Mr. Valenzuela
24Aug/11

Ghana – Western Coast

At 9 in the morning yesterday we were picked up by our friend and driver Ben to see three very different and distinct west of Takoradi - Fort Gross Friedrichsburg in Prince's Town, Fort São Antonio in Axim, and Fort Apollonia in Beyin. The first stop was Prince's Town which requires traveling along an 18 km. stretch of one of the most treacherous dirt roads we've seen in Ghana so far. Fortunately, Ben's skilled driving got us to Prince's Town safely. Our tour guide Matthew met us at the base of the hill and we walked up to the fort. It is distinct in Ghana because it was the only fort built by the Germans (actually the Brandenburgs) there. It is also distinct because it doesn't look like any of the other castles or forts, more like a country villa for a royal family. Much of the building is ruins after it was destroyed by the Dutch in their attempt to conquer (which they finally did). The building now is used as a resthouse with several rooms (there were two guests enjoying the sun on the southwest bastion when we visited).

Our next stop was then Fort São Antonio in Axim, the second oldest fort in Ghana built in 1515. Unlike Elmina's castle, which is considered the oldest European building in Africa built in 1482, this fort is largely unchanged since it was first built and remains in solid shape, despite its less than stellar treatment by the Ghana Monuments Board when compared to Cape Coast and Elmina (when President Obama visited Cape Coast, the Ghanaian government demanded that the museum displays at Axim be moved to Cape Coast, which for some reason still haven't been returned). Our guide led us on an informative and passionate tour, which included seeing inside many of the slave dungeons at this castle, whose residents now include bats and rats! However, I was really struck by the fact that Axim had separate cells for the young slaves that were traded there, children from 8-11 years old! Now this was the first time that any castle tour had mentioned such young Africans being traded and imprisoned within these forts, but perhaps with some more research I can find out whether São Antonio is unique in this regard.

 

 

Our last stop was in Beyin, a town not far from the Ivory Coast border, and also along a dirt road about 15 km. long. Again, Ben was able to safely transport us there, and we arrived at Fort Apollonia at 2pm. Unlike any other fort in all of Ghana, this fort is being currently used as a museum whose sole mission is to maintain the rich ethnographic history and culture of the Nzema people in the Western Region. The fort was refurbished thanks to an Italian ethnographer, with the permission of the Ghanaian government. The fort was not renovated specifically to maintain the architectural and historical integrity of the British original (there's a lot of concrete used inside). Our tour, once again, was very informative. She (the only woman to guide us in any of the forts we've visited) was very knowledgeable about the uses of the fort under British rule, but importantly she took us through an ethnographic tour of the history and culture of the Nzema people. The castle is small, and while I was interested in understanding how this small British outpost was used to trade slaves, I found myself much more interested in understanding Nzema history, geography, art, music, genealogy, and politics. In my opinion, this was the most well-maintained and informative museum visited in all of Ghana, so far. What has amazed me about this trip has been to see how Ghanains have adopted and co-opted these various European buildings, all with disgraceful and complicated histories, for a myriad of purposes. While Fort Apollonia is unique today, perhaps in the future more forts will be used to also preserve the local cultures of the peoples living around these castles and forts.

Today we head to Kumasi, the capital of the Ashanti Region, one of the most powerful African confederations in the 19th century, a force that was the thorn in the side of many European nations, but also played a difficult role in perpetuating the Atlantic slave trade. I am very excited for this final stop on our journey!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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