From Forest to Fort

The workshop participants began the day by leaving the beach of Elmina for the tropical rainforest of Kakum, a national park overseen by the Heritage Conservation Trust and the Forestry Commission. The park itself is larger than three hundred square kilometers, and serves as a sanctuary for countless species of flora and fauna, including the endangered forest elephant. Though we were not fortunate enough to lay eyes upon such rare animals, we nevertheless enjoyed walking through the undergrowth of the now protected ecosystem. Before the creation of the park, the landscape was deforested—the species now populating the forest constitute a regenerating forest. Our guide was careful to point out interesting plant species throughout the tour, including an ebony tree.

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Left: Workshop participants walk along a forest path in Kakum.  Right: We gather around an example of new growth springing up from a forested stump. 

 

The highlight of our trip to Kakum, however, was definitely the canopy walk, which consisted of a series of rope bridges suspended up to 35 meters above the forest floor. Many of the workshop participants had their phobias of heights tested on the sky bridge, but all who tried its walkways were laughing and smiling by the end. The canopy walk afforded a magnificent view of the rainforest below, a much different view than might have been seen a century ago before logging and hunting were sanctioned in the now protected area.   The trip to Kakum served to remind the workshop’s participants of the multiplicity of the concept of heritage. Though our workshop was initiated with the cultural heritage in mind, we were keen to see how heritage could also include natural resources.

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Workshop participants scale the ropes of the canopy walk. 

 

We set out from Kakum in hopes of reaching Assin Manso to observe the tourist sites set up around a “slave route” narrative involving the crossing of a river delimiting the Asante heartland and the final bath of enslaved people. Unfortunately, our bus was not cooperating, and we were left temporarily stranded on the side of road. The automotive detainment inspired an impromptu archaeological survey of the surrounding area, and we managed to find a single potsherd in a nearby agricultural field. When we had exhausted that endeavor, we were then treated to a show of the juggling capabilities of some of the workshop’s participants.   Fortunately for us, the bus had broken down within site of a local mechanic’s garage, and he was able to have the bus up and running in a relatively short amount of time.

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Workshop participants entertain each other while waiting for the bus to be repaired. 

Our bus troubles, however, made us improvise our plans for the afternoon, and we decided to check out a nearby fort. Unlike Elmina, this fort, Fort Amsterdam, has very little supporting heritage infrastructure. The site had some work done in the 1970s to rebuild collapsed portion, but it has not be restored, there is no museum display, little signage, and no regular staff. However, the potent slavery narrative is just as present. Fort Amsterdam was the first British castle on the Gold Coast. It was built near the Koramantse village, which eventually overtook and destroyed the fort. The participants were struck by how the same narrative reverberated differently in the structures. We discussed how the polished structure of Elmina lent itself to a fuller exploration of African heritage involving European trade, outside of the slave trade. This contrasted with Fort Amsterdam, where the spectre of slavery loomed larger—in both the narrative and the architecture.

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Left: View of Fort Amsterdam, looking southeast.  Right: Workshop participants listening to our guide narrate his rendition of the fort’s history. 

 

We returned to Accra, looking forward to tomorrow and our tour of sites that related more strongly to Ghanaian cultural heritage.

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