Friday, September 29, 2006

Living with the wildlife

My bed is protected by a mosquito net, but I am somewhat skeptical as to its effectiveness because I have found spiders inside my bed. My room, additionally, is a know haven for wildlife.

My roommate and were having a challenge from a rat the first week. It was chewing holes in our window-screen and coming into our room during the first week we were here. Our first attempt was to spray the screen with DEET and Permithrin, but this did not deter the rat. We put all the food into plastic bins with lids, which meant the rat had nothing to eat. But, he was still visiting. After a week or so, we discovered that if we filled the window well with plastic bags that he didn't like the sound of those as he was chewing a new holes in the screen and he stopped visiting. However, this may have coincided with more people moving into the dorm. In any case, we haven't had any problems in our room since.

Lizards are a constant delight to me. There are some very large ones that have red heads and tails. They do pushups in the courtyard, apparently a kind of threatening defence mechanism. The smaller ones like to hang out in our room. The very smallest ones are barely bigger than an inch. I took some pictures of the one that was hanging out on my ironing board. If I nudged it, it would scurry very quickly. I took a video, but unfortunatly, I can't figure out how to share that.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Shai Hills Wildlife Refuge

Yay for outings, and getting better at uploading pictures with captions. Like all parks in Ghana, in order to take a three hour walk along the road we had to hire a guide, but Simon was very good at spotting animals, so we even got to see a Green Monkey.

We left shortly after 6am, got put onto a trotro where the mate didn't actually know where we wanted to get off and had to take a trotro south before connecting by Taxi to the park, but still made it on the trail by 8am.

On the trotro ride home, we made it easily, quickly and cheeply to Ashaiman, but then we asked for a trotro to Legon (which is west of Ashaiman) and ended up on a trotro going east to Negon. I was a bit queesy and not paying attention until we were driving along a coast-line I had never seen before. So another hour later we were back in Ashaiman asking for a trotro to Accra, to which they told us essentially "no dummies, you should catch a direct trotro to Legon", to which we replied essentially "we tried that already, and look where we ended up." In the end, we took a direct trotro to Legon, which only took 30 minutes, so we got back about 2:30. But that is travel in Ghana, and all in all it was a very fun outing.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Adinkra & Kente Fabric

I just figured out how to get a title on my blogs! I know that is somewhat lame, but the connection here is so slow, so I usually don't try to make any major updates.

After over an hour I have finally uploaded some pictures from my visit to the fabric villages near Kumasi during my second week in Ghana. There are some pictures of how the ink for Adindra fabric is made, and me printing some Adinkra patterns on fabric. There are pictures of some young boys weaving Kente cloth and the two pieces of cloth that I bought. Also, the museum in Cape Coast had some displays about Adinkra and Kente cloth, so I took pictures of those.

I also have captions written for all of the pictures, but I am so tired of the slow connection that they will have to wait for another day. I hope that if I go down to the Volta cafe late at night, that the speed will be faster and I can get the other pictures I have taken over the last month loaded.

Adinkra & Kente Fabric
Aug 5, 2006 - 20 Photos

Friday, September 15, 2006

Power Break

Two weeks ago I walked into the courtyard of the Department of Oceanography and Fisheries where all of the students for my class on Coastal Zone Management were gathered eating a kind of Ghanaian corn nut snack and plantain chips. George asked me if this was my first “power break”. I gave him a baffled look. I thought they were referring to all of the students sitting and chatting in the courtyard eating snack and that this was the Ghanaian equivalent of a “coffee break.” Really he was referring to the fact that the electricity was out, thus all of the lights in the classroom (as well as the aircon) were out, so everyone was hanging out in the courtyard for the natural light.

The level of Lake Volta is low this year and so there is a limited amount of hydroelectric power being generated and a system of rolling blackouts has been instigated across Accra. According to the radio, which several people have reported to me, the schedule for blackouts is 12 hours of power off during the day followed by 12 hours off at night 3 days later. Except that it didn’t seem to happen exactly that way.

At first I barely noticed the power-outs because they were all during the day. It was slightly annoying because then the free internet access in the International Student Office is down, but that is not the only thing that causes it to be down. The buildings are all built with two walls of windows to facilitate natural light for these kind of situations. And somehow, our power always seems to comeback on at 6pm when it is out during the day. Until last night. Well, half of the dorm came back on about 6:45, but the annex (where I live) did not. The computer lab in Volta Hall was working, but there was no light in my room. Since I am a creature of habit and I don’t like to change plans this was somewhat frustrating to me. I had planned to do some reading in my room and then I couldn’t, so I just went to bed instead.

