04.08.2007 General News

Gov`t to Build Slave Monument as Part of Joseph Project Launch

04.08.2007 LISTEN
By Accra Mail

The government will construct a monument dedicated to “all those who suffered one way or another in the slave trade,” outgoing Minister of Tourism and Diaspora Relations Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey announced during Wednesday's official launch of the Joseph Project at Elmina Castle.

With the Joseph Project, a national initiative, Ghana aims to position itself as Diasporas' “Door of Return” back to Africa.

“We want to establish a pilgrimage to Ghana, one which every member of the Diaspora must take at least once in their lifetimes,” Mr. Obetsebi-Lamptey said.

In promotional materials, the pilgrimage of Diasporas back to Ghana has been compared to the Muslim hajj.

As part of the project launch, Ghana honored three “immortal Josephs,” people of African descent who, like the Biblical hero, rose to greatness despite the legacy of slavery.

Relatives of Bob Marley, Harriet Tubman and Marcus Garvey were presented with awards and each symbolically enrobed in a kente-cloth "coat of many colors.”

Rita Marley represented her late husband, the musician, Rastafarian and social visionary Bob Marley. Marcus Garvey, an activist for the improvement of black people across the world, was represented by his son, Dr. Julius Garvey. Harriet Tubman, who helped American slaves escape to freedom on the Underground Railroad, was represented by one of her great-grand-nieces.

The focus of the evening event, dramatically staged against the backdrop of Elmina Castle, was a symbolic healing ceremony and reunion between Ghana's traditional leaders and visiting members of the Diaspora.

Participants began the ceremony with bands of red fabric tied around their wrists as a symbol of the wounds of slavery.

Special washing stations emblazoned with the project slogan, “Akwaaba Anyemi,” had been prepared for the ceremonial washing of hands.

Underneath a sophisticated lighting system that illuminated the outdoor event, dozens of chiefs and queen mothers in full regalia assembled at the washing stations. They wore golden crowns, ceremonial beads, and heavy gold rings and bracelets. Television cameras clustered around them as they dipped their hands into the basins. Hyssop, a plant associated with healing, had been added to the water.

The members of the Diaspora sitting in the audience were next. Khaki-clad men and women in flip-flops came face to face with traditional leaders draped in kente cloth. The Diasporans held out their hands. Using gourd dippers provided for the purpose, the chiefs poured purifying water over their fingers.

Marjorie Jacobs' face was glowing as she rubbed her hands together. The 37-year-old, her face framed with big hoop earrings, had traveled all the way from Philadelphia to receive this welcome home. “I'd be happy to hug you sister,” the chief across from her told her, and they embraced.

All around them, traditional Ghanaian leaders held out their arms to their brothers and sisters whose ancestors had been taken in chains to the Americas generations before. Camera lenses zoomed in on their gracious and excited smiles.

Joyce Delaney, from Washington, D.C., took away the blessing of the chief who had given her hug. “It's great to have a feeling of forgiveness and gratitude,” she said.

The Diasporans were presented with hand towels embroidered with the Joseph Project logo as mementoes of the occasion.

After the healing ceremony, both the Ghanaian leaders and the Diaspora visitors were supposed to remove the red bands around their wrists. The pain of slavery had been lifted.

A number of addresses from prominent leaders followed the ceremony, including speeches by President of the National House of Chiefs, Nana Odenho Ababio, and by Nana Douala Belle, chief of Douala, Cameroon, who spoke as a representative of all the chiefs and traditional leaders of Africa.

Speaking in French, Nana Douala Belle called for the African people to reassemble themselves, just as the ancient Egyptian god Osiris was reconstructed after his body was hacked apart and thrown into the Nile.
“We are all from the same mother,” he said.

After the event's conclusion, a visitor from the United States approached Mr. Obetsebi-Lamptey with a question.

Paye Adwua Tinsley is an American teacher who will marry a native of Ghana this Sunday.

Why is the government spending money on a monument, Ms. Tinsley asked, “if the people don't get energy and don't get electricity?”

Mr. Obetsebi-Lamptey's answer was simple. The monument would generate more money than it cost, he argued. And if the monument attracts thousands of tourists a year, each of which spends thousands of dollars, he said, then it will generate revenue to fund development projects to improve the quality of life across the nation.

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