Monday, September 11, 2006

Ghana hopes to attract more black visitors with tours that show how Africans aided European slavers

Karen Palmer:

As Ghana prepares for next year's 50th anniversary of gaining its independence — the first country in sub-Saharan colonial Africa to do so — it is launching a major tourism campaign aimed at blacks scattered across the globe by the slave trade.

"Project Joseph" is an invitation to blacks who trace their history to the slave trade to reconnect with the land of their ancestors. It's an invitation that comes with an apology — not from the Western countries usually associated with slave masters, but from Ghanaians themselves.

Says Emmanuel Hagan, director of research and statistics at Ghana's Ministry of Tourism and Diasporean Relations: "The reason we wanted to do some formal thing is that we want — even if it's just for the surface of it, for the cosmetic of it — to be seen to be saying, `Sorry to those who feel very strongly, and who we believe have distorted history, because they get the impression that it was people here who just took them and sold them.'

"It's something we have to look straight in the face and try to address because it exists. So, we will want to say something went wrong, people made mistakes, but we are sorry for whatever happened."

UNESCO, the United Nations' culture and education agency, estimates that 17 million people were forced to leave western Africa in wooden ships bound for the Americas.

Millions more died anonymously, far from home and without proper burial, during the brutal overland march to reach the slave trading forts like Elmina Castle, where blacks were kept shackled in dungeons, then branded with hot iron rods before being packed like "pieces of ebony" into waiting ships.

Most textbooks exploring the history of African slavery blame the trade squarely on Western colonial powers and the New World colonies that trafficked in human cargoes.

The fact that Africans sold their own people into slavery is mostly ignored.

But Ghana — a stable English-speaking country in conflict-ravaged, mostly francophone West Africa — has never shied away from it.

"Long before the coming of Europeans to the Guinea coast of Africa, our local people here themselves already had slavery in existence," says Philip Amoa-Mensah, a volunteer guide at the Elmina fortress, which was built in 1482 by Portuguese traders.

Ghana's trapped slaves

Ghana's Uneasy Embrace of Slavery's Diaspora


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