Saturday, September 22, 2007

BOOK SHELF: The Door of No Return: The History of Cape Coast Castle and the Atlantic Slave Trade

Many lyrics have echoed about the horrific Trans Atlantic Slave Trade on the process of human cargo. In 1974, The O'Jays recorded Ship Ahoy paying homage to Africans who survived and overcame the predicament of slavery and human bondage. Also, Seventies Jamaican Reggae group, The Cimmarons released Ship Took Us Away From Africa, an overnight mindblowing sensation at a time of the reggae boom and Rastafarian prophesy which took roots reggae to newer heights.

William St Clair's remarkable new book The Door of No Return: The History of Cape Coast Castle and the Atlantic Slave Trade, came at the right time after extensive and exhaustive research digging into the archives. It was fifty years ago that on March 7, Kwame Nkrumah's practical and enigmatic leadership achieved full democratic fabric, making Ghana the first West African Coast to gain independence.

I haven't been familiar with a whole lot of stuff regarding the slave trade until St. Clairs in-depth, well-written book which caught my eye at the "Black Township" where I partly engage in African cultural relativism. Very few of us are African-born and most of the people here are aging and are fast-talking in joining the band wagon - homeward bound to motherland. Their focus had been Ghana as the free land offer by the Ghanaian government is attracting every African Diaspora.

Listening to these aging folks talk, I tried to imagine what must have gotten me in this place and why am I trying to figure out why these folks think going back to motherland is the last straw. These are mostly retired men who had thought a whole lot of time had been wasted thinking the land of the free was a safe heaven until now. I also imagine these aging folks, maybe there's nothing out there for them anymore, thus no longer productive in a society where free enterprise is highly comepetitive among the youngish capitalists. Or maybe, the bills are driving everyone crazy while their retirement benefits can afford them all sorts of luxury if they relocate to motherland. Why not?

Talking about enterprise, St. Clair's book noted the entrepreneurship of the slave trade and how detailed and organized it was relying on the archives of the Cape Coast Castle. The castle's first construction was commenced by a Swedish construction company in 1653 at the peak of the Scramble for Africa when for a decade (1653-1663) the Swedes and the Danes were the domineering colonists until the British empire conquered the castle in 1664. It was a game of chess among the European traders and dealers and despite all that, the local kingmakers had the upper hand and determined a good bargain on the people that were being traded for transport across the Atlantic to the shores of America.

The book is entirely drawn from St. Clair's personal research from the archives of the castle. I think from a personal point of view and based on the tedious research project carried out by St. Clair detailing on how the Coastal kings negotiated with European traders and an ensuing warfare as the castle almost got hit by the French in 1756 and the returning of some slaves, for instance, the return of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo who also became a slave trader makes this 282 pages of Blue Bridge Books quite interesting and engaging.
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