Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
It was in January, still the dry season in the land of Kunta Kinte, when ABC-TV flew the eight episodes of "Roots" into The Gambia for a little sneak preview of Alex Haley's epic identity crisis.
Four months, the best TV ratings ever, a few hundred thousand books and at least two suits later, the rainy season has come again to the tiny African republic. And with the rains the natives are hoping for another form of precipitation: tourists.
Thirteen natives of The Gambia arrived in Washington Sunday to promote tourism in their homeland.
"Let's face it," says Charles Thomas, the tour coordinator. "'Roots' put us on the map."
The touring group, which is being bankrolled by its government back home has already visited six American cities, all in the South. Today they go on to Boston, and then to New York before returning home.
"You could call this an attempt to develop tourism, but I think of it more as a cultural exchange," says Bakari Sidibe, the head of The Gambia's cultural archives.
It was Sadibe that The London Sunday Time's Mark Ottaway quoted to support the thesis that Haley's roots were partly manufactured.
"I only spoke with Mr. Ottaway for a brief time," Sadibe says. "It was on the telephone and I was very busy and did not spend nearly long enough to have said all the things he said I said. And then be misconstrued the thrust of the letter I sent him. I was simply trying to point out the relative values of oral tradition. I have no doubt that Alex in fact received the information he said he did from the griot (bard)."