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Ghana Studies v.7 (2004) pp. 59-78. “SLAVE CASTLES” AND THE TRANSATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE: GHANAIAN AND AFRICAN AMERICAN PERSPECTIVES Brempong Osei-Tutu Introduction Since February 2002, I have been investigating through interviews, library research and participant observation, the different perspectives that Ghanaians and African Americans bring to the restoration of Cape Coast and Elmina Castles. What I have found most intriguing are the perceptions of African Americans that Ghanaians lack an understanding of the slave trade and its implications. These sentiments, captured in the following statement attributed to Dr. Robert Lee, a dentist and one of the pioneer African American expatriates in Ghana, echoes the feelings of most African Americans I have interviewed.1 The African doesn’t really understand the slave trade. To bring it up causes him embarrassment. If they can make money out of turning these places (i.e. the castles) into shrines of tourism for Africans in the diaspora to come back and wail and gnash their teeth, then so be it. They’re businessmen. But to go deeper into the psychological and historical import of the slave trade is not what most Africans wish to do (Phillips 2000:153, italics, my addition). The statement has multiple layers of meaning. I identify three differing, and to some extent contradictory, arguments, namely: One, that Ghanaians do not understand the slave trade. Two, that Ghanaians understand the slave trade but are more interested in commodifying associated significant sites of memory such as Cape Coast and Elmina Castles, and three, that Ghanaians understand the slave trade but do not wish to talk about it. This paper relates these sentiments to the actions of Ghanaian officials by linking the restoration project with the transatlantic slave trade, colonialism and Pan-Africanism, or what I call Ghana’s transatlantic agenda, as well as those of Ghanaian individuals and social groups, to argue that Ghanaians bring different degrees of understanding to the slave trade. BREMPONG OSEI-TUTU 60 Ghana’s Transatlantic Agenda Through a broader transatlantic program, Ghanaian authorities have linked the restoration of Cape Coast and Elmina Castles with atonement for ancestral role in the slave trade, Pan-Africanism including Pan-African Historical Theater Festival (PANAFEST), Emancipation Day ceremonies and the repatriation of ancestral remains from the United States and Jamaica for re-interment in Ghana. With funding from USAID and UNDP, (the United Nations Development Programme), Ghanaian authorities restored and preserved Cape Coast Castle, Elmina Castle and Fort St. Jago from the early 1990s as part of the historic preservation component of a broader integrated development project that was initiated to stimulate socioeconomic development in the Central Region of Ghana (Hyland 1995; MUCIA 1991). The monuments’ restoration was linked to adaptive uses, cultural exposition and tourism development “to assure their long-term maintenance and viability” (MUCIA 1991:8). In addition, Ghanaian authorities, with UNESCO’s support, have spearheaded the Slave Route project, which seeks to connect significant sites and events associated with the transatlantic slave trade. In April 1995, Ghana hosted an international conference in Accra, which resulted in the Accra Declaration on the Slave Route project. The Declaration states the following objective, inter alia: To rehabilitate, restore and promote both movable and immovable heritage left behind by the Slave Trade, to enhance cultural tourism, highlighting its common nature for Africa, Europe, the Americas, and the Caribbean (WTO 1995:3). The Ministry of Tourism and Modernization of the Capital City subsequently organized a national and international conference on slave routes in Accra from 3rd to 5th November, 2003 and 30th August to 2nd September 2004 respectively, as part of a program that seeks to commemorate the struggle against slavery and its abolition. Atonement for Ancestral role in the Atlantic Slave Trade Ghanaian chiefs have performed ceremonies both in Ghana and the United States to atone for the ancestral role in the transatlantic slave trade. Those in Ghana were performed in Accra during PANAFEST 1998 (Daily Graphic Supplement, July 30, 1998:4), and during a four-day conference “SLAVE CASTLES” AND THE TRANSATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE 61 on “Reparation and Repatriation” organized by the African World Reparation and Repatriation Truth Commission (AWRRTC) in August 1999. The late Nana Oduro Numapau, a former...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2333-7168
Print ISSN
1536-5514
Pages
pp. 59-78
Launched on MUSE
2019-10-31
Open Access
No
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