Routes of Remembrance: Refashioning the Slave Trade in Ghana

Routes of Remembrance: Refashioning the Slave Trade in Ghana

Routes of Remembrance: Refashioning the Slave Trade in Ghana

Routes of Remembrance: Refashioning the Slave Trade in Ghana


Over the past fifteen years, visitors from the African diaspora have flocked to Cape Coast and Elmina, two towns in Ghana whose chief tourist attractions are the castles and dungeons where slaves were imprisoned before embarking for the New World. This desire to commemorate the Middle Passage contrasts sharply with the silence that normally cloaks the subject within Ghana. Why do Ghanaians suppress the history of enslavement? And why is this history expressed so differently on the other side of the Atlantic?

Routes of Remembrance tackles these questions by analyzing the slave trade's absence from public versions of coastal Ghanaian family and community histories, its troubled presentation in the country's classrooms and nationalist narratives, and its elaboration by the transnational tourism industry. Bayo Holsey discovers that in the past, African involvement in the slave trade was used by Europeans to denigrate local residents, and this stigma continues to shape the way Ghanaians imagine their historical past. Today, however, due to international attention and the curiosity of young Ghanaians, the slave trade has at last entered the public sphere, transforming it from a stigmatizing history to one that holds the potential to contest global inequalities.

Holsey's study will be crucial to anyone involved in the global debate over how the slave trade endures in history and in memory.


As soon as one enters the town of Elmina, on the coast of Ghana, one notices the castle. On a clear day, its majestic size and stark whiteness stand against the bright blue of both sky and ocean with arresting beauty. the same holds true for Cape Coast, its neighboring town, with its own massive and awesome castle. These castles have stood on the shore since the era of the Atlantic slave trade, during which the Dutch and the British used them as their headquarters. Today they seem out of scale with the rest of the towns' modest buildings, and so too is the attention they have received. the castles have been conserved and have become major tourist destinations, particularly for African Americans and others of African descent. Their conservation has been part of a larger trend over the past two decades of diaspora tourism, which is centered around these two towns and commemorates the Atlantic slave trade. the towns host a biannual festival called panafest, a celebration that aims to reconnect Africans in the diaspora to their African “roots,” as well as an annual Emancipation Day celebration. As a result, scores of diaspora tourists arrive most every day on tour buses and in private cars to see the castles and, in particular, to see the dungeons in which enslaved Africans were kept centuries ago, awaiting their forced migration to the Americas. the castles have become sites in which these tourists can imagine the suffering of their enslaved ancestors and ultimately celebrate their survival. Cape Coast and Elmina have indeed become places of pilgrimage for many black subjects throughout the world.

These castles have also become key sites for historical inquiry about the slave trade and the making of the black diaspora. But for me as an anthro-

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