Saturday, November 09, 2013

How should slavery be remembered in Ghana?

I just finished reading through a paper by a Ghanaian historian on how slavery is remembered in Ghana. Or more accurately on how the participation of indigenous inhabitants of what now is Ghana in the various international slave trades as well as domestic slavery is ignored in Ghana. It is not denied. Nobody in Ghana claims that there was not significant participation by indigenous Africans in capturing and selling slaves. But, there is still not a public or even strong academic discourse that really focuses on the role played by indigenous Ghanaians in these institutions. Rather the slave forts are viewed primarily as a way in which to generate revenue from the Black diaspora in the US and as such part of a narrative in which only the roles of European perpetrators and African victims are emphasized. Dealing seriously with the legacy of slavery and the various slave trades and the role of indigenous slavers in what is now Ghana is not something that has engaged modern Ghanaian society. It is not considered to be an issue of significance to Ghanaians today to confront this past. This is also reflected on a Pan-African level with the conspicuous absence of Ghana's slave forts on the African Union Human Rights Memorial website. Indeed Ghana is not one of the countries listed by the African Union as having a national human rights memorial participating in its project for "Remembering Victims of Mass Atrocities in Africa." Hence the slave fort at Cape Coast is not listed at the African Union site even though the Maison des Esclaves on Goree in Senegal is listed. Nor does the African Union site list any Ghanaian partners. The paper I just reviewed argues that this needs to change and that Ghanaians especially Ghanaian historians need to be able to come to terms with a full telling of the past which recognizes the fact that people indigenous to the territory were also perpetrators as well as victims of slavery and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. While, Ghanaians may indeed be able to publicly acknowledge such a correction in the national narrative on slavery, I am guessing that such a radical rethinking of how slavery is memorialized would be strongly rejected by most US scholars and activists dealing with the issue. Giving the issue of African participation in the slave trade a prominent role in the historical narrative rather than just glossing over it is not something I see the people who currently dominate US academia ever doing.

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