Monday, April 2, 2007
The Joseph Project
*The ‘Gate of no return’ was the last exit point for slaves.
AFTER more than 400 years of slave trading, colonial exploitation, cultural, economic and post-colonial political manipulations, Africa is still a wasteland of woes and war.
The African people everywhere have been taught to be self-loathing, to see everything African as negative. Also, Africans were taught to believe that African is a definition of failure and ugliness.
The time has come to put an end to the negative and begin the positive. The time has come for us to till our own vineyard; to produce inner and outer wealth for ourselves. The time has cone for us to stand and state that “I am a proud of my people, committed to making the third millennium the African millennium”.
The “Joseph Project” is the code name for a series of activities, actions and interactions being spearheaded by Ghana to re-establish the African nation of all its peoples.
“I am black and beautiful, O daughters of Jerusalem …. I am dark, because the sun has gazed at me. My mother’s sons were angry with me; and made me work hard in their vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept”.
The Government of Ghana intends to use the year 2007, the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence, to celebrate African excellence and to inaugurate the “Joseph Project”. Ghana will use the year to bring together, more closely, people in Ghana and brothers and sisters in the Diaspora and establish herself as the true gateway to the homeland for Africans in the Diaspora.
Over 400 years, millions of Africans were transported across the Atlantic Ocean from West and Central Africa to the Americas.
Almost as many as journey the crossing died during the journey.
The Atlantic Slave Trade remains the greatest example in history of man’s inhumanity to man. The memory of it can never be erased and so many of its negative consequences still continue to weaken us today.
Nevertheless, it happened and we are not wise enough to question God’s wisdom about why it happened.
However, we believe that the time has come for us to gather some strength from this otherwise cataclysmic event and to lay to rest the disturbed spirits of our ancestors who have not known peace. It is their continued disturbance that stops us from coming together as one reconciled people.
Those of us who believe in the promise of God to Africa take our inspiration from the story of Joseph in the Bible. For we believe that God loved Joseph and yet saw him cast into the hell of slavery and brought out in triumph to magnify the scale of his favour. Genesis: 37 vrs. 28 – “Then there passed by Midianites merchantmen and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for 20 pieces of silver; and they brought Joseph into Egypt.”
Genesis: 45 vrs. 26 – 28 “And told him, saying, Joseph is yet alive, and he is governor over all the land of Egypt. And Jacob’s heart fainted, for he believed them not.
And they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said unto them; and when he saw the wagons which Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of Jacob, their father, revived.
And Israel said it is enough; Joseph my son is yet alive: " I will go and see him before I die".
While it is miserably true that there are far too many Africans held down by the legacy of their chains, it is also true that there are many, like Joseph, who have rise and are shining examples of the best of the human spirit and of what man can achieve.
History is replete with the names of those who rose not only above their chains, but rose above those who sought to chain them.
Today, there are, by God’s will, many diverse fields who continue to be held high and to inspire us all.
Ghana is a nation of similar achievement to these luminaries, these Josephs.
Ghana was the first African colony to gain its independence. The Black Star of Africa inspired and drew inspiration from the fight for the full emancipation of Africans, especially the Civil Rights struggle in the US in the 1950s and 60s.
It is in Ghana that the remains of the late W.E.B. Dubois and George Padmore are interred.
Ghana has also struggled and continues to struggle for the full emancipation and dignity of the African people.
Ghana today is a beacon in Africa of good governance: Ghana is the example of the capacity of the African to manage his/her own affairs in a decent, humane, disciplined and respected manner.
Ghana is a natural inspiration for African pride.
Ghana is a natural choice to spearhead the research into the slave trade and tells the real story of what happened. From Mauritania to Angola where the slaves were taken, Ghana lies at the centre.
There are some 40 Slave Forts, Castles and trade post that were used in the transportation of the slaves’ sill existing in Ghana.
Many of these are well preserved. Ghana has dedicated itself to finding out the full story of the evil trade and making sure that this truly African story is told by Africans. Ghana has set up a multi-sectoral Committee to research and trace the slave route. There are historians, archaeologists and restorers working together on this. Routes that captives took have been identified, where they bathed, ate, camped, and exited to the Americas.
In addition to being Ghana’s 50th independence anniversary, 2007 is also the 200th anniversary of the Act of March 2, 1807, passed in the U.S., which forbade trading in slaves with Africa.
