21 Days, 37 years, 20-somethin decades, 21 centuries

21 days of this journey…21 including the initial departure which i consider DAY 0 …Day 1 being my first landing foot on Ghana’s terrain….

37 years since i began life that amounted to 2 hours of wondering if 37 would be the last year i exist in?

20 somethin decades of historicized enslavement for Africans inside the Transatlantic triangle..of being shackled, imprisoned, tortured and taken to an unknown land; where they would be used and abused for the purposes of commerce and cultivation of fruitful but never fully delivered promises….

21 centuries of existence for a people who are still struggling to be FREE!

the residue from these cumulative memories of my trip to Ghana in July of 2007 has left an indelible mark on my soul… the recounting of the incident on my last day in Ghana spiritually linked me to the pre-captured moments of Africans..that moment, prior to being grabbed and taken, when they may have been smiling or having a great arguement or simply relaxing….that ‘pre-capture’ moment is something i never fully comprehended until i had a similar experience..similar but BY NO MEANS as in-depth or extensive….i wish i had their strength…i still feel weakened by the thought that i could not endure two hours of feeling ‘captured’, when they may have experienced months of years of being held against their will….i write these words in THEIR honor….

out of respect for the people i encountered in Ghana i have MOSTLY used their initials…please begin ‘at the very beginning’ [” D UNDERBELLY has entered Ghana”] and read your way through each ‘day’ to experience the linear journeying….or pick a day and take in a moment along the my pathway towards re-remembering ancestral memories…YOU MAY ALSO simply read the truncated version from my journeys at the end of this entry; then if you desire go deeper into each day’s recount…

the images are pulled from the internet…my pics will arrive on here shortly as this blog continues to evolve…

when beginning this blog, for some odd reason, Truman Capote’s introducing of the genre ‘non-fiction novel’ [with his infamous debut ‘In Cold Blood] came to mind’ ..by no means am i anywhere near his incredible objectivity or succint clarity….my ‘non-fiction novella’ is delivered with much subjectivity and a heap of drama!…but this is my truthful recount…TRUTH also being subjective as there are ‘select’ omissions and re-remembered details…
if there are questions, challenges, clarifications of or desire for more in-depth explanations on anything i’ve written, don’t hesitate to contact me at mail@dunderbelly.com…you can also feel free to leave your comments on ‘any given day’…

and lastly
some thoughts surrounding Ghanaian “hospitality”:
— Ghana is supposedly known for its hospitality…AKWAABA (welcome) is all that i hear as i arrive to ACCRA…. and throughout my stay i am bombarded with this saying…i wonder what lies beneath that veneer…for some i believe it is about survival which leads to hustling tourists for money, food or assistance with education….for others it is just their ‘nature’…perhaps it is linked to this notion of ‘family’ or ‘brotherhood’ that i will continue to become conscious of as i immerse myself in the culture and people…this notion that “we all must take care of each other” and if i am to desire to be a part of Ghana’s family, this incredible sense of brotherhood, then i must be willing to take care of ALL my brothers and sisters?…hmmm…kindness flows throughout this country, INDEED, but ‘hospitality’, i believe, is sometimes tainted with the desperate need to survive…

TRUNCATED VERSION [no images, just written excerpts from the journey] :

the residue from these cumulative memories of my trip to Ghana in July of 2007 has left an indelible mark on my soul… the recounting of the incident on my last day in Ghana spiritually linked me to the pre-captured moments of Africans..that moment, prior to being grabbed and taken, when they may have been smiling or having a great arguement or simply relaxing….that ‘pre-capture’ moment is something i never fully comprehended until i had a similar experience..similar but BY NO MEANS as in-depth or extensive….i wish i had their strength…i still feel weakened by the thought that i could not endure two hours of feeling ‘captured’, when they may have experienced months or years of being held against their will….


