Local resident and writer Rob Smith travels to Africa to find his roots
Story: Rob Smith
I felt lost which was very worrying because I'd lived here all my life. Here in England I mean. It was mid September and my Doctor’s diagnosis was of deep depression. I had to try and up lift myself.
Without really thinking much about it, I booked a return flight to West Africa. My inner spirit picked Ghana West Africa, widely known as the Gold Coast and Gateway to the whole of Africa.
I landed in Accra, Ghana November 4th at around 11pm. I was alone and it was very dark. At the hostel I was greeted warmly by the proprietors and shown to a room with fans, mosquito guards, ensuite shower, TV and fridge. I had planned on staying for a whole month.
Missing In Africa
For the next 4 days I pottered around Accra under the heat of the African sun, visiting Labadi Beach and a local Infants School with some German volunteers staying at the hostel. But, as a child of Jamaican parentage, I was increasingly aware that I had a slave ancestry, that my great great grandparent had been a slave, and I remembered that our family origins had been traced to the Gold Coast area. I went missing from Accra and did not return for a whole 10 Days.
Having purchased a good HD Camcorder I found myself a Ghanaian Guide. Hardy, who was the same age as my son (early 20s), would take me first to Tamale Northern Region, where he was from, it is a lot more impoverished than the Capital was struck with a sickness and was rushed to a local hospital. The whole side of my face had swollen up like a balloon. The doctor gave me an injection, but Hardy sent his crew out and they fetched back the local herb doctor, who administered his lotion to my face. Feeling recovered, I was more than keen to reach a place they called Pikworo in the Upper East Region.
The Slave Trail
Pikworo Slave Camp and other camps similar was where, for so many of us, our slave history began. They flourished around 1664, when big Chiefs of large tribes such as Akumba Accura where brought out by the transatlantic slave traders. My guide told me that at Pikworo the slave traders created A Path Of No Return – once past people saw the slave trade they were not allowed to go back to warn others. Being told how events here transpired made me eager to move on to next stage of the path to record the slave baths and market in Salaga.
I then went onto a place called Paga crocodile swamp, not realizing it would bring back a memory from when I was in Toxteth. Liverpool in early 1980. In an old Victorian house in Liverpool 8, a young burglar came across a photographic portrait of White Slave Traders surrounded by young black children inside a swamp just like this one. On a wooden board above the children were the words “alligator bait”. Word spread around multi-racial Toxteth like wild fire and the house was ransacked.
The following day I left the Upper Eastern Region of Bolga and moved on to Wa City Western Region, staying at Mole Park Animal Reserve. I returned to Accra before leaving for my final destination, the English-run Cape Coast Fortress, slave dungeons where I would see first hand what they called “A Door Of No Return”, which once led to slave ships.
The Cape Coast
The malevolent Cape Coast Fortress stood ominously overlooking the Atlantic gateway in and out of Africa. People basked on the sandy clear beach with its surrounding cliffs leading to the outside walls of the impregnable Fortress, the big guns pointing out towards the sea. I knew there was a 99 percent chance my great great grandparent had been down here before me, but under very different circumstances.
For me it has been about discovery and against all odds making that RETURN. I’ve recorded my whole slave trail journey on a DVD video, keeping to historical facts and titled: Pikworo the Movie, available to buy at the wine shop on Catherine Street. More info at http://www.exodustours.co.uk/