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Montana, our Ewe guide, translated our questions and then presented the chief with the liquor and money that

we brought. Afterwards, the linguist gave an invocation, poured a libation, and offered a drink to the chief

and to us. Then, I walked over to the fifth grade class to talk to the teacher and students . . .



Books by Miriam DeCosta-Willis

Daughters of the Diaspora: Afra-Hispanic Writers (2003  / Singular Like a Bird: The Art of Nancy Morejon (1999)

  The Memphis Diary of Ida B. Wells (1995) / Erotique Noire/Black Erotica  (1992) / Homespun Images ( 1989)  /

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Pilgrimage  to an  Ancestral Land: Ghana

By Miriam DeCosta-Willis 


A large sign that read “Akwaaba. Welcome to Ghana, President Barack Obama” greeted us on our arrival at Kotoka International Airport in mid-July, just four days after the president’s historic visit—his first to an African country since taking office. The excitement was palpable as we made our way through Accra, the capital, with its countless vendors and bottleneck traffic, to the University of Ghana in Legon, where we were housed in the Institute of African Studies’ guest chalets.

Compared to many Ghanaians, who have little more than a lean-to with no running water or toilet facilities, we had luxurious quarters: a large room with twin beds, bathroom, and attached study. However, on the mornings when we had to take “bucket showers,” dipping cold water from a bucket over our soapy bodies, we felt very Ghanaian.

“When I was growing up, that’s all I knew—bucket showers.” laughed James, a graduate student who grew up in a country town deep in the Arkansas Delta. 

In our travels through Ghana, we saw many such similarities to Black life and culture in the Southern United States: food and funerals, music and missionaries.

We were nine travelers: seven University of Memphis students, mostly in their twenties, a historian, and me. A former professor at U of M, I had asked to take the three-week trip to Ghana with students who had enrolled in a course, “Ghanaian History and Cultures: Study and Travel Abroad,” led by Professor Dennis Laumann, who had taught and done research in Ghana, and was married to a Ghanaian.

Dr. Laumann had fully prepared us for the trip, through frequent meetings, assigned books, and a reader with articles on history, language, and religion, so we were raring to go.

After a short rest and lunch—a typical meal of fried fish, plantains, cooked vegetables, and joloff rice (spicy and tomato-based, like what we call “red rice” in Charleston)—we headed to a mall in East Legon to buy snacks, check out an internet café, and exchange dollars into cedis (pronounced “seedies”). A dollar is worth about 1.4 cedis. Finally, back to the chalets for dinner and sleep after a very long couple of days.

The rest of the week was spent primarily in orientation and tours. We had an introductory lecture on Wednesday by Professor Awedoba of the IAS, who spoke about ethnic diversity in language, family patterns, religion, and marriage/death rituals. Although English is the lingua franca because of British colonization, there are more than 45 languages spoken in Ghana, as different from each other as German and Spanish, and most people are bilingual if not trilingual. Ghanaians also practice many religions and are extremely devout: approximately 15% are traditionalists, 16% Muslims, and 69% Christians (Catholics, Anglicans, Charismatics, etc.), although they may do libations on Friday, visit faith healers on Saturday, and still go to church on Sunday.

“The missionaries have really done a job on this country,” I lamented, when we passed through villages where the stalls had names like “Christ the Redeemer Hot Spot,” “Blood of Jesus Hair Care,” “His Grace Rasta Bar,” and “God Is Great Chop Shop.” One day, the housekeeper hugged me and said, “I’m a prayer warrior, and I’m going to pray for you.” I guess she knows a sinner when she sees one! Even the Mormons have arrived, for in every city “The Church of Latter Day Saints” appeared on walls surrounding pristine buildings on prime real estate. In spite of such diversity, Ghanaians are very tolerant and, as far as I know, there has seldom been a war waged over religious differences in sub-Saharan Africa.

Meeting the village chief and court

On Wednesday afternoon, we took a tour of the University of Ghana, the oldest and largest of the country’s six public universities, with an enrollment of over 29,000 students. A sprawling campus of large white buildings, it was founded in 1948 and renamed the University of Ghana in1961, with President Nkrumah as Chancellor. We entered the main gate on Dodowa Road and drove down University Avenue past the IAS, bookstore, and Balme Library to the top of Legon Hill, the highest point in the Accra area, where administrative offices are located. Only about 10% of Ghana’s students attend college—essential for professional jobs—so higher education is greatly valued.

