Dr. Naby Camara (Camara Nabi) is coming to America. He is The Columbia Star 2005 Scholar. Dr. Camara was born in Farenya, Guinea, West Africa, in 1940. His parents, Momodou and Mimi, were farmers in a small village on the Rio Pongo, 40 miles from the Atlantic coast.
During his childhood, Camara learned to appreciate the rich history of his village from the griot (oral historian). He excelled in the village school and earned his way into secondary school in the capital city, Conakry, during the time Guinea was part of French West Africa. When Guinea became an independent nation in 1960, Camara was sent by the new government to Paris and Dakar, Senegal, to study medicine.
During the 70s and 80s, Dr. Camara was physician– in–residence at the University of Conakry and the Ministry of Health. He bought a home on the seaside in Conakry, married Hadiatou, and had three children, Mohamed, Sekou, and Mimi. In the 90s, he established his own clinic to serve the indigent people of his community. However, his failing eye sight resulted in the closing of the clinic.
The current president of Guinea, Lansana Conté, married Hadja Katiatou Camara, a national beauty queen whose family was from Farenya. The First Lady made Dr. Camara, her village cousin, a consultant to her educational foundation. He immediately seized the opportunity to foster the development of Farenya. Together, Dr. Camara and Hadja (as Mrs. Conté is known in Guinea) worked to build a school and a health clinic in the village.
Dr. Camara took it upon himself as his eye sight worsened to develop the history of Farenya. He gathered the local griots with historians from the University of Conakry under a UNESCO grant to chart the slave trails of the 18th and 19th centuries along the Rio Pongo, focusing on Farenya.
In 1998, Dr. Jim Fisher, a Columbian who was director of the International School of Conakry, took Linda and me to visit Farenya. Jim had been to the village before as a guest of Hadja whose children attended his school.
As we sat in the Round House of the chief, Dr. Camara and the chief, Fofana Mady, began to tell the history of the village. “Farenya was founded by an American, Capt. Styles Lightburn, who married Queen Niara Bely. They had five children and created a vast slave trading empire. Capt. Lightburn returned to America twice. The last time he did not return…Would you help us find out what happened to Capt. Lightburn?”
Naively, I said, “Yes, sure.” I have been working on Lightburn’s history ever since. It has carried me to Charleston, Savannah, Nassau, Bermuda, London, and back to Guinea five times.
One reason Dr. Naby Camara is coming to America is to visit Lightburn sites I uncovered in Charleston. The Lightburn family brought slaves from Guinea to work in the Low Country rice plantations. The Lightburns were traders, planters, grocers, and were deeply involved in SC politics. By 1860, the Lightburns had disappeared from SC, but their descendants still farm the fields of Farenya.
Dr. Naby Camara arrived in Washington, DC, Monday, February 7. He will be in America until March 3. During his visit he will have his cataracts removed so he can see the office, home, and plantation in Charleston that begin to answer the question, “What happened to Capt. Lightburn?”
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