The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade And Ghana
By staff writers
Ghanaians, it seems, view the Trans-Atlantic slave trade as an unfortunate historical human calamity which must not be allowed to happen again.
But the question is how many Ghanaians are truly aware of the role people
living within that part of the continent at the time played in the actual
act of capturing and
selling their own people in return for things such as gunpowder and kola? The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and Ghana, an exhibition mounted as an attempt to
educate the public on the historical occurrence of the slave trade, is currently on at the National Museum in Accra.
Not only is there evidence of some 35 slave markets dotted around the
area in West Africa where Ghana is situated, there are also many routes,
transit camps and
objects available to establish that the trade took place under horrendous conditions. Several of these transit camps and markets have been identified within the area
where Ghana is currently situated. And some of these inland sites are characterised by water cisterns, remnants of slave warehouses, rock boulders and trees with
large or long exposed roots for chaining the enslaved. Burial grounds for slaves, and their ancestors as well as their masters are still visible at places like Salaga,
Saakpuli and Kafaba in the Northern part of Ghana. Other places include Assin Manso and Effutu in the Central Region area, and Atorkor, Peki Dzake and
Adafianu in Anloland.
The forts and castles which started as European trading posts later
becoming dungeons and slave auction areas which dot along the coast of
Ghana even till today,
don't give the whole picture.
This exhibition tackles the story of the slave trade from another more
important angle which has, hitherto, not been told much. It tells how deeply
African chiefs and
kings themselves were involved in the trading, ordering raids and kidnaping, and arranged markets where the captured were sold. Toward the end of the 17th
century and in the first few decades of the 18th, slave raiding and kidnaping became the major occupation among the Akwamu, Akyem, Kwahu, Krepi and Fante in
the southern part of the Gold Coast and among all the major ethnic groups in the northern part of the country. It tells how those captured had to walk several
kilometres under brutal conditions. Chained to each other with neck to hands iron shackles, they only got to rest at transit camps before arriving at the markets. Their
new masters would then distinguished them from each other by marking them with branding irons which were put in fire to become red hot before they were stamped
on specific parts of their body.
Many of the original iron shackles, some specially made for children,
and the branding irons with inscriptions like ITA and GHC are in this exhibition.
Also on display
are recent colour photographs of many of the transit camps and markets as they look today.
A brass canon of English make from Sekondi, and an original 18 century
flute lock musket (gun) can also be found. But of all these items on display,
the one that
struck me the most was a collage made by an inmate of the Accra Psychiatric Hospital, depicting chiefs and their subjects at a meeting with Europeans at the
Christianborg Castle. One wonders if it is not his effort in trying to comprehend how such an atrocious and de-humanising act can be meted out to fellow human
beings, that got this person insane.
Slavery and slave trading is an age-old institution practiced on almost
every continent in this world. People sell people for many different reasons.
It is not so rampant
these days, but it still takes place. The Trans Atlantic Slave Trade, however, was the most organised, and it profited its European and African counterparts a great
deal. The people of the Gold Coast, were not mere spectators of this misadventure but active participants. The Portuguese were the first to introduce Atlantic trade
into Ghana, trading in consumer goods but later resorted to slaves to be used as labour force in the new world in America. By this time the British, French, Dutch,
Danes and Germans also joined in the scramble for African humans, at prices even cheaper than horses!
In 1889, a German traveller called Blinger visited the Salaga market
in the northen part of Ghana today, and made this startling revelation.
"300 cowries are sold for
a male slave, 400 for a female slave, 1000 cowries for a horse, 500 for an ox, and 150 on a sheep." That was the depth to which African human lives were reduced.
It is estimated that from 1451 to 1870 between 10 and 12 million slaves
were exported from Africa. Between 1620 and 1870, over half a million slaves
were sent to the mainland of America. From 1733 to 1807, the Gold coast supplied 13.3% of slaves needed by South Carolina. Between 1710 and 1769, 16% of
what was needed for Virginia. In the total English trade, Ghana supplied 18.4% between 1690 and 1807. For the whole of the 18th Century, the Gold Coast
supplied 12.1% of total Atlantic trade (Perbi 1995).
The exhibition is a small but powerful one that will provoke any viewers
senses on how and why the slave trade actually took place. Telling the
story of how African
themselves were the kingpins who captured and sold off their own people adds a relevant piece to the jigsaw of this 'historical human calamity'. It conveys an
important message of acknowledgment and reconciliation. It makes sense of the history lessons about the slave trade. It is more powerful than any movie ever made
about the subject, and should be a 'Must-See' for, especially, every school child in this country.
The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and Ghana is on till December 15 at the National Museum, Accra.