Because we were housed on campus, we met scholars from around the world, including former colleagues and students of Dr. Laumann’s: a noted Polish archaeologist, a specialist in African history from Northwestern University, an art historian from the University of Arizona; and a Jamaican completing a dissertation on Caribbean influences in Ghana. I was happy that one of my former colleagues in the field of Afro-Hispanic literature sought me out one afternoon. Dr. Panford is one of three Ghanaians, all graduates of the University of Ghana, who have become noted professors of Spanish language and literature in the States.

We returned to the campus later in the week for dance lessons by Lesle and four members of the Ghana Dance Ensemble, a resident professional dance company founded in 1962. Dancing barefoot, we had dirty feet and were exhausted by the end of the hour; even Ronald, who had been injured, dropped his cane and joined in the fun. Lesle taught us a song and led us in three ring dances, evocative of the “ring shouts” of the American South. Rhythmic dance and music are at the heart of Ghanaian and Southern cultures.

In Ghana, there was literally dancing in the street and rhythm everywhere: Reggae on the radio, Afro-jazz and Highlife in the clubs, drumming by the pool, Hiphop in Ho, and Hiplife (a mix of Hiphop and Highlife) all over the place. One afternoon, we dashed over to the Music Department to catch Prof John Collins on guitar with his six-member combo on claves, mbira, and gome drum, practicing for their next gig. The joint was jumping!

The next morning, we were off to the Makola Market in downtown Accra, a city of two million people. We were accompanied by Selena, a petite young woman affiliated with the Institute, who was our local guide and who spoke Ga; and by Afari, our mini-bus driver—a tall, statuesque, Akan-speaker—who, like Zorba the Greek, welcomed us every morning with open arms and a huge smile. This was our first foray into Accra, and what a bustling, sprawling city it is. There were billboards and posters of Obama with President John Atta Mills on every corner.

Along the way, we saw the Cuban Embassy; housing developments; cars, trucks, and tro-tros (14-passenger mini-buses) kicking up dust; and an area called Asylum Down, down from the asylum for the mentally ill. Then we passed Nima, a poor section similar to a Johannesburg township or Brazilian favela, settled primarily by Muslim immigrants from the north, who built small mosques between the wooden and tin-walled shacks. Many Ghanaians make less than $3 a day and live a hand-to-mouth existence selling odds and ends on city streets, in 5' X 5' open stalls, or in city and village markets. They work hard for the money . . . with no Social Security and only kinfolk to depend on.

Finally, we reached Makola, a huge flea market that stretches for blocks and blocks along High Street, with its maze of alleys and narrow passages. Afari found a curb-side car park, where women passed with pails piled high on their heads, and boys selling glass beads and leather bracelets pressed against the window, while church music wafted in the background. We walked quickly, following a dressmaker through narrow lanes, turning right, then left, past rows of dishes, stacks of shoes, and pans of dried fish, their pungent smell evoking memories of lunch.              

“Come see,” called a plumpish woman, displaying her “airport” sculpture. “You buy?” asked a young man, exhibiting his “Akwaaba Obama” tee shirts. The market was alive, teaming with people selling everything under the sun: tomatoes by the basket, corn roasting on home-made grills, boiled groundnuts (peanuts) in trays balanced precariously on heads. Everyone was smiling, warm and friendly. “Five cedis,” a trader responded when I asked how much for a pair of earrings. “Too much. Two cedis.” I said. “You give me four,” he countered. “Two is all I have,” I answered and started walking away. “Okay. Two.” We both smiled, satisfied with our bargain, so I said, “Mudase” (Thank you).

Saturday morning, I learned that Ben had been hospitalized and, later, Sarah also became ill, probably from the banku, a side dish of fermented corn dough they had eaten the night before. As a result, we left late for Aburi Botanical Gardens, an hour or so northeast of Accra. The traffic was bumper to bumper through the towns of Madina and Adenta. Women in short hair and long wrappers walked through the red dust in flip-flops with trays of bananas and pails of soft drinks on their heads. It was strange to see for sale overstuffed sofas and chairs in garish colors, covered with layers of dust, on both sides of the road.

