Accra, Ghana

Hosted by

Kodzo Gavua, Director of the A.G. Leventis Digital Resource Centre (University of Ghana)

Text Authors

Kodzo Gavua with Zonke Guddah and Imagining Futures Team

The Ghana Lab will investigate ways in which the diverse groups of people found along the Ghanaian coast memorialise their past and engage with their social and physical environment to coexist in relative peace and amity, in spite of their historical circumstances of strife and devastation. The coast is the earliest site in sub-Saharan Africa where Africans and Europeans began to interact directly and on a large scale. It houses settlements whose people derive from diverse cultural, historical and geographical backgrounds. Shortly after 1471 when Portuguese merchants began interacting with them, the local people became subjugated by a succession of European establishments, including those of the Dutch, Danes, Germans and the British, until Ghana’s political independence in 1957. Interactions between the various groups of people have been characterised by armed and other forms of conflict. Institutions, values, and other ways of life the Europeans introduced and, in many cases, imposed on the local people also conflicted with established traditions and engendered lingering intra- and inter-group tensions, discords and violence. The legacies of this coastal history and the ways in which the local inhabitants strategize and mediate their life conditions are yet to be understood clearly, documented and made accessible to inform the people’s future. As part of this we want to push how slavery is memorialised into the future, positioning it as one of numerous legacies, exploring divergences and intersections.

Our goal will thus be to seek and assemble information on how the coastal people identify themselves and wish to be identified, major historical conflict situations and events they remember, recall and memorialise, why and how they memorialise and conserve these events and how they engage and interface with their past and navigate their conflict situations in order to live in relative peace. We shall be guided in this endeavor by the conjecture that the coastal people of Ghana have a shared cultural heritage that emanates from centuries of cross-cultural interactions along the coast. However, inadequate public knowledge, understanding, and appreciation by the people of their past, their diversity and place within the global comity of nations foment discord, tension, and conflict. We shall focus our work on Elmina where Portuguese merchants first settled and where the oldest European edifice in sub-Saharan Africa which these merchants constructed in 1482 and named São Jorge da Mina is situated. In order to ensure fair representation of the Ghanaian coastal situation, however, we shall extend our study to cover two other coastal settlements, Jamestown in Accra and Keta in Anlo.

Guided by University of Ghana’s Ethics Policy, we shall adopt an eclectic approach and apply a combination of ethnographic, ethno-historical, digital media and other anthropological research strategies to elicit data from multiple, orthodox and alternatives sources. We shall, for example, collaborate with Ghana’s Public Records and Archives Administration Department (PRAAD) and identify, partner a cross-section of local families, traditional authorities, state administrators, churches, schools and community associations. We shall also study reports on relevant archaeological and historic sites, structures and objects and information we may glean from local performances and other folklore that express and reflect the people’s past and present. Our study approach, drawing on experiences from the other Labs, should enable us to obtain formally and informally archived information that is often glossed over in humanities research, and explore the landscape itself as archive. It is not our goal to then combine these into a new single narrative but rather to expose precisely the multiplicity of forms of archiving that reflect multiple co-existing experiences and memorialisations that have value and relevance.