DAY 2 – Cape Coast is located in the central region of Ghana – about two and 1/2 hours from Accra and houses the infamous Cape Coast Castle along with many forts…

a two hour walk to Cape Coast Castle that i had no intention of originally embarking on…

i am in awe of its presence and i simply immerse myself in its surroundings, spatial configurations and general sensations…i decide not to go inside but take in its outer walls and the ocean

the magnitude of this historical figure renders me speechless…

the interaction between the West African guests (all of whom are male) and the Hotel staff (also alll male) intrigues me as i muse over:
African slavery historically and African entitlement currently; if Europeans enslaved based on economics and fear, then can it be thought that Africans would enslave and have enslaved based on status and power? this way in which i witnessed this interaction stimulated such a hypothesis….i also imagine that there were Africans whom might have been driven by greed as well, but i doubt that fear played into their connection to enslavement of other Africans..who knows?

… evening i have been introduced to hip-life music which is a rich fusion of high-life music of ghana with hip-hop culture…producing a mix that honors the old school with the new school…though i don’t think my Ghanaian brothers whom i meet would feel that high life is old by any means….here the contemporary and the traditional or past are married in such a way that it is not thought of as old or new.

seeking ‘redemption’ inside Cape Coast & Elmina Castles
Day 4  

this day i decide to return to Cape Coast Castle and go inside the spaces of my ancestors…
‘you came here for redemption’ is what i am told by the first staff member i speak to at the entrance….i wonder how many others can ‘read’ this on my face or inside my heart….

i take many pictures but am unable to say or write about the experience of being inside the male and female slave dungeons, cells, and spaces where they were held prior to going through the infamous ‘door of no return’…

outside the castle i walk around the area and see a slavery foundation site… on a white placard lists the address of the foundation and a quote by Marcus Garvey:
“No one knows when the hour of Africa’s redemption cometh. It is in the wind, it is coming. One day like a storm, it will be here. When that day comes, all of African will stand together.”

as i continue along a path that leads me to a historic part of Cape Coast, i catch an incidental march signalling the beginning of Panafest….tonite the grounds of Adisadel park will open with a marketplace and performances..

El Mina’s St George Castle seems larger than Cape Coast and has a moat surrounding the castle…in the distance i can see Fort Jago – walking distance away, but i decide to focus on the Castle….unlike Cape Coast i immediately decide to enter into the depths of the castle and can feel the ancestral sensations the moment i step inside the female dungeon…it is a feeling so palpable and strong …it’s like can still smell the stench of shit and blood and piss of those African females ( i say females and not womyn because young girls were there as well) that were held here…on the ground i see markings that seem to resemble some adinkra symbols or other symbolic language….along another corridor i go inside a dark cavernous area and am engulfed by bats….

by the time i have surveyed the castle i am aware of the residual sensations each area has left on me and take a moment to be still and reflect silently on what i experienced..i head back to Cape Coast with a heaviness in my heart and longing for further reflection.

the seemingly incidental opens up a memory from my past…
on the radio i hear about Panafest and its origin 15 years ago and am reminded of my first memories of hearing about Panafest in America – while i was living in MN….when i picked up an Insight newspaper and read about the remains of slaves found in New York and Jamaica…how they were going to be brought back to Ghana and taken through the ‘Door of No Return’ at Cape Coast…i had a feeling then that i would be going to Ghana and having a chance myself to experience walking throught the infamous portal of so many Africans to America….

Day 6 – Assin Manso
the long walk for my ancestral Africa to who knows where?
Assin Manso is the site where the slave remains of Samuel Carver (found in Jamaica) and Crystal (found in New York – wall street area) were brought to rest – these were the slave remains that i had read about a decade ago in the Mn Insight….and on 31st of July, 1998 they were laid here and this set forth the following day (August 1st) as Emancipation day …this is also where slaves from Salaga market up north were taken and had their ‘last bath’…though Salaga was known as the marketplace where slaves from Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali came enroute to Cape Coast and Elmina, Assin Manso (at least from what the Guide says) is the largest slave market place where they were auctioned off…hence the need for the last bath – no one wanted a ‘dirty’ slave and since they would have walked the many miles to get here (from up north at Salaga towards Tamale, it is a 5-6 hour CAR ride…so imagine WALKING, chained together at the feet, hands and neck, for that far)…

