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Most of the stuff we post are our own thoughts, wonderings, and stories that emerge from our lives, our living, the world around us and the world within us.

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Tuesday
Mar092010

Cape Coast Ghana

During the BGU course in Ghana, we took a trip to the Cape Coast Castle, which was the sites housing the most slaves during the transatlantic slave trade.  Cape Coast Castle housed, loaded on ships and sold literally hundreds of thousands of men, women and children.  I journaled my thoughts for class.  That journal is reproduced below.

01/23/2010

Today we traveled to the Cape Coast in order to tour the Cape Coast Castle and see the site of one of the great tragedies of human history.  It was from this castle that thousands of abducted Africans were housed in dungeons before boarding ships that would carry them to live and die as slaves in the Americas and the Caribbean. 

Even upon entering the facility, I felt as though I was entering a prison.  Despite the barracks converted into tourist shops and the ticket window that soften the feeling in presenting the place as a museum, the essence of the place remains.  The first stop is the dungeon.  You descend into the bowels of the Castle and into the holding spaces designed for the slaves.  A strong imagination is not necessary as the physical space, though excavated and cleaned, still has an odor, still has a claustrophobia, still has a stone stench that presses in and is still able to remind the dweller that there was a time when the door behind did not open and lives inside where no longer theirs.  It hurts to be there.  To stand on the hard pressed floors and feel the tight rock-walled room and imagine 200 isolated men living in their own waste looking up at a slit in the wall 35 feet up that imitates a window is an oppressive experience.  And I’m just on a tour.  Even hiding behind the lens of my camera cannot keep the hard feelings from soaking my soul. 

We would see other rooms.  Many of them like the first, but of different dimensions and shapes.  One holds men, another holds women, one is for pre-departure another for disobedient slaves, one is windowless, one has big windows but an iron gate all of them leading towards the same future of bondage beyond horror. 

Above ground and above the slave holding cells were various cannons, platforms, offices, barracks, and living quarters.  I was amazed at the near serenity of the castle above ground in stark contrast to the harsh environment below.  From here you can see and hear the sea, feel the breeze, look at boats and sky and waves and wonder.  At one point we made our way to the captain’s quarters and the bedroom.  While standing there, looking out the windows, I noticed that from that vantage point you could not see the inner courtyard of the castle, rather only the beach and sea below.  I suspect it would have been easy to forget, from this bedroom, the tragedy being exercised on the people being dislodged of their humanity just a few feet away. 


To come to such a place with such a rich and tragic history produces a rush of emotions.  For me, so much of what I felt was a wash of shame.  I think that this was especially poignant because I was with Africans and African-Americans and by their presence I became profoundly aware of my whiteness.  The point at which I felt this most strongly what when Dr. White had us stand in the dungeon where the women who had been violated by men like me were held.  Then in that place we sang ‘Amazing Grace’.  I was embarrassed to sing.  Embarrassed to stand there.  Embarrassed to be a Christian. 

The reasons for my embarrassment are not new reasons to me.  I know that I belong to a group that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the name of money, country and religion.  And to say that I didn’t take part or that those things were so long ago only serves to distance myself from the pain and skirt the responsibility and culpability that rests at the feet of every American and British Christian.  Now, a few hours removed from the event my thought is that it is good for me to feel the shame.  For several years now I have understood that in many ways the hand of the oppressor is my hand, yet by God’s grace.  And I have understood my call as a Christian leader to be one who stands, speaks and acts on behalf of the oppressed, poor and marginalized.  But such a posture and such a calling can lead me to believe that I have somehow moved past feelings of guilt and shame.  I think it is like a Christian who is reminded again of the depth of depravity and the great grace that has been extended.  Just as I need to be reminded of the sin from which Christ saved me, not to be condemned but as an antidote to pride, so too do I need to remember that my collective history is tainted with slave ship captains and plantation owners as well as with abolitionists and freedom fighters.  There are both weeds and wheat in my field.

 

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