THE SIGNIFICANCE OF EMANCIPATION DAY CELEBRATION
By Innocent Appiah
This year’s Emancipation Day celebration, on the theme “Emancipation: Our Heritage, Our Strength” was launched on June 6 alongside a book titled “The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, Landmarks, Legacies and Expectations”.
Emancipation Day is an annual event celebrated in Ghana, to commemorate the final abolition of slavery in the British colonies.
Activities marking this year’s event include wreath-laying ceremony to honour three illustrious sons of Pan -African – Dr. William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, George Padmore and Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. There will also be re-enacment of the crossing of the River Pra at Assin Praso where captured slaves reached a point of no return, durbars and reverential nights at various places and a retracing of the slave route in Ghana among others.
The celebration originated in the Caribbean on August 1, 1834. This event has been celebrated in Ghana since 1998 through the instrumentality of former President Jerry John Rawlings.
Despite the fact that Emancipation Day has been celebrated for 174 years the world has not been free of some horror stories about slavery and other forms of subjugation. The experience of our brethren during the period of the infamous Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, when they were totally deprived of their basic human rights until emancipation came, should act as a guide and warning for all of us.
Jake Otanka Obetsebi Lamptey, former Minister of Tourism and Diasporan Relations, who initiated the Joseph Project, said at the 2006 edition of Emancipation Day that Ghana remained committed to the liberation of her kith and kin and would pursue policies that would grant every Ghanaian freedom and justice and improvement in their socio-economic environment.
The Joseph Project which was part of the Akwaaba Anyemi Project is an invitation to Diasporan to reconnect to their motherland. Hence, it seeks to unite the black race. The infamous slave trade decimated the African human resource by taking away chiefs, teachers, religious leaders, artisans, and so on. It was these skills that were used to build America and Europe.
Emancipation Day has become important in Ghana because of our commitment to the total liberation of all sons and daughters of African descent. Ghana became the first African nation to join in the celebration in 1998 to re-affirm her status as the Gateway to the African Homeland of Diasporans. Ghana’s claim is well grounded in the fact that it was a major exit point for slaves on the West Coast in the period that the infamous trade took place.
Currently, about 40 forts, castles and lodges used for the slave trade are in existence in the country, with three of them: St. George’s Castle and St. Jago fort, both at Elmina and Cape Coast Castle, designated by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. As a complement to these forts and castles, the Slaves Route Project which seeks to rehabilitate, restore and promote the tangible and intangible heritage from slave trade, is being developed.
This route takes the tourists through communities where resistance were put up against slave raiders, like Gwollu and Nalerigu with their defensive walls; slave market sites like Saakpili and Salaga, the slave bathing rivers and slave burial grounds at Assin-Manso among others.
The wreath laying ceremony is accompanied by statements from government, representatives from the African Diaspora etc. and cultural performances.
Assin Praso is the crossing of River Pra by the captured slaves amounted to sealing their doom. It marked a point of “no return”. In remembrance of this, the re-enactment of the crossing and other rituals are performed.
The Cape Coast Castle was initially used for trade in goods until the period of the slave trade when some parts were used as dungeons. A reverential vigil is held in the castle to remember all those who passed through those doors. The occasion is marked with performances, statements, visits to the dungeon and the recall of names of leading emancipators.
Emancipation durbars are held at heritage sites to remember the ignoble slave trade as it happened at the specific locations. Durbars also depict the culture of the people through performances, traditional cuisine, etc. Below are some heritage sites where durbars are held. Keta, locate about 100 kilometres from Accra, has Fort Prinzenstein (now inn ruins), which was a slave merchandising point. Initially built by Danish traders in 1784 for defensive purposes in a war against Anlo Ewe and to keep the area safe from other colonial powers, the fort was later used as a dungeon for slaves awaiting transportation to the Caribbean.
Bono Manso is one of the oldest inhabited settlements in Ghana. Slave trading in Ghana started in the 16thCentury and it was the most centrally located slave market in the country. Monuments to Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X the erected in the town by the local people in 2003.
Anomabo is the hometown s slave trade abolitionist George Ekem Ferguson, while Kumasi has the cultural inputs in the Joseph Project. Osu in Accra held slave trade activities and slave houses have been identified and oral history confirms this
The slaves were rested here, sorted and allowed to recover from arduous journey from the hinterland. The Slave River, “Ndonko Nsuo” were the slaves had their last bath is here.
The Akwamus, like other states were slave traders and middlemen for the three European forts in Accra. In addition to the payment of the Europeans, the Akwamus seized the Osu Castle from the Danes in 1693.The original keys to the Christiansburg Castle were kept by the Akwamus after returning the Castle to the Danes.
This town became the biggest slave market and the hub of several networks of trade routes. Salaga was favorably located on the direct route between Mampong and Yendi along which the Ashanti and Dagomba traded. Slaves were bartered here for items such as cola and gold.
Emancipation Day celebration is climaxed with a durbar attended by Africans from the Diaspora, Ghanaians and tourists from all walks of life. The durbar includes cultural performances, wreath laying, at the Garden of Remembrance and traditional rituals at the river site among others.
A Jamaican, Lady Crystal, who dedicated her life fighting racism and Samuel Carson, an African American Naval Officer were both re-interred at Assin Manso in August 1998 as a prelude to the first Emancipation Day celebration in Ghana. Increasingly, the Atlantic Ocean is no longer Africans and Africans in the Diaspora. Gradually the gap is closing and the two worlds are being united as demonstrated by the re-burial of these two in their native land.
Ghana has gained a lot from the celebration of Emancipation Day through education and awareness creation, especially in areas where the slave trade took place. At durbars to commemorate the event, many more people become aware of part Africans played in that the white men were not solely responsible for this injustice.
Those who were hitherto embittered that they were totally sold out, get to understand that some of our people were forcibly taken away; that were also resistance. It was because of this resistance that Defence walls were built inn certain places.
According to Ms. Josephine Ohene-Osei, Senior Tourism Officer of the Ministry of Tourism and Diasporan Relations, “when we start with the psyche and intellect of the people, then we will get somewhere, s for the economic benefits, they are consequential.”
She said naturally, as celebration clocks 10 years in Ghana this year one would have expected an elaborate celebration. However due to financial constraints, it has been downsized to keep the flame of Emancipation Day burning, the Ministry has been able to maintain some of the durbars that usually mark the celebration.
The concept of tourism particularly domestic tourism is still very foreign to people; there is the need to step up the education for us to grasp what is being done. Emancipation is not just a celebration, but an event that has sentiments attached to it and it cuts across continents and oceans. So while people are coming in and going out, definitely tourism must grow.
We need to take interest in tourism and take visits to places historic and cultural interest to learn more about our rich culture and heritage.
The Ministry is the least resourced even though government claims tourism is a gold mine and currently the fourth foreign exchange earner. This has affected publicity, leading to poor marketing. Tourist sites are not properly developed, there are no promotional materials.
Since 2001, the ministry has seen five Ministers, with Mr. Obetsebi-Lamptey being the longest serving Minister there, and one can say that he really used the little resources to project Ghana to the outside world. The continuous change of Ministers has adversely affected the tourism industry in Ghana.
Let us hope that the celebration of Emancipation Day would wake us up to the evils of slavery in any form. As Africans let us reflect on our views reflect on our views about the black race and reassert ourselves as a people, also try to do away with the inferiority complex that has plagued blacks all these years. Let us get on board to rebuild the continent through tourism.
The Ghanaian Times page 9 Monday, August 11, 2008