We are taken deeper into the site, through trees and forest, to where the sacred Ndonkoso(?) waters flowed…sacred because the ancestral bodies last cleansed themselves…these waters flow to the Oci river…it is a moment for stillness and DEEP reflection…i notice the texture of the trees located next to the bath area, the color of the water, the sounds of the river, the quiet …

the inside wall of the entrance gate are the pictures of certain celebrated “Emancipators”:
Freed Slave Gordon of Louisiana (1863)
Martin Luther King
W.E.B. Dubois (his name was mispelt at the site “Du-dois)
Sojourner Truth
Booker T. Washington
Dr. Kwame Nkrumah
Harriet Tubman
Benjamin Singleton – “walk and never tire”
Ouladah Equiano
Frederick Douglas
George Ekem Ferguson – Cape Coast local politician and explorer
Marcus Garvey – father of black consciousness

G makes a very insightful clarification when discussing Europeans taking Africans as slaves…he refers to them as OPPRESSORS and not MASTERS because “no man is the master of another!”

this marks a significant internal consciousness awakened surrounding the legacy of slavery and i am silent for the return trip back to Cape Coast….

Day 7 – exploring the forts
to explore on my own the forts of Ghana…and interact with the people
..we first venture up Fort Victoria which is the smaller of the Cape Coast forts….the forts were created to oversee the town and protect the castle from intruders – a lookout..unlike the Castles, the forts do not offer tours or guides but most likely have overseers which live in and around the area… we make it up to the top of the hill, but in order to actually go inside the fort we must climb over the wall… a frail looking ladder is our other option but i dismiss either option and simply take in the view of a lovely mango tree nearby…

we then head over to the larger Fort Williams which is much easier to ascend to….we are also able to head inside the fort and up to the top …there i am able to take in an incredible view of the town and bask in its serenity and beauty….G points out all the distinct areas of the town (which i cannot remember their specific names)…i feel like i could be there for a whole day, but the forthcoming rain imposes a shorter timeframe….

Day 8 – time for Church
the depth of spirituality…in the midst of European artifices…and religion..
Having seen so many impressive and inventive church structures while walking throughout Cape Coast, i am glad to be able to have a moment to experience being part of a congregation…J (waitstaff at Cape Coast) invites me to his church (Christian Life Cathedral) for Thursday healing service…G and J happen to know each other and so G accompanies me to pick up J from his place and head over to the Church…

it is raining and seems to be very fitting to be part of a healing service…

though this ‘church’ is not as grand as the others, it is spiritually one of the most impressive spaces i have experienced….everyone is tuned into the pastors words as he flows from English to one of the many local languages…sometimes translated by another member of his pastoral team, sometimes only translated through a ‘feeling’ or sensation….the music is a mixture of gospel like rhythms and gregorian chanting…i am spellbound…and swayed by the depth of emotion and community inside this moment…the pastor calls on those in need of healing and first, in groups, they come to a semicircle around the pastor’s stand…the ‘pastoral team’ positions themselves behind the members as the pastors calls out the pain or anguish of the inflicted souls…some fall out while others simply bow their heads and take in the Pastor’s chanting….those that get the ’spirit’ and attended to by one of team, while others who have sought healing but have stayed grounded, return to their seat and pray…..at one point each one of us goes up to be anointed by the pastor and i wonder if i would be sent into a ’spiritual’ possession as one of the many members whom has sought healing is going through….i too sense my own need to heal but restrain from falling under and hold onto G’s hand for support and grounding…

Day 9 – The Return Journey
RETURNING to the sensations of my ancestors…
‘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!

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 generations of New Africans….

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 call forth 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…

there are young men swimming around the small boat guiding it closer to the coast and dock it near us….i see some other young men lifting the participants on their shoulders and carrying them over to the boat; where there 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….

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 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 the 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 hour before i am able to say anything…

Day 10 – 12 the “opening” ceremony and evolving consciousness
the accumulation of visceral kinesthetic, verbal and visual experiences from these past days has filled me with such a heightened state of consciousness…awakening me to a deeper understanding of my connections to Africa….
venture to the Jubilee grounds where the official OPENING of Panafest is to take place…Jubilee was Victoria Park before they decided to have the 50th anniversary of Ghana’s idependence from British colonial rule there…they renamed it JUBLILEE…
by 12noon ish the fanfare begins with stiltwalkers and musicians and MUCH pomp and circumstance…

in Elmina i walk around town and up the hill to Ft Jago…
i begin to recognize the flavor of Elmina – how the people look, smell and speak distinguishes them from Cape Coast peeps…An elderly gent approaches me at Ft Jago when he notices that i am not able to enter the locked entrance…despite his eccentricity ( imagine a homeless man in ny subway prophesizing), he profoundly professes about brotherhood and unity among all Africans…some younger men offer me food and to commune with them…there is an openess in their spirit that makes me smile…

