Saturday, September 6, 2008
The Slave Castle Experience
I stand at the entrance to Elmina Castle, one the oldest European castles, originally built as a trading post by the Portuguese, but destined to hold human cargo and do business in the most lucrative trade of all, human beings---the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Elmina is a small town that is swarming with tourists to see the castle that was originally called St. George of the Mines, because of the gold mines all along what the Europeans called the Cold Coast, now modern Ghana.
It is a sobering experience to venture across this portal and to be taken back in time by the continuing spiritual vibrations lingering within the walls of this and the neighboring Cape Coast Castle (together known as the Twin Castles). When Gene and I went into the dungeons and holding cells, and the walking corridors, I chanted and prayed for the tortured souls who passed this way long ago, and who became the ancestors of Africans in the Americas. I wore ceremonial white to commemorate the ancestral spirits that must be acknowledged and given homage. Elmina, more than Cape Coast, was overly commercialized with African youth swarming around the tourists, including us, selling jewelry and seashells. Upon exiting the Elmina Castle, one young enterprising Fante boy gave Gene a small conch shell, reading “To my American Father, Gene.” The youth have really learned their hustle around the slave castle tourism, connecting little emotionally to the horrifying history that looms over their town. Yet, this kind of pilgrimage is very necessary for most African Americans.
As I walked through into the Castle, I passed some Ghanaian sisters dressed in traditional cloth, and one of them called me “Obruni” (white), as she exited the castle. My light brown skin meant “white” to her, even with my braids and traditionally made Yoruba wrap and top. This is the reality of the “one drop” rule: in America one drop of black blood, means you “black,” but here in Africa, one drop of European blood, often means you are “white.” However, I challenged her, yelling back that I was black American, and that my grandmother was her color. She basically apologized, saying, “Yes, you are an American black, you are my sister.” African folk are educable about who we are as Diasporans and our connection to them. This incident was a perfect metaphor for the realities of time and space that both created and distanced the branches of the black world from each other. That this incident would take place at the entrance to one of the oldest slave castles of West African was prophetic.
Tourists in the Courtyard of Elmina Castle
Gene Standing in the Male Dungeon---African Men were piled in this room naked, waiting to be taken through The Door of No Return.
Cape Coast Castle
The Door of No Return---Yet we come back now, different---yet redeeming our Ancestors