“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” – Anthony Bourdain
A photo essay and reflections of my experiences in the Volta region of Ghana.
KENTE WEAVING // An ancestrales and cultural art that has been practiced for over 400 years. Over the years there has been many stories surrounding the origin of the Kente Cloth. But there is one story that stands out amongst the folk tales told by our forefathers by the fire side under the light of the moon when it’s dusk. And that’s the story of the mystical spider and two hunters.
According to folk tale, the hunters from the village of Bonwire in the Ashanti Region in the 17th century, came across a spider while hunting. The spider had woven a web and the two brothers were astound by the intricate design of the web so they decided to replicate the when they get back to their village.
So they returned to the village and replicated the technique and pattern of the spider’s web using fibers from a raffia tree. Since they had no previous experience in weaving, the outcome of their experiment looked like a basket. And a basket is called “Kenten” in the local dialect (TWI). And that’s how the cloth got the name KENTE. The skill was later perfected by the village folks and was now adopted as by royals. Royals wore kente to ceremonies and gatherings to make a strong royal point with just their appearance.
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Behold this beauty.
Beauty is not just carried in the physical. It is in the details, in the eyes, in the stories, in the medicine and song that each person carries. I am finding so much sacredness and beauty in this place.
“I lost a whole continent.
a whole continent from my memory.
unlike all other hyphenated americans
my hyphen is made up of blood. feces. bone.
when africa says hello
my mouth is a heartbreak.
because i have nothing in my tongue
to answer her.
i do not know how to say hello to my mother”
They say she appeared from inside the wall. To remind the visitors of this slave fort that her spirit has always been indomitable, resilient and indestructible. To be re-membered and re-rooted to the land from which she was taken. She is the life-line between that land and those who have yet to re-member. She waits, dignified, for her children to find their way back.
She embodies the spirit of Mama Ga, the great mother; the matriarch and wise elder of the community. She rises from this place once used as a torture chamber and dungeon for slaves awaiting the Middle Passage. She rises from the screams of desperation and cries of heartbreak that still haunt this place. She rises from the chains that once shackled and tortured her body. She Rises. She Rises. So her children can rise, too.
Still I Rise, Maya Angelou
Slave Fort // Keta, Ghana
It was initially built by Danish traders in 1784. 59 out of the 64 slave forts built on the Western coast of Africa were built in Ghana. This one was built by the Danish. It was particularly brutal to women.
Women kidnapped on their way to or from market or the fields were often tortured and raped into submission. Women who resisted were tortured by being chained in a camel pose position, forcing them to face the sun during the hottest time of the day. Some women were chained like this for days without any water or food.
Women bathed while the Slave traders watched them from atop. Slave traders lived atop of the fort because they had a bird’s-eye view of the fort and could better anticipate any Insurgents trying to liberate their loved ones; and there was a direct breeze from the ocean which made their living quarters much cooler.
Women were usually made to bathe after they were raped or after their menstruation cycle. Because Keta is surrounded by salt water, the Keta Lagoon on one side and ocean on the other, fresh drinking water was hard to come by, especially when it wasn’t rainy season. For this reason, slaves were mad to drink the water they bathed in.
Standing there, imagining the brutality that was being described to me, was very painful. I don’t understand what someone’s heart must be made of, to do these things, but whatever it is, I have learned that human beings have an undeniable capacity to hate and destroy. It scared me. I froze. I began to hear the screams, the clanking of the shackles, the roaring of the waves, the silence of the night, the fury of the sun, the grunts of the monsters, the memories of the forgotten, the supplications of the stolen, the grieving of the lost. It made me dizzy. Nauseous with disgust. The hot air suffocated me. I fell to my knees. I surrendered in prayer. I couldn’t find the why. Still can’t.
As I left the slave fort, and walked toward the ocean, I saw flowers beginning to grow around the perimeter of this once dungeonous sight of horrific dehumanization. Flowers, like hope and resilience, resurrecting from bodies buried under oyster shells and charcoal. I saw life.
I got to work with some pretty amazing folks. I not only fell in love with the land, but I also fell in love with the people. Our capacity to hold love is huge, vast and limitless. The more my heart opens, the less fearful I am to connect with people and new experiences. Each person is like a drop of nurturing, life-giving water that feeds the roots of my soul. In each person I found a reflection of myself. Through my interactions with them, I discovered a more deeper side of me; a more authentic side. And the illusion of separation disintegrated a little more. I saw each person in me, and me in each person. “There is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.” -Vincent Van Gogh
Slave Fort // Keta, Ghana
It was initially built by Danish traders in 1784. “The waves here are so intense,” said one of the students. Maybe it’s because they are angry. They hold the memory of the pain and brutality the Anlo and Ewe people experienced. They rage against the shore line screaming the bonded pain of the ancestors, so we won’t forget. “Why did they treat people this badly…it would not have cost them any extra to treat them better,” commented a naive student. But to treat them any better would have required to see them as human. You can’t see as human someone who you are going to work 19 hours a day like a machine in the hot sun. You can’t see as human someone who you kidnap and rip from their family and their homeland. You can’t see as human someone you buy as property. You have to see them as less than animals, dehumanize a people completely, in order to to do to them what was done to the people who were enslaved.
