In September of this year I went on a one week fact finding mission to Ghana. The main purpose of my mission was to look for economic opportunities, but I also did a bit of cultural tourism whilst there. For the first three days I was in love with Africa – we were on honeymoon. On the fourth day we had our first big argument. And whenever you have a big argument in the early stages of a relationship, you begin to question whether the relationship has a future.
Elimina Castle is the largest and most intact slave fort in existence. The group of 10 or 12 visitors who did the tour with me were all Black, and seemed to comprise of a couple of local Ghanians who had nipped over during their lunch break, a couple of African families on holiday from other nations, and a few Blacks from the diaspora like myself. The tour lasts for about an hour, and starts with a short look around a museum. The museum takes a strange approach, with most of the information and exhibits focussing on the local chiefs and local history, with the slave trade being just a footnote. I couldn’t quite work out what the traditions of local chiefs had to do with this fort built by the Portugese. Presumably, it was these local chiefs who were exchanging guns, alcohol and tobacco for Africans. So it seemed strange to me that the museum would pay tribute to these men, but that was just the beginning of my psychological difficulties of the day.
Once the tour got going we were taken around the slave dungeons, shown the cell where white soldiers were put for a few hours as a punishment for raping female slaves, then shown the cell were rebellious slaves were thrown in to die. We were shown the dungeon where female slaves were kept, shackled together, lying in their own faeces, urine and menstrual blood – the same dungeon where they had to eat. We were shown the balcony where the commanding officer would stand and survey the female slaves before picking one out, to be washed, fed, and taken up to his quarters to be raped. Our tour guide told us how the fort was first controlled by the Dutch, then taken over by the British. He told us how this trade in Africans went on for over 200 years, and yet as he rolled off these historical facts and figures, he didn’t seem to be sharing the emotional pain I was feeling. Infact he didn’t even seem to be aware that some of the group were in pain. He related the horrors of this Black holocaust with the same nonchalance as an English tour guide taking Japanese tourists around a stately home. Was it because he worked here and had grown blasé about the horror he was describing, or was it because as a born and raised African, he didn’t share that psychological pain, as his ancestors did not actually experience it? The same lack of empathy was displayed by some of the other visitors born on the continent. One local man actually took a call on his mobile during the tour, whilst the African women on the gate loudly joked and argued. I wondered, would this same lack of solemnity/respect be shown at a German concentration camp like Auschwitz? Would the tour guide take you through the gas chambers where Jews were exterminated, and then take you straight into the gift shop where you could purchase ‘Welcome to Auschwitz’ postcards? But this is basically what happened to us after being shown the small hole through which enslaved Africans were shoved onto the waiting slave ships – the door of no-return. After seeing this, I skipped the gift shop part and went outside to take a moment by myself.
At this point I had thought the that tour was over, but no, after a short break to allow visitors to buy books, and DVD’s on Kwame Nkrumah and the history of Ghana, the tour resumed to show us the kitchens where the food was cooked, and another opportunity to buy paintings and carvings. I was wondering ‘why would I want to see the kitchens when I have just seen the door of no return?’ but kept my thoughts to myself. At the end of the tour there was a visitor’s book to leave comments, but at that point at felt unable to put my disgust into words.
But the horror did not stop once leaving the fort. Outside, we were assailed once again by the hawkers trying to sell souvenir tat, or obtain sponsorship for their local football team. These kids have probably never been inside Elmina, and they probably didn’t learn about slavery in school (if they could afford to go to school). But surely the educated people in the Ministry of Tourism are aware. Surely the staff who work at Elimina are aware? But no, no consideration is given to the feelings of those who’s ancestors died in this Black Holocaust.
In all of my four trips to Africa, I have never felt more distant, more further removed from native Africans. The sad and shocking truth that I learnt in my time in Ghana, that was brought staggeringly home to me in Elmina castle, is that we Blacks in the diaspora, are no longer Africans. It doesn’t matter how many books we read, or if we choose to trace our ancestors and change our names, or learn an African language, or wear traditional clothes, we are still NOT African. That 400 year process that began with slavery, and continued with colonisation and the racial discrimination which is an integral part of living in the West, has changed us. We think differently. We are different. For Africans, slavery was just one chapter in their long, long history, which even if removed, wouldn’t make that much difference. Whilst we in the diaspora feel that slavery was the end of our history as proud Africans and beginning of our existence as servants: the beginning of a process in which we were taught to hate ourselves and worship our enslaver. A process where our name, our language, our culture and religion were forcibly taken from us, and replaced with those of our oppressor.
And though slavery was abolished 200 years ago, it is a process which continues to affect how we think and behave to this day. We are the products of slavery, the victims of a racist idealogy, we are a people without knowledge of our culture or our homeland. Our history is one of oppression and servitude. And then people wonder why we under achieve. We were created out of slavery and we are now defined by racism. This is something that white people, and yes even Africans on the continent cannot understand. They tell us we should get over it. But that’s easy for them to say.
No one dares to tell the Jews to get over the Holocaust, but their holocaust does not even come close to the one suffered by us. Imagine if you will, that Hitler didn’t lose World War II, and the Nazi’s were allowed to continue with their wicked Final Solution to the ‘Jewish Problem’. But instead of exterminating the Jews, they decided to keep them alive in those concentration camps and turn them into beast of burden. Imagine that the Germans didn’t lose in 1945 but continued their reign over Europe for another 200 years.
Jews in the concentration camps lived and died of old age, new generations born never knowing life on the outside. The Nazi guards who rule over them don’t allow them to keep their Jewish names, or speak their own language, or follow their own religion, but instead take Germanic names, speak only German, and study only German scholars taught in concentration camp schools by Nazi school teachers.
In these concentration camp schools the young Jewish kids, are taught to hate themselves and revere the Aryan race. All knowledge of Jewish history and Jewish achievement are blotted out, and German historical achievements are lauded. The females are forcibly raped by their Nazi persecutors and their half German/half Jewish offspring are given preferential treatment taking positions of authority over their fully Jewish relatives once they come of age.
And this process goes on for generation after generation for two hundred years, until those concentration camp inmates are finally set free. What a confused psychologically damaged set of people would step out of those gates. Could they even call themselves Jewish anymore? Would they want to? Well this is the state of the descendants of African slaves. This why we despise our African features, and bleach our skin, and straighten our hair, and struggle to maintain stable family units. And they tell us to get over it. The wonder is not why do we underachieve, but how we didn’t all go completely mad?
So when we in the diaspora go back to Africa, we have in our hearts and minds that we are returning to the motherland to be reunited with our long lost brothers. But they don’t see us like that. They see us as cash cows, walking ATMs, more westerners ready to be hustled. Because they know that we have some emotional attachment to the continent, they can use that as a tool to leverage more money out of us. And whilst we go back to Africa trying to recapture what we have lost, Africans wish they could swop places with us and have what we have.
No, slavery changed us permanently, and we can never go back to being what we once were, but what we must do is not live in the past but keep moving forward. Check out my next posting to find out how……………