The Emancipation Day celebration stimulates tourism in Ghana

The exterior of the Elmina Castle
The exterior of the Elmina Castle

Emancipation Day celebration which was celebrated in 2008 on the theme “Emancipation: Our Heritage, Our Strength” is an annual event celebrated in Ghana, the Black Star of Africa and the gateway to the Homeland of people of African descent in the Diaspora, to commemorate the final abolition of slavery in the British colonies.

During the celebration, wreaths were laid to honour illustrious sons of Pan-Africanism-Dr. William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, George Padmore and Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. There was also a re-enactment of the crossing of the river Pra at Assin Praso where captured slaves sealed their doom through a point of no return.

Durbars and reverential nights were held at various places, including a ceremony that retraced the slave routes in Ghana among others.

Horror

The celebration of Emancipation Day originated from the Caribbean on August 1, 1834. And the event has been celebrated in Ghana since 1998, through the instrumentalities of former President Jerry John Rawlings.

Despite the fact that Emancipation Day has for the past 174 years been celebrated, the world has not been free of some of the horror stories about slavery and other forms of subjugation. The experiences of our brethren who were enslaved during the period of the infamous Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and were totally deprived of their basic human rights as individuals until Emancipation came, should act as a guide and warning for all of us.

Jake Otanka Obetsebi-Lamptey, former Minister of Tourism and Diasporan Relations, who initiated the Joseph Project, said at the 2006 edition of Emancipation Day that the government of Ghana places so much emphasis on the concept and practice of good governance for the people. He said it is the only way to ensure that true democracy is visited on the people; the traumas and inhuman treatment meted out by man to his fellow human being should never re-occur anywhere on the globe. He said Ghana remains committed to the liberation of her kith and kin and will pursue policies that will grant every Ghanaian freedom and justice and improvement in their socio-economic environment.

The Joseph Project which is part of the Akwaaba Anyemi Project, is an invitation to the Diasporans to reconnect them to their motherland. Hence, it seeks to unite the black race, because the infamous Trans Atlantic Slave Trade decimated the African human resource, by taking away African chiefs, teachers, religious leaders, artisans, and so on. It was these skills that were used to build America and Europe.

Emancipation Day has become important in Ghana because of the country’s commitment to the total liberation of all sons and daughters of African descent. Ghana became the first African nation to join in the celebration in 1998 to re-affirm her status as the Gateway to the African Homeland of Diasporans. Ghana’s claim to the position of gateway to the Homeland is well grounded in the fact that it was a major exit point for slaves on the West Coast in the period that the infamous trade took place.

Currently, there are about 40 Forts, Castles and lodges used for the slave trade, with three of them: St. George’s Castle and St. Jago fort, both at Elmina, and Cape Coast Castle designated by UNESCO as World Heritage sites. As a complement to these Forts and Castles, the Slave Route Project, which seeks to rehabilitate, restore and promote the tangible and intangible heritage from the slave trade, is being

Interior of the Elmina Castle
Interior of the Elmina Castle

developed.

This route would take tourists through communities where resistance was put up against the slave raiders, like Gwollu and Nalerigu with their defensive walls; slave market sites like Saakpili and Salaga, the slave bathing rivers and slave burial grounds at Assin-Manso among others.

Activities

Assin Praso is the crossing point on the River Pra from the Northern sector of the country to the South.  At the time when the Slave Trade was at its peak, the crossing of the River Pra by the captured slaves amounted to sailing to their doom. Crossing the Pra was tantamount to crossing the Rubicon and marked a point of “no return”. As a remembrance of this, the re-enactment of the crossing and other rituals are performed.

The Cape Coast Castle was initially used for trade in goods until the period of the Atlantic Slave Trade where some parts were used as dungeons.  A reverential vigil is held in the castle to remember all those who passed through its doors. The occasion is marked with performances, statements, visit to the dungeons and the recall of names of leading emancipators.

