Saturday, January 24, 2009

Black Canadians Confront Cape Coast Slave History

CAPE COAST, Ghana–Dusk settles on the ghostly slave castle here, and the shadowy figures walking, weeping in a daze are trying, and failing, to deal with their past.

The 21 Canadians confronting their history last night have returned to Africa from the Caribbean, via Toronto, as free men and women, descendants of slaves. They've just emerged through the Door of No Return – survivors all. And the experience is shattering.

At the last stop on this disturbing tour of the Slave Dungeon, one of the female visitors loses it. She gags, wails and vomits on the floor where her ancestors did the same 300, 400 years ago.

Just outside the door labelled "Cell," her travelling companions sit in the castle's courtyard, in a stupor. Grown men are reduced to sobs. One is being comforted by a crying child.

They have come to reconnect with their roots, a past severed by one of the most brutal and destructive institutions in history, which saw 12 million or more Africans captured, enslaved and shipped to the Americas.

It is a despicable place...But the visitors say this is an odyssey they must complete. They want to see where their ancestors were warehoused in horrible conditions before they were spirited on slave ships across the Atlantic to the New World.

"There is a lot of pain, and some anger," explains Sherwin Modeste, a community housing manager in Toronto. "It's like a funeral procession. People ask why you go, if you know it is painful. But you still have to go."

"Haunting," says Violet Dennison, at 61, the oldest of the visitors. We approach the terrible door. Above it, the sign reads: Door of No Return. "It's called the Door of No Return because when you enter this, you never come back."

Through the door we go, onto the viewing deck where the slavers and merchants surveyed their wretched merchandise, animate and inanimate, before ascending 34 steps to conduct their bloody bartering – humans for gunpowder and ivory and trinkets – in the palaver room.

One last stop at the Cell. This room, barely 10 feet by 12 feet, is oppressively hot. Here is where they kept the slaves who couldn't be tamed – the ones who loved freedom more than life. And this is where they died.

And it's here the sister loses it and pours out her soul to her creator. She howls. She shakes. She throws up her breakfast. And it is a good while before she is comforted. (Source: The Star)


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