Tough conversations with students who “had no idea.” If we could only dedicate as much time in our history books and classes to understanding the psychology and dehumanization behind the Atlantic Slave Trade as we do topics like the Holocaust…
What historians and teachers choose to exclude is also part of the dehumanizing process. Erasing history is part of the structural violence that continues to oppress the Black diaspora.
“My ancestors have been waiting for someone with my strength to carry their name.” @witchdoctorpoet
Slave Fort // Keta, Ghana // est. 1784
This is an actual scale used to weigh the people kidnapped in the Volta region of Ghana by the Danish right before they were loaded on to slave ships.
Owners of slave ships did their best to hold as many enslaved people as possible by cramming, chaining, and selectively grouping slaves to maximize space and make travel more profitable. Slaves onboard were underfed and treated brutally causing many to die before even arriving at their destination.
Slaves were weighed to determine if they were strong enough to endure the horrific conditions of the Middle Passage. “The trans-Atlantic slave trade was the largest movement of people in history. Between 10 and 15 million Africans were forcibly transported across the Atlantic between 1500 and 1900. But this figure grossly understates the actual number of Africans enslaved, killed, or displaced as a result of the slave trade. At least 2 million Africans–10 to 15 percent–died during the infamous “Middle Passage” across the Atlantic. Another 15 to 30 percent died during the march to or confinement along the coast. Altogether, for every 100 slaves who reached the New World, another 40 had died in Africa or during the Middle Passage.”
Ghana // Rainbow Lizard
In Ghana, like in many parts of the world, those closest to the land, tell stories and teach lessons using nature as our greatest teacher.
A wise man named Bellah told me that the lizard is very agile at climbing and it can easily climb its way up a tree, no matter how tall that tree. However when the lizard has been disturbed or senses danger in that tree, he will fall from the tree to the ground. And once on the ground, he will praise himself by nodding his head.
I asked how did they know he was praising himself? The wise man responded, “ because only he knows what happened in that tree. Only he knows where he came from and what he had to do to survive. It may look like he is crazy falling off the tree like that, but only he knows. So he waits for no one to praise him. He praises himself.” That is how Bellah explained Sankofa, one of the Adinkra symbols in Ghana. It represents the concept of looking back before moving forward. We must know where and from whom we come from before we can truly understand where we are going and why.
The children here smile so immensely when they see you. As if they haven’t seen you for a long time and miss you and want to pour their unconditional love all over you. Maybe that’s why Americans and other Westerners who come here fall in love with the children, immediately.
We come from a place with so many expectations, so many messages of unworthiness, so much judgment and criticism. And all of a sudden, we are loved unconditionally, accepted fully and embraced wholly by children who are connecting with us for the first time.
They are full of so much life and light. They are healing. They are God-sent, like walking prayers. They are a pure manifestation of love.
Market // Asi in Ewe
Sunbird // Ghana
Valió la pena esta vida hermosa, extraordinaria, alegre, triste y dolorosa. Al final todo lo vivido, todo lo hecho valió la pena. El haber arriesgado, aveces ganado, aveces perdido me dio el coraje, la fortaleza y el valor de haber vivido llenamente. No hay sabor más rico, más puro que el sabor de la vida.
En cada momento e tratado de estar llena de vida, de sentir profundamente y de conectarme a cada célula de vida que existe en esta tierra.
E amado y dado todo con miedo de perderlo, pero nunca deje que el miedo me extinguiera. En cada momento vivo despierta, atenta a los regalos extraordinarios de la vida y trato de encontrar estos regalos hasta en lo rutinario. Soy una llama que se enciende cada día más. Algún día esta llama me consumirá y me convertiré en parte de todo, mas nunca seré extinguida.
It’s been worth it – this beautiful, extraordinary, joyful, sad, and painful life. At the end, all that’s been lived, all that’s been accomplished, has made this life worth living. Having taken risks, sometimes winning, sometimes losing, has given me the courage and the strength to live to the fullest. There’s no taste more delicious and more pure than the taste of life.
I have loved and given fully even when I feared losing it all. I’ve never allowed my fear to extinguish me. In every moment I live awakened, attentive to the extraordinary gifts of life, and I try to find these gifts even in the routine and ordinary. I am a flame that burns more brightly everyday. Some day this flame will consume me and return me to all that is, but I will never be extinguished.
Follow your Spirit…it will lead you to where you are meant to be