Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Coastal Castle Fishing

Having been off the water way too long I spent a few days in August visiting the Central Region of Ghana to engage in some fishing, hanging out around coconut trees on the beach, traversing a few markets and fishing... yeah I think I already said I was fishing.

After a pit stop over night in Salt Pond, we (Pastor Ray aka Papa Ray, Pastor Philiip and myself) saddled up early in the morning, packed the gear in the ride and headed to the infamous town of El Mina, Ghana.

Elmina is a town I've read about while studying pre-colonial and post-colonial West Africa. It's a place that was dreaded. It was the town that best fits the "It was the worst of times / best of times" quote. A town with a view to die for... any many did... A town with a rich coastal fishing tradition. A town rich in history and culture. However, it was a town built on the blood of those who were potentially my ancestors. The name "Elmina" (translated as "the mine" in English, is the home of the most infamous slave castle in the world!

So you can imagine my feelings as I approached and moved through this town watching the locals staring at me because I dressed different, looked different and sounded different. There was this odd mix of emotions as I watched people hustling on the streets, selling biscuits (cookies to we Canadians) in makeshift stalls and begging from anyone who "looked rich" to them. By the way, looking rich meant you dressed normal for a hot summer day in Canada. I was trying to wrap my head around the fact that many of these people were the direct descendants of those who built their town on the trade of human beings to other human beings. And here I was coming to hook up in a traditional African canoe to go fishing just off their shores. How ironic is that?!?!

One part of me felt pity for many of the people. I noticed that the town was used to seeing Blacks from the diaspora "coming home" to visit what has become a symbolic launching point for the Transatlantic Slave Trade. A number of beach resorts were based in the city, catering to Blacks and Whites from North America and Europe. The town was a mix of a fishing community that was also trying to sell itself to visiting tourists... but unfortunately, in my opinion, it wasn't WINNING!

I won't bore you much with the fishing as to be honest all three of us faced a round of sea sickness. We were fishing in some heavy waves and it just took a toll on us, especially my two friends, as it was their first time on the sea. At least I kept myself together somewhat. Can't say that for the others. LOL

We caught a number of fish but the most interesting was a huge Moray Eel that even the local fishermen were afraid of. This thing was huge and nasty! After hauling it off the ocean floor and getting it into the boat it snapped the line with one chop from it's mouth. The beast slithered back and forth on the floor of the canoe like a cobra about to strike. I'm not sure why, but I didn't buy into the fear that was emanating from the two fishermen who accompanied us. One guy jumped up and was literally sitting on my lap. Thankfully, I had enough foresight to bring along a machete which we used to slay the animal. I only wish I had it on video. Too precious to have missed.

After fishing Papa Ray suggested we tour Elmina Castle. Once we docked, spoke to some of the locals, explaining the fishing rod/reel gear, and rehydrating we hit the local fish market. Interesting place! Gotta love the tenacity of a woman selling fresh fish in the hot sun. They just don't give up!

The visit to the castle was enlightening as the guide gave a decent rendition of the town and castle's history. As a Canadian with some African ancestry I was disappointed that he wasn't very passionate in his storytelling. I fully expected one of the African-Americans on the tour to break down but they didn't - I blame the guide! I thought that I may even feel the emotions of it but I wasn't fazed. My emotions were more of an eery feeling as the experience was just so surreal. When one thinks of the story of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers we immediately see his brothers as the "evil doers". Why is it that Black Americans and Canadians always see the White Europeans as the "evil doers" and not the ones who did the capturing, holding and selling of the slaves?? While it's true Europeans should not be excused for what they did, I think the blame, as it were, needs to be shared.

Elmina is an interesting city with a diabolical past... I'll return to fish again next month.

The Infamous "Door of No Return"

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