Day 6 – Assin Manso and the Return of my son

My newest friend G agrees to meet at my hotel in the morning and accompany me to Assin Manso via local transit…it will take almost 2 hours to get there…we take a taxi to the center of the town’s market known as Kotokoraba…from there we get in a van that will take us to Assin Manso..the fare is crazy cheap – 2 dollars for the both of us combined…


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 …

i head back to the original site we began the tour and take in the memorial wall of return – where people for all over the diaspora can pay to have their names or their departed’s names commemorated ….also along 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”
Cinque
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….

G heads off after i make it back to the hotel and promises to meet me at Adisadel later…

in the late afternoon my son returns and we further discuss his goal of continuing his studies…i am not moved by his outline or impressed with his excuses for not having a job…we distance from each other for the next couple of days…

that nite at Adisadel (which became my nitely hangout for the rest of this journey) a BLACKOUT occurred…. this marks the 7th blackout i have experienced since arriving in Accra – ghana has a energy shortage issue i am told…but my spirit is not disturbed by that – i am still full from what i witness and heard while at Assin Manso….

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Day 5 – Plantains and Red Red and Kenkey — oh my!


i decide to journey to El Mina solo as i had a deep discussion with my son last nite about learning to understand the value of money and the woes of hustling ….he professes that he is truly in need of assistance to go to school to continue his studies and that i as his new american dad should help…i counter with asking him to map out very specifically his goals and plans to look for a job to assist his finances…i give him a couple of days to finish this and then i will consider his wish for me to help…he is not happy with my challenge, truly wants to go to El Mina and be my guide….i tell him i will be ‘boko’ and he needs to have his outline ready on our agreed date to meet…he obliges.


i set off to El Mina in the morning with my driver Amank- …taxis are easy to come by and you can negotiate with them to pay by the trip, hour or day…El Mina is about 30 minutes from Cape Coast and it costs me 40,000 cedis or 4 new ghanaian dollars ( about 5 us dollars) each way…he will take me back as well…


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 one can still smell the stench from the centuries of spilt 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….i am haunted by each of these spaces i move through…

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


By now i have become immersed in the savory world of Ghanaian cuisine and order Redred with Plantains for lunch… Redred is a stew based dish with beans that is usually served with some sort of meat, but i am keen on maintaining a vegetarian based-diet and can no longer look at the beady eyes of the fish (tilapia) that they often serve…i can also choose fufu (ground casava), kenkey (ground and fired maize) or bankra/bankuy( cassava/maize mix) with a soup (what the fufu or kenkey would be dipped or sitting in) a or stew (more like a sauce or paste to accompany rice and meat)…almost everything i eat has palm oil and pepper in it and my stomach is beginning to challenge these local substances… i also learn about ‘gari’, kokoutey but am not able to figure out what they are exactly…

i continue the day preparing to go to Adisadel for Panafest performances of Hip-life and Reggae artists as well as learn more fanti — ‘hey’ in fanti means umm ‘hey’; ‘nde’ (today); ahbahzee (what?)…i am told that the hat i bought in new york was originally worn by soldiers in northern ghana or at least that of a soldier-like quality named nsodafo….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….

in the evening i do make it Adisadel Village (Park) which is a 10 minute walk from my hotel and enjoy the marketplace and music – i learn about hip-life artist Kaye and first hear the electric Coite-de-voire music that taunts me for my entire journey…. it is also at Adisadel that i notice the holding of hands of men, interlocking of ‘pinkies’ and other intimate ways men are physical with each other…with no regards to sexuality but simply friendship…it is truly a beautiful thing to witness brothers being close and not afraid to be connected…it was during this moment of witness that i meet G whom becomes a close friend for the next couple of days…he is volunteering for the Panafest and is more than glad to walk me around the marketplace, dialogue, escort me back to my hotel and hold hands….