The Act of the British parliament in 1807 abolished the Slave Trade within their colonies. This had an immediate impact in South America leading to the trade being declare illegal in Venezuela and Mexico in 1810, Chile in 1811 and Argentina in 1812. 1807 is thus a recognizable and acceptable date for the abolition of the Atlantic Slave Trade.
Power and inspiration of those who rose to triumph.
“The Rapprochement of the African Peoples”. There can be no African century without unity of the African Peoples.
The constraint to unity lies in the restlessness of the spirits of our ancestors. Violence leaves the spirit disturbed; the 400 years of violence to our people.
We must lay the spirits to rest. This will be done through an Act of Atonement and Forgiveness.
The Healing, to be mounted in Accra in August 2007, will assemble the traditional rulers of those tribes who engaged in slavery from across the West Coast of Africa; the traders, acknowledged and recognized leaders of Africans in the Diaspora.
There will be propitiation by those who traded their kith and kin and forgiveness will be offered by those for whom the memory of being hunted is still alive and by the ancestors of those who were forced into the agonies of the middle passage and chattel slavery.
The propitiation, acceptance and forgiveness will be in both modern religious and traditional forms. This Act of Atonement will begin the process of reconciliation, leading to rapprochement.
The Act of Atonement will be celebrated by the healing concert, a concert by the best musicians of the Diaspora and West African; a concert of praise that will signal the new beginning to right a terrible wrong and to get good out of bad.
As every Muslim must visit Mecca at least once in their lifetime, so do we want to establish a pilgrimage to Ghana, one that every African in the Diaspora must undertake at least once in their lifetime?
Every Joseph must return home. It was not enough that Joseph was honoured in Egypt – “Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all of them that stood by him…And he wept aloud….And Joseph said unto his brethren come near to me, I pray you” (Genesis Chapter 45 vs. 1-4).
For our pilgrims, there will definitely be sadness and anger in the homecoming pilgrimage, but yet it will be uplift, a catharsis, a self-re-discovery-a strengthening.
They will reverse the journey that started 400 years ago with the “Door of no Return”.
Once in Ghana they will retrace the route from the coast to the areas where people were hunted.
They will visit the slave markets, the slave bathes, the rest stops on the long journey to the slave lodges, slave forts and slave castles from where people departed from the agonies of then inhuman “middle passage”.
This part will be painful. But we will attempt to lift up hearts. We will build in one of these slave castles, from which our peoples were shipped out, supposedly never to return, a museum dedicated to those Africans in all walks of life who triumphed over every adversity, who triumph over those who sought to enchain them. We will build a monument to The True Josephs.
At this monument you will relive the story of Mary Macleod Bethune, Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, Marcus Garvey, Toussaint L’Ouverture, Duke Ellington, Martin Luther King, George Washington Carver, et al.
All the “Josephs” of blessed memory and you will also meet the Josephs of today, those still alive, whose lives are an inspiration to us, whose lives are the blazing torches of the true African spirit.
Here, we will find the inspiration to overcome all of life’s challenges. Here, we will share the strength, power and inspiration if those who rose and triumphed over the greatest of all adversities.
In the Bible story of Nehemiah, the descendants of the slaves, returned to Jerusalem, the homeland, to rebuild the wall that broke down and the gates that were destroyed. Thereafter, those in the Diaspora covenanted to return to Jerusalem to the temple “To bring it (the wood) the house of our God, after the house of our fathers, at times appointed year by year, to burn upon the altar of the Lord our God, as it is written in the law. And to bring the first fruits of our ground and the first fruits of all fruits of all trees, year by year, unto the house of the Lord.
“Also, the first born of our sons, and of our cattle, as it is written in the law, “Nehemiah 10 vs. 34-36.
So we want to create an experience in Ghana that will make our Diasporans want to come back and hopefully use Ghana as the gateway to the fuller return to the homeland.
Every African in the Diaspora must draw strength from his/her roots, his/her sense of belonging.
Without knowledge and under standing, there can be no genuine reconciliation. Without reconciliation, there can be no forward movement.
Ghana has some 40 slave lodges, slave forts and slave castles still in place. The condition of these range from well preserved through deteriorating to remnants. These are hallowed memorials of an agonized past. They must be preserved and used in the preservation of the memory of the evil times.
The “Joseph Project” will source funds and partners to preserve what we have, to develop each site into a unique experience, ranging from a grave site at Elmina to the “African Excellence Experience” at James Fort.
