Ghana is the second largest exporter of cocoa. In “The Ghana Reader,” Clifford Campbell takes note of another dominant export: people. Between 1514 and 1866, about 1.3 million slaves were exported from the Gold Coast. Europeans built slaves castles (Elmina Castle and Cape Coast Castle) where Ghanaian people were enslaved for several months before being put onto a ship headed to America. Treated like goods, these people were denied basic human rights.
Walking in the dungeons of the Cape Coast Castle was a heart shattering experience. I had learned about enslavement from my teachers starting at a young age. Though, reading books and watching movies is completely different from standing in the same place where our human brothers and sisters suffered. Ripped from their homes, torn from their families, and shoved into dark rooms where they were crammed with others in unsanitary conditions. Our guide told us that if we were to take samples of the very soil we were standing on, we would find traces of feces, vomit, and blood. The important piece that is frequently overlooked is that these people’s stories did not start in the slave castles or upon their arrival in America. They have roots rich in tradition and culture. They had families and people whom they loved.
Punctuating narratives are important in conveying this, especially with regards to race. The history of African-Americans does not start with slavery, but their traditional society. Black is not just a color, but representative of a cultural context with rich roots.
Olaudah Equiano portrays this in his writing, “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African.” This narrative brings truth into the light by depicting raw emotions. Equiano was a man who experienced the slave trade, but he had a story that started before “the wretchedness of slavery.”
Slavery is an incomplete story. We learn about slavery without much context to the “before.” Being in the slave castles opened my eyes to what had been. The cruelty, the darkness, the unknown. As Equiano said, it was the “ignorance of what [he] was to undergo.” Slavery has existed in almost every society, but the degradation in treatment was a new extremity.
When I walked through the “door of no return,” it was different. I knew that after the tour, I would be returning home. But during the transatlantic slave trade, all the men and women who walked through that door never returned. They sat under the decks of a ship for months with an unknown future ahead.
It was a powerful experience to walk on the same path. Continuing to learn and share our world’s history is necessary, so that we will never again allow the enslavement of our own human brothers and sisters.
Campbell, Clifford (2016) “The Ghana Reader.”
Equiano, Olaudah (1789) “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African.”