I should probably head down to the Bush Canteen and get a kerosene lantern, but in reality I don’t find the power outages to be that big of a problem. Even when power was out in my dorm, the office building just outside my room was blaring its lights all night (as usual), and so there was plenty of ambient light to do all of my evening chores, just not enough to read, and I didn’t feel like using my laptop by battery in the semi-dark.

The report is that the university is on a different rolling outage where the academic buildings will get power M-F. The dorms are divided into three groups and we should expect to loose power every three days from 7 am to 6pm. However, this is not entirely accurate since the School of Business across the street always has power and we have had our power out all night.
Sometimes concurrent with and sometimes just because, the water also goes out. This causes more of a frustration to me. I keep two buckets of water in my room. And actually, I typically heat a bucket of water with my heating coil and use it to take a shower, so that is not a problem. It was confusing at first as to how to proceed. But now I have a setup on the balcony with a pitcher to use for washing my hands, and I can shower with about a gallon of water, but since I usually heat two I never feel a lack (although I avoid conditioning my hair with the quantity of water).

The main problem is that the toilets in the bathroom fill up and the room begins to smell after a day or two. The most recent water outage lasted almost 3 days, except that we had water for about 2 hours in the middle. Luckily, those women, who were up and around, made use of it to flush all of the toilets. The worst was last night when the power was out so the bathrooms were dark and the toilets were full, it made the bathrooms a scary destination.

If you don’t have enough water stored in your room it is possible to fill up your bucket from the polytanks in the courtyard. I think that it is possible to also fill the toilet tank from your bucket and although this is not the common practice I may take it up. I am typically too lazy to carry water upstairs from the polytanks, so I try and keep my buckets filled up when the water is on so that I am not caught off guard.

The power came back on at 5:30 this morning and the water shortly afterwards, so now I feel like I am back to normal. Even though it is possible to do everything by carrying water, I am lazy and I tend to put off things like mopping the floor and doing my laundry. So, this morning I mopped and this evening I will probably do laundry.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Cape Coast Festival

My second visit to Cape Coast was for a seasonal festival. Festivals play an important role in the culture of the Ghanaians, with spiritual, economic, political, agriculture and many other significances. Perhaps the agricultural foundations seem like the basis to me. The festival I attened started on Wednesday with a special ritual to re-open the local lagoon to fishing. Cape Coast is a fishing community, but for several months of the year they close the lagoon to fishing and only fish in the sea, for conservation purposes. This festival marked the re-opening of the lagoon, unfortunately we missed that part of the ritual.

The spiritual aspects of the festival revolve around the local shrine. The African Traiditional Relgion (animistic in nature) identifies a rock that is located in the dungeons of Cape Coast castle as a sacred spot. When the castle was built, the shrine had to be moved into what is now the center of town. So this particular shrine now has two location of equal significance. Some of the rituals happened at one or the other or both of these locations.

Thursday night we arrived in time for the pouring of libations and ritualized dancing. I received a nice explanation of the process of how a deceased person is selected to become an ancestor. It turns out to be fairly similar to the process of selecting a saint in the Roman Catholic tradition, and they seem to play a similar role of intersession. There are a few different rules, such as an ancestor can not have died a violent death, and the death cannot have been caused by fire or water in any form. But, basically you had to be a good person. The ancestor of the shrine at Cape Coast was known as Nana Anthony, which happens to also be the name of the patron saint of the Portugese Catholic church built above the dungeons where the Shrine is located. This was described as a symbol of the melding of Traditionalist and Christian traditions in modern African Traditional Religion.

The dancing took place at the shrine in the center of town. It opened by making an inner and outer circle with sand and then pouring libations (a bit of gin) on the grounds as an offering to the ancestors. The dancing was very hypnotic and was a kind of meditative commune with the spirits / ancestors / gods (sometimes it was hard to tell). I only stayed for a few dances since it was already past 11pm. Our power was out when I got back to the hotel, but they had put kerosene lanterns at each of our doors.