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Day 4 – seeking ‘redemption’ inside Cape Coast Castle

last nite i had a in depth conversation with my son and another brother about their life in Cape Coast as well as larger issues…


i ask them if it was the other way around, if Africans enslaved Europeans, would we (they) treat them any better? YES without a doubt is their response…i am intrigued…

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..

i stop by Adisadel en route to the hotel and meet C – the Panafest assistant who oversees the Festival…he and i talk about the disorganization of the festival and what may or may not be happening tonite as far as performances are concerned….

back at the hotel i have lunch and chat with V & J who begin to teach me Fanti – one of the local languages spoken:
wohotadin – ‘hello
boko – (i am) good
madamfo – my friend
may-do – i love you
may- bo seturik – i will slap you
(these are not a true spelling of the words, but as close as i could phonetically understand); besides Fanti i hear about Ewe and Ga (both the name of the other major ethnic groups and their respective languages) which neither V or J speak..

by nite i am too spent to go to Adisadel; having had deep conversations with the staff, my son and learning fanti …so instead i relax and prepare for a day in El Mina – neighboring town that hosts another major Slave Castle – St George

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Day 3 – ‘the hands are not equal’

today i plan to visit the panafest office so that i can register and check in on the panafest activities coming up…my ‘son’ tells me that the office has moved to heritage house in the center of town…

i begin the day with breakfast at the hotel and take in the banter between the staff waiters and the current guests….having met the waiters last nite (“V” and “J”) i chat with them about the way the guests treat them…when one of these guests (whom i believe are not Ghanaian but definitely West African) wants something they ‘hiss’ or snap intently towards the staff…
i find this very disrespectful but find out that this way is often used to get people, taxis’ attention.

i refuse to engage in this’ hissing- snapping’ and rather just say their names…in the midst of this breakfast event ‘we shall overcome’ is sung by these same guests…i wonder if the staff should be singing it…

this interaction between the West African guests (all of whom are male) and the 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?

by midday i am heading to the panafest office at heritage house and am ‘schooled’ by an elder who lives at the site…i accidently come into his ‘living’ area and assuming i knew better (ie thinks i am Ghanaian) he speaks harshly to me about not knocking and respecting someone’s place…i apologize and say that i thought this was an office space and pull out my ‘i am American’ card on him (i would use this a couple more times during my journey)….he looks at me intently and says ‘ no excuses!’ and directs me to the office in the basement…there i meet some of the staff and finally register and get some insight into the locals and line-up for the Panafestival.

i meet up with the visual artist from the previous day and have a deep discussion about his lack of knowledge surrounding his artistry…” do art that speaks from your heart and not just sells coins to feed’ is my response to him when i look at what he tells me is his art….i find out that it is not that easy to dismiss the fact that selling for food is a necessity and speaking from your heart is always connected to artistry…however this art that he was selling for food was not his own! i think about the European/American art dealers and challenge my own assumption that Africans have too much integrity to be selling SOMEBODY ELSE’s art OR they SHOULD be sharing ONLY what comes from their experience…well whom am i to suppose this art that this brother is selling is NOT connected to his own personal experience?

anyway…

by 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.

Oasis Beach Resort
i end the day at a spot called Oasis – actually not too far from the Cape Coast Castle and the spot where i met the ‘conscious’ brothers the other day….my son takes me there and meets up with a friend of his who tries to hit me up to ‘sponsor’ his football team…i suspect this is a hustle but stay kool with him….later we check out a dance and music performance of a local group and i have my first interaction with Ghanaian police!

it seems that the owner of Oasis (Turkish gentleman who acts like he was living in South African apartheid) calls the police on my son’s friend….there apparently had been a mugging at this spot a week ago and so the locals at the spot are suspected….i am standing next to my ‘son’ and his friend and the police reach for me and the others…i pull out the ‘i am AMERICAN’ card again and am immediately released…they reach for my son whom i state is with me ….the owner then goes for the friend and says ‘ he needs to go’ …the police proceed to pull, then push, then shove, show off their rifles and ‘escort’ the friend off the premises…


i am reminded of a saying that i heard earlier that day ….’the hands are not equal’…interestingly enough from the “visual artist” G …one hand may offer you LESS than the other hand…one brother may give you a GOOD DEAL and another may try to WRING YOU DRY…
but i discovered another understanding by the end of the nite…here in Ghana brothers are dealt ‘not-so-equal-hands’ similar to brothers in America… a thought but not a conclusion…

