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ghanaian tragedy

published: 2011-02-27

My father had taken me to Elmina Castle on coast of Ghana, quite a few times in my pre-teen years. At the time, most of this Dutch fort was inaccessible and we’d wander around making up the details of the story. Was this narrow window really where all slaves left their captivity in the fort, left their country, to never return?
If I now peer hard enough through that window, I can envision Recife across the ocean. I can see Johan Maurits, governor of Dutch Brazil, waiting for his fresh slaves to arrive. When researching him for my previous novel, I was astounded to discover Johan Maurits was the very person under who’s orders Elmina Castle was taken from the Portuguese. Slaves had become much more lucrative than gold. Why the surprise? Because to this day, all Brazilians love Johan Maurits and his legacy as enlightened ruler. Brazil would’ve been much better off if the Dutch had stayed, claim the Brazilians.
I think of this while wandering around Elmina Castle, feeling embarassed about the inhumanities that took place there in name of the Dutch, and had such huge impact on the way the world looks today. Johan Maurits didn’t last very long in Brazil, but the slave trade certainly did.

Today, every single detail of the cruelties that took place at Elmina Castle are made clear. Even the Dutch governor’s bedroom has been restored and a guide graphically describes how the governor would pick and choose female slaves to bring to his quarters. I wonder whether any of those female slaves hoped he’d like her so she could stay.

“What a mess we’ve made of this world,” I say to a black British man. We. The Dutch, the Brits, the Danes, the Swedes, the Portuguese, the Belgians, the Italians.
“It’s like the sea,” he responds. “It will have to clean itself, slowly but surely.”
The obvious analogy being: it can only do so if we stop adding shit to it.

By chance, I meet a German diplomat. This gives me the opportunity to fulfill a task I had decided to take on: to write the German embassy and tell them they really need to pay attention to the Volta museum in Ho, Eastern region of Ghana, formerly called German Togoland. This was the case until WW I.
Are you confused now? Yes? Good, because none of any European country’s role in this aspect of history makes any sense. The Germans had bits of west-Africa too?
The museum in Ho displays a big wooden chair: the German governor’s throne. I ask the diplomat whether he might consider putting up money to restore some of the damaged paintings in the museum. He says he’ll consider it. Mission accomplished.

The Ghanaians in this part of the country adore Germans in ways similar to how the Brazilians wish the Dutch had stayed. After WW I, German Togoland was a piece of cake which the League of Nations shared between England on the one side (now Ghana), and France on the other (now Togo). And did I mention Ghanaians were made to fight for the Brits during both world wars? In Ethiopia, for example, and Birma?

These days, Ghana is said to be doing well and is paraded around the world as poster-child of Africa. But scratch the surface and you’ll quickly learn it is facing huge challenges. A dear friend of mine in Ghana said, “but we have to remember Ghana is only 20 years older than I am.” Independent Ghana, that is to say. True; Ghana hasn’t had the time yet to cleanse itself. But will it be granted this time?

The Chinese are now buzzing around Ghana, quietly studying it and learning the languages. We all know about the one-child policy in China and how this is going to be a problem. China will soon become top-heavy on elderly. Well, perhaps they are in Ghana not only for resources, but also figuring out a solution for shortage of manpower. As the saying goes: history tends to repeat itself. All the irony along with.

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