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Sightseeing at Elmina and Kakum National Park (Sat., 7/4)

Manchi…good morning
Word of the day: “wawa” means “vigor”
Today the University arranged for us to visit Kakum National Park, home of part of the rain forest here, and Elmina Castle, an old castle that had once been used to hold slaves before transport. It was a little over an hours drive and we were able to see some of the African countryside and villages along the way. The drive was eye opening—we saw everything from thatched roof huts, to wooden shacks, to half built concrete homes (they build until the run out of money, then wait until they get more—there are many unfinished structures)to humongous residences set among the hills in order to get a better view of the ocean and coast. The discrepancy in wealth is obvious and among the beach resorts are children bathing themselves on the side of the road with a bucket or a dump stuck in the middle of a village, it is an absolutely amazing scene to witness. Among the many billboards for vodophone, Guinness foreign extra, and Toyota are small shacks that people are selling wares out of in order to make a living…from toilet paper to pineapples to furniture to tennis shoes to coffins (set out like produce). While there is definite poverty among the various villages, there is also an eerie resemblance to things we find in America. In the middle of Cape Coast there was a park with students from the nearby college playing soccer, but goats wandering about. Men were at work on the road with their yellow hats and signs, but working beside a huge billboard that mentions the need to get tested for HIV (something that might be found in the US, but has more significance here). It was Saturday and there were many places that people had gathered to listen to music and commune with each other, something you would often see at home, but women were carrying coolers on their heads. It just goes to show you that we are all quite similar; we just go about things in different ways.

Driving here is an adventure and those with a license must attend school to receive it. Beeping is a proactive action and they beep when they are around curves or passing others in order to warn them- there was lots of beeping going on today. The road to Cape Coast from Winneba is a lined and paved road, but only two lanes so sometimes passing became a bit harrowing, though I thought our driver did a great job of navigating our shuttle bus. Each village offers a welcome sign and there were quite a few tributes and welcomes to President Obama who will be traveling the same road on Friday (we have actually rearranged activities for next week because of the traffic and influx of people that will occur upon his arrival-you can’t even travel half way around the world and get away from it ). The people here are excited because this is the first African nation he has visited since taking office. One interesting sign I noticed said “13 curves up ahead”…and then I guess after the 13 curves were over, there was a sign that said “end of 13 curves.” “No overspeeding” was on another sign…not sure if that meant it was okay to speed but not too much, and there were red signs scattered through our route that listed the number of people killed in the areas where they were posted.

After our bumpy ride we arrived at Kakum National Park to explore a bit of the rainforest. This park has one of only four suspension bridges that allow you to walk above the canopy. I have pretty bad motion sickness and don’t do so well on the little suspension bridge at Busch Gardens, so I elected to wait and take the nature walk instead. Those who did go had fun, though a few made me realize I had made the right decision when they returned a bit paler than when they had begun. The nature walk was interesting, unfortunately no animals were seen- you have to go to a different part of the park for that- but I learned a lot about the vegetation and how they are working to preserve the rainforest. I’ll give a quick lesson on the medicinal value of some of the trees and then move on. I can’t remember the name of the first tree, but it was used for telephone poles and to make the mortar for a mortar and pestle (another tree in the forest makes up the rest of the set—and Doris, our tour guide, says that that is the only proper way to make Ghanaians favorite food, Fufu, am mixture of plantains and cassava.) Fortunately for the rainforest, teak was imported from India and grown successfully, so that is the hardwood they use now for telephone poles (but I’m not sure about the mortar and pestle). The Ofrah is a tree that is used for parrot habitats, and the strangling Fig tree is a parasite tree that kills the host tree it attacks. Supposedly it has great medicinal value though- if you swim and get a parasite that bores into your skin called a guinea worm, the sap from this tree will make it want to leave your body (lovely-no swimming for me). Esonoafe, or ebony tree, is where ebony wood comes from, but the leaves can be used to stop bleeding. And the Mahogony tree is used for wood as well, but (R Rated—do not read to children) can help a “man when he is with a women,” as Doris put it- a rival to Hugh Hefner’s favorite medicine. When we were leaving the park to board our bus, there was a group of young people dancing and drumming in the picnic area. We checked it out and Ben (Comfort’s son) said they were just hanging out and killing time. We also met a woman from Massachusetts who was working in Ho (not sure if it is spelled correctly, but it is one of the poorer areas of Ghana) with an organization called Disaster Volunteers of Ghana. A man living in the area wanted to make a difference so created this organization to bring people from all over the world to volunteer, build, and teach in the poorer areas of Ghana (something to think about in the future?).Wow, it looked to me like a great way to kill time -I wanted to join them but we had to hit the road for the Cape Coast and Elmina.

Elmina is a monument and museum now and it has a long and sad history. The Portuguese built it in 1482 to serve as St. George’s castle and as a trading post. I did not realize this, but the Portuguese were the first to begin human trade and they began using humans as trade in the latter part of the 16th century. The Dutch then took over and continued using the castle for slave trade and then when slavery was abolished, the British took it over and used it to train African soldiers in WW2 to fight for them in Burma and India. Later the castle was used for police training. Slaves came to be at the castle in one of three ways: either because a rival tribe captured and took them there, chiefs took their own people, or the white man came into their villages and snatched them away. We toured the courtyard and men’s and women’s dungeons, as well as the room of no return. They kept 400 females and 600 males at Elmina, chained to walls of the dungeon where they relieved themselves, ate, and slept. As we walked through the rooms you could feel the sorrow and suffering that took place, and I had to keep myself from balling hysterically. I have only felt such sadness a few times in my life-I probably should not have touched the walls, so much suffering took place against them. Our tour guide, Emmanuel, was a fast talker but he slowed down when he explained how the governor, (who had a very large residence on the 3rd floor) would stand at the balcony of the courtyard while the women were paraded through it and choose which one he would like to visit him that night, they would hose her down, and deliver her to him through a trap door that led to his bedroom. Other soldiers and governor aides took part in using the women kept here for their own pleasure as well. I can not imagine life here, and the women and men who were brought here stayed for 4 to 6 months before they traveled through the room of no return which led them to the boats that would take them to the Americas and places in Europe. There were wreaths laid in this room fro those who died, because many did die before they even boarded the boat and were simply tossed to sea. If a slave fought back, he or she was sent to a small cell and given no food or drink and left to die. The inhumanity is unbelievable to me, especially when we were shown where the Dutch built their church over top of the male dungeon. Could they hear their cries when they worshiped? I hope that my words convey a picture to you of what life was like as a slave on this side of the ocean before they came to America, because I have gained a deeper understanding for this awful part of history. It fractured families and tribes and I can’t even imagine the cruelty and inhumanity that these people ha d to endure. The irony did not escape me as we were traveling back to Winneba along the coastal road, that across the ocean my country was celebrating its Independence Day while I had just toured a place that took away independence from an entire culture of people. I am sorry to leave this post on such a sad note but it is a fact of history and after today I feel it in a way I never have before.

I do hope that everyone is doing well and celebrated the 4th in a fun way! Miss you!

A plaque at Elmina acknowledging the past and looking toward the future.

A plaque at Elmina acknowledging the past and looking toward the future.

~ by cferber on .


One Response to “Sightseeing at Elmina and Kakum National Park (Sat., 7/4)”

  1. Dear Christina, I am touched by your amazing blog, and the descriptions you have provided here. Thank you for sharing such a wealth of information and experiences with those of us back at UMW. Please give my best to Dr. Houff and Dr. Wright. Godspeed to all of you. You are good people.