Finally, we reached Gyankama and began the long climb up the mountain, from which we had spectacular views of Accra and the valley below. We slowed up to take photos of Rita Marley’s house, with its bright red gate and flags of Jamaica and Ghana out front. We learned that the late Isaac Hayes, who married a Ghanaian, also has a home in the country. At last, we reached Aburi and entered the gardens, where a guide took us on a tour, pointing out a 351-year-old ceiba (silk cotton) tree, sacred in Ghana and Cuba; the Hosanna Palm with one trunk and two palm fronds; and the spectacular Strangler Ficus Tree, a parasite that had completely destroyed its host.

On the way out of Aburi, a town of one-room houses, narrow alleys, and an imposing church, I saw groups of people dressed in black heading toward a large sports field, where a crowd had already gathered. I suddenly remembered that it was Saturday, a big day for funerals, and these were mourners on their way to the ceremony. Death is an important passage in Ghana, and funerals are a method of gauging a person’s social position. Preparations may take two months, as kin gather from around the country or across the sea; food is cooked for the entire village; a casket is ordered, sometimes in the shape of a car or bird.

An elegant obituary—for example “Mrs. Akosua Asikuma Has Been Called to Glory,” with the deceased portrayed among the clouds—appears on flyers and posters, in the newspaper and even on television. Mourners wear black with touches of red, but, if the deceased is over ninety, they wear white with strips of black. Funerals are costly, in the belief that the deceased deserves a “fitting burial.” Donations are expected, and the head of the clan, educated uncle, or “been to” (one who has been to the States) is expected to donate heavily.

With memories of funerals and thoughts of the three sick students, I joined Sheena and Big Ron, as Erica called him, on Sunday for a trip to Labadie Beach on the outskirts of Accra, near the luxurious La Palm Royal Beach Hotel, where double rooms start at $200. Ghana is not noted for its beaches, because the coast is rocky and the Gulf of Guinea has a powerful undertow. As I waded into the surf, I saw bubbly foam atop the waves that was the reddish-brown color of dried blood, and I knew in my heart that this was an unwelcome, unforgiving sea—a terrible expanse of water in which my ancestors had perished or been transported, against their will, to distant shores.

Many of those Africans, captured in what are now Togo and Burkina Faso, sold in Asante slave markets, and forcibly marched to the coast, saw the vast ocean for the first time—

waves beating against rocks, water stretching perilously to the horizon. They must have been frightened out of their minds. I had just finished reading Senegalese novelist Diome Fatou’s The Belly of the Atlantic, and I was reminded that the Atlantic Ocean is often a metaphor of death and dislocation in the history of African people.

But I put aside such somber thoughts as we began a stimulating week of lectures on colonial rule, Pan-Africanism, women and gender, and traditional religion by some of the University’s prominent scholars. As a linguist, I was fascinated by the discussion on language and cross-cultural communication, particularly differences in meaning. For instance, if you say, “Your wife is flirting,” in Ghana it means she’s “having an affair,” and if you say, “Several people showed up,” it indicates “thousands.”

I experienced language differences first-hand when I walked into the wash room (restroom) at the Institute, read the sign over the toilet—“Do not stand and urinate into the closet pot.”—and laughed out loud. After that, we had tea (in Ghana, “tea” means coffee or cocoa) at which we drank a thick, white liquid called “Fula,” a Muslim drink from northern Ghana made out of fermented, ground millet, seasoned with ginger.

In front of Du Bois's House & Mausoleum

After the morning or early-afternoon lectures, we went sightseeing. Following a spirited discussion about Kwame Nkrumah, who led Ghana to independence in 1957, we visited his mausoleum and museum, and, the following day, we went to the home of W. E. B. Du Bois, who moved to Ghana with his wife in 1961, at the invitation of Nkrumah.

The house has been turned into a poorly-maintained museum, but more impressive is the pagoda-shaped mausoleum where he is entombed. Across the street from Du Bois’s house is the United States Embassy, a five-block fort with a high cement wall, topped by electric wires. W. E. B. must be turning over in his grave!

