Category: Island of Goree.

Elmina and Goree; A Tale of Slave Depots

A.R Harruna Attah

I have had to suspend the concluding words of the third installment of my “Letter from Tehran” which should have appeared in these columns today; that’s because I have just returned from Dakar, Senegal and felt an irresistible itch to do this travelogue first.

In Tehran I was attending a conference on printing, publishing and distribution of Islamic books whereas in Dakar, it was more ecumenical than that: A regional conference of PEN International.

You may not be aware of it but PEN International is the oldest association for poets, editors and novelists – and yes, that’s what the PEN stands for.

It has since grown to include general human rights issues. After a grueling three days of conferencing, I looked forward to a trip to Goree Island…

Not that I hadn’t been there before; in earlier visits to Senegal, I even stayed on the island for a night or two.

This time, I was driven by what I can only describe as jingoist outrage.

I felt sort of crestfallen with all the oo-aahying I was hearing about the slave fort or castle on the island and nothing about those in Ghana!

I wanted therefore to go to Goree not only to de-stress from the long hours of the conference but also to remind myself and others that we have much better slave castles in Ghana than the little thing on this Senegalese Island.

Wait a minute; what have I just said? Terrible, what insensitivity! Honest I did not mean offence – there’s no way one slavery history can be “better” than the other, but…

You see, Ghana’s slave depots (castles and forts), dotted all over the coastline from east to west, are so much more imposing and menacing, especially those in Accra, Cape Coast and Elmina.

President Obama, when he visited Ghana in 2009, spent a considerable amount of his time visiting the Cape Coast Castle with his family.

Even then I groused ceaselessly that they should rather have sent him to the Elmina Castle.

This castle, built in the 1400s by the Portuguese is a massive structure symbolizing the power, wealth and technological development of those times.

A great Portuguese explorer is reputed to have passed through there on his way to one of his “discoveries”.

After so many centuries, it continues to dwarf and dominate all else in and around Elmina. Fort St. Jago, also in Elmina, though situated on much higher ground, comes nowhere close to the Elmina Castle…So why is Elmina not as well-known and as well-visited by tourists as the much smaller slave house in Goree is?

I suppose that’s the source of my “jingoistic outrage”: How the Senegalese have successfully milked this world heritage site while we seem not to know what to do with ours.

The Osu Castle should have been vacated long ago as our seat of government and handed over to the tourism industry, In 2008, a swanky new presidential complex was built, but almost 4 on, our president refuses to move there and is still holed up in the Osu Castle.

Of the two other slave depots in Accra, Ussher Fort has been allowed to go completely to seed while James Fort houses prisoners!

I was held there as a prisoner for some hours, not too long ago awaiting an appeal hearing in the Court of Appeal.

The Senegalese are certainly more culturally savvy than us. From Leopold Sedor Senghor to Maitre Abdoulaye Wade, Senegalese leaders have led the way in setting the cultural and intellectual bars of Africa. It is no wonder that “tiny” Goree would hold so much significance to so many people around the world than our much more imposing Elmina, Cape Coast, Osu, etc…

That is how come that not even President Obama’s visit to both the Osu Castle (Official) and the Elmina Castle (Tourist) could awaken in us to “confront” the world with the story of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade from our own vantage point and in the process also benefit from tourist dollars!

A Post Script

As a school boy, I used to visit my maternal grandmother in Salaga which as you may know from history was an important slave trading town.

The slave market was still there though now being used as a lorry park.

I used to stroll there to gawk at some remnants of relics of the trade, like manacles and a huge tree that was supposed to be one of the “shelters” for the hapless victims.

A few months – about six months ago, when I visited Salaga, that little bit of this big history had disappeared. What a shame!

At Assin Fosu in the Central Region, close to a river where the slaves were allowed their last bath before being sent to the castles at Elmina or Cape Coast for the journey of no return, there is a stump where they used to tether the slaves still standing.

I hope they have found a way of preserving that stump before our nonchalance destroys it once and for all! [News link]

Category: Island of Goree