Stepping off the bus outside of the Pikworo Slave Camp in the small Northern town of Paga felt so different than anything we had already seen at this point in the trip. On Monday, January 9th, our class hiked through the rocks to see the remains of this slave camp. It was hot - we knew Ghana was going to be hot, but the Savannah sunlight seemed so much more oppressive. The Harmattan, a word for the dusty air present during the dry season, felt thicker up North. Every step we took created clouds of bright red dust around our feet. It felt like torture... And yet, it was silent.
We stood before giant rocks with oblong "plates" carved into the stone. This was the slaves' dinner hall. We stood before Punishment Rock, noticing the deep groves left at the base of the stone from the slaves' chains rubbing against it. Punishment Rock was chosen for doling out punishments because it was in direct sunlight at all hours of the day. Our tour guide pointed at my feet, and what I thought was just a small cluster of stones was really a marker for a mass grave. Each small stone represented a body. There were no names here, no memorials, no flowers. What was left was rocks. That's what Pikworo means... Rocks of Fear.
On Thursday, January 12th, our class traveled to the Salaga Wells, Baths, and the Slave Markets. The heat was equally oppressive and the dust sucked the moisture right out of us. The physical discomfort was so much that it was difficult to formulate a mental or emotional reaction. I did not react at the chains and shackles on display in the Salaga Cultural Center. For me, the wave of emotion did not come until the comfortable bus ride to Kumasi on January 13th.
Many Americans spend time learning about slavery in their history classes, but it isn't often that we learn about where the slaves came from. The North Atlantic Slave Trade might be mentioned, but it's so much more than a trip across the ocean. Slaves were kidnapped as far North as Mali and they walked in the harsh desert conditions through places like Paga and Salaga, on their way to the coast to be shipped to America. Experiencing the unbearable heat and sunlight for myself made this knowledge staggering. It would take the slaves over a month to walk to the coast. From there, they still had the passage across the ocean. From there, they had nothing but chains waiting for them.
Pikworo and Salaga are both locations where horrible crimes against human beings occurred. Suffering occurred on those rocks. Human beings were sold in Salaga. For many of the slaves, they did not know what awaited them once they reached the coast. Many others never made it; their bodies joined others in mass graves. Standing in these locations, there was the kind of silence that comes with acknowledging and feeling human suffering. These kind of feelings, I hope, will follow our classmates during the rest of our journey. We will continue to follow the footsteps of the slaves, only we will do so in an air conditioned bus. More reflections and emotions are sure to come.