Photos and text by Natalie Jacobsen
Editor’s note: Check back daily through May 9 for updates on the local delegation’s visit to Winneba, Ghana, to explore the origins of slavery and the preservation of history at one of the main points of the Transatlantic slave trade.
Spirits were high at noon outside of University Hall, where 56 delegates of the 2018 Charlottesville-Winneba delegation convened to board the bus for Dulles Airport. “Everything is going eerily smooth,” said Dave Norris, former city mayor and organizer of the trip. He has led five trips to one of Charlottesville’s sister cities, Winneba, Ghana, since establishing the connection in 2009 when he was mayor. The primary goal of the trip, which includes Mayor Nikuyah Walker, Niya Bates, Monticello’s public historian of slavery and African-American life, and First Baptist Church Deacon Don Gathers, among others, is to explore the origins of slavery and the preservation of history at one of the main transit points of the Transatlantic slave trade.
In Ghana, the group was greeted by Nana Ghartey, one of the original founders of the sister city partnership and current Charlottesville resident, who is acting as a liaison between the delegation and Winneba representatives. He and others presented Walker with a ceremonial purple, white and gold flower bouquet in the sweltering humidity outside of the airport doors.
On the way to lunch, the bus ride revealed a peek into the culture, sights and sounds of Ghana. Streets were clogged with traffic and bustling with people selling baskets of goods. Drivers motioned to sellers when they wanted a bottle, a melon or a case of tissue, and someone would rush over amid honking horns. Low hills in the distance were covered in throngs of short buildings and homes with red roofs.
Lunch at Dawa Dawa was the first introduction to Ghanaian cuisine—beans, fish, boiled eggs, and rice, among them. Some tried the palm wine, others watched as a cook hacked open a coconut, serving it whole to a thirsty delegate.
Outside of City Hall, clustered in a sliver of shade protecting from the peak heat of the afternoon, the council, dressed in bright, traditional garb, sang, danced and praised gods to protect the delegation for the week and secured success for everyone’s individual missions by “pouring libations to the gods, to invoke the spirits of elders—you will leave Winneba praising its name,” said the lead councilman.
“I am pleased with how everything went today. We were greeted so warmly by Winneba, and I think it really sets the tone for our week here. It’s going to be good,” said Norris.
The Charlottesville delegation’s second day connected the sister cities in Town Hall and University of Education chambers. Mayor of Winneba, John Bartholomew Ninson, and heads of various municipal departments exchanged words of welcome and sisterhood gifts.
Many delegates stood up to share observations of Winneba society, while others spoke of the struggles at home. Others talked about their gratitude for having the opportunity to explore the land of their ancestors.
Parliamentary leader Alexander Afenyo-Markin described Winneba as “a place of hospitality and opportunity; in a land where people have traditionally survived on their own strengths, we see synergy between those who come together…that is why a sisterhood between Charlottesville and Winneba is critical and important for the development and further progress.”
The first site visited was the Assin Manso River, known as “Slave River.” All enslaved individuals who had been kidnapped, captured and shackled, were marched from surrounding countries through Ghana, along this path that leads to one of the slave castles, where people were imprisoned before being sold into the transatlantic slave trade. The river was the final place the enslaved were able to step in fresh water, something now referred to as the “last bath.”
In the evening, the bus traveled through Cape Coast, a town developed by Portugal and Britain in the early part of the slave trade as a port for their ships, a place to house soldiers, a market for imported goods and an auction site of enslaved people. The architecture of Cape Coast Castle is starkly different from the surrounding villages and cities. The white paint is streaked with black, the facade scraped away by the sea air. Canons still point toward the town.
The sea constantly roars, dimmed by the thickness of walls down in the dungeons. The darkness there hides the time of day, and the air flow is so low that after a few minutes one feels close to suffocation or heat stroke. Only 30 people are on this tour, standing in one of the dungeons; during the slave trade, as many as 1,000 people were crammed in the room, sometimes for up to three months.
During discussions afterward, many shared raw feelings about what they witnessed and learned during the day. They said there is more to dive into—and so much to bring back to Charlottesville.