Emancipation durbars are held at heritage sites to remember the ignoble slave trade as it happened at the specific locations.  Durbars also depict the culture of the people through performances, traditional cuisine, etc. Some heritage sites where durbars are held in Ghana include: Keta, located at the eastern coast of Ghana, about 100 kilometres from Accra and one of the forts-Fort Prinzenstein (now in ruins at Keta), was a slave merchandising point: initially built by Danish traders in 1784 for defensive purposes in a war against the Anlo Ewe and to keep the area safe from other colonial powers, the fort was later used as a dungeon for slaves awaiting transportation to the Caribbean.

The Slave River
The Slave River

Bono Manso is one of the oldest inhabited settlements in Ghana.  Slave trading in Ghana started in the 16th Century and it is the most centrally located slave market in the country.  Monuments to Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X were erected in the town by the local people in 2003.

Anomabu is the hometown of Slave Trade abolitionist George Ekem Ferguson, while Kumasi has the cultural inputs in the Joseph Project at the cultural capital of Ghana. Osu in Accra slave trade activities were carried out; slave houses have been identified and oral history confirms this.

During their transportation, slaves were rested at Assin Manso, sorted and allowed to recover from their arduous journey from the hinterland; and they are bathed in the Slave River, “Ndonko Nsuo” this happens to be their last bath on their journey of no return.

The Akwamus, like other states were slave traders and middlemen for the three European forts in Accra.  In addition to the collection of rent payments from the Europeans, the Akwamus seized the Osu Castle from the Danes in 1693.  The original keys to the Christiansburg castle were kept by the Akwamus up to this day after returning the Castle to the Danes.

Salaga became the biggest slave market and the hub of several networks of trade routes. Salaga was favorably located on the direct route between Mampong and Yendi along which the Ashanti and Dagomba traded.  Slaves were bartered here for items such as cola and gold.

Durbar

Emancipation Day celebration is climaxed with a durbar attended by visiting Africans from the Diaspora, Ghanaians and tourists from all walks of life. The durbar includes activities such as cultural performances, statements, wreath laying rituals at the Garden of Remembrance, traditional rituals at the river site among others.

A Jamaican, Lady Crystal, who dedicated her life fighting racism and Samuel Carson, an African American Naval Officer from the United States of America,  were both re-interred at Assin Manso in August 1998 as a prelude to the first Emancipation Day celebration in Ghana.  Increasingly, the Atlantic Ocean is no longer a barrier between Africans and Africans in the Diaspora.  Gradually the gap is closing up and the two worlds are being united as demonstrated by the re-burial of these two in their native land.

Ghana has gained a lot from the celebration of Emancipation Day through education, awareness creation, especially in areas where the slave trade took place. At durbars to commemorate the event, many more people became aware of the part they played in what went wrong; they realized that Europe is not solely responsible for this injustice.

Those who hitherto, had been blaming their kith and kin, who were hitherto embittered about what went wrong, thinking that they were totally sold out, get to understand that there is more to it, because some people were forcibly taken away; that there was a resistance and it is just that people do not  talk about it. It was because of this resistance that Defence walls were built in certain places.

The Salaga Slave Market
The Salaga Slave Market

According to Ms Josephine Ohene-Osei, Senior Tourism Officer of the Ministry of Tourism and Diasporan Relations, “when we start with the psychic and intellect of the people, then we will get somewhere, as for the economic benefits, they are consequential”.

She said naturally, as the celebration clocked 10 years in Ghana, one would have expected an elaborate celebration. However, due to financial constraints, it has been downsized. In order to keep the flame of Emancipation Day celebration burning, the Ministry of Tourism and Diasporan Relations, has been able to maintain some of the durbars that usually mark the celebration.

The concept of tourism, particularly domestic tourism is still very foreign to people; there is the need to step up the education for us to grasp what is being done. Emancipation is not just a celebration, but an event that has sentiments attached to it and it cuts across continents and oceans. So while people are coming in and going out, definitely tourism will grow.

By Innocent Samuel Appiah
Email: iskappiah2000@yahoo.com

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