L. B. Griffith Jr. offered me the loan of a 110-page book, with color pictures and narrative, titled "Castles & Forts of Ghana" by Kwesi J. Anquandah. Griffith's daughter, Amy Ahladis, and her husband, Nicholas, are associated with the Jehovah's Witnesses, and she gave the book to Griffith. Ahladis also assists with training of translators in 17 African countries.
My thought was that a column about west African castles (there are 40) may be new to some and timely to others. The information may provide insights into the age-old phenomenon of sale of human beings. Because of the nature of Amy Ahladis' work and travel around the world, she is not available for a personal contact. It would be enriching to have the benefit of her personal observations and impressions. Perhaps we can talk another time.
A day later, Doris Bunkley, in conversation with Sally after the WLA annual meeting, mentioned that years ago she had visited one of the slave castles of Ghana. This further reminded me of a conversation some time ago with Bill Abell, who years earlier had visited Timbuktu in neighboring Mali, nearly 650 miles east of the Ghana coast.
The east-west sub-Saharan slave trade goes back for millennia. A pivotal community in this early roadway of commerce was Timbuktu, a large oasis, which traded slaves, salt, ivory, spices, leather goods and all manner of needed materials. Timbuktu was a large, prosperous community, featuring in years gone by a prominent Islamic university in the middle of that arid and remote environment.
Trade would essentially flow due north from Timbuktu across the dry, hot desert to the seafaring communities along the Mediterranean in North Africa and then to southern Europe. This pattern was altered some time during the 15th century when gold was discovered near the Atlantic Ocean in western Africa.
The Portuguese, Dutch, French, English, Brandenburg-Prussians, Danes and Swedes purchased, or took by force, land and structures from local tribal peoples and each other to build stronger forts and castles to store and protect their new-found wealth in gold. In time, it became apparent that if the slave trade from Timbuktu and elsewhere in western Africa were extended to what is now Ghana and then sent by sea to Europe and the New World, more of the human cargo would survive that route. The initial castle and fort system evolved into the broader colonial system, which most of us understand.
The notorious slave and ivory trades have ended. Hugely valuable minerals, fields of oil and timber assets have replaced them. But the memory of the centuries-old structures used in slave trade is preserved, as evidenced by Anquandah's book. Quoting the author, "Recognizing their unique place in world history, the World Heritage Convention of UNESCO has designated Ghana's forts as World Heritage Monuments."
Bunkley was among an American Presbyterian women's group that participated in an international cultural exchange with women in Ghana about 14 years ago. That visit was covered by the newspaper and is briefly revisited here.
This experience allowed her an opportunity to see the Cape Coast Castle near Elmina.
"We saw the dirt floor dungeon where the female slaves were held for deportation. A faint odor of secretions and excretions after all these years was still extant," Bunkley said.
She also saw displays of chains and shackles and the dreaded "doors of no return," which the captives passed through to board the slave ships. "Many of the women among the visiting group from America were overcome with tears at the viewing of these horrors," Bunkley said. The castle at Elmina is extensively described in Anquandah's book.
Anquandah states in a closing paragraph, "Such is the legacy of the African-European relationship established on the Gold Coast as these two peoples met at the castles, forts and lodges between 1482-1880. UNESCO makes prominent a new spirit of reconciliation of nations around the world."
Bunkley said she believes many African-Americans and others are unaware of this history. Makes one think that like a leaf not knowing it is part of a tree, many people not knowing their history are unaware of their common humanity.