A Student of History

June 23, 2006

More on slavery and apologies….

Filed under: The past that is still with us — John Maass @ 4:41 am

Just yesterday I posted some information on the BBC website's poll of readers on the subject of slavery.  Should modern nations/peoples/governments do more than apologize?  One man at least says "yes."  He is the descendant of Sir John Hawkins, a 16th century Elizabethan seaman who was also of the pioneers of the slave trade, "becoming the first person to buy slaves in west Africa and sell them to Spanish landowners in the Caribbean." 

Andrew Hawkins, a youth worker from Cornwall, has delivered an extraordinary personal but public apology for his ancestors' involvement in the trade, kneeling in chains in front of 25,000 Africans in a stadium in Banjul, the capital of the Gambia.  Mr Hawkins's apology took place during a trip this month to west Africa organised by the Lifeline Expedition, a charity project aimed at achieving reconciliation over the slave trade.

David Potts, the founder of the Lifeline Expedition said: "We do not think there has been a really sincere apology from Europeans to Africa and we want to do our part in trying to redress that.'' Next year, the group plans a walk between London, Liverpool, Bristol and Plymouth to mark the 200 years since the abolition of the slave trade in 1807.

Andrew Hawkins kneeling and making his apology 

Read more here in The Independent.  (For a BBC article on this event, click here.) The Lifeline Expedition was created by David Pott, long involved in "reconciliation issues."  Pott with his wife Pam currently leads the Fountain Gate Community (Youth With A Mission) in south-east London.  David describes the origins of his vision in a very interesting story (from the website of The Lifeline Experience.)

In the autumn of 1997, I was half awake, half asleep one morning with a very clear picture in my mind of the serpent twisting around the pole from the Bible story in Numbers 21:4-9. I had no reason to see this image – I had not been thinking about the story. As the picture was very insistent I asked the question, "Why am I seeing this?" Straight away the pole turned into the Greenwich meridian line and the serpent into a path encircling the line, with people from different nations walking along the path.

It took me some weeks thinking about those few seconds of revelation to work out what it was all about! Here are some of the things I became aware of…

1. The serpent on the pole is a universal symbol of healing.

2. The Greenwich meridian line nations show a marked contrast between the wealth of England, France and Spain and the poverty of nations like Mali and Burkina Faso. The 3 empires of England, France and Spain covered more of the surface of the globe than any other empires and their languages have been most influential.

3. The Greenwich meridian is central in terms of our conception of the world, in terms of geography, time travel, history etc.

4. I was also interested in the links with John's gospel 3:14-16, where Christ's reconciling act of love for the world is likened to the bronze serpent incident.

5. Later on I also noted that the Israelites who were dying from snake bites, had recently escaped from slavery in Egypt. The serpent on the pole may well have reminded them of the snake-like whips of the slave masters and also of the power of Pharoah whose headdress incorporated a serpent. Although they were no longer slaves, the Israelites were still influenced by the legacy.  

At the website above is a map that illustrtates what Potts is talking about here.  Regardless of one's feelings on the controversial notion of slavery reparations (I oppose them), to say nothing of Pott's "revelation", reconciliation in this case is not a bad idea….Looks like Pott is trying to live his faith, and do so for the betterment of others.

Here is a photo of the apologists, wrapped in chains:

Men and women in chains and yokes

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