These Trees

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I wonder how old they were then. When Africans were hustled to the sea for transport. Some of their roots are above ground. These ancient roots are tangled perhaps from trying to see, then hiding from the atrocities that took place. They saw Africans, those who lived on the land; those who had families, tribes and villages. Africans who grew food and hunted among these trees were driven to the shore in chains and herded into ships hewn from the wood of trees. They were packed like sardines on wooden planks made from the relatives of these very trees, to be shipped to the new world.

Could these trees like the Baobab all over West Africa have provided shelter for those who were running, trying to find a place of protection? Probably not, some of them have branches with leaves that are too far off the ground to provide protection,. Though some of their cousins that stood nearby tried to provide a hiding place. Every now and then because of trees, perhaps the thick trunks, or the ability to climb, one African, man or woman or child escaped capture to run back to the village to tell. They were able to call the names of those who were now gone, to remember those who were carried out on the water that did not end.

The stories that these trees could tell: of hurt and pain and capture, of love and family, of fun, of how it used to be before those with pale skin came and how it was after. These stories were whispered as I sat in a lounge chair, enjoying the African sun so close to the Atlantic Ocean. I sat a descendant of those taken and those who took. I sat with many who may be ancestors of the captors. These oblivious visitors who now sit listening to the sounds of the ocean that once carried Africans as profit for their lives. Now they come to sip fresh juice and rum. Now they come to dip in the cool water and listen to the waves.

The days of capture are over, yet the Africans still feel the affects of those days. The affects of colonization are still so apparent. Poverty is rampant in this country outside the walls of this oasis of luxury. In this place the Africans serve and wait on those who once stole their relatives. The Africans laugh and entertain to make a living in this place of vacation leisure. And the trees are still witnesses.

I Came Back: Visit to Elmina Slave Castle

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I hadn’t thought of my Great Grandmother Essie Mae Parker in a long time. She died when my thirty-four year old son was about four or five years old. That’s about thirty years ago. She was in her eighties. I thought of her recently during my visit to Ghana in early July. Especially about her father who  she told me was a slave.

I was in Ghana to attend a conference of Womanist Theologians. The theme of this second conference of African and African Diaspora Women was “Text of Terror, Text of Empowerment: Reimaging Sacred Canon In Africana Womanhood.” Part of the conference was a visit to Elmina Slave Castle on the coast. This visit affected me in a powerful way and brought my Great grandmother and her father to the forefront of my mind.

Our tour of the Slave Castle began as twenty some women got out of two vans. I first noticed the beauty of the castle right there against the coast. The beautiful ocean set a contrast to the horror that this castle contained. The entrance was arches set against the bright blue sky, but the history we heard about that began with the construction of the castle in 1482, was anything but bright. The video below will give you a glimpse of what we saw and heard on our two-hour tour. The tour guide in the video is the same one who guided us through the castle. The way he told the story was riveting.

 

 

We stood listening and all of us women, those of us from the diaspora and from the continent,  had some sort of visceral reaction to what we heard and saw. As we heard the story, some of us could feel in our being that this was a place of immense pain. There was tears, weeping and even sobs as we  relived, through the guides words,  the history of our ancestors. Chills ran down my spine as I heard how the British had painted the walls to cover up the scratches of those who endured the inhumane conditions of dark, dank cells. I shivered as I heard of the sexual use and abuse of the women who were utterly helpless. The atrocities that humans committed against other humans was unspeakable. I wonder, “will we ever learn?”

I did not want to feel; I did not want to react, to what I was seeing and hearing, but I found myself saying to my fellow listeners through my tears, “I came back.” That was my overwhelming feeling. That I wanted all the ghost in that place, all the ancestors who had died, all those who looked and searched for loved ones captured and sold by the British and Portuguese, to know, “I came back.”

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I came back for Essie Mae Parker’s father, carrying with me the Vicks, the Baldwins and the Walkers, and all of my African Diaspora ancestors. I came back to the land from which you were stolen and stood in a place that you suffered immeasurably and yet survived. I saw the door that you may have passed through never to be seen by family and friends again. Looking through that door I could imagine you or more likely your mother, father, grandmother or grandfather chained and stuffed sardine like into a ship and transported so far away from home. I came back to signify and witness to your strength and the strength of a people. I came back to let you know we survived.

I came back so that I might truly understand who I am and be able to carry the story of unfathomable strength and endurance. I came back to say never again.

These are the sentiments of  a plaque on the wall of the castle that is noticeable as you leave; it reads: “In everlasting memory of the anguish of our ancestors. May those who died rest in peace. May those who return find their roots. May humanity never again perpetrate such injustice against humanity. We, the living vow to uphold this.”  May it be so…….Ashe and Amen

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I am westafricabound.

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