At Assin Manso, captives on their way to coast and shipment were given their last bath in the Donkor nsuo (Slave River) prior to leaving the shores of Africa. Here in Assin Manso, we are developing a Garden of Commemoration for meditation, an interfaith prayer hall to pry for the spirits of the ancestors, a wall of return on which can be etched the name of a returnee/pilgrim or that of an ancestor of deceased relative to proclaim the return.
Over the last five years, Ghana’s historians and archaeologists have been carrying out a major project to identify the “Slave Route’; those areas where captives were hunted and the routes by which they were marched to the coast.
The “Slave route” map that this scholarship has revealed has shown us the key way stations and markets on that route. We are now developing methods to be able to share the experience with our “returnee/pilgrims” what happened at some of those locations.
We have collected oral history, handed down from generation to generation that can be shared to deepen and broaden the knowledge of those terrible times.
We cannot but be aware of the real bitterness felt by many of our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora against those of us still in the homeland.
However, it is important that those outside realize that their pain is shared by many brother and Sister Africans still in Africa.
Gwollu, in the North West of Ghana, was walled as a protection against slave raiders. We have identified hard to find caves that hid fugitives, forests where the porcupines allowed fugitives to enter and then fired their quilts at pursuing slave raiders.
These and other sites are being preserved and restored so that the voices and stories of the victims in these areas can also be heard.
What happened during these 400 years must never be forgotten. Already, there are signs of a growing amnesia about the slave trade in the homeland. The young and not so young in the Diaspora are also showing a lack of interest in knowledge of that terrible period.
Almost all of what has been written to date has been written by the “Europeans”. It is time that Africans told the story of this very African tragedy.
Underpinning everything we want to do in the field of education is the “Slave Route Project” being carried out with the support of UNESCO, not only in Ghana but across Africa and in the Diaspora.
From the learning of this project we intend to do the following:
- Introduce studies of the slave trade into our schools in Ghana at all levels. We will create the syllabus and write the books. We will encourage others to follow our lead.
- We will build the knowledge that we are one African people.
- We will encourage our authors to produce the –books, comic books, pop up books, etc. that will tell the story in a way that will generate interest and understanding.
- We will use the new technologies, including the Internet to make the full history, and the stories available to as wide a range of interests and intellects that we can reach as possible.
While we lament over the wickedness of the slave trade we must not lose sight of the display of greatness of the African spirit that is showed.
These people who were in bondage, chattel slaves, yet turned round to dominate their oppressors so that, today, African must dominate world culture, world language, world music.
The strength of this spirit is epitomized by those Africans in the Diaspora who rose and continues to rise far above their chains to attain and display excellence.
The Government of Ghana intends to convert one of the slave forts, James Fort in Accra, a fort that kept first slaves and then prisoners, a true example of the attempt to chain mankind into the home of the African Excellence Experience.
In the fort, we will mount a state-of-the-art exhibition of the slave trade, from hunting captives, through the march to the coast, the middle passage and onto the plantations of the Americas and to the continuing struggle for civil rights.
We will tell not only the story of the gross inhumanity, but we will also tell the stories of the continual struggle for freedom and against the imposition of the yoke. We will tell the story of Toussaint L’Ouverture, the Maroon revolts, the refusal by so many of our people to accept the shackles of those who have sought and continue to seek to subjugate us.
Having passed through this exhibition, you will then enter the cells and dungeons of the slave fort/prison and here we will exhibit the life stories of the “Joseph”. Those who triumphed over the extreme adversity of the slave trade, its aftermath and consequences and triumphed in all areas of human endeavour.
An African, whether homelander or Diasporan, visiting this experience, should emerge strengthened, better able to overcome whatever challenges he/she may face through the examples of the “Josephs”.
Truly, it will show that the African spirit can never be chained.
There are “Josephs” alive today and new ones still being born, so it is our intention to form a nominating committee of Africans in the homeland and in the Diaspora who will select those who qualify to become a “Joseph’. These will then are enrobed and feature in the “African Excellence” and on the supporting worldwide web feature.
To irrevocably establish the genetic link between our returnees/pilgrims and the homeland, we intend in the medium and long term to collect DNA samples from across the length and breadth of West and Central Africa.
With this genetic database map, we would hope to establish for every returnees/pilgrim interested, a personal report on his/her antecedents, to be able to organize visits to the villages of the ancestors.
Daily Graphic - Monday, April 2, 2007 Page: 36