The deep sadness associated with slavery does not make it an easy topic of discussion; but the depth of resistance and perseverance and sheer determination of fighters and survivors eases the pain somewhat to create a doorway for discussion.
Growing up as a young Pan-Africanist and avid historian, it was important that I learnt about history, especially one that had affected generations of Ghanaians before me when Ghana was still known as Gold Coast. In high school, I was made to understand that certain “superpowers” in the world decided that they were “superior” to my forefathers and needed “inferior” people to serve them. Therefore, they had a meeting and decided who got which country and its people.
I learnt that families were forcefully divided, people were stripped, whipped with chains till blood oozed, they were then shackled and taken away to go work in these countries. Those that fought back were brutally hurt or murdered. Many wept, many were in pain but had no choice other than to resist and condemn the activities of these invaders, strangers and unwanted foreigners on their land.
For my young mind, this was such a sad story that I didn’t want to hear it again. However, we had to visit the Cape Coast Slave Castles for the full picture to be vivid in our minds. As stories were told about the slave dungeons, around me, people choked up, people sniffled, others remained silent. I was one of those who remained silent, in a pool of my own thoughts. I thought, where were these people’s humanity? Who sat there and decided that one race was superior to the other? How could people be so cruel, evil and cause such unpardonable pain in the lives of nations? What was wrong with being born in the Gold Coast? How could slavery ever be justified? I had no answers, that could ever make sense.
Finally, our tour reached the door of no return, where it was explained that once slaves went through that door, they never returned, unless they fell extremely ill at sea and the “slave masters” were “kind enough” not to throw them off the ship, and instead decided to bring them back to recover or stay.
Unlike, the slaves, we were able to go out of the door of no return and see on the other side, the door of return. We had the luxury to make such choices for ourselves. Unfortunately, our ancestors didn’t have that choice. On my way, back home, I couldn’t imagine the pain that went through the minds of the slaves, to have been treated as though they were not worthy by their own fellow human beings. I could only applaud their bravery, strength for doing what they could in the face of cowardice and adversity.
In truth, inferior minded people chose to invade the Continent of Africa and treat its people that way, all in order to better their own countries, with manpower, with gold, ivory and resources, satisfy their needs and be seen as conquerors. The invaders had the choice to do the right thing, history showed us that they chose not to.
In America, the legacy of slavery has created an institutional societal imbalance. It is the foundation for racism. In places like Ghana, it put a violent and bloody wedge in the process of progress, development and nationhood. It was a violent act that resulted in the feeling of missing limbs.
I have to stop because the thing about still talking about slavery is it can evoke such strong emotions, with one side choosing to think well they apologized and it was a while ago and people should let it go. However, one side will insist, sometimes sorry is not enough and pain continues to plague generations after. I just hope humanity does better and not repeat these atrocities, ever again. But then again current events show us otherwise.
To read more from us on this part of history, read our review of Yaa Gyasi’s ‘Homegoing’.