Spotlight on Ghana’s Central Region: Cape Coast Castle and Kakum National Forest

I was recently listening to an episode of Amanda Seales’ podcast Small Doses where she was in conversation with the inimitable Michaela Cole (of Chewing Gum, Black Earth Rising and I May Destroy You fame) and the formidable Noma Dumezweni (of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Black Earth Rising fame). This episode (Small Doses: Side Effects of Pan Africanism – part 1) was released pre-Coronavirus in early 2019. In this episode Amanda mentions a trip she took to Ghana where she visited the Central Region.

Cape Coast Castle

While recounting her trip, Amanda talks about how the area that she stayed in reminded her of the lush tropical beaches of Grenada, the Caribbean island where her mum hails from. The climate was the same and the fruit on offer was the same. While making this comparison she touches on how familiar and at home she felt in this part of Ghana even though she was several thousands of miles from Grenada. As soon as I heard her say this, I instantly understood what she meant. When I travelled to the Maaha Beach Resort in the Western Region of Ghana during my 2019 trip (more on this to come in a future guide) this is exactly how I felt. The coast looked like a postcard from the Caribbean. The beaches had soft sand which glistened in the equatorial sunshine, bountiful trees which released coconuts without any hesitation and crystal-clear blue waters. The picturesque beaches which adorn the coast of Ghana’s Central Region make visiting Cape Coast Castle (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) an even more emotionally charged experience once you learn more about what happened at the castle itself, on these waters and beyond.

Most people who visit Ghana put visiting Cape Coast Castle high on their list, and for good reason. It is one of the best-preserved slave castles in West Africa. Indeed, Ghana was the first African country former US President Barack Obama visited once he was inaugurated. There is even a plaque to mark the occasion which is fixed to the wall of the castle, such is the power, magnitude, and significance of the first black president of the US within many African countries. As someone who grew up with mixed white European and black African heritage, and who spent a lot of time in his 20s and 30s learning about his African heritage, I have no doubt that Obama felt it incumbent upon himself to pay homage to a site which represents the legacy of slavery in Africa and America, as well as the impact that the Transatlantic Slave Trade has had and continues to have on the world.

When I arrived at Cape Coast Castle with my sister and cousin, we joined a tour group. Within this group we were led by our learned guide, Francis Kofi. As he described how enslaved people were kept in the depths of the castle, often spending hours and days in overcrowded dark cells which were filled with their own excrement, I could not help but feel saddened, weakened and angry by what I was hearing. I had some knowledge of the horrors endured by enslaved people in slave castles (which I had researched myself, not found out about in school), but I had never received such an extensive education as the one I received while in this tour group. Even more upsetting was our visit to the upper levels of the castle, where the British officials and their families would live in the lap of luxury, hearing the screams of enslaved people beneath them as they went to sleep and went about their days. This immediately brought back visions of reading Yaa Gyasi’s seminal book Homegoing, in which one character describes hearing screams beneath her as she resided in the slave castle with her white British husband and mixed-raced child.

What was even more heart-wrenching was looking at the ocean from the castle. It initially seemed beautiful until I thought about how many bodies had sunk to the depths of the ocean during the days of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. I pondered how to feel about such a beautiful backdrop when I knew what atrocities had been committed in the very space that I was standing. I thought what an immense privilege it was to even be alive at this time as a Black woman and to be standing where I was, listening to such stories, rather than a person who experienced these atrocities first hand in the dungeons I had stood in only moments earlier. I thought about the ways in which the legacy of slavery continues to impact Black people throughout the diaspora today. My heart was heavy.

Kakum National Forest

Also located within the Central Region, but considerably further inland, is Kakum National Forest. This is a lush green oasis where you can do everything from camp overnight or wander across the canopies from amazing heights. We were pressed for time (and not interested in camping) so we elected for the latter. As you make your ascent to the top (make sure to wear trainers/sneakers – some visitors were very badly prepared for the climb) you will marvel at the formidable flora surrounding you.

There are two canopy walks available – a short one and a longer one. We were pressed for time and so we chose the former. We also saw a group of boys deliberately scaring people on the longer canopy walk by shaking the barriers and thought we could do without this additional anxiety. I feel as though it is necessary for me to say that the canopy walks are incredibly safe. I initially had visions of those rickety bridges you see in cartoons; with huge gaps between each horizontal piece of wood and very suspect structural integrity. However, my assumptions couldn’t have been further from the truth.

The planks of wood were sturdy and long vertical slabs of wood which were reinforced with metal. The net surrounding the canopy walk was also very robust and very tall, so there is no way for you to fall out. I am not great with heights but felt very safe and really enjoyed this experience. However, if you are afraid of heights, and a group of tourists have decided to trigger this fear by unnecessarily shaking the canopy, you will feel very uneasy about this experience. One woman was so traumatised by the group of boys who chose to shake the canopy that she didn’t stop screaming for the entire duration of my shorter canopy walk. She even felt the need to, against the advice guides who tell you not to do this, turn around and walk back to the start. So, I implore you, if you decide to go don’t try and be a comedian and make other people nervous. Just let people try and overcome their fears in peace.

There are so many more wonderful and informative sites to see in the Central Region. We were pressed for time as we only went for one day, but I recommend spending more time here to really absorb everything that this fantastic region has to offer.

Have you ever been to the Central Region of Ghana?

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Check out my previous Ghana posts: