This is the last of three articles on the Assin Manso Slave Port, which I visited in February to learn its history. Last week’s article (the second) focused on the “Last Bath of Return” and its significance for African-American Pilgrims and all Africans. This article will shed light on the tourism potentials of the Assin Manso Slave Port and other slave monuments dotted across the country.
There are an estimated 40 significand slave monuments in West Africa, with Ghana hosting 24 of them and the rest in Senegal, Gambia and Nigeria etc. The significant monuments in Ghana include; the Pikworo slave market at Paga-Nania in the Upper East Region (‘the site of the genesis of slave trade in the Gold Coast)’, the Salaga slave market at Salaga in the Savana Region, the Assin Manso Slave Port, the Assin Praso Slave Port, the Christiansburg Castle in Accra, the Cape Coast Castle, the Elmina Castle and the Anumabo Castle to mention a few. The Cape Coast and Elmina Castles have been designated by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. In addition, the Assin Manso and Assin Praso Slave Ports were designated by UNESCO in 2003 as a “Route Projects.” The UNESCO Slave Route Project have helped to raise the public awareness that the slave trade had not only affected the coastal but had also relied on a network of slave routes that stretched far into the interior. The powerful imagery of gangs of slaves being marched down to the coast has for a long time served as a key icon of visual, as well as performative representations of the slave trade.
The “Slave Route’ was launched in 1994 and was based on the assumption that the slave trade ‘is barely present in humanity’s collective memory and history books.’ It thus aimed at breaking that silence and raising the (transatlantic) slave trade to its proper place as ‘the greatest tragedy in human history’ (Diène 1998). The project was meant to arrive at ‘a kind of collective purification to move things from tragedy to life’ (ibid.). Thus, through its commemoration, the experience of the slave trade as ‘the ultimate symbol of violence’ ought to be turned into a guarantor for ‘lasting peace’ among the nations (Mayor n.d.:4). Three areas are listed as main fields of activity: scientific research, education, and cultural tourism. The most visible aspect of the project is that of cultural tourism. It is expected that the results of scientific research on tourism, as in educational research ought to be made accessible to a wider audience. Through tourism, revenue should be generated and investments in local economies should be encouraged. However, great emphasis is put on the demand that this endeavour should take place with constant awareness of the sensitive nature of the slave trade (Schram, 2008).
Undoubtedly, tourism has the potential of playing an important role in economic development and employment growth in Ghana (GSS, 2017). A 2013 World Bank report on tourism in Africa estimated that 3.8 million jobs could be created in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) in a decade connected to tourism and further help to stimulate demand for better infrastructure, local products, and accommodation. It could also support often isolated communities that rely on tourism as a source of income. The report also found that a vibrant tourism market has been a driver for economic growth and poverty alleviation in the countries studied (World Bank 2013). The same report named Ghana among the group of Sub-Saharan African countries with the highest tourism performance in SSA. As a key foreign exchange earner and with the potential for job creation and stimulation of economic activity, the quest for the development of tourism in Ghana is in line with the country’s development objectives (GSS, 2017).
As stated earlier, the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade has become a key issue of international heritage initiatives, such as those led by UNESCO and ICOM (the International Council of Museums). African governments have also ‘rediscovered’ the history of slavery as a marketable asset to promote their burgeoning tourist industries. At the same time, localized collective and individual memories of the slave trade and slavery (both in Africa and trans-Atlantic) continue to exist – sometimes in accordance with official heritage-discourse, at other times in contestation to it (Schram, 2008).
Despite having more slave relics than others, Ghana has over the years failed to market its tourism potentials to the fullest. One study found out that Senegal and Gambia at a point were attracting more Africans in the Diaspora to their scanty slave monuments than Ghana. Ghana’s share of the pilgrimage to slave sites however, increased in 2018-2019 when President Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo launched the “Year of Return” to mark 400 years when the first African slaves landed in Virginia, USA. Between the period, tourist figures hit the record-breaking one million mark. This is expected to be maintained or exceeded in the 2020 and beyond as the governments continues with the “Beyond the Year of Return” programme.
Building on from the “Year of Return”, the government has outlined plans to turn Ghana into a prime tourist destination in West African. This is largely attributed to the high concentration of slave trade relics in the form of European fortifications along Ghanaian’s coasts. According to Schramm (2008), African American heritage or ‘roots’ tourism is targeted as the most important niche market in this sector. It is expected that the experience of the slave monuments may provide a sense of emotional bonding to pilgrims seeking to link up with their African past (ibid). This experience, however, cannot be achieved without the development of infrastructure that inspired the slave trade. While efforts are being made to identify and develop more slaves sites, the onus is on the government to resuscitate the existing ones.
During my visit to the Assin Manso Slave Port, I learnt firsthand its economic and tourism potential for Ghana. The Port is located about 40km north of Cape Coast. It is renowned for the inhuman activity meted out to people during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Slaves brought from the interior were rested, bathed, sorted out and re- sold; before transported via the Cape Coast and Elmina Castles to the Americas. While at this Site, visitors can visit the tombs of two ancestral slaves- Samuel Carson from USA and Madam Crystal, from Jamaica, whose skeletal remains were returned and reburied in 1998. Other land marks include a Prayer Hall and grassy Meditation lawn. The Slave Rivers – “Nnonkonsuo” and “Ama Amissah are the major feature of the Assin Manso Slave Market. At the entrance is a gate with a painting of two African slaves in loincloths with their arms and legs in chains and the inscription, “Welcome to Ancestral River Park.” Beside them are the words, “Never Again!” It takes just five minutes’ walk from the gate to the rivers. This walk down the river normally engenders sober reflections as one listens to the chilling stories of how slaves were chained in the open for days and weeks before having their “last bath of no return.” Along the path, Roland Annor, the manager of the site showed me a specie of pineapples which he said were 200 years old. According to him, because these pineapples could withstand any weather, they were planted on the slave routes from Ashanti Kingdom to Assin to help the slave masters to keep track of the route to Assin Manso.
As we moved close to the rivers, the deterioration of the park and its encroachment were so visible. Tucked in between the rivers and ancestral graves is a house and a refuse dump along the path tourists tread to the rivers. The scene reminded me of our collective failure to maintain and preserve anything of value. A similar visit to Assin Praso, the site of the “Ancestral Mass Graves” revealed a similar encroachment and degradation of the tourist site. When asked why there was a house and a refuse dump on the way to the rivers, Roland explained that a family claimed the land was its ancestral lands and had occupied it as a right; despite government’s acquisition of the land as a tourist site. I wonder why a family is claiming such a significant historical site, despite its designation as a “Route Project? Undoubtedly the encroachment and other human captivities are pushing these historical rivers to the verge of extinction. The water in the rivers were drying up as quickly as the rivers were shrinking. It is time the government and its agencies gave attention to both Assin Manso Slave Port and the Assin Praso Mass Graves, at least to raise them to the standard as UNECSO Route Projects.
Thanks to the “Year of Return”, the popularity of the Assin Manso Slave Port swelled in 2019, 400 years after the trade in Africans to America began. The 2019 commemoration of the first Africans to arrive in Virginia undoubtedly triggered a rush of interest in ancestral tourism, with people from the United States, the Caribbean and Europe rediscovering their roots in West Africa. One would have thought that some face-lifting of the facility would have begun before the ‘Year of Return.”
Asked for his views on how the Slave Port could be raised to international standards, Roland suggested that the government should regularize its acquisition of the Port as a national monument; in tandem with its status as a “Route Project”. Once the Port is secured, a portion of it, perhaps, opposite the ancestral rivers should be reserved as a cemetery for African-Americans, who wished to be buried at Assin Manso. Their ashes or bodies could be buried in small graves for a fee. In addition to those of Samuel Carson and Madam Crystal the cemetery could be developed as a tourism mausoleum. The mausoleum could become the biggest attractions for African-American pilgrims. This could be a huge source of revenue for the Government of Ghana to invest in maintaining the site and other slave monuments across the country.
While doing further research for this article, I gathered that the World Bank had released funds to the Government of Ghana for the development of the Assin Manso Slave Port as a world class tourism centre. At the time of writing this report, I could not obtain answers as to why the project hasn’t started. Due to its significance as a “Route Project” and for cultural tourism, Assin Manso deserves better tourism facilities and services. Currently, there are no recognizable hotels, restaurants and other tourism services at Assin Manso. This has compelled tour operators to operate return trips to Accra. Ideally pilgrims should pass a night or two there to allow for sober reflections, healing and bonding. Potential investors should consider investing in hotels, restaurants and rest stops to help open the Slave Port as a preferred destination for all Africans and African-American pilgrims.
Der, B. G. 1998. The Slave Trade in Northern Ghana. Accra: Woeli.
Diène, D. 1998. ‘The Slave Route: A Memory Unchained’, Unesco Sources 99.
Ghana Statistical Service, 2017. Trends in the Tourism Market in Ghana.
Mayor, F. n.d. ‘Foreword’. In The Slave Route, pp. 3–4. Paris: UNESCO
Schramm, K. 2008. The slave route projects: Tracing the heritage slavery in Ghana. Rsearchgate
Ward, W. E. F. 1966. A History of Ghana. London: George Allen and Unwin.
World Bank, 2013. World Tourism Report
(***The writer is a Development Communications Specialist, and a Social Justice Advocate. All views expressed in this article are my personal views and do not represent those of any organization(s). (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org: Mobile: 0202642504 0243327586/0264327586