‘Ultimate Consciousness raising Conversation with C’ – (Panafest staff)…in such few shifts of language, he opened me to re-thinking how we view slavery..i have paraphrased and contextualized what he shared with me:

*ENSLAVED not Slaves — “we need to remove ourselves from being categorized as victims and to stop thinking of ourselves as SLAVES..”

*OPPRESSOR not Master — he reiterated what G had said which was” that NO ONE IS THE MASTER OF ANOTHER..”

DUNGEON not Castle –

 “when we think of Castles, we romanticize a vision of a beautiful place with dragons and princesses and knights in shining armor…NONE OF THAT should be associated with these areas that enslaved people, imprisoned them in dark damp overcrowded enviroments; where they had little to eat and had to shit, piss and cry where they also sat, laid and waited….it’s time to remove that term [CASTLE] from history books…”

..the importance of oral tradition..
Prof. Nana Opoku-Agyemong:
‘That which will not go away…the effects of the slave trade’ is my paraphrased version of her theme…An English lit professor, she eloquently unites historical perspectives with the oral narratives of people throughout West Africa to adress the legacies of our collective experience…i abstract this query from her lecture: what is our take on this supposed history that has been documented and written mostly by Europeans? and how does it reconcile with oral memories of our people?
memory is key to my work and to why i am here…to validate, affirm and bring to conscious the memories of our people that have been subverted, hidden and unexamined…these memories, in her work, have been illuminated through the oral narratives she has collected and continues to collect…these documented narratives seem to honor the memories that did not come to surface in the writings of Europeans who wrote about the middle passage…her work, for me, further illuminates the ‘coincidence of fate’ interlocking Africans on the continent with those of the continuum of the Diaspora as it seeks unmask the educational institution which, she believes, continues to systematically extract the ‘human element’ from validated historical books…’where is the feeling and emotion…where is the humanity’ she asks? for her, and i agree, it is in the oral accounts, in the songs that she brings to the foreground… i believe that added to this are the ancestral kinesthetic memories that continue to permeate present African people of the Diaspora; the purpose of my trip under the auspices of the Jerome foundation…in america we still feel the residue of lynching, shackles the aftertaste of salty ocean water… this is the ‘body connection’ to the ‘human element’ that she longs for in the past historical recounts of the enslavement of Africans inside the “triangular trade’…

there is much to take in between her and the second gentlemans impassioned speech…Dr. Kofi Sam speaks on Pan-African technology convergence…such potent and powerful information, he shares, but i can only write down few quotes:

“science is universal, technology is environmental”…

“Yes Africa is indeed suffering from AIDS: Acquired IMPORT DEPENDENCY SYSTEM”!

candlelight vigil in the center of town which will lead to the Cape Coast DUNGEON where Pre-Emancipation ceremonies and presentations are to take place…

“We came from the water and to the water we shall return – TO HEAL”
i wrote that saying about 4 years ago…drawing upon a quote than an elder in my family had passed onto me…after the vigil and the ceremonies (which i will not detail or discuss) HEALING is the necessary element i had omitted from that saying…
i will mention a few elements from this nites proceedings:

the honoring of ONE AFRICA…i know little of this man, but he was truly revered in Ghana..i believe he originally came from New York or somewhere in the States and moved to Ghana to live, inspire, and give back…

the MANY songs, dances and speeches which DID NOT exhaust me or the many people as the countdown to midnite came closer…

the going into the MALE HOLDING AREA for a sacred anointing and cleansing ceremony…

the ROLL CALL OF THE ANCESTORS at midnite (the beginning of the inaugurated EMANCIPATION DAY)

the meditation, reconciliation and releasing that continued on throughout the nite til there was but only the staff to escort me out of the Cape Coast dungeon..

