Umurna mrigla. Exploring other neighbourhoods in Accra on Saturday, travelling to Cape Coast and Elmina on Sunday.
Saturday morning Ben and Aziz went to buy smaller sized bamboos for the installation at the market we had checked out yesterday with Dagna. They bought 50 4m long bamboos with a smaller diameter to add to the 110 3.20m long bamboos with a larger diameter that they had bought yesterday from Adolf. We then all followed the second day of festivities for Homowo around James Town. Mantse – chiefs – went around homes in their parts of the neighbourhood followed by family members often dressed in red t-shirts with a photo of the chief’s face on them. Drumming and singing lead us through the streets. When the festive procession got to people’s houses the chiefs sprinkled palm nut soup for the ancestors, to then move on to the next house.
In the afternoon we took a trotro to Osu and found the coffee we had all been craving for. The neighbourhood has several juice and coffee hipster spots, and seems a lot more sparsely populated than James Town. After coffee we went to check out the arts market near the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial, where we talked to drum makers who were finishing a big order to send to the USA. In the meantime, Hedi, Yusif, Mohamed and Lotfi were sharing drumming skills and rhythms with vendors in another part of the arts market. They were invited in to make music when one of the vendors told Yusif “you look like a beat producer”. This description resonated with Yusif, who followed him to his shop to play together with the rest of the guys.
We called it a day after a night stroll in James Town in the densely busy streets, different music blasting every couple of metres, people eating and drinking and dancing, attending concerts, gathering around in circles to watch dancing and young people doing bicycle tricks, everyone partying and celebrating Homowo in their own way, through the night.
Sunday we took off on Miss Taxi’s bus (sadly without Miss Taxi, we will hopefully meet her another time) at 8:30am for Cape Coast. At a red light we were tempted to buy “Burkina” – a yoghurt from Burkina Faso with muesli type grains in it – after being told by the vendor that “if you drink one you drink plenty”. Sadly the bus had to follow the traffic. The large urban expanse of Accra gradually gave way to lush forests with towering trees and younger banana trees, the greenery spotted every now and again by red earth coloured mounds created by termites. When we got to Cape Coast, which used to be the capital of Ghana before it got moved by the British to Accra, we went to eat vegan food in a cooperative restaurant called Baobab House.
We then visited the slave castle. We were about twenty people on the guided tour, apart from us most of the visitors were Ghanaian (in Elmina there were American and Nigerian visitors as well). The guide explained how the slave trade was run here, how people were kept for months in dungeons in almost total darkness with very little ventilation, like sardines, forced to eat, sleep and defecate in the same squeezed spot, the floor we were walking on was formed as a result of layers of those inhumane conditions. Directly above the dungeons were the church and the living and administrative quarters of the slave traders. The Ghanaian visitors were dismayed that the church was directly above the male dungeon, and asked the guide how the church authorities let it happen. Lotfi didn’t join us on our trip today, he wasn’t feeling well, but Ben was wearing his blue baseball hat. When we got to the door to the tunnel that lead people to the door of no return, now sealed, the animist priest carried out a ritual to wish all visitors all the best, and to remember those who perished here. He took Lotfi’s hat and placed it on the altar of the shrine – despite not being here, a trace from Lotfi was left behind. The slaves who died were thrown at sea, while the slave traders, the occasional wife who visited from England, and the children the men had with local women, who in turn became slave traders (like Philip Kwaku, who went on to build the first school outside of a slave castle) are buried in the castle, in the space between the dungeons and the fresh air that for hundreds of years was only available to very few.
After, we drove to Elmina, the other big slave castle. In the museum of Cape Coast castle, maps of the coast show how dotted it was with slave trade castles and forts, the slaver nations being perpetually paranoid of attacks from all sides. There were also maps explaining how far back other forms of slave trade dated between Africa, North Africa, and the Mediterranean, routes and trades that included Tunisia. A director of the slave trading business originally from Zeelandt, in the Netherlands, is buried in the square of Elmina castle. “He was a God fearing slave trader”, bitterly jokes our guide. Writings in Dutch, who were the ones who captured the castle from the Portuguese, who had previously imported Catholicism along with the slave trade to West Africa, appear on various walls, reminding them of their switch to Protestantism. Flowers brought from descendants of slaves line the walls of the room that precedes a slim rectangular fissure in the stone wall: the door of no return.