A Poem and a Vignette
Pauline Lachman was born in the village of Lovely Lass, West Coast Berbice, and taught elementary school for six years before migrating to Canada in 1966. She read English and Philosophy at Brock University, travels and writes short stories that she shares with the Memoirs club, the Brampton Writers Workshop and the Georgetown group. This poem and the vignette that follows came out her experience on a visit to Ghana.
ON THE VOLTA RIVER IN GHANA
By Pauline Lachman
In 1961 the Volta River was dammed at the Lake Akosombo Gorge to harness hydroelectric power. A weekly cruise on the ferry, The Dodi Princess, takes one past this artificial lake – the most expensive created to date. The boat docks at the Dodi Islands for about an hour or so for passengers to visit and take canoe trips in the shallow water. We were on a Volta River cruise in April of this year.
(Women are addressed as mama or big mama, men as papa. The money, Cedi, is pegged to the USD 1$=1.4 Cedis)
Thirty, forty children
pair up with us,
when we disembark
at the Dodi Islands.
“Mama,” a voice whispered
slipping a tiny hand into mine,
“You have two glasses.”
I got his drift and said,
“You cannot have one.”
Immediately he countered,
“Can I have your pen?”
“Why?” I asked.
“To write in school.”
I gave him some Cedis
“Would that be of any help?”
Other children swarmed.
I could not breathe
With a mother’s eye
I observed them,
Lean and healthy; no snotty noses,
No extended bellies as seen on Vision TV.
Their feet were bare,
Their clothes clean, though often oversized.
I was startled when together they said,
“Mama, we need money to pay for school.”
To distance myself
I moved to take a snapshot
of the adults on the drums.
They pointed to a coin box.
I could not breathe.
I could not breathe.
I am only ONE.
THE SLAVE CASTLE IN GHANA
By Pauline Lachman
After a three-hour ride in a ‘Tro-Tro’, the most economical way to travel from our hotel in Accra to the Cape Coast, the minibus dropped us off at the local market square. Cab-drivers hustled us for a fare to the castle a mere 5 Cedis away, walking distance really, but the equatorial sun was at its peak. Twelve noon. We were tired.
What a difference from hot, acrid Accra. A calm breeze blew through the palms. It dried my damp hair and the sticky shirt on my back. Nearby, the Atlantic Ocean dashed itself against the shoreline and the Cape Coast Castle loomed in all its infamous majesty on a nearby hilltop.
Now a World Heritage Site, it has been said to be the largest holding area for slaves during the colonial era. It was when Ashantis traded other Ghanaians to the British for guns and alcohol, when Fanti captured their enemies and got rid of them by selling them to the slavers.
In the dungeons of the Castle many died before they were shipped to the Caribbean and the US to work in the fields.
The ships were often crowded. Conditions inhumane. As a student I studied the accounts of the Middle Passage. The story Roots was never new to me. It merely retold history as reported in the Caribbean History books.
With its white-washed beauty on the outside and the rugged beach on the waterfront the Castle presents a picture of beauty and innocence. However, its interior tells another story.
The passageways are clean now. One huddles and stoops and walks through the maze, from one holding area to another, the only light from an opening ten feet or so up on the wall. Two hundred were cooped in a space that ten men would feel crowded.
They ate, slept and defecated all in this tiny area. Many died of diseases. President Obama’s wreath lies prominently against a filled-in passageway that led to the ocean and the Merchant ships that waited to transport the slaves to the New World.
Captured females were kept away from the males, in a separate dungeon. The chosen women were taken through a trap door to a second floor. If favourable to the advances of the ‘Masters’ they were housed in other areas. The children they bore carried the names of their fathers — Robertson, Williamson. The boys attended special schools and were given reasonably good jobs upon graduation. Many of their descendants still live in Ghana.
Of the girls, little is said. Perhaps they were sold to the highest bidder because they were light skinned. Women who spurned the advances were whipped and shipped out from The Door of no Return. Today, on the other side of this very door are the words, The Door of Return. A few years ago two descendants of former slaves were invited to walk into the slave quarters from the ocean-side of the door, to break the chain.
Everyone is looking for redemption.
On the dungeon walls are the frantic scratchings of the inmates. Footprints line the floors. I tried to put my feet into them. They were big prints. Still, my imagination cannot conceive the torture of another human when the tools of the slave-trade, the whips, handcuff and prods are shown to me.
It is said that the Castle is an old Swedish Fort built of wood around 1653. In 1665 it passed into the hands of the British and was built up to compete with the Dutch fort of Elimina, about eight kilometers away.
This is also a place to visit though not as interesting. Fifteen years after it was bought in 1985, the British reconstructed the dungeons in the Cape Castle to be accessible only from the sea.
Too many have died crossing that ocean, some trying to escape their bonds, while others deliberately threw themselves overboard. Many were dumped into their watery graves after they died of diseases, caused by overcrowding on the boats.
The sea gives up its dead, the old-timers say. How much more would we learn if only the sea could talk.
The editor of THE ARTS FORUM Column, Ameena Gafoor, can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone: 592 227 6825.