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Ghana Studies v.7 (2004) pp. 79-91. THE POLITICS OF MEMORY: GHANA'S CAPE COAST CASTLE MUSEUM EXHIBITION "CROSSROADS OF PEOPLE, CROSSROADS OF TRADE"1 Christine Mullen Kreamer National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution plaque mounted at the doorway to the dungeon at Cape Coast Castle, Ghana, bears the inscription: IN EVERLASTING MEMORY Of the anguish of our ancestors. May those who died rest in peace. May those who return find their roots. May humanity never again perpetuate Such injustice against humanity. We, the living, vow to uphold this. --Inscription at Cape Coast Castle The exhibition “Crossroads of People, Crossroads of Trade” opened in December 1994 at the Cape Coast Castle Museum in Ghana (Figure 1). The exhibition, designed to last for years but by no means envisioned as the permanent installation it has become, spans some 500 years of Ghana's history and places the country’s historic forts and castles within broad economic, political and historical contexts, including the contexts of the transatlantic slave trade and its legacy. The inscription noted above is a testament to the terrible history of the slave trade and the place of Cape Coast Castle in it; a tribute and prayer to those who were enslaved and forced from home to endure the horrors of the Middle Passage, the brutality of enslavement and the struggle for freedom; and a challenge to all of us to keep alive the memory of this tragic chapter in human history so that such inhumanity will never occur again. It is likely that the plaque was installed after the opening of the “Crossroads” exhibition, perhaps as a way to begin a process of reconciliation following years of tense and, at times, acrimonious debate about the ownership, use and interpretation of Cape Coast Castle and, by extension, other historic sites associated with the slave trade. The debates A CHRISTINE MULLEN KREAMER 80 were articulated by individuals and groups—local Ghanaian citizens, but especially museum and government officials; an international team (largely American) of technical experts, myself included; resident expatriate African Americans; and international tourists to Ghana, primarily African Americans and others of African descent who were and remain particularly invested in visiting Ghana’s historic sites. This essay briefly highlights some of the aspects of globalization, memory and the politics of cultural representation of an international economic and cultural development project (called The Ghana Natural Resource Conservation and Historic Preservation Project) set in Ghana, West Africa, in the early-mid 1990s, within which the “Crossroads” exhibition was produced. By their very nature, such large-scale development initiatives are complex undertakings that involve multiple constituents who bring to the process their own interests, expectations, and perceptions of project objectives and outcomes—factors that lead, at times, to contradictions, misunderstandings, and power struggles. Add to the mix a large influx of U.S. donor agency funds, the designation of the Figure 1 Cape Coast Castle with opening exhibition banner. December, 1994. Photograph: 2005 Tom Lamb/Lamb Studio. “CROSSROADS OF PEOPLE, CROSSROADS OF TRADE” 81 Ghanaian sites as UNESCO World Heritage monuments, and the financial implications of increasing cultural tourism, and the potential is high for multiple sites of contestation that pit the local against the global. The geography of contestation is, in this instance, particularly significant, for it concerns sites in Ghana associated with the transatlantic slave trade. As both objects and spaces, Ghana’s forts and castles, and particularly the two most well-known structures, Elmina Castle and Cape Coast Castle, are imbued with multiple interpretations of history and memory by the different constituencies laying claim to these sites. They are viewed as the cultural heritage and responsibility of the nation of Ghana, on whose soil these sites reside. At the same time, they are collectively claimed by the world by virtue of their designations as UNESCO World Heritage monuments. Their international tourism potential marks them as a “value added industry” (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 1998: 150) capable of bringing economic benefits to the national coffers as well as to local and international entrepreneurs. Furthermore, because communities often look to museums and historic sites as places in which identity is articulated, a subsection of international interest in Ghana’s heritage...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2333-7168
Print ISSN
1536-5514
Pages
pp. 79-91
Launched on MUSE
2019-10-31
Open Access
No
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