Today I went back to the Picworo Slave Camp in Paga, Upper East Region, Ghana. Those of you who have followed this blog since the beginning will remember that about 2 years ago I went to Paga to the Pikworo Slave Camp with my sister-in-law Melanie Steward but for those who have started following later in my journey here is a link to the first Pikworo Slave Camp entry. The first time I went I didn’t bring my camera, I think I forgot it in Sandema, so I wanted to return to get some photos and share them with you.
At the reception hut we were given a price list – 7.00 GHC (Ghana Cedis) for non-Ghanaians , 3.50 GHC for Ghanaians, .70 GHC for students and a 2.00 GHC fee for taking photos. I am not sure that charging Ghanaians a higher price is the way to encourage tourism but at least they were up front about it. We Peace Corps volunteers call it a Obruni tax. However the Rofina and Portia were in bargaining mode and the four of us, the two girls, Dizzy and myself, got in for 12.00 GHC including the photo fee.
There was a small grove of trees around the reception area. The guide told us that the captives were tied to these trees after they were sold and were waiting to be sent down to the bigger slave market in Salaga.
Pikworo means land of rocks and as you can see from these photos the land is very rocky. This is the end of the dry season up north so the soil is very dry and there are no green grasses. It was also very very hot. It was very hard to get transport from the school junction this morning so we arrived at the slave camp in the heat of the day in the hottest part of they year in the Upper East.
A spring bubbled out of this small hole in the rock. It is about 3 feet long and 8 inches wide at the widest spot. It was not green and brackish then but since then the local people have plugged up the spring because they don’t want these rocks to ever be used for such purposed again.
This bowl was dug out of the rock using a small stone. The captives themselves had to dig them. Making bowls was often used as a punishment.
The captives ate on this rock ledge. Five to six people would eat out of the same bowl which was less than a foot long. At this time of year the noonday sun was brutal. I stood there for no more than 15 minutes and felt thirsty and dehydrated. Imagine up to 200 slaves sitting there eating and trying to get water from the small spring previously shown.
Near the ‘dining hall’ was a grinding rock. The captives would grind maize here to make their food.
Just above the dining hall there were two boulders that were played like drums. After the evening meal a few of the slaves would gather there to drum and the remaining slaves would dance and sing in the valley below.
We walked back down through the dining hall. At the base of the rocks we continued to our right. The tour began and ended at the reception area.
The sign calls this the meeting place of the slaves but it was really where they were sold to traders from the south of Ghana. The slaves stood on the flat raised rock and the buyers sat on the rocks in the background.
Portia stands on top of the pile of boulders used as a watch tower at the slave camp.
Five to six slaves would be buried in one grave then the grave was marked with a single rock.
Slaves were chained to the rock with their feet crossed and arms behind their backs. They were then forced to face the sun as it moved across the sky. They were beaten and whipped.
The people who ran this slave camp were West Africans. The slave raiders who went as far as Mali to capture people were also West Africans. Slavery always existed in West Africa as it has existed all over the world. The Europeans didn’t start slavery here but we certainly kicked it up a notch. Before the Europeans arrived slavery usually was a result of war. Captives would become slaves for a set period of time and eventually they would integrate into their new society. With the arrival of Europeans slaves became a commodity to be sold and I am not sure that the captors nor the captives understood it was for a lifetime, even for generations.
This new commercialized form of slavery wrecked havoc on West Africa. Not only did many captives die throughout the various stages of the journey to the coast but the strongest men were taken from West Africa. Briggs in the Bradt Guide says “For two centuries, Africa lost a high proportion of its most able-bodied men and women to the slave trade. In return, it received items that were at the least, of no lasting value – alcoholic spirits and tobacco – and at the worst entirely destructive.”1 Not only were people taken but traditional crafts and trades were lost as more value was placed on the market for humans.
1. Bradt Guide, Globe Pequot Press, Guilford,CT. March 2008, 4th Ed, p. 13.