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#1 12-27-2005, 10:48 AM
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Even African Americans are considered “obruni” in Ghana


It is pleasant to see some of us embrace to learn about the land of our ancestors but is our approach any different than our white counterparts.

The locals seem to be ‘dealing’ with this matter while the Ghana government or in specific the Ministry of Tourism division is trying to smooth things over. To me, very interesting.

Ghana’s Uneasy Embrace of Slavery’s Diaspora

Published: December 27, 2005

CAPE COAST, Ghana – For centuries, Africans walked through the infamous “door of no return” at Cape Coast castle directly into slave ships, never to set foot in their homelands again. These days, the portal of this massive fort so central to one of history’s greatest crimes has a new name, hung on a sign leading back in from the roaring Atlantic Ocean: “The door of return.”

A former slave-trade fort in Cape Coast, Ghana, is a popular destination for African-American to return after Christmas; this

A tour guide describing the conditions once faced by captives before they were shipped as slaves from the Elmina Castle fort in Ghana.

Ghana, through whose ports millions of Africans passed on their way to plantations in the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean, wants its descendants to come back.

Taking Israel as its model, Ghana hopes to persuade the descendants of enslaved Africans to think of Africa as their homeland – to visit, invest, send their children to be educated and even retire here.

“We want Africans everywhere, no matter where they live or how they got there, to see Ghana as their gateway home,” J. Otanka Obetsebi-Lamptey, the tourism minister, said on a recent day. “We hope we can help bring the African family back together again.”

In many ways it is a quixotic goal. Ghana is doing well by West African standards – with steady economic growth, a stable, democratic government and broad support from the West, making it a favored place for wealthy countries to give aid.

But it remains a very poor, struggling country where a third of the population lives on less than a dollar a day, life expectancy tops out at 59 and basic services like electricity and water are sometimes scarce.

Nevertheless, thousands of African-Americans already live here at least part of the year, said Valerie Papaya Mann, president of the African American Association of Ghana.

To encourage still more to come, or at least visit, Ghana plans to offer a special lifetime visa for members of the diaspora and will relax citizenship requirements so that descendants of slaves can receive Ghanaian passports. The government is also starting an advertising campaign to persuade Ghanaians to treat African-Americans more like long-lost relatives than as rich tourists. That is harder than it sounds.

Many African-Americans who visit Africa are unsettled to find that Africans treat them – even refer to them – the same way as white tourists. The term “obruni,” or “white foreigner,” is applied regardless of skin color.

To African-Americans who come here seeking their roots, the term is a sign of the chasm between Africans and African-Americans. Though they share a legacy, they experience it entirely differently.

“It is a shock for any black person to be called white,” said Ms. Mann, who moved here two years ago. “But it is really tough to hear it when you come with your heart to seek your roots in Africa.”

The advertising campaign urges Ghanaians to drop “obruni” in favor of “akwaaba anyemi,” a slightly awkward phrase fashioned from two tribal languages meaning “welcome, sister or brother.” As part of the effort to reconnect with the diaspora, Ghana plans to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., W. E. B. DuBois and others it calls modern-day Josephs, after the biblical figure who rose from slavery to save his people.

The government plans to hold a huge event in 2007 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the end of the trans-Atlantic trade by Britain and the 50th anniversary of Ghana’s independence. The ceremonies will include traditional African burial rituals for the millions who died as a result of slavery.

Estimates of the trade vary widely. The most reliable suggest that between 12 million and 25 million people living in the vast lands between present-day Senegal and Angola were caught up, and as many as half died en route to the Americas.

Some perished on the long march from the inland villages where they were captured to seaports. Others died in the dungeons of slave castles and forts, where they were sometimes kept for months, until enough were gathered to pack the hold of a ship. Still others died in the middle passage, the longest leg of the triangular journey between Europe, Africa and the Americas. Of the estimated 11 million who crossed the sea, most went to South America and the Caribbean. About 500,000 are believed to have ended up in the United States.

The mass deportations and the divisions the slave trade wrought are wounds from which Africa still struggles to recover.

Ghana was the first sub-Saharan African nation to shake off its colonial rulers, winning its independence from Britain in 1957. Its founding father, Kwame Nkrumah, attended Lincoln University, a historically black college in Pennsylvania, and saw in African-Americans a key to developing the new nation.

“Nkrumah saw the American Negro as the vanguard of the African people,” said Henry Louis Gates Jr., chairman of the African and African-American studies department at Harvard, who first traveled to Ghana when he was 20 and fresh out of Harvard, afire with Nkrumah’s spirit. “He wanted to be able to utilize the services and skills of African-Americans as Ghana made the transition from colonialism to independence.”

Many African-Americans, from Maya Angelou to Malcolm X, visited Ghana in the 1950’s and 60’s, and a handful stayed. To Nkrumah, the struggle for civil rights in the diaspora and the struggles for independence from colonial rule in Africa were inextricably linked, both being expressions of the desire of black people everywhere to regain their freedom.

But Nkrumah was ousted in a coup in 1966, and by then Pan-Africanism had already given way to nationalism and cold war politics, sending much of the continent down a trail of autocracy, civil war and heartbreak.

Still, African-Americans are drawn to Ghana’s rich culture, and the history of slavery.

Ghana still has dozens of slave forts, each a chilling reminder of the brutality of the trade. At Elmina Castle, built by the Portuguese in 1482 and taken over by the Dutch 150 years later, visitors are guided through a Christian chapel built adjacent to the hall where slaves were auctioned, and the balcony over the women’s dungeons from which the fort’s governor would choose a concubine from the chattel below.

