There is a wave of self-awareness, and cultural pride sweeping the world today. It seems that everyone is taking pride in sharing ancestral origin. The question of who you are and where you come from crops up in almost every introductory meeting and conversation these days. Unfortunately, there are those who cannot answer this question conclusively as they do not have all the facts and necessary knowledge of their ancestry. It may be due to emigration, the slave trade, and other causes. So, these people have lost touch with their origin but are doing their best to find and learn them. This was the case of the African Americans who arrived in Cameroon on that faithful day in December 2010, seeking answers to the mystery of their ancestry.
The dry month of December heralded the arrival of several foreigners in the African country Cameroon. However, these foreigners were not your usual holiday seekers. They came to the continent for more than fun; they came to seek out the truth of their roots. They came to experience Bimbia. For many years, the world has raved and wondered at the historical landmarks that included Gorée (located in Senegal), Elmina (located in Ghana), and Bunce Island (located in Sierra Leone). Yet, failing, or rather forgetting, another place that holds a nightmarish but profound history for the people of African heritage - Bimbia. In the Prime years of the slave trade, the coastal settlement formed the hub of the Portuguese slave traders' port in Central Africa. But its presence and importance have been lost to history for centuries. This is most likely because the inhabitants of the country where this place can be found wish to forget the painful and traumatic memories that Bimbia holds.
Cameroon, like many of her African sisters, suffered greatly in the period of the slave trade. Although the inhabitants of the land welcomed trade and economic relations with the Portuguese, they soon realized that their trade partners were interested in more inhumane but profitable ventures. They lost their lands and ownership over their properties; kidnappings and forced family separations became rampant. Left with no other option, they quickly settled in the coastal village - Bimbia, for easy transportation of their prized goods. The trade went on for years, through the 1500s to the 1700s. Hundreds of Cameroonians were taken from their homes to unknown lands to farm and engage in other menial jobs as their masters saw fit.
With the 1800s came the wave of Christianity and its message of love. English missionaries, somehow, found their way to the coastal village of Bimbia, and upon witnessing the plight of the people swung into action. History tells of Joseph Merrick, an English man who did his best to soften the burden of the people. His successor, Alfred Saker, who managed to secure some land from King Williams and created Limbe - a sister settlement close to Bimbia. These men, along with others, were able to get the ruling King of Bimbia to sign some accords. Some of the signed agreement was to allow them to build schools and churches through which they could better the lives of the locals. For a long time, this idealistic dream was a reality in Bimbia. Still, Alfred migrated from Bimbia to his new home in Limbe. And as he moved, so did the light and life of Bimbia.
The economy fell, and many of the advancements achieved over the years in the village began to dwindle. This continued until almost nothing was left of the legacy. To avoid having to go back to the way things were, many locals migrated from Bimbia to Limbe, leaving the land almost entirely devoid of true natives. The area became deserted and open to the influx of foreigners from neighboring countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, and Benin. These foreigners engaged in fishing - which is why to date, Bimbia is known as the hub of the smoked crayfish market. Those who knew the real history of the place were practically gone. As a result, important landmarks and structures fell into disrepair, overrun by wildlife, and soon forgotten.
In recent years, Bimbia has begun to once again see the light of development and care from its people. In 2007, it came into the limelight when the now thriving fishing community was named the capital of the Limbe III Sub-Division. This has led to the arrival of several infrastructure and government founded agencies in the town. It is no wonder that when the African Americans arrived in Cameroon, it was not so hard for them to trace their way back to the place. A place where their ancestors once inhabited. Still, they had to sort for help in finding their way again. In 2010, some African Americans found their way back to Cameroon, pointing to Bimbia as their source of origin. "How?" You might ask - by DNA tracing. With the help of this simple but inherently complicated scientific method, several Afro-Americans successfully traced their origin to the specific countries on the continent. It is through this method that many notable persons such as Quincy Jones, Chris Rock, Common, Spike Lee, Erykah Badu, Taraji Henson, Don Cheadle, Anthony Anderson, Eddy Murphy, Condoleeza Rice, Roberta flack, Donnie Simpson, Blair Underwood to mention but a few, have been able to locate their ancestral origin back to Cameroon. And of course, it is no surprise that on their arrival, they went straight to Bimbia, the last place in Africa their ancestors lived before being carted off.
The visit by this entourage was not the last from African Americans, but only the beginning. The humbling and deep experience has since inspired many more to troop down to the town. Research into the history of the place, the effects of the slave trade on the environment and its people has been ongoing for many years. Scientists such as Dr. Lisa Aubrey have devoted themselves to studying and unveiling everything there is to know about Bimbia and its dark but rich history. And for Aubrey, this job is quite personal as she is one of the fortunate few who have been able to trace back their heritage to Cameroon. In fact, her research and findings, coupled with the almost spiritual encounter of the "pilgrims" who visited the town, have inspired many to make the same journey. In the year 2016, the good doctor, in partnership with some enthusiastic locals, held an exhibition and lecture that was attended by foreigners and locals alike. Those who were privileged enough to be in attendance testified of how deep, haunting, and spiritual the event was. With Dr. Aubrey sharing her findings and the local speakers telling the stories of those many Cameroonians who were murdered, kidnapped, and plundered and the torment the families left behind still suffer to this day, the attendees definitely left the hall with more understanding than they came in with.
And to date, we still have many making the journey to find the answers that have eluded them and their families for generations. Travel agencies and tourist companies have added the town to their schedule, allowing not only the rich but anyone with the desire to plan and journey there no matters their financial status. Researchers are still trooping in, along with those willing to sponsor them and their programs in order to ensure that the word spreads and the world knows about Bimbia and its story that has long been forgotten by history. Although to some of the locals, the rediscovery of Bimbia brings back terrible memories and unearths history that they would prefer left dead. The pains and sufferings are something they would not want to reconcile with anymore. To many others, it opens up wonderful possibilities and provides answers to questions that have puzzled them for years. A chance to find their home, know their people, learn their culture, and be proud of who they are - who would not jump at it? Indeed Bimbia's resurrection has brought answers and truths that the world needs to know. Now Bimbia stands for hope, home, culture, heritage - more than pain or suffering. It speaks of the strength and invincibility of Africa and Africans. Their ability to thrive and prosper, no matter how far they are driven, their ability to always trace back and return to their ancestral home.
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