One day, we meandered through the Tesie-Nungua section of Accra, stopping at Paa Nii Caskets to view boat, rifle, eagle, and sarcophagus-shaped caskets, continuing past the Kofi Anan International Peacekeeping Center, and pausing for a drink at “Next Door,” a delightful seaside bar and restaurant. Sitting at a table under the palm trees, I ordered a Cuba Libre (coke and rum), because so much about Ghana—the warmth of the people, musical rhythms, and tropical landscape—reminds me of Cuba.

Although we visited the Cultural Center, where local crafts are sold, I was really impressed by the Artist’s Alliance Gallery, called Omanye House, a three-story building that contains beautiful works of art, including huge canvasses painted by contemporary Ghanaian artists in every conceivable style. The gallery was a feast for the eyes. We made a quick stop for cup cakes at Bakery Classic, opened by an African American woman 30 years ago, and then darkness closed in.

Night time was the right time for the young folk to hang out, so, during our stay in Accra, they took in a couple of nightclubs, music and pizza at the Shangri-La, a reality television show, and the bright lights of Osu, a lively part of town. That Saturday night, however, they stayed in because we had to leave early Sunday morning for a week-long tour.

On Sunday we passed through the towns of Dodowa and Ado Meta in the Eastern Region, where the Krobo people (related to the Ga) live, and then continued to Somanya, the largest town in the region, where the women are rumored to be fantastic lovemakers, noted for stealing other women’s husbands.

The landscape there is very different—green and verdant, with banana and cassava trees lining the road and emerald hills stretching into the distance. The villages are neater and cleaner; the one-room, thatch-roofed houses are more widely spaced and the hard ground around the huts is brushed clean, as it is in Mississippi. Ghana is a beautiful country with a varied landscape: the coast is flat and low-lying; southern Ghana is covered in rainforest; the east has mountains and waterfalls; the central region is a savannah; and the north is dry.

Our destination was Lake Volta, the largest artificial lake in the world, where we boarded a three-tier boat, the Dodi Princess, for a six-hour cruise; had a buffet of fried fish or chicken, rice, and spaghetti; and stopped at the small island of Dodi. We enjoyed the smooth sounds of King’s Anchor Band, a group of five musicians playing Reggae and Highlife. After a stop at the Volta Hotel to sip cokes on a balcony overlooking the lake, we proceeded to Ho and checked in at Chances Hotel.

Ho, a quiet, tranquil town—very unlike Accra—is the capital of the Volta Region and home to the Ewe people. On Monday, the students went to the Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary, created in 1993 to protect the sacred monkeys, and to the Wli Falls, where they had an hour’s walk over slippery rocks before reaching what is said to be the largest waterfall in West Africa.

I spent the morning swimming and reading around the hotel pool, but that afternoon I took a taxi to SSNIT Canteen in Ho to meet Jane Amedume, the sister of a friend. Evelyn Amedume and Christina Akou Donyo—both Ghanaians—had helped me take care of my mother when we lived in Washington, and I told them, “One day, I’m going to your country.”

A tall, handsome woman who looks like the queen mother of her neighborhood, Mrs. Amedume is warm and generous. She is the restaurant manager and insisted on fixing me a big plate of grilled tilapia and fried plantains.

While waiting, I joined two young women, Lois and Regina, who worked in a nearby office building, and we had a long conversation. Later, Jane Amedume said, “I’m going to call my dressmaker to come over and fit you for a dress.”

When I returned the next day, she took me down a winding path to the dressmaker’s shop—a small, two-room structure with fabrics in the front room and four women at sewing machines in the back. Overwhelmed by Ghanaian creativity and generosity, I was so surprised when the seamstress produced two beautiful dresses in colorful batik fabric. I thanked Jane, gave gifts to her and her granddaughter, and stopped by their office to speak to Lois and Regina.

Reflecting on the women I had met that day, I remembered an incident that happened one morning back in Accra, when I had gone to the Balme Library to do research on emerging African women writers. A scholar looked across the table and asked if I was an American, and then he asked, “In your opinion, what values are held by Ghanaian people?” Without hesitation, I answered, “Kindness, generosity, importance of family, love of children, respect for elders, desire for education, and hard work.”