EMANCIPATION? i am not sure if i felt the exhiliration i longed for when first reading about this inaugurated day at least 7 years ago, but i sure DID FEEL EXHAUSTION

DAY 17 – surveying of Forts
Ft Amsterdam is the first fort in the Fante region of the Gold Coast (former name of Ghana)…it was first inhabited by British settlers(originally named Fort Kormantin) and later taken over by the Dutch which gave it is present name…it was later reclaimed by the British, but kept its Dutch name…

after giving an offering to the caretaker of the fort, i and my driver B(who originally took me to Cape Coast) roam around the the dwellings…this is B’s first time visiting the site as well and he is struck by its beauty and simplicity…unlike most of the other forts – which only served as look-out points or battle points – Ft Amsterdam served as a captive spot for the enslaved…and as i discover upon site of Amsterdam’s ‘door of no return’ , Africans were also shipped off to Europe and the Americas from here….in the center court of this fort is a very old tree – thick and mangly, yet majestic….it reminds of those trees you may find in New Orleans…those trees that seem to have captured the many spirits of those people whom have come in contact with it…a tree that, if it could speak, would be able to tell some of the most horrific and spellbinding tales…a tree that, if it could speak, may chose not to reveal the sacred secrets or the hidden encounters that it has witnessed…

DAY 18
The Nathional Theatre an impressive structure that houses very striking sculptural works commemorating the building’s opening and its relation to Africa/Ghana’s connection to the past and present…in particular are two pieces that i found incredibly detailed; both hand-carved wooden sculpural pieces – one dealing with the legacy of slavery and the other aptly titled Sankofa… intertwined in these works are elements, faces, and symbols that awaken so many memories of images i have encountered when researching the African diaspora…

DAY 19
F’s cousin, Is, shares with me geographical and contextual insight into Ghana:

– he begins with sharing about ACC – giving a couple of particular details that i would like to note–30% of the people(families) that are a part of this artisan village/marketplace are actual craftsman…..these crafts people will oftentimes pass their trade onto their children or close family members…NO ONE (knowingly or with consent) resides on these dwellings – arriving at 4 or 5am to begin their day…this is a ‘warm-up’ for him as Is then begins to go deeper in the recesses of his mind to pull up other tidbits…

– He takes me to one table and speaks on Adinkra symbols, their meanings and relationship to the earlier history of Ghana – i am too enthralled to even put pen to paper…

– Alongside the Adinkra symbols are ornate bronze and silver pieces that I tells tales of each one’s origin and connection to Ghana’s labelling as “Gold Coast”…

– He then recalls the 10 Regions — Greater Accra, Central, Volta, Western, Ashanti, Upper West, Eastern, Northern, Upper East, Brong-Ahafo…including particular names of cities, villages, ethnicities and historic sites, as he conjures up a vivid picture of this country’s topography…it is like he unlocked an encyclopedia of information from his mind by the time he finishes his ‘lesson’ with me!

i try to scribble down as much as i could, but could not keep up with his arsenal of facts, statistics and clarifications…WOW!

witnessing national dance company rehearse…my “studying” came from not masters and teachers of dance per se, but the friends and people whom i met along the way…ottom…i am privvy to seeing the dance unfold as layers of people move in and out of the space, while musicians interactm, play and sometimes act/dance inside the rehearsal…the director seamlessly moves in and out of the space that the dancer/performers inhabit; giving out instructions, critique and impromptu choreography as the work-thru continues…the movement is not disimilar to any of the other traditional performances i have seen in Ghana or elsewhere, but the ENERGY and COMMITMENT of the dancers illuminates their willingness to ‘really go there’ even though it is just a rehearsal…truly admirable…45 minutes later they have collapsed on the stage, spent and ready to receive feedback from the rehearsal director…by the time this rehearsal ‘ballet’ has ended, they have: “gone to war, been enslaved, travelled across the Atlantic, and returned to their homeland – at least that is what i gathered from the gestural language, movement and music…i wonder how it connects to the title of the piece – “In The Chest of a Woman”?

[for the incident see DAY 20 – DAY OF RECKONING]



Author: Barak adé Soleil

contemporary artist, independent consultant and curator. working within community.

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