February is not only a month for celebrating love. It’s also Black History Month. In America, it’s a time to remember and highlight important events and individuals who have made significant contributions in attaining equal rights and improving the quality of life for African Americans and the entire country.
As an African American and a person of Caribbean descent my history began way beyond the country of Jamaica where I was born and grew up.
Maybe I don’t have specific relatives to point to who came from Africa, but there is no doubting that my black history, our black history began in Africa.
In 2014 I had the privilege of visiting Ghana, Africa. For almost 150 years, Ghana on Africa’s West Coast was the center of the Bristish slave trade. The purpose of this post is not to condemn history but simply to learn from it while highlighting Ghana during this black history month and to share some of the things I experienced while visiting in 2014.
Ashanti (Asante) Village and Palace in Kumasi:
Kumasi is the capital of the Ashanti Kingdom and region. The Asantehene is the ruler of the Ashanti people. The Manhytia Palace is the seat and official residence of the Asantehene.
The statue is of Yaa Asantewaa. She was the queen mother who in 1900 led the Ashanti war known as the ‘War of the Golden Stool” against British colonialism. The war was triggered on March 25th, 1900, when the Colonial Governor, Frederick M Hodgson, demanded that he sit on the Golden Stool which for the Ashanti people was a sacred symbol of independence and strength throughout the history of the Ashanti people. She was a great force in inspiring the women in her community to defend their people. Unfortunately, she was captured during the war and exiled to the Seychelles where she died in 1921 at 80 years old. Her statue sits today in a town square in Kumasi.
The Assin Manso Ancestral Slave River Park and Site of Ancestral Graveyard:
This site was one of the largest markets for gathering people to be sold into slavery. The “Last Bath” site was where captured Africans were made to bathe, after traveling great distances through the jungles, to make themselves “presentable” for the auction block. The next stop for the captured after this site was the Cape Coast Castle to be shipped to their final destinations.
The Ancestral Graveyard on the right is the grave site that holds the remains of two slaves that were exhumed from the Federal Plaza grounds in New York City during construction in the 1990’s. The remains were returned to Ghana and buried there at the site.
Cape Coast Castle:
The Cape Coast Castle, a European-built fortress, was built in 1652 and was one of the first castles built as a port for holding Africans sold into slavery before they were shipped to their final destinations. The dungeons were cramped dark and hot. In most instances, they were held chained in less than sterile conditions before they were finally shipped. The doorway out to the ships was named the “door of no return” because once the captured Africans exited through those doors they never returned. After the two remains excavated from the NYC site were returned to Ghana to be buried, the outer doorway was renamed the “door of return.”
St George’s Castle aka Elmina Castle:
The St Georges Castle aka the Elmina Castle at over 370 years old is the oldest and first castle built in Ghana. The castle was built by the Portuguese and for many years it stood as the largest structure outside of Europe. This too was a castle built to hold the enslaved before they were shipped to their final destinations to be slaves. Construction lasted from 1482 to 1486. The castle was heavily armed with cannons to protect it from assaults by other European empires and pirates. While not knowing what awaited them on slave ships, the captured who survived the journey to the castles were subjected to all kinds of indignities, torture, rape and humiliation in the dungeons.
Revolts by the captured were met with strong force and oppression. Some were slaughtered immediately, and others were restrained in solitary confinement in an airtight, dark holding facility where eventually they starved to death.
Visiting School’s in Ghana:
Luckily, our trip wasn’t only about Ghana’s dark past. Thank God our children are our future. We had a chance to visit 2 schools in Ghana and met and interacted with Ghana’s beautiful, friendly, resilient children. They all had no demands of us, they just wanted to hug and talk to us. We sat in classrooms, some taught, and we even managed to get in a friendly game of soccer, of course they “kicked our butts.” The whole town turned out to watch our beating.
Enjoying the Beautiful Country and the Culture:
We enjoyed the beautiful sites and culture of Ghana. We learned how to make prints and wove Kente Cloth. We visited historical sites and museums and walked the canopies of Kakum National Park, we drank palm wine. and we danced, laughed and cried.
At the end of the trip the Ghanaian people performed for us, and we all dressed up in traditional outfits for a naming ceremony where we were all presented with certificates bearing our African names.
My husband reminded me as I was writing this blog, that he felt such as sense of belonging the minute he stepped onto the soil of Ghana. I agree, it felt like home. We had a wonderful experience; sure, we were saddened coming face to face with the history of Ghana’s dark past, but the beauty and resilience of the country and its people give us hope!
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