Tuesday was exciting. On the way to buy liquor, I spotted an amusing sign, “Hiring / Corpse Dressing,” and thought, “Well, I’m retired, so if push comes to shove . . . .” Heading out of town past coffee farms and groves of teak trees, we soon reached Atiyeenu, a community of 32 villages, where we were greeted by a chief, linguist, queen mother, and other dignitaries. We took seats in an elementary schoolyard and could see six open-air, thatched-roof classrooms arranged in an L-shape around the courtyard.

Montana, our Ewe guide, translated our questions and then presented the chief with the liquor and money that we brought. Afterwards, the linguist gave an invocation, poured a libation, and offered a drink to the chief and to us. Then, I walked over to the fifth grade class to talk to the teacher and students, who were taking tests. “It would take so little money to help this school,” said Ben, and we discussed the possibility of raising money for the children on our return to Memphis..

We stopped next at Vonagwu Dogbeda Kete Training Center in the tiny village of Kpetoe, where men were weaving long 6" strips of beautiful Kente cloth out of silk and cotton. After making purchases for 5 to 8 cedis a strip, we drove to the village of Wodonia. The right side of the street is in Ghana and the left is in Togo, so we crossed the border into La République Togolaise and met the chief of police in front of a beat-up jail with locked doors and broken windows. A few chickens, a couple of dogs, and several barefoot children wandered through the yard or peeped behind a rundown store.

On behalf of the group, I greeted the chief in French, and then we gathered in a circular, roofed bar, attached to the store, to have a shot of palm wine, known as kpieshie, but called “kill me slowly.” Selena, Sarah, and I took the name seriously and turned down the communal cup. That night, Montana had arranged a performance by a local dance troupe, made up of 12 children, 6 adult dancers, and 6 drummers, who performed dances from Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, and the Ivory Coast by the hotel pool. Their dancing, demanding grace, flexibility, balance, and coordination, was the best that I witnessed in Ghana. After the performance, we joined the dancers in a rousing finale.

On the road again the next morning, we were going to Kumasi, a day’s journey on the Somanya Road through the Akuapin Hills. We made three stops, the first at a small village of African Americans near the Volta River, where we were greeted by Ra (formerly Randy) Wilson, a former Memphian who had made the same tour with Dr. Laumann in 2007, and who asked to accompany us to Kumasi. Ra, who returned to Ghana to live, introduced us to the queen mother, Mama Lena, and Brandon, a young, pony-tailed architect.

They explained that the village of Ye Fa Ogyamu in the community of Fihankra was founded 20 years ago by a former Memphian from Detroit. The villagers had constructed 7 beautiful homes, were building guest cottages, and were planning a small shopping center. They are among several thousand African Americans living in Ghana, many of whom own shops, restaurants, schools, and guest houses.

The next stop was at Odumase-Krobo to visit Cedi’s Bead Factory, which the Nene Nomada family has operated for two centuries. A master bead maker explained the intricate process of making beads—crushing glass, placing it in molds, firing it in kilns made of ant hills, adding holes, and cooling—after which the students bought some jewelry. We stopped for lunch at the Capital View Hotel in Koforidua (called Koff-town), capital of the Eastern Region and an important transport hub.

After several more hours, we arrived in Kumasi, a sprawling, cosmopolitan city of wide boulevards, well-marked streets, modern glass and concrete buildings, and a population of 1 ½ million. It was dark by that time, so we drove to the Engineering Guest House at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. We were delightfully surprised at the upscale guest house with its glass-enclosed, two-story lobby and large bedrooms with balconies and spacious bathrooms. After a brief rest, we went out for pizza at Sir Max, a small hotel with a restaurant around the pool, where Ra had worked as manager. Owned by a Lebanese, it was frequented primarily by Middle Easterners who were smoking their hookahs.

The next morning, we went to Machyia Palace on Antoa Road—a sprawling compound of lovely yellow buildings trimmed in brown, behind a fence with Adinkra symbols. Built in 1926, it is the palace of the 16th Asantehene (Asante king), Osei Tutu II, who returned from Britain in 1999 to take the Golden Stool, their throne. A guide took us through the museum, explaining the history and culture of the Asante, who are matrilineal; in other words, the line of descent, which determines inheritance and land rights, is traced through the female. The museum contains photographs and artifacts that belonged to recent kings. I bought A Handbook on Asante Culture by the guide/history professor, to see if he wrote about the Asante role in the slave trade.

Not one single word!

