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EDWARD M. BRUNER is Professor Emeritus, Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL 61801
(Abridged; published with the permission of the copyright holder, the American Anthropological Association. I should like to acknowledge Prof. Bruner’s strong support for my attempt to obtain permission to republish his paper here unabridged. Prof. Bruner is not responsible for this abridgment, which cannot do justice to the original.)
Figure 1: Elmina Castle. Photo by Edward M. Bruner
My essay (describes) the meeting in the border zone between African American tourists who return to mother Africa, specifically to Elmina Castle on the coast of Ghana, and the local Akan speaking Fanti who receive them.
In 1993, there were 17,091 visitors to Elmina Castle; 67 percent were residents of Ghana, 12.5 percent were Europeans, and 12.3 percent were North Americans. An important and growing segment consists of blacks from the diaspora, and includes many African Americans.
The Struggle over Meaning
As part of the tourism development project, much effort has gone toward the rehabilitation of the historic castles and the construction of a museum in Cape Coast Castle. The increased attention has precipitated discussion over the interpretation of the castles, particularly over which version of history shall be told.
What most Ghanaians want from tourism is economic development, including employment, new sources of income, better sanitation and waste disposal, improved roads, and a new harbor.
While Ghanaians see tourism primarily as a route to development, the African American tourists have a different perspective.
African Americans focus on the dungeons at the 500-year-old Elmina Castle because, understandably, the slave trade is of primary interest to them. Indeed, many African Americans come to Ghana in a quest for their roots, to experience one of the very sites from which their ancestors may have begun the torturous journey to the New World. It is for them a transition point between the civility of their family in Africa and the barbarism of slavery in the New World.
For many African Americans, the castles are sacred ground not to be desecrated. They do not want the castles to be made beautiful or to be whitewashed. They want the original stench to remain in the dungeons. . . Some diaspora blacks feel that even though they are not Ghanaians, the castles belong to them.
Balancing this sadness is the sense of strength and pride many African Americans feel at the recognition that their ancestors must have been strong people to have survived these inhuman conditions.
Most Ghanaians, on the other hand, are not particularly concerned with slavery.
Generally Ghanaians focus on the long history of Elmina, while diaspora blacks focus on the mid-Atlantic slave trade, which reached its height between 1700 and 1850. Ghanaians want the castles restored, with good lighting and heating, so they will be attractive to tourists; African Americans want the castles to be as they see them - a cemetery for the slaves who died in the dungeons' inhuman conditions while waiting for the ships to transport them to the Americas. Ghanaians see the castles as festive places; African Americans as somber places.
Which story shall be told? Vested interests and strong feelings are involved.
The Representation of Slavery
The attention of diaspora blacks to the dungeons and the slave experience has the potential consequence of introducing into Ghanaian society increased tension between African Americans and Ghanaians, and possibly a heightened awareness of black-white opposition, a sensitive and possibly controversial issue. . .
The situation is full of ironies. When diaspora blacks return to Africa, the Ghanaians call them obruni, which means "whiteman'' . . .
Many Ghanaians have told me that they consider some African Americans to be racist.
. . . an African American tourist who meets a Ghanaian may secretly wonder, Did his ancestors sell my ancestors? Further, some Ghanaians, seeing that diaspora blacks are prosperous and educated, feel they were in a sense fortunate in being taken as slaves, because now they are economically well off and have a higher standard of living than the Ghanaians. African Americans too may ask, What would my life have been like had my ancestors not been taken as slaves but remained in Africa?
Mahdi, Adamu The Hausa Factor in West African History ABUP OUP
Cheo Taylor Tyehimba on Shooting 'Back to Africa' Bullets
Shooting ‘Back to Africa’ Bullets
By Cheo Taylor Tyehimba
Article Dated 3/24/2001
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Cheryl Finley: The Door of (No) Return
Identity politics and cultural heritage tourism in Ghana
Common-Place: Special Edition on American Slavery (