Day 9 – The Return Journey

up to this moment my interaction with Panafest has mostly been through visits to Adisadel village at nite (for performances of local musicians ) and conversationa with the Panafest staff as to what exactly is going to happen and what will NOT happen…i finally got my Panafest t-shirt and a schedule of events …however these events may be subject to shift in time or space, if in fact, they aren’t cancelled.

i release this frustration and make plans for the ‘Return Journey’ – a ceremonial boat ride from Cape Coast Castle to El Mina Castle…it is scheduled to begin at 9am – which i told really means 10 am…i decide to head to Cape Coast at 9am anyway as i want to take another moment to walk through the dungeon grounds…

the morning as i prepare to head off to the Castle, i find out that there is no running water at the hotel and resign to using the bottle watered i had bought to drink, to wash myself with…this action transforms to a ‘baptism’ of a sort as i ponder on this boat ride- having never been out in the ocean on a boat ever! my fears do not keep me from taking the steps to the taxi awaiting me …

by 9:15 i am at the Castle…no one, not even the castle workers are there…about 30 minutes later, castle staff arrive…another 15 minutes later a couple from Barbados come sit next to me…i find out they too are waiting for this Boat Ride….another 40 minutes and someone from Panafest arrives .. we are told that the water is rough and we may not be able to go on this water excursion….another 30 minutes pass and they check in with the Chief fisherman of this area and finally are cleared to head out….the ceremony begins (impromptu) in another 45 minutes…we gather in a circle (by now about another 25 participants have shown up) and are lead through the castle grounds by an elder who has been involved in guiding people for over twenty years…


Hearing this guide’s words awakens me to a deeper connection to these surroundings – a feeling that brings me to thinking about my ancestors being here…this guide provides a fuller picture of what transpired in the specfic areas ….i become aware of the ground beneath me at the male dungeons – that i am standing on hundreds of years old feces, piss, blood, sweat, skin and bones from my ancestors….thousands of African’s bodies piled ontop of each other as they screamed, sought comfort in each other, tried to communicate and fought to survive…

inside the holding area – directly adjacent to the door of no return – another elder (a women from USA) talks about how this space was where the first time the men and women would be together prior to being ‘escorted’ through the door to the ship…she further went into an in-depth diatribe about the women’s breast being a gateway to not only fertility but power…not at all about being sexualized but honored and respected…that in their own dungeons, the women would be violated by the European men and forced to have sex..giving birth to multiracial generations of New Africans…. though they may have been violated by these men, the breasts of our [African ancestral] woman are INDEED sacred…

my whole being is so open and alive now…sensitive to the air and smells of the ocean so close by…aware of the opening of the door of no return …now i look through the door and see the fishermen and women and children doing their daily activites – preparing nets, cleaning fish, voyaging out on the small boats to capture more fish….i recall a brief history lesson i received earlier in my journey from my ‘son’…he tells me of how this was a fishing kingdom – the Fanti – prior to the arrival of the Europeans…as they go through their daily routine, i wonder of how greatly their rituals have been impacted/interrupted by the arrival of colonialization, slavery and NOW me and other people of the Diaspora wishing to have a water experience on their ocean coast…

i recall how i do not know how to swim as i reach for a life preserver and then strapped into it by one of the Panafest volunteers – no actually it is the Chief Fisherman who is assisting me…i am hearing the sounds of the fisherpeople and the ocean….i go back to an earlier memory of seeing children taken through the Castle foreground and on their own guided tour..i think about the many children in the states who need to be here….i am brought back to the present with the sight of the boat that will supposedly take us over to El Mina…it more resembles a large canoe! there are young men swimming around it who guide it close to the coast and dock it near us….i then see some other young men[fishermen] lifting the participants on their shoulders and carrying them over to the boat; men in the boat lift them onto the wooden boards that also serve as sitting spots for the water ride…it seems as if this carrying and lifting is part of some great initiation that i need to do in order to go on this journey and i take a deep breath as i am lifted onto the shoulders of a young man who is probably half my age….the feeling of bouyancy overtakes me as i then lifted by two other gentlemen onto the boat…this happens to about another 15 people before we are ready to embark….

i tried to write as i wait but the shifts of the boat do not allow for it and one of the young men overseeing the boat laughs at me….

the water passage begins…not until i am on board is it confirmed that it will take 1 – 1 1/2 hours to get to the other castle…this is BY FAR the deepest experience of my travels so far!
at first i am able to snap a photo of the fading image of Cape Coast Castle; but minutes later it is like i am seized by ancestors coming up from the ocean waves and on board…i feel the density of that salt-tinged ancestrals bodies on top of me….i cannot open my eyes and i am getting heavier and heavier as i sense more and more ancestral bodies piling on top of me til the weight is almost unbearable and i can barely breathe….

i stay like this for the rest of the water voyage – unable to move and having only quick bursts of eyeing El mina…the only comfort is the sounds of the waves and the sensation that this will end….i wonder how my ancestors must have endured this journey NOT knowing will or if it will end…going on for months in cramped spaces, chained, ensconsed in darkness…

for what seemed like a day later, i hear the sounds of men’s voices and the yelps of people above…i am able to open my eyes and see people of El mina on an overpass ‘welcoming’ the boat in…i am so relieved but STILL unable to move….we first try to dock at a spot where we would have to be carried AGAIN across water to land….a woman in front of me is carried from the boat to the land and falls into the water as she is almost about to take her first step on land…in some ways it seems appropriate that she should touch water before land, but this causes commotion among the welcomers and the rest of us aboard are taken to a new port to dismount….i am the first to be lifted and land on this new site…a band of revelers and welcomers try to hug and cheer and salute me but i am not able to speak and distance myself from them….

the welcoming band and revelers proceed to hug and greet the others, but for me this is anticlimatic…particular the post-welcoming ceremony and joyous march through the castle grounds…i am spent and heavy and full of thoughts…it takes me another 1 hour before i am able to say anything…i head back to the hotel to relax before going AGAIN to adisadel for performances..

even the wuza wuza dance group from accra – with it’s exciting contemporary interpretive dance – is not able to phase me as i long for a bed to rest and cogitate …

later that day into the night the hotel and surrounding are experiences blackout number 12 & 13, but i am still too deep in thought about my water passage to be distracted by the lack of light…

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Author: Barak adé Soleil

creative practitioner, independent consultant and curator. making dance, performance art and theatre. working within community.

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