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Day 2 – Arrival in Cape Coast

after a rather relaxed nite i awaken to the sound of the ‘cock’ crowing…

by 7am i am off to Cape Coast – the base of my stay for this journey. i am taken there by Ben who is a relaxed and quiet “brother” ( the term brother became more expansive as i continued on this journey)


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…


along the way i also see Ft Amsterdam which originally was a Dutch castle taken over by the British… Ben asks if i wish to stop to visit, but i am compelled to continue on…noting the Ft’s existence and my interest in visiting it on my way back to Accra…

i arrive at the Cape Coast hotel which is an impressive ‘castle’-like complex on many acres of land…

by the afternoon i am on my way into ‘town’ to find an internet cafe and make some calls…


however by the end of my walk i find no internet cafe; instead i have made it to the beach ajoinining the Cape Coast Castle – a two hour leisurely walk that i had no intention of originally embarking on…

at the beach i am greeted by a couple of conscious brothers who flatter me with compliments on my style and chat with me about their particular artistry/crafts…one is a painter, the other a wood carver and then later l meet a visual artist…they dialogue with me about pan-africanism, garvey, rastafarians and, of course, about black americans returning HOME TO GHANA…

i take down their information and continue on to the castle…


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

i cannot speak on any of this at the moment as the magnitude of this historical figure renders me speechless…


i later head to the shops located in the castle foreground and meet my first attached ‘hustler’ who wishes me to become my ‘son’…i use the term hustler to refer to the many young and old men around the castle and throughout my stay who seek out americans, tourists and anyone whom they think will be able to help them out in some way…

i will refer to this first hustler as ‘son’…and he attaches himself to me throughout the rest of the day and into the evening, as i proceed to be charmed by him and his story…i take him to lunch and dinner….

later reflections:
(on the first interaction with the brothers at the beach)
i am impressed with their ‘merchandise’ and find out later that perhaps 1 or none of them actually made the items they were wishing to sell…in fact the ‘visual’ artist asks to meet me at my hotel the next day to show me more of his paintings — only to find out he does not have a clue as to holding a brush to canvas…

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Day 1 In Ghana – AKWAABA

12 hours later, after much delay, pomp and circumstance, i arrive to thousands of black people staring at me….

could not locate my contact by sign, face or smile, so i was provided with a phone and an escort/transport to my lodging by one of the all too happy to help me attendees…on the way to the lodging, he introduced me to his family, where he lives, his good friends, trustworthy bank…always with a big smile …

he removed his uniform top to reveal a t-shirt that said CHICAGO – my hometown and he became my brother in spirit and friendship…named emmanuel meaning godsend…he told me of his mother’s funeral happening in a couple of days and his father’s death two years ago while handing me a photo and obituary…

at the end of this exchange, with all friendly measures, he asks for $180, 000 cedis…i find out two hours later that that was more than TWICE what he should have charged!

i gave him a I LOVE NY T -SHIRT and he gave me a very important introductory lesson in GHANAIN FRIENDSHIP…

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D UNDERBELLY has entered Ghana!

Background info on Ghana:  

  • First sub-Saharan country in colonial Africa to gain its independence
  • Democracy with full and fair elections
  • 2007 is Ghana’s Golden Jubilee celebration of fifty years of independence
  • Well endowed with natural resources, Ghana has twice the per capita output of the poorer countries in West Africa 
  • The domestic economy revolves around subsistence agriculture, which accounts for 50% of GDP and employs 85% of the work force, mainly small landholders

Image from a typical EWE village. 

 

 The courtyard of a coastal Ghana holding prison or “slave castle”, built in 1480 for Africans awaiting transport to the Americas.

All slaves brought to a castle were put into a windowless dungeon down a hole underground.  The only way in or out was through this trap door and hole.   The pit is pitch dark when the trap door is closed.

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