DThe slave fort has become a party venue this night. Colorful lights race over weathered walls. The crowd dances and sweats between plastic chairs and rusty gun barrels. In the middle: Ali Jackson, 19, from Washington, D.C. His Rastazöpfchen jump to the beat of the music. It is his first trip outside his homeland, the USA.
The Atlantic Ocean claps loudly at the surf wall of Cape Coast Castle. Wind comes up and for a moment dispels the leaden heat over the coast of Ghana. Ali and the others cheer in unison. “Tonight we celebrate in the name of our ancestors,” shouts the DJ. “Here, where the ground is soaked with her blood.”
During the day women sell coconuts under the palm trees in Cape Coast and fishermen dry their nets on the sandy beach – actually a West African postcard idyll. But most visitors come for something else. They are in search of their roots.
From no other area were so many slaves brought to America as from the Gold Coast, so today's Ghana was called the British crown colony. Now more and more of their descendants are coming back – as tourists.
This year it will be more than ever. For it is the “Year of Return,” proclaimed by the Ghanaian government, to commemorate the arrival of the first slaves in the United States exactly 400 years ago. Calculated with half a million visitors.
An African who was born in America
Kwame Nitoto is one of those African Americans who came to Ghana to look for their ancestors and their roots. “They lie here, between the places of suffering,” he says, spreading his arms wide. His left hand points towards Cape Coast, the right to Elmina, the neighboring village, over which the next fortress towers. “Fort,” he says, that's too noble a word. “They were dungeons.”
It is the morning before the party in the slave fort and in front of his hotel the ocean glitters. Nitoto is a tall man with a gray beard and broad shoulders. When he tells a story, he prances back and forth with his whole body. He looks like an old boxer, but he is not.
Until recently, he was a real estate agent in California and who googles him finds pictures of him, only a few years old, on which he wears not a gray beard, but a black mustache and no West African garb, but a suit with a tie.
“I played a role,” says Kwame. In fact, he was never an American but an African who was born in America. He points to the ocean, to the round huts on the hillside and says, “This is my true home.”
On the coast between Cape Coast and Elmina
This “true home” has little in common with California. On the coast between Cape Coast and Elmina, the air flickers over dusty slopes. Between the palms, the concrete ribs of never-finished houses rise like gray molars. Every few kilometers there is a hotel on the coast, concrete blocks with brown-tinted windows.
It is an unreal place, somehow yesterday, as if everything here is a reminder of times long past. Maybe that's because many tourists here are concerned about this: the past. Even if they are as young as Ali Jackson from Washington.
Ali has lodged in Elmina, in the “Coconut Grove”. A bit of backpacker charm, a bit of African wood carvings. It is noon, the sun is burning on the hotel terrace.
The waitress brings Jollof Rice, Ali's favorite Ghanaian food. Fufu, a manioc stomp with plantain is too tough for him, Banku, a fermented corn dumpling, too sour. But he knows the rice dish with chicken and tomato. That was already in his school in Washington, at the Roots School, an Afro-centric school.
“I'm an African man,” he says, and he's in Africa for the first time. In D.C., says Ali, he carries a gun. “Stranger Danger”, “Strange Danger,” he calls unknown people in his neighborhood. In Africa, he is afraid of nobody. There are no strangers here, says Ali, everyone here is a family.
Where the slaves were driven onto the ships
The big African community, many Americans are looking for here. The travel industry has made a new concept out of it: Roots Tourism. For $ 4000 you get the all-inclusive Africa package, including basket weaving, drumming & dancing, tours through the slave forts and Naming ceremonieswhere tourists are christened African names.
When the Americans fly back, they take more than just a new name. They take a realization that their true home is Africa.
In America, Kwame Nitoto has worked hard all her life, bought a house, raised three children. That's one side, he says. The other side, that two of his nephews were murdered, he had to bury his sister and many of his friends. He has learned, he says, that the white man is not his friend. “My whole life has prepared me to come here to Ghana.”
When he finally traveled to Africa, Cape Coast Castle was his first destination. He saw the door through which the slaves were driven onto the ships and the dungeons where they were held prisoner. “I could feel my ancestors,” he says. He had felt men in chains and handcuffs.
“I realized that I am part of this story. A living, free man, who has decided to return to the land of his ancestors. “Only with him, he had understood in the dungeon, the story of the enslavement of his ancestors.
