Slavery: by Douglas Mack
Slavery is one of the horrors of the human world. Taking another human being and stripping them from their rights in the way that so many countries did to Africa is wrong and disturbing, to say the least. It is without a doubt that slavery, which occurred so long ago in Africa’s past, is still affecting them today. Through development, culture, and religion slavery has shaped Africa, and it uniquely affected western costal countries like Ghana which participated in the slave trade, though not to the same degree, with the outside enslaving nations. Rosenthal goes into great depth to describe the Gorovodu religious order in Ghana. A religious order which devotes its worship to the slave spirits of the North which they themselves “enslaved.” Yes, Africa’s inclusive people have indeed had encountered much strife in surfacing to the new world, but there are those who are trying to help, and there are those who are trying to exploit a people that to this day have been looked down upon as a lesser group.
Within my short time in Ghana, Africa, I had the opportunity to see a slave castle, and to walk the final path many slaves would take before being confined to a slave trading post and shipped to other parts of the world. Both places offered much to internalize, as we could only picture in our minds what terrible things must have happened in the very spots in which we stood, years ago. Now, years later, what does Ghana have to show for all of the suffering that went on behind the walls of the castle, and in the forest being lead by chain and whip? Poverty and anguish is everywhere as street merchants were constantly asking for attention and help while I was there. However, there is one other thing that has come out of all the ciaos, and that is religion. Gorovodu ceremonies involve fetishes, priests, music, dancing, anyone who would like to join, and trance. Trance is when someone willingly becomes taken over by a northern slave spirit. When this possession occurs, that person has the influence of a god, as the Gorovodu people see the northerners, who died as slaves under the rule of the south, as unhappy god like spirits, who need to be appeased and asked for forgiveness from because of their terrible past. The trance that the natives may fall into can lead to many different things from advice and prophecies, to dancing and asking for particular rhythms. Sometimes when in trance, the person(s) will perform a kind of mimicry of the past, reenacting times of slavery to pass the memory and knowledge of what happened so that a culture with no written language could still pass the stories to succeeding generations. It is these people’s way of paying tribute to the people they wronged in the past, and trying to make it right in the present.
Obviously, other countries that partook in slavery over the years do not center their lives around what they did in the past, but are they even attempting to help fix a problem they created. When slavery occurred, everyone with healthy working ability was taken, meaning the old and the very young were left behind to advance Africa over the years following slavery; undoubtedly, doing so must have had large impact on economic, political, and physical development in Africa. Not only this, but due to the psychological mindset countries installed in Africans – White people are superior, they are your masters – many problems in Africa are happening even to this day. Large outside industries own large plots of land in Africa, like over cocoa fields which take the fruits of Africa, export them out of the country to be manufactured, and then imported back to be sold to the African people from which it came. Why is Africa allowing this to occur? The answer could be because the African people feel that they couldn’t say “no” to “higher people.” I am not saying that countries that participated in the slave trade are doing nothing in the present to help Africa – in fact, Nicolas van de Walle writes that America has increased political support for Africa from 2.5 billion to 7.5 billion dollars between 2000 and 2007 (8) – I am saying that I am not so sure the good America and other countries are doing in Africa, out-way the bad.
Going to Ghana and seeing what slavery has done to their country has made me reflect on how I view African Americans and other dark skinned people as well. Growing up in a white suburbia, I did not know too many African Americans growing up. However, in my opinion I did not view black people in any stereotypical or negative light until I began to get to know more people and more African Americans. Unfortunately, while in high school I never saw any of our few black students really succeed academically, I witnessed a lot of immature behavior come from them, and on a wrestling team, it never seemed like they would try very hard in practice. All of these reinforced stereotypes of course are caused cumulative causation: lower economic class à more distractions at home à not as motivated to perform à People like myself see an under motivated people and begin to stereotype à African Americans grow up feeling inferior and thus more likely to contribute less to society à and back to the beginning. I often thought about this in high school and in college, but it is hard to shake a stereotype. However, going to Ghana definitely helped me blur the line between black and white. When one is submerged in a culture where ones race is not dominant it surely opens almost everyone’s eyes to untrue stereotypes. I did not see many lazy people without a drive while in Africa, and I think it did a lot to break my own personal prejudices. I just need to be careful to not start to think, “Oh, it’s only black people in America that…” and restart the process.
Slavery is a terrible mark on mankind’s record, but we can remember the past, and work in the present to make a brighter future for ourselves. There is a lot Americans can learn from the dark days of slavery, and as long as we remember the history we can become one united world.
Rosenthal, Judy. Possession, Ecstasy, and Law in Ewe Voodoo. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998. Print.
Forni, P. M. Choosing Civiligy. St. Martin’s Griffin, New York, 2002. Print
Walle, Nicolas. “US Policy Towards Africa: The Bush Legacy and the Obama Administration.” Oxford University Press. African Affairs 109.434 (Jan., 2010): 1-21. Web. 20 June 2011.