Slave Route and Remembrance: Travels in Ghana Part 2

We arrived Saturday, July 30 at the Assin Praso Heritage Village—the site of the Assin Praso Emancipation Day Celebration—some time after noon. In addition to the “slave corridor used to transport enslaved African to the coast for sale, the Heritage Village also encompasses a burial ground that contains the remains of captives who died along the route, and a cemetery containing the graves of Europeans who died from tropical diseases or fighting to protect the slave trade or colonize the Ashanti people. We’d traveled by road for more than six hours (covering a distance of less than two hundred miles) to witness the re-enactments of the crossing of the River Pra and the forced journey of enslaved Africans down the slave corridor by their captors. We had arrived too late to see the river crossing, but just in time to see the re-enactments of the journey and the slave auction that followed.

According to tradition, the slave corridor was created as a result of the movements of thousands of enslaved Africans through the area. The section of the corridor where the re-enactment is held passes through a sylvan setting canopied by bamboo trees that rise more than fifty feet above the pathway. The entrance to the corridor is marked by a banner that welcomes visitors.

Inside the corridor it is cool, serene, beautiful and inviting. Without knowing the horrific history of the place, it easily could be viewed as a perfect spot for a cook-out.

An area in front of the buried remains of an old fort provided the setting for the re-enactment. Not knowing exactly what to expect, I was surprised by the sudden appearance of bloodied and bruised captive men and women being violently escorted toward us on the pathway by slave drivers armed with guns and clubs.

As the crowd of attendees gathered around to view the spectacle, the male and female captives were separated from each other and forced to sit on the ground.

The Chief of Suampon-Man, Nana Owodo Aseku X, soon appeared with his attendants and an entourage of sub-chiefs from the region. As Chief of the Assin Atandanso Traditional Area of the Central Region of Ghana, he was the the principal host of the day’s events at the Heritage Village.

Once the chiefs were seated, the re-enactment of a slave auction began. Eric Manu (seen in the photo above in the red shirt and hat) performed the role of slave dealer and auctioneer. Eric is the Executive Director of the Foundation for the Development of African Culture and Heritage, an NGO (non-governmental organization). The Foundation provided the volunteers for the re-enactments, and a drum and dance ensemble that performed at the ceremonies that followed. We attended the event as his invited guests.

One by one, the captives were bartered for mirrors and beads, biscuits and rum, and firearms and gunpowder. Each was inspected before purchase. Throughout the ordeal they were cuffed, beaten and shoved about mercilessly by their “handlers” to the shock and dismay of the audience. Although we can only guess what it was like for the many thousands who traveled that corridor, Eric and his ensemble did an extraordinary job re-imagining and recreating those harrowing scenes.

After the re-enactment, Nana Owodo Aseku X gave a brief history lesson on the slave trade in the region that included an acknowledgement of the role of the local chiefs and their people in the trafficking of human beings. Many of the captives marched through Assin Praso in coffles came from as far away as Burkino Faso and Mali, neighboring states to the North. Some arrived via the Pikworo Slave Camp in the Upper East Region of Ghana, which served as another important “stopover” point on the long journey. Others were brought south from the Salaga Slave Market in the East Gonja District. Assin Praso, therefore, is just one of many transit points on the journey to the “Belly of the Beast” (the putrid holds of European slave ships) and the transatlantic voyage to the Americas. No one knows how many victims died or were killed during each stage of this bloody business of human trafficking. But these annual events perform a great service in remembering their lives and reminding us their ghosts live on in our blood.

After he gave us a broad outline of the history of the site and its environs, Nana Aseku tried to guide us along a path leading to the slave cemetery for a wreath-laying ceremony. We were forced to turn back, however, due to an unusual rise in the river level which blocked our progress. With that part of the program abandoned, we exited the slave corridor to attend Part Two of the day’s events—the speeches and cultural performances—which took place at the Durbar Grounds (an open space in front of the Heritage Village Visitors’ Reception Centre).

To be continued …

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