By Marion Dear, Lower School Teacher
We started our day as tourists, at Kakum National Forest, and ended our day as revisionist historians, at the slave castle in Elmina. This is a photo of a Westtown alumni gathering in Kakum National Forest, in Ghana, West Africa. The relief on our faces is a result of having just finished a suspension walk through the canopy of the rain forest.
From left to right: Clara Burgess (“09), Marion Dear (’83), Victoria Jones (‘90), Deb Wood (‘86), and Emmanuel Arthur (‘011).
“Those who do not understand the past are condemned to repeat it.” These were the final words of our docent at St. George’s Castle in Elmina. The castle was built by the Portuguese in the 1400s to store gold. Later, the Dutch took over and then the British. The vaults for gold storage became dungeons for captured West Africans, many of them Fante (the predominant tribe in my village and school). Captives waited in inhumane and unconscionable conditions to be herded onto ships, to cross the Atlantic, to live a life of servitude, if they survived the journey. It was upsetting to see first-hand the site of what is one of the greatest horrors of history. Our tour guide was fabulous. He meticulously informed us about which parts of the castle were original and which ones were restored. One beam was 600 years old, and this was impressive, although it had signs of termite damage. He also recounted chilling facts and details about how the slave trade worked on this side of the Atlantic. As we staggered out of the castle after the tour, we were left with the dilemma: what can we do now? How can we help? Now I have my own quote, from Haverford Meeting years ago. The speaker said it is from the Talmud.
“We are not obliged to finish the work, nor are we free to desist.” These words are helpful when I get discouraged about the evils of the world. So next I will continue to build and strengthen the reading comprehension of the kids in Breman Essiam. This work won’t erase or heal the trans-Atlantic slave trade. But it is what I’ve got to give.