Dressed in the pristine white costume of a 16th century slave, her head and ears covered with a bonnet and her body wrapped in layers of cotton dress, Kim Jones cowered on the damp grass as a narrator told her story.
Standing next to her, Scotti Preston sang a slave verse in praise of the Lord, punctuating it with the true-life tale of suffering endured by the character Jones portrayed: Moll, a slave owned by American patriot and Maryland legislator Charles Carroll in the 1700s.
"The storm coming up reminds me of the night Paul and I decided to run away. We had a boat along the river, and I remember how hungry I was," Preston recited, giving voice to Moll's fears and worries as she and another slave from a neighboring home plotted their escape to freedom in the North.
This living history reenactment was among the many depictions of African American roots featured at the Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival at St. John's College last weekend.
Under large, white tents pitched along College Creek in Annapolis, the nearly 10,000 people who attended enjoyed a sampling of traditional music, food and crafts from Africa.
Named after a character in Alex Haley's book "Roots," the two-day festival has grown steadily since it originated as a three-hour affair 13 years ago, said festival chairperson Jean Jackson, who has been organizing the event for the last eight years.
Kunta Kinte was one of 98 slaves brought to Annapolis aboard the ship Lord Ligonier in 1767, and one of seven generations of Haley's ancestors whose roots were in Gambia, West Africa.
Attendance at the festival this year was lower than expected, Jackson said, because of Saturday afternoon storms that forced organizers to close three hours early.
But on Sunday, Alexandra Parker, 29, of Gaithersburg, and other visitors made the most of the sunny weather.
"I haven't heard any of this music before, but it's really diverse and great," she said, sitting before a stage where Gambian singers in traditional, colorful costumes played the djembe drums.
To Davida Guest, 25, who moved to Hyattsville two years ago from Ghana, the festival atmosphere evoked strong memories of home.
"It is just like being back in Ghana--everything here seems so originally African," she said.
In the crafts tent where Guest had set up a stall selling Ghanaian handicrafts such as wooden masks and coir bags, other artists displayed works depicting slavery and other chapters in African American history, including the civil rights movement.
Shell and silver jewelry and carved wooden figurines made in Africa also were sold.
Separate education tents for children and adults offered information on a variety of subjects, from Kwanzaa to health issues such as AIDS.
Visitors Janet Phoenix, 44, and Clarence Thomas, 52, who came from Arlington, sampled Caribbean food and lounged by the nearby College Creek.
Next to the crafts tent, Preston sang the spiritual "Wade in the Water" and Jones swirled in a ballet to depict Moll's freedom.
A small crowd flocked around them to watch, and festival-goers momentarily forgot the food, fun and music, as history unfolded before them.
CAPTION: Joan Munkanta, of Philadelphia, looks at artwork display by Anne Arundel students in honor of Black History Month. Works by other artists depicted slavery and civil right movement.