When my parents told me that we were going to visit Ghana my feeling of surprise soon turned to anxiety. The purpose of our trip was to accomplish my parents’ goal of my sister and I visiting my grandpa. I had never met my grandfather, and my parents felt like it was time for me to know my heritage and to explore their country. It was my first time traveling out of the US.
My parents did not know each other when they both left Ghana and went to live in Nigeria, the continent’s most populated nation. My dad left Ghana in 1979 to find a better job. My mother left a few years later for a better life. She believed that Nigeria would provide her that. It was in Nigeria where my parents met. Soon after meeting the Nigerian economy started to weaken so they moved to Italy and shortly thereafter, they moved to the United States.
My first impressions of Ghana were literally breath taking. The chaos, color and beauty were all mixed everywhere I looked. As we drove through the city the features and structure of the houses and supermarkets were so different from what I was used to. Men walked the streets shouting promotions for the newest Ghanaian movie and tall women with baskets on their heads sold water and bread. Soccer balls rolled down the side street with kids chased after them. People entered and exited stores all around me. So many things were happening at once. Upon leaving the city, the green pastures seemed to roll on for eternity. At the shore, the limitless beach lined with palm trees was so peaceful and elegant I could have look at it for days and days.
The word Ghana means “Warrior King” and derives from the Ghana Empire of years past. The meaning of the Ghanaian flag has a deep connection to the history of the Ghanaian people. The colors are red, yellow, and green with a black star in the middle. The red stripe represents the blood split during Ghana’s struggle for independence. The yellow stripe represents the wealth of the country. The green symbolizes as the country’s natural wealth. Lastly, the black star in the middle of the flag signifies African freedom. Theodosia Okoh, the designer, wanted the flag to define Ghana in its own unique way.
The Gold Coast in Ghana is in fact lined with old forts used by European powers during the slave trade. My family and I visited the Cape Coast Castle, which was built in the 18th century by the British. It was there that thousands of captured Africans were held as slaves. Before traveling to Ghana, I did not know that there were slaves in Ghana. I was surprised to learn this. During the tour I got to see cells that housed slaves for long periods. My family didn’t talk much during this tour. Rather everyone walked along, quietly thinking to him or herself.
I thought about the process of being captured, held and sold here some hundred years ago. First, men with guns and knives broke down your door and took you from your home. The men put your arms and legs in chains; bound to strangers you were ordered to start walking down an unfamiliar path. After walking for hours you grew tired but when you try to stop and take a break you were beaten and forced to keep walking. You didn’t understand what was happening but you were too afraid to ask because the person in front of you was murdered for questioning the armed men. From a distance you spot the huge castle overlooking a stretch of coast with waves crashing into it. This is how it must have felt for the 12,000 black men, women, and children who came through Cape Coast Castle.
Upon arrival people were split into gender groups and forced down a set of stairs, where it got dark and then quickly turned to pitch black. The days grow long and the smell gets heavier and you knew that people are dying around you. One day there was a commotion and suddenly you were taken from the dungeon and escorted with a row of strangers through the castle to a large door. The door swings open and the light blinded you. When your vision returns, you realize that you were being lead onto a boat. What you don’t realize is that you have just been traded for gunpowder and will live the rest of your days as a slave.
The tour around the Cape Coast Castle has helped me understand Ghana’s history over the last 100 years. At any given time, 1500 people were held in the Cape Coast Castle waiting to be sold into slavery. Now a World Heritage Site, the Cape Coast Castle is reported to have been the largest slave-holding site in the World during the colonial era. Many of the slaves were sold to the British in exchange for alcohol or guns.
The Cape Coast Castle is a major landmark in what grew into the world’s slave trade. Walking through the many hallways of the Cape Coast Castle is a reminder of not only Ghana's dark past, but ours as well. The church in the male slave quarters and walking out the “Door of No Return” produces gut wrenching emotions that period in history.
Although the experience of the tour stays with you, it did not consume my introduction to this beautiful Ghanaian culture. Vibrant colors and music played over speakers on many city streets. The fields of the countryside were lush with a rich green and the people of a country made me truly feel like Ghana was truly a second home.