Followers live the dungeon tour on Instagram
Two floors above the dungeon at Cape Coast Castle, Kefu Adishen, museum director of the fort, stands in his office. The walls cast long shadows, in the courtyard, the stage for the festival is built. Adishen looks at the work and raises her eyebrows. “This is a place of remembrance. I appreciate that the descendants of the slaves come here, but celebrate a party here? “He asks skeptically.
Ten years ago, Barack Obama and his family visited the slave forts on Ghana's coast. Everyone can still remember this today. On the roadside, passport photo shoot photographers with portrait photos of the president. The state visit Adishen missed then. “A spectacle,” he says, raising his eyebrows again.
Suddenly, loud crying from the courtyard comes up. A crowd has gathered, almost all wearing white robes. Adishen looks down at her in his navy blue suit. “That must be the Americans,” he says. “When they come, it always gets a bit emotional.”
One of those who shouts in the courtyard below is Ali Jackson. His tour group is being led through the dungeons today. Ali is on Instagram, where his followers can watch live as he visits the Cape Coast Castle.
Picture 1 – a bunch of rusty cannonballs. Ali writes: “Real cannonballs”, then a salmon smiley. Touch with your thumb, then comes Image 2 – the back of a woman stepping into a dark cell. Ali writes, “We enter the death cell, which no one who entered it was allowed to leave.” Next image – absolute darkness, black screen. Ali writes: “With the door closed, I can not see anything anymore, it's extremely hot, it's hard for me to breathe.”
Other pictures show the dungeons, the gutters through which the filth ran, the chains in the walls. Then a picture of Ali himself in a white tracksuit in front of a locked wooden door. He writes: “The 'door without return', quite self-explanatory.” Last picture – a selfie by Ali, he looks into the camera, behind him, the door is open without recurrence. He writes: “I have returned!” Next to it in red letters: “100 percent”.
A DNA test should clarify the origin
Meanwhile, the sun goes down over Cape Coast. Children dabble in the “Bay of the White Men”, which is so called because in former times only the colonial masters were allowed to swim there. At the roadside, women sell fish, avocados and pineapples. In the narrow streets cars crawl over the asphalt at walking pace. Something happens at every corner, everything moves, and yet nobody seems to move forward.
At 8 pm, the music starts in the slave fort. The audience consists almost exclusively of Americans. Ali is there and is dancing. Buses full of guests from D.C. and New York are in the parking lot. The director of the museum is nowhere to be seen. The only Ghanaians present tonight crowd around in front of the entrance and turn on the arts and crafts of the Americans.
“We are at home!” Exclaims DJ Face from Washington. “Is someone from Togo here? From Nigeria, Benin, from Brooklyn? “Everyone screams. Then Dr. enters. Gina Paige the stage. Paige is a geneticist and runs a laboratory that uses a DNA test to determine which region of Africa her ancestors come from. “Rene, please come to me,” she says.
A woman from the audience climbs onto the stage. The crowd is silent, Rene will now find out live, where their ancestors came from. She could only trace her ancestors back to Louisiana in the 18th century, she says in a shaky voice. Dr. Paige takes a dramatic break and says, “You're from the Mende, a people from Sierra Leone. They were known for their strong women and their rice production. “
The audience explodes. “Welcome to the African family,” says Paige, hugging Rene. Five more families will find out who their ancestors were this night. Then the party ebbs away, the buses make their way back to the beach hotels along the coast.
Also Ali Jackson has made such a DNA test, already in the US. His genes indicate South African and Irish ancestors. His ancestors did not come from West Africa. “But that does not matter,” he says. “We are all Africans.”
Tips and information for Ghana
Organizer: Geoplan Reisen offers a 13-day private trip through Ghana, Togo and Benin, from 4990 euros including flights and meals (geoplan-reisen.de). Africa specialist Ivory Tours offers a “Ghana adventure trip” with a stop on the Gold Coast, 14 days from 1960 Euro including breakfast, without flights (ivory-tours.de).
Further information: touringghana.com
This text is from the WORLD ON SUNDAY. We are happy to deliver it to you regularly.
Ghana (t) Country Portraits (t) United States (t) Slave (s) Slave Trade (t) Cape Coast (t) North America (t) Anglo Ashanti War (t) Washington (t) Atlantic Ocean (t) Cape Coast Castle (t) Journey (s) DJ Face (t) West Africa (t) Ali Jackson (t) Togo (t) America (t) Benin (t) Central Region of Ghana (t) Elmina (t) California (t) Africa (t) The Guard Of Honor (t) USA (t) CAPE COAST (t) Ivory Tour