Imagine seeing only Black people all day—shopkeepers, pharmacists, street vendors, restaurant waitstaff, retail workers, cashiers and Uber drivers—all Black, all day, everywhere. News anchors and soap opera stars were all Black; billboards, magazines and newspapers featured only Black people. When we toured Kumasi in the Ashanti Kingdom, a sea of Black faces welcomed us at every stop. It wasn’t until evening I realized I had seen no other racial group. I was amazed.
In late December and early January, my sister, daughter and I joined 10 others from South Carolina, Missouri, Delaware, Syracuse, Calif. and Starkville, Miss. for a 10-day visit to Accra, Cape Coast and Kumasi in the West African nation of Ghana—home to the Ashanti Kingdom. Here are a few highlights from this once in a lifetime trip for the “Year of Return 2019,” Ghana’s year-long celebration where expats, international visitors and descendants of former slaves were encouraged to “come home” to Ghana.
Although a developing country struggling under the weight of poverty, Ghana is a powerful testimony to the fabric and fiber of the people who reside there. We never worried about being robbed, carjacked, assaulted or having our pockets picked. My daughter even left alone in an Uber ride at 5:30 a.m. to get her hair braided. The nightly news didn’t include reports of human trafficking, racist attacks, child abductions or shootings, and there are almost no private handguns. The religious tensions often seen in other nations on the continent are not evident in Ghana because here, Christians and Muslims respect each other in a country that is 70% Christian.
People move to Ghana from Europe, Asia, the United States and other countries on the Continent for economic and educational opportunities. The nation has the largest number of female entrepreneurs in the world, although many of their enterprises are considered “micro” businesses— hair braiders, wig makers, seamstresses, street vendors, small farmers and chefs, to name a few.
It was a relief to eat fresh, locally-sourced foods. We did not fret that our food was genetically modified with growth hormones, antibiotics or man-made preservatives. We had fresh chicken, fish, prawns, lamb, vegetables, plantains, yams, hot breads and plenty of rice—jollof, white and fragrant rice. Some folks in our group tried fufu, which is eaten with the fingers and made by pounding cassava and plantains. Our fish was grilled with heads and eyes and many meats were prepared on skewers. Some dishes in Ghana closely resembled New Orleans and West Indian cuisine so we saw first-hand the West African influence and made another connection to the ancestors.
After our tour to Kumasi in the Ashanti Kingdom, back in our hotel room that night, my daughter commented, “Mama, you heard our guide proudly give the history of the Ashanti Kingdom, brag about its enormous wealth and powerful armies and that Queen-Mother Yaa Asantewaa raised an army to resist the British in the last battle to save the kingdom. He ended his spill by stating, ‘And I am Ashanti.’” She continued, “Kwesi knows his history; he knows his tribe, his tongue, his ancestry, and he can confidently say, ‘I am Ashanti.’”
On the other hand, my children and I cannot say with confidence what our lineage is. We can make no such claim without trusting a DNA profile purchased from an online site we hope is reputable and accurate. A result of this void, our “return” to Ghana was necessary to create connection that has been missing, to see a people who are our ancestors, to experience the slave dungeons, to see Ghana’s possibility and opportunity and to see the sun rise and set on that side of the Atlantic Ocean.
I’ll end now, but at another time, I may report on visits to the Cape Coast slave castles (if I can stop crying), Botanical Gardens, Manhyia Palace Museum and the region where Kente cloth originated. We also toured Kakum National Park where a few brave souls did the canopy walk. and visited W.E.B. Dubois’s home, museum and crypt on our last day. My experiences during the 10-day tour of Ghana will stay in my spirit for years to come. It was a life-altering trip, and I am ready to “return” for a longer stay.