Dr. Laumann explained, in his lecture on pre-colonial history, that the Asante. were major slave traders. They built a vast empire, with Kumasi as its capital, that extended from the Comoé River in the west to the Togo Mountains in the east, and they developed a rich culture—music, Kente cloth, gold treasures, and Adinkra symbols—through the capture and sale of Africans to Europeans. Most Ghanaians, however, do not know much about the slave trade, and those who do are very conflicted about it.

Dr. Akosua Perbi, who gave an excellent lecture on “Slavery in Ghana and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade,” is one of few Ghanaian historians who has dealt with the subject. She said, “Slavery is a sensitive, unpopular subject,” and she noted that, between the writing of her thesis and dissertation, no research was done in the field. She has written that “slavery became an important part of the Asante state right from its inception. For three centuries, Asante became the largest slave-trading, slave-owning and slave-dealing state in Ghana.”

The lines of Robert Hayden’s powerful poem, “Middle Passage,” kept running through my mind:

                        [The African king] would have the drums talk war and send

                        his warriors to burn the sleeping villages

                        and kill the sick and old and lead the young

                        in coffles to our factories.

The next day, we followed the Ghanaian Trail of Tears from Kumasi to Cape Coast, the route that captured Africans—thirsty, hungry, and shackled—took from the Asante capital to the slave forts on the coast. For us, it was a journey of four hours through flat land and scattered villages; for them, it was a march of four weeks through dense undergrowth and rainforests. As we passed through the town of Obuasi, Ghana’s gold-mining center and site of the AngloGold Ashante mining company, I recalled how the Ashante first captured slaves to work in their gold mines.

Then, Ra, who continued with us to the coast, mentioned the town of Assin Manso, where enslaved Africans took a final bath in the river and were checked for fitness before reaching the coast. In 2004, the Ghanaian government erected an historic monument: buildings inside a walled compound to mark the site of the slave-trade route. The outside walls depict scenes from the slave trade, and the inside walls feature large portraits of Black freedom fighters, such as Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, and Marcus Garvey.

In 1998, the bodies of two slaves—Samuel Carson of the U. S. and Crystal of Jamaica—were flown to Ghana and buried, symbolically, in the compound’s courtyard. Finally, we walked through gates to a long path that led to the banks of the Ndonkor Nsuo (Slave River), where the captives took their final bath. Ironically, given the history of the place, it is a beautiful site: a clear, shallow stream; masses of tall bamboo along the river bank; and flat, black rocks on which you can wade into the water. I reflected on the hundreds of thousands who must have passed this way, lonely, bewildered, and heart-sick, so far from their villages. All of us were silent and pensive.

We arrived at the Biriwa Beach Hotel, a modest, slightly worn seaside facility, owned by a German couple who have lived in Ghana for 35 years. Located on a bluff overlooking the sea, the hotel has an outdoor restaurant and kitchen, where the cooks prepare fresh seafood, German dishes, and Ghanaian food. Emily, Erika, Sarah, and James spent the afternoon on the beach, while I relaxed on the dining terrace watching a convoy of fishing boats in the distance and women and children walking up the path. Of all the places we stayed, this was my favorite; I loved the wind blowing through the almond trees and the sound of waves breaking over rocks.

The next morning, Saturday, we went through the 700-year-old town of Elmina, where I saw colonial buildings in disrepair, vendors selling kenkey in blue bags, Muslim men in long robes and caps, a nude boy taking a bucket shower, and groups of women in long black dresses and head scarves on their way to a funeral. As we crossed over the Benya Lagoon, I could see to the right of the bridge, masses of people buying fresh fish from the fishermen’s colorful pirogues.             

We walked up to the gate of Elmina Castle (Castle! What a misnomer!), which the Portuguese built in 1482 as a trading post, crossed both moats, and entered the courtyard, where we met our guide. On the second level of the castle are the officers’ quarters, including their chapel, dining room, and kitchen; and to the front, is the governor’s spacious, three-room suite, overlooking the town and beach. It was obscene—the contrast between the Europeans’ comfortable quarters and the dungeon below.

