Ghana’s Cape Coast Castle shimmers serenely in its whitewashed beauty. It is hard to exaggerate the castle’s breathtaking architectural majesty. Yet it, like Ghana’s 30-odd medieval slave forts, once housed almost unimaginable evil: thousands of captured Africans were packed, with little food or water, into grossly overcrowded dungeons, awaiting the terrible voyage to the New World—the notorious Middle Passage.
Yet the Slave Coast, starting point for almost 6.5 million (16 percent) of American slaves between 1690 and 1807, is becoming an unusual tourist destination. The Obama family went to Cape Coast Castle in 2009, in part because First Lady Michelle Obama’s family lore holds that it was the last point in Africa seen by her great-great-great-grandfather before he was sent to the Virginia slave market. Frommer’s named Ghana one of the top tourist destinations for 2012.
Can Americans come home to Ghana?
African-American travelers, who as a group spend over $40 billion on domestic and international travel annually, have increasingly been traveling to Africa. While Ghana does not hold sole claim to the landmarks of the slave trade and the African-American diaspora, its historic role was significant, says Professor Ishmael Mensah, Lecturer at the Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management, University of Cape Coast. Of the roughly 65,000 Americans who visit Ghana annually, says Mensah, about one-third, or 22,000, are African Americans.
Many of them come to absorb Ghanaian culture at the Pan African Historical Theatre Festival, or Panafest, a biannual cultural event intending to bring together Diaspora Africans with those on the continent in order to explore issues raised by slavery. Held this year from July 21st through August 20th, Panafest scheduledlectures, concerts, dance performances and cultural visits, adhering to the theme “Rebirth of the Motherland: The Role of People of African Descent.”
Mensah says Ghana can and should position itself with African Americans as a welcoming place that will allow Americans to reconnect with their ancestors, helping them discover their true identity.
“Nothing to do with us”
But many Ghanaians don’t have much interest in helping Americans explore their heritage.
Our driver, for example, did not want to enter the Cape Coast Castle. Ghanaians don’t go there, he said, adding: “It has nothing to do with us.”
He said he had never studied slavery in school. He thought this ignore-the-past approach worked: “In Ghana we look forward, not back.”…
Read more: Latitude News