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At a Stafford County ceremony, a Memphis man meets an African chief who shares his blood
As a customary sign of appreciation, the Rev. Jarvis Bailey (center) places a dollar bill on the head of musician Okyerema Asante.
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Date published: 11/17/2008
Most of the 90-minute service was devoted to speeches about the history of Ghana and slavery. When it was time for the "main course," as described by the master of ceremonies, the Rev. Hashmel Turner Jr., several of the 70 people in attendance got out of their chairs and gathered up front. Few others could see what was happening. There was no explanation of the rituals involved in the atonement and reconciliation ceremony and no introduction of participants.
As it turned out, the chief took off a sandal and one of Robertson's shoes. He dipped his finger into a bowl and wiped three streaks of red on his foot and Robertson's. (The red liquid was the American substitute for goat blood, used in the African version.)
Then, the chief held out a knife with a gold handle and an elaborately carved blade. Traditionally, the chief--also called the king--would use the same knife to beckon his tribes into battle.
The chief pressed the knife against his chest, then Robertson's, three times. Then, the chief wrapped Robertson in Kente cloth--a colorful woven garment native to Ghana--and the two long-lost relatives hugged three times.
The ceremony was meant to reconcile their two families and atone for the evils of slavery, Royster said. Its goal was to heal the individuals involved, their tribes or families and their nations, she said.
Robertson, 56, said he had trouble describing his emotions after the ceremony. He wished his father, who died in 2004, could have seen it.
"This would be the most amazing deal to him, right up there with Obama being elected president," said Robertson, who wants to visit the chief in Princes Town.
He also plans to tell his first grandchild, who is due next month, about his DNA discoveries.
"This allows me to give my family some priceless information about where we come from," he said, "and that's something most African-Americans don't get."
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425