Finally, we went down into the dark, dank dungeon, where as many as 150 female slaves were packed into a 15' x 20' stone-cold space and held for weeks or months—until a ship came to carry them away. There is a tiny hole (8" x 8") high up on the wall that was the only source of light and air. In the small yard outside the dungeon, there is a cannon ball, where a rebellious woman, who refused rape or fought her attacker, was punished by being strapped to the ball and left in the blistering sun without food or water. I felt like vomiting. Some of the students were quiet and withdrawn, did not want to visit the next fort, and had a hard time dealing with the experience. One complained about the commercialism—the vendors, gift shops, and restaurant.

I wanted to see the other fort but did not share with them my thoughts about the vendors. “How can we—Americans who spend so much—talk about consumerism in ideological terms when Ghanaians have so little?” I wondered. In spite of the natural resources of Ghana—its timber, gold, cocoa, hydroelectric power (all of which have decreased in value), and oil, which was discovered in 2007—approximately 37% of the people live below the poverty level, so the few cedis that the vendors, waiters, and fishermen make enable them to eke out a living.

Second, I do not think that the forts have the same impact on Africans that they do on Americans, particularly African Americans, because the average Ghanaian is not taught much about slavery and learns even less about African complicity in the slave trade. Third—and I do not know how widespread this myth is—some Ghanaians believe that the Africans who were transported to the Americas were the fortunate ones, because they arrived in the Promised Land.

At least, that was what Seestah Imahkur told us when we had lunch at One Africa, a short distance from Elmina. She and her late husband, both African Americans, started their business several years ago, in a beautiful location near the beach, under palm trees; it includes a restaurant, Pan-African museum, and several attractive, round, mud-walled, thatch-roofed huts (guest houses).                                   At the "Door of No Return"-->

Before eating, we gathered outdoors in a semi-circle, while her son lit incense, recited an invocation, and poured a libation. The food—fish, chicken, and fresh vegetables cooked Ghanaian/Southern-style—was by far the best that I had in Ghana. Afterwards, Mrs. Imahkur gave us a tour of the museum describing each of the walls on which she had attached photos and mementos of Black women, athletes, and thinkers, as well as information on the slave-trade and African liberation struggles.

After lunch, we proceeded to Cape Coast Castle, a World Heritage Site, which was one of the largest slave-holding sites in the world. Dr. Prebis had explained that of the 45 slave forts between Senegal and Cameroon, 35 of them were in the Gold Coast Colony (now Ghana). The Castle is a formidable, white-washed stone fortress of ramps, stairs, and parapets, with three dungeons: one, beneath the tower, for males; and two, on either side of the exit, for women.                      

Dr. Laumann led us down a long slope that curved to the right. I held on to the left wall because I could not see in the darkness and, then, Ben took my right hand. I could feel deep scratches and indentations in the wall, as if the captives had left evidence of their plight. I walked gingerly down the decline, afraid that I would fall on the slippery stone, where centuries-old layers of human waste—urine and feces, tears and sweat—had been deposited. When we reached the room at the bottom—its floor and walls of stone, its tiny opening for air, its long trench for waste—we were silent. Stunned.

We moved slowly into a small, adjoining room, where an elderly fetish priest, dressed in long, batik robes, was seated in a chair on a raised platform. When we entered, he rose and began chanting, probably in Fante, what I imagine was a prayer. We listened and then left a few cedis in the basket in front of him. It was a relief to get back into the sunlight. Then, I walked, alone, through the courtyard and a tunnel, past the women’s dungeons, to a high, arched door that opens to the sea.

It was from this door that slaves were loaded into small boats and carried out to ships, but, now, there were barefoot children playing in front of the open door and brightly-colored fishing boats on the beach below. I wanted to perform a ritual—to go through the “Door of No Return” and, then, return—for my ancestors who had been taken from the shores of Africa. All day, I had felt the presence of Sally, my earliest known ancestor, who had been captured in Dahomey; imprisoned, most likely, in the fort at Whydah; and then sold on the docks of Virginia around 1760, to Benjamin Hubert.

