- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 12, 2008

WILLIAMSBURG| One of the visitors recently watching Gowan Pamphlet preach at Colonial Williamsburg had come from southern Africa to see him.

Simao Souindoula toured historical sites in Virginia recently to build partnerships with his museum in Angola, the National Museum of Slavery. He traced the shared culture and the seeds of genocide.

“For us, it’s essential not to forget the millions of Angolans,” Mr. Souindoula said. “We lost about two million inhabitants in the four centuries that slavery was enforced. For us it’s like a Holocaust. And, like Israel, it is one of the foundations on which we built our nation.”

Mr. Souindoula visited the Mariners’ Museum, in Newport News, and Jamestown recently as part of a trip through the United States arranged by the State Department. In Chicago, he saw a woman portray Angolan Queen Njinga, who led her people in revolt against Portuguese slave traders in the 1640s. And at Jamestown he saw museum space devoted to her story.

“Our relationship with the United States can’t be based exclusively on trade exchanges and the commercial,” Mr. Souindoula said. “Americans buy our petroleum at a good price right now, and we recently bought 10 Boeing planes. But we also have all these human links. A cultural exchange will make for a more fair and long-lasting relationship.”

Mr. Souindoula’s three-week trip also has taken him to South Carolina and to Cincinnati’s museum about the Underground Railroad.

He was surprised by the detail at Colonial Williamsburg, from the live scenes of slavery stories to the reconstructed slave quarters to the small plots of land where slaves were allowed to cultivate their own food.

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to sleep tonight,” Mr. Souindoula said. “I’ll be afraid to awake in a different era. It’s really extraordinary what we’re looking at here. I feel like I’m in a different time.”

He also met with historians and watched part of Colonial Williamsburg’s “Revolutionary City” street-theater program.

Mr. Souindoula was interested in the technical aspects of the living-history business model. He asked staff about Colonial Williamsburg’s audio-visual productions, its publications, its budgeting and its work with schools and the private sector. He was surprised at how much the foundation worked with businesses and wanted to explore the model for garnering more funding for his own museum.

In the 1500s, Angola became the center of the Portuguese slave trade in Africa.

The National Slavery Museum is 40 minutes south of Angola’s capital, in a white chapel where slaves were baptized before being shipped to the Western Hemisphere. It is a small building that has had infrequent operating hours. Mr. Souindoula was named director in 2006 with the mission to expand it. He has used theater productions, historical warrior dancers and a choir to enliven the quiet, coastline building.

“On some special days we have done things, but not permanently and not on the scale done here,” he said. “The idea of using a permanent, live presentation at the museum, as you do, attracts me very much.”

He also is trying to establish partnerships with U.S. museums to share historical documents and research into topics such as language, funeral ceremonies and the craft of basketry, to see how much the Angolans preserved when brought to this continent.

“The Africans that came here went through an evolution,” Mr. Souindoula said. “They’re not totally Africans anymore because they lived in another culture. It’s interesting to explore the collecting points” where Angolans were taken, such as Brazil, the Caribbean, Panama and Peru.

“In all these places, they felt a strong sense of isolation, and they identify Angola as the place they came from,” he said.

His work is important because modern Angola’s population of Caucasians, Bantu and multi-racial people is still bound by slavery’s history, Mr. Souindoula said.

“All of these groups were touched by the slavery system,” he said. “This became a unifying factor. Nobody escaped from slavery.”

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