FAMBUL TOK (FAMILY TALK)
Sara Terry / Catalyst for Peace
color, 82 mins, 2012
English and Krio with English subtitles
Also available on DSL and DVD
Seven years after the last bullet was fired, a decade of brutal fighting in Sierra Leone finds resolution as people come together to talk around traditional village bonfires. Some had perpetrated terrible crimes against friends or family. Some had faced horrible losses: loved ones murdered, limbs severed. But as they tell their stories, admit their wrongs, forgive, dance, and sing together, true reconciliation begins. This is the story of Fambul Tok (Krio for “family talk”), and it is a story the world needs to hear.
In Fambul Tok, this story is told by the people who are living it. Our guide is human rights activist John Caulker, a Sierra Leonean with a vision of peace for his country. Village by village, Caulker organizes a grassroots program to help communities hold reconciliation ceremonies — and hold fast to the new peace. He finds his people eager to turn ancient customs towards healing contemporary wounds, and the result is stories viewers will never forget.
Bonfire to bonfire, dark memories move into the light. Sahr and Nyumah, childhood friends torn apart when Nyumah was forced to cut Sahr’s father’s throat. Esther, raped as a child by a group of soldiers — among them her uncle Joseph, just 13 years old himself at the time. The radical forgiveness they request or offer is shocking – and inspiring. Their stories challenge Western perceptions of justice and provoke new ways of thinking about crime and punishment, conflict and community.
Never is this more true than when Captain Mohamed Savage, the notorious rebel commander believed to have committed some of the worst atrocities in the war, is onscreen. A defiant, menacing voice in his first meetings with Caulker, we witness his transformation as he encounters Fambul Tok, admits who he is, and expresses his desire to return to the site of many of his alleged atrocities, to apologize.
Fambul Tok raises questions about efforts to create peace in Africa through Western-based traditions of crime and punishment, challenging the neo-colonial idea that Africa needs to be “saved” by the West. By illuminating a successful peace process that is based on reviving communal traditions of confession, forgiveness, and restorative justice, the film encourages individuals and communities around the world to engage in the kind of grass-roots transformation that leads to peace.