- The Washington Times - Monday, November 10, 2008

RICHMOND | A tribal chief of a town in southern Ghana has come to Richmond to perform a ceremony to remember African slaves buried in a forgotten, centuries-old cemetery.

Chief Kundumuah IV and three others from the Nzema tribe performed an atonement and reconciliation ritual before a small crowd late last week at the site of the “Burial Ground for Negroes,” near what was once Richmond’s bustling slave marketplace. A section of the graveyard is now underneath a parking lot owned by Virginia Commonwealth University.

“We are very sad in our hearts for those who are buried here,” said Chief Kundumuah, who was dressed in a traditional garment made of kente cloth with an “Obama ‘08” badge pinned to his chest.

The men’s robes included shade of black and white, the colors of mourning. The ceremony traditionally involves the slaughter of a sheep or other animal to symbolically transfer the pain from the animal to the ground. The chief instead poured bottled water into a bowl made of a dried African gourd and sprinkled it onto the grass next to the parking lot, saying it represented life, hope, peace and unity.

The 50-foot-by-250-foot section of the burial ground - used during the late 1700s and early 1800s and now owned by the university - will be recognized as part of Richmond’s effort to address its slave-trading history.

The university announced in August that it would preserve the property for a memorial, in cooperation with the Richmond Slave Trail Commission. No timetable was given for the memorial’s development.

The city-created commission wants to develop a series of historic stops to illustrate Richmond’s major role in the slave trade. The burial ground is near the former site of Lumpkin’s Jail, once one of the South’s largest slave-holding centers. The site is now undergoing an archaeological dig and is part of the trail.

Interstate 95 was built over the main section of the burial ground.

Chief Kundumuah and the others from Princes Town, in the west African nation of Ghana, arrived in Virginia on Wednesday night as part of a cultural exchange with their town’s sister city, Fredericksburg, said Paula Royster, president of the Center for African American Genealogical Research, who helped organize the trip.

During their time in Fredericksburg, the Ghanians will meet with black residents with whom they share common ancestry, based on DNA collected during genealogical research, Miss Royster said.

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