Congo. Bantú then takes me to a room and shows me a wooden statue. He tells me that it is in honor of Soundiata Keïta, the Emperor of Mali. I tell him that this is where I come from, on my mother’s side, who is Bambara. Bantú changed his name to reconnect with Africa, Mother Earth. When he talks about our continent, his eyes are shining. The emotion is at its peak when he asks me to put my hand on this statue and meditate with him to thank the ancestors for allowing our meeting. He tells me that I am only the 4th African to visit the museum.
The atmosphere is heavy: all around us, there are objects that tell the cruelty and the ignominy of slavery; whips, chains, picks, balls, nails, scrap metal and instruments of torture remind us of the absolute horror suffered by mine. Bantú, still holding his hand on the statuette of Soundjata, sings a song sung by slaves in a dialect I don’t understand. His tears flow, mine too.
Our eyes cross, we hug again. The Afro populations living in Latin America are the great forgotten of our history, with the possible exception of Brazil. We often talk about African Americans, but very few of our brothers and sisters on the Pacific side. From Argentina to Mexico to Panama, Colombia and Venezuela, millions of black people live completely cut off from the African continent.
I hope that one day we can have a great festival that will reconnect the black populations of Latin America with the original continent. Who knows: one day perhaps… In any case, it is the wish of my friend Bantú. Before leaving us, he holds my hand and asks me if we will see each other again one day. “Esta visita ha cambiado mi vida para siempre. Volveré como he prometido. Que los ancestros te bendigan.”
I promise him that, if God gives us a long life, I will not only come back, but I will be accompanied by a film crew to show the world that Quibdó, the other Africa, is only asking to reconnect with his sweet half the mother earth of Africa. Adiós, hermano mío, amigo mío. /Koly Tenguela