On Friday was the main ritual sacrifice. Usually both the dancing and the ritual sacrifice are done in secret, but since tourism is so important to the Cape Coast economy they have made these elements public. In the morning we went down to the castle. We witnessed them carrying plates of fruit and other gifts down into the dungeons where the rock shrine was located. They also brought a bull to the castle to be accepted by the god(s) there before being moved to the shrine in the center of town for slaughter. The distressing part of the animal sacrifice was that there was no apparent respect paid to the life of the animal involved in the process. While hanging out at the castle the bull was subject to poking, being pushed over and having a bloody rag waved at it in order to rile it up. It was already bleeding slightly when I saw it the first time at 10am. It was a decent sized bull for those I have seen around Ghana, but compared to other bovine I have seen, even in the Philippines, it was on the small side. We waited and watched for a while, but eventually I went off with the professor who had the most knowledge of the events to get some lunch because I wanted to hear more of an explaination of what was happening.

While we were out the procession occurred. The reports of those who stayed to witness it was that the bull was walked from the castle up past a tent area where the chiefs were sitting to approve of the bull. During the procession lots of the town children and members would all attack the bull. The bull was barely walking, and bleeding from several wounds by the time it reached the shrine in the middle of town. The effect was that it was placated so that those who were performing the sacrifice would not have to worry about it responding in any way or acting in any way that might harm them. This was perhaps important because those performing the sacrifice were of the royal family, and not likely to be people who handled animals very much these days. By the time I reached the shrine there was a tight crowd around it and I couldn’t see much of what was going on inside, although there were some chicken entrails outside from an earlier sacrifice. So, I headed back to the hotel.

My roommate stayed to watch and was a little ways back, but was glad that she did not have a direct view. The neck of the bull was slit and so the bull died by bleeding. I was disappointed that the spinal cord was not first severed by a strong blow, but this is difficult to do and requires some skill. After some time the neck was sawed some more and the head pulled back and removed. This came as a shock to some people who got blood splattered on them. My professor had explained that in the process of the ritual it is believed that the gods who are involved (some said it was a ritual to the 77 gods of the area) become manifest in the children of the chief who are performing the ritual. When the bull is sacrificed they drink some of the blood as a sign that the gods are accepting the blood sacrifice and then they return to human form. After the sacrifice the bull is butchered and the meat is divided up among the various chiefs who are up in the tent. Thus ending this part of the festival.

Saturday was the culmination of the festival, and typically the only public part of the festival. You can just look at the pictures with captions or read the description.
Cape Coast Festival Parade
Sep 2, 2006 - 146 Photos


Early in the morning we headed out to get good seats at the start of the parade route. I took a multitude of picture during the parade. First come the Acosombo. These are the traditional Military Companies. Participation in these is hereditary, and they are very similar to our fraternal orders or secret societies in the US. There is not a need for local militias these days and so the Acosombo typically function for search and rescue or to do various development projects. There were seven different Acosombo companies in this parade. They all had a different color costume, dignitaries, musicians and dancers who paraded with them.

Then came the chiefs and queen mothers. These people were carried by palanquin and had large colorful umbrellas held over them. Behind each paloquin were several huge drums, each carried on the head of one man and played by a rotating group of people. The paloquins were carried on the head of 4 men and would sway and dance and turn in circles. The chiefs and queen mothers would dance (as much as you can from a sitting position). I even saw one queen mother who was tossing out small bills to people in the crowd.

We watched the entire procession go by and then we joined the parade. I chose Adrienne as my parade partner. For a while we danced at the back of the parade, but then we decided to explore, so we pushed our way forward. We made our way all the way up to the front of the parade. We were going to join an Acosombo company and be part of their revelry, but then one of them blew a horn of some sort in Adrienne’s ear which was very painful, so we had to fallout until she felt better. The line was moving incredibly slowly, so we went ahead to the festival grounds. We saw the big park that was set up for political speeches. Apparently the President or some minister in his cabinet was scheduled to give a political speech, and I’m sure there would be many others, but we decided that those were not of interest to us, so we went off to get lunch. There were lots of open air food stalls, but we settled on a restaurant where we could sit and relax.

On our way back to the hotel we got caught in a push of people where there were lots of people’s hand all over us and my bag. It was probably the scariest part of the day. I am glad that I have a very sturdy bag with thick fabric. The zipper to my water bottle pocket got opened in this crush, but no important pocket. Several folks with cloth bags had them slashed and two cameras were stolen, but I, luckily, did not loose anything. We headed back to the hotel and got there about 4pm.

