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African Slave Descendents Trace History in Ghana

Elmina Castle, built in 1482 by the Portuguese, one of the former slave forts along Ghana's Atlantic coastline.
Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR
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Elmina Castle, built in 1482 by the Portuguese, one of the former slave forts along Ghana's Atlantic coastline.
Renee Bovelle stands at the narrow exit of the dungeon leading from the Door of  No Return, through which Africans left Ghana as slaves for the New World.
Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR /
/
Renee Bovelle stands at the narrow exit of the dungeon leading from the Door of No Return, through which Africans left Ghana as slaves for the New World.
Virgie Harris Bovelle, left, and her daughter, Renee Bovelle, inside Elmina Castle during a recent tour. They traveled to Ghana from Washington, D.C.
Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR /
/
Virgie Harris Bovelle, left, and her daughter, Renee Bovelle, inside Elmina Castle during a recent tour. They traveled to Ghana from Washington, D.C.

Centuries after their ancestors were forced onto slave ships off the coast of West Africa, African Americans and others continue to trace their roots back to the continent to learn more about their history. One country making a special effort to welcome them is Ghana.

Ghana's tourism minister, Jake Otanka Obetsebi-Lamptey, wants African Americans and other Africans in the diaspora to consider Ghana their gateway back to the continent. Ghana is hoping to woo the descendants of slaves to think of Africa as home -- not just as tourists but also as potential investors in the country.

It's an ambitious effort, with the key event scheduled next year to commemorate Ghana's 50th independence anniversary and the 200th anniversary marking Britain's abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The Ghana government is planning customary funeral rites for the millions who died, plus a healing ceremony for their descendants who survived.

Ghana's Elmina Castle, one of several former slave forts along Ghana's Atlantic coast, is a hugely popular destination and place of pilgrimage for African-American tourists and visitors from other parts of the world with links to Africa.

Among the recent visitors were Virgie Harris Bovelle and her daughter, Renee, of Washington, D.C. Their tour of the 500-year-old castle, where slaves were manacled and shackled, waiting to be shipped out, was an emotional one. "I guess it helps me to understand the strength we have today, but it doesn't help me to understand the brutality of slavery," Virgie Harris Bovelle says.

Many Ghanaians want to restore and clean up the castles to help boost tourism. But some visitors say the castles should remain a grimy graveyard, testament to the barbaric treatment of their ancestors.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.