In going to Ghana, I paid homage to Sally and all the other ancestors whose names I do not know. And so, I returned home in-spirited and at peace.

posted 14 August 2009

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Submission of King Prempeh—Lord Baden Powell of the boyscouts (who was said to love young boys a BIT too much)— who was buried in Kenya and killed many Africans, was the leader of the expedition to overthrow King Prempeh the First of Ghana. He made the deposed king kneel in front of him, as he sat on a throne made of boxes of biscuits.— Binyavanga Wainaina

The Downfall—Then came the demand for payment of the indemnity for the war. Due notice had been previously given, and the Ashantis had promised to pay it; but unless the amount, or a fair proportion of it, could now be produced, the king and his chiefs must be taken as guarantee for its payment. The king could produce about a twentieth part of what had been promised. Accordingly, he was informed that he, together with his mother and chiefs, would now be held as prisoners, and deported to the Gold Coast. The sentence moved the Ashantis very visibly. Usually it is etiquette with them to receive all news, of whatever description, in the gravest and most unmoved indifference; but here was Prempeh bowing himself to the earth for mercy, as doubtless many and many a victim to his lust for blood had bowed in vain to him, and around him were his ministers on their feet, clamouring for delay and reconsideration of the case. The only "man" among them was the queen. In vain. Each chief found two stalwart British non-commissioned officers at his elbow, Prempeh being undercharge of Inspector Donovan. Their arrest was complete.—PineTreeWeb

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Ghana—Samia Nkrumah

hGhana became African's first country to gain freedom in 1957 and has since grown tremendously both politically and economically. Kwame Nkrumah is known as the country's founding father and we meet his daughter Samia Nkrumah in our next story -- who is determined to follow in her fathers footsteps.

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 Relations Between Africans and African Americans: Misconceptions, Myths and Realities

By  Godfrey Mwakikagile

 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: National Academic Press, 2005) 302 pages


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Cape Coast Castle. A Collection of Poems By Kwadwo Opoku-Agyemang / Forts and Castles of Ghana by Albert van Dantzig

Chiefs in Cape Coast, Ghana  /  Grand Durbar Parade

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Dentist Dr. Robert Lee

Championed African-American Community in Ghana

In the mid-1950s, Dr. Robert Lee, a dentist from South Carolina, moved to Ghana to escape racism in the south. Over the next half century, Lee became a fixture in the African-American community in the West African country. Dr. Lee died on Monday, July 5th at the age of 90. But few here in his home state, or in the States at all, knew of his work. But in Ghana, he made a name for himself. Dr. Robert Lee, trained as a dentist, moved to Accra in the mid-1950s. Over the past half century, Lee became a fixture in the black American ex-patriot community in Ghana. NPR

Host Michel Martin talks to NPR West African correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton about his life and legacy. Dr. Robert Lee NPR Interview

Dentist Championed African-American Community In Ghana

Dr Robert Lee passes on

Dr. Robert Lee (right) in 2009 with Kwame Zulu Shabazz

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
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#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

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#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

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#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

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#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

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#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

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#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."

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Notable Black Memphians

By Miriam DeCosta-Willis)

This biographical and historical study by Miriam DeCosta-Willis (PhD, Johns Hopkins University and the first African American faculty member of Memphis State University) traces the evolution of a major Southern city through the lives of men and women who overcame social and economic barriers to create artistic works, found institutions, and obtain leadership positions that enabled them to shape their community. Documenting the accomplishments of Memphians who were born between 1795 and 1972, it contains photographs and biographical sketches of 223 individuals (as well as brief notes on 122 others), such as musicians Isaac Hayes and Aretha Franklin, activists Ida B. Wells and Benjamin L. Hooks, politicians Harold Ford Sr. and Jr., writers Sutton Griggs and Jerome Eric Dickey, and Bishop Charles Mason and Archbishop James Lyke—all of whom were born in Memphis or lived in the city for over a decade. . .  .


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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 25 March 2012




Home   Miriam DeCosta-Willis Table

Related files: Dark Tourism in Ghana: The Joseph Project   Tarzan Can Not Return to Africa (A-B-C-D)   Tarzan Can Not Return to Africa   (E-F-G-H) / Tarzan Can Not Return to Africa  (I-J-K-L)  

Tarzan Can Not Return to Africa   (M-N-O-P-Q-R)    Tarzan Can Not Return to Africa (S-T-U-V-W-X-Y-Z) / Wright's Ghana in the 1950s    Miriam in Ghana  Pilgrimage  to Ghana    

Randolph Visits Ghana  Right to Abode  Where Ghana Went Right