On Sunday we visited a national park and went on a rope walk through the canopy of the rainforest, which was fun.

Here are the pictures from Kakum National Park:
2006_09_03 KakumRainforest
Sep 2, 2006 - 42 Photos

Monday, September 04, 2006

Cape Coast & Elmina Castles

I have been to Cape Coast twice now. It is a very important destination for travelers to visit, but also difficult to put the experience into words.

The first visit was to tour the castles at Cape Coast and Elmina. Elmina was the first perminant European building in West Africa and is significant because it represent the era of trade between Europe and West Africa. It was built by the Portugese and used by the Dutch and then turned over to the English when they took control of the entire Gold Coast in I think 1860s. Cape Coast was also built by the Portugese but then captured by the English. Both of these buildings have a long and varied history, not all of it pleasant.

Initially they were built as trading forts. They were places of storage for the goods coming from Europe to West Africa and those awaiting transport back to Europe. Initially the majority of the trade was in gold, but also in other goods. They were centers of interaction with Europe and also the centers from which Christianity entered into Ghana. The first Ghanian Anglican priest (who was trained in England and returned to Ghana for his ministry) is buried in the courtyard at Cape Coast Castle.

Then West Africans were transported to the Americas, thus marking the beginning of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. During the next 400 years more people than I can really comprehend were transported across the Atlanta. A huge majority of them were processed through these coastal castles. Because sea travel is dependent upon the prevailing winds, often times men and women would have to wait several months until there were ships available to take them. During that time they were kept in the dungeons of the castles that were previously built to hold more savory goods used for exchange. In Elmina Castle, it is the original Catholic church built by the Portugese that was turned into the trading hall were merchants exchanged the West African slaves for riffles and other goods, about 3 rifles per man or 1 rifle per woman.

In Cape Coast there is a tunnel under the outer Castle wall which the slaves would have to walk from the dungeons where they were held out to the gate which opened onto the dock and sea. The tunnel is now blocked off for symbolic reasons, but the gate is still there. The gate is called “The Door of No Return” and there is a plaque with this inscribed on the inside. A few years ago, the bones of two slaves, one from the US and one from the Caribean, were exhumed and brought back in a ritual that involved brining them back through the door. In memory of this, there is a plaque on the outside of the gate which reads “The Door of Return.”

In Elmina we went first into the cell where the European soldiers who had committed some crime were kept for their punishment period. It was not pleasant, but there were windows in the upper parts that let in light and air. Next door to it was the death cell, with a scull and crossbone carved into the stone above it. Only those who were condemned to die by dehydration or starvation were put into this cell. Usually it was the leaders of the slaves in the dungeons who tried to rebel and escape who were put here. There were several rebellions over the period of the slave trade, but none were successful. The dungeons themselves where the slaves were held for up to 3 months while waiting for transport are hard to explain. They do have a window or two in them to let in a small ray of light and fresh air, and the rooms seem kind of large until you realize that 50 or 100 or 200 people were kept all together in one room, with no sanitation, and only one meal a day. When the ships come, the people are herded out through very small openings that require them to stoop and travel in single file such that order can be better kept.

The women and men were always kept separately. At Elmina the cells for the women were better in that they had a full wall or two that was just bars. This was nicer in that they had access to light and air, but it also meant for more exposure. The governor’s residence overlook the courtyard at the center of the women’s cells. Women were put on display in the courtyard where they could be selected for sexual use. Women who refused could be chained to one of the cannon-balls in the center of the courtyard where they would be in the full exposure of the elements.

Whenever I face these genocidal acts of humanity, whether at the Holocaust Memorial Museum or the Hiroshima Peace Museum or here at Cape Coast and Elmina, I am shocked that we as humans can be so brutal in our treatment of other humans. Sometimes the stories that the tour guides would tell us seemed so extreme that I couldn’t believe that they happened. I have toned down my reflections here to just a vague generalization of what I personally observed and the tamest of the atrocities described, yet even those are horrendous.

What I still cannot comprehend is the shear magnitude of the number of people who passed through the walls of those castles. I know that people died during the long walks to get to the castles, then they died in the dungeons and also on the ships. What we have is a record of those that arrived, and those numbers are too great for me to comprehend.