The room through which slaves passed into waiting ships is the emotional climax of the tour, a suffocating dungeon dimly lit by sunlight pouring through a narrow portal leading to the churning sea.

“You feel our history here,” said Dianne Mark, an administrator at Central Michigan University who visited Elmina Castle, six miles from Cape Coast castle, in early December, tears welling in her eyes as she gazed across the massive, buttressed walls to the ocean. “This is where our people are from. That is a deep, deep experience. I look at everyone and wonder, ‘Could he have been my cousin? Could she have been my aunt?’ ”

Like any family reunion, this one is layered with joy and tears. For African-Americans and others in the African diaspora, there is lingering hostility and confusion about the role Africans played in the slave trade.

“The myth was our African ancestors were out on a walk one day and some bad white dude threw a net over them,” Mr. Gates said. “But that wasn’t the way it happened. It wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Africans.”

Many Africans, meanwhile, often fail to see any connection at all between them and African-Americans, or feel African-Americans are better off for having been taken to the United States. Many Africans strive to emigrate; for the past 15 years, the number of Africans moving to the United States has surpassed estimates of the number forced there during any of the peak years of the slave trade. The number of immigrants from Ghana in the United States is larger than that of any other African country except Nigeria, according to the 2000 census.

“So many Africans want to go to America, so they can’t understand why Americans would want to come here,” said Philip Amoa-Mensah, a guide at Elmina Castle. “Maybe Ghanaians think they are lucky to be from America, even though their ancestors went through so much pain.”

The relationship is clearly a work in progress. Ghanaians are still learning of their ancestors’ pivotal roles in the slave trade, and slave forts on the coast, long used to thousands of foreign visitors, have in recent years become sites for school field trips.

When the United States and the United Nations gave Ghana money to rehabilitate and restore Cape Coast castle, the government agency responsible for the castle repainted it white. Residents of Cape Coast were thrilled to see the moisture-blackened castle spruced up, but African-Americans living in Ghana were horrified, feeling that the history of their ancestors was being, quite literally, whitewashed.

“It didn’t go over too well,” said Kohain Nathanyah Halevi, an African-American who lives near Cape Coast.

A recent African-American visitor to Cape Coast castle took the emotionally charged step through the door of no return, only to be greeted by a pair of toddlers playing in a fishing boat on the other side, pointing and shouting, “obruni, obruni!”

William Kwaku Moses, 71, a retired security guard who sells shells to tourists on the other side of the door of no return, shushed the children.

“We are trying,” he said, with a shrug.

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#2 12-27-2005, 11:49 AM
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it looks as if there might have been a picture included in the original article? could you add a link to the article, please?

actually, “obruni” does sound about right!!

thanks for the post!

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#3 12-27-2005, 04:17 PM
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Two vacation like pictures are there. Might need to register though.

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#4 12-27-2005, 11:10 PM
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I think this is very positive by any stretch. I wonder if Ghana or any of the other west african nations would be willing to give up 100 square miles of land similar to what the brothers here advocating….

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  1. Yeye Akilimali Funua Olade Says:

    Why Blackamerikkkans often are called the same name as is used for foreigners that are not identified as other Africans,is that we act like white people,have their mannerisms,moves etc.Now take Maya Angelou who while in Ghana said she dressed like the Ghanians and spoke some of the language and no body thought she as a foreigner-only another African from another African country. To live in Africa means you must be willing to pick up the culture as much as you can and dress like the masses and learn some African language if you want to fit in and be treated like an African!

  2. Joyce moore Says:

    It is evermore burning within me to connect with my “brothers and sister” of Africa, mainly Ghana. The more I learn about Ghanians, the more similarities I see between us from dance, singing, music, religion(christianity), raising our children( yes it varies however the root of child rearing is similar) food, family traditions which have been bought over from Africa to the u.s.a. I feel that it is very important for us as african americans to connect with our homeland, and learn all we can; then and only then will we begin to understand some of what they went through during the diaspora. “You know, it’s kind of strange to have a desire within to go (return in the place of our ancestors) to Africa, and never been”. So, I plan on going to Ghana within a year or two. I have a friend in Ghana I would like to surprise, if he doesn’t beat me to it!

  3. Yeye Akilimali Funua Olade Says:

    Sister, this is wonderful that you are ready to go “Back to Africa”! Believe me you will feel free for the first time in your life! Not having to deal with racism is such a tremendous feeling that all your creative energies can be focused on adjusting and learning as much of the culture and acting it out as possible for your sensibilities! Hurry up and go,but make sure you tell your friend you are coming first so as not to be surprised yourself! It is not African to come all the way from amerikkka and not let him be prepared! It means you weren’t considerate of his feelings.

  4. Rex Dwase Says:

    I am very happy about your wonderful article “BACK TO AFRICA”however, there is a point I want to correct. It is about the term OBRONI. Obroni is literally means “The whiteman” or somebody from “ABROKYIRE” (overseas). Normally it is said in admiration rather than in hostility. When children see you and start calling you OBRONI it is because they like you and given the chance, they would surround you and be holding your hands. That is the nature of Ghanaians. Unlike other North African countries like Algeria, where, when children see you with a black skin, they start calling you names and if you are not lucky, they throw stones at you. I have experienced this before. Or in Libya where they call you “DILIGIGI”(I am not sure of the right word and pronunciation) literally meaning “slave”. Sometimes somebody would throw water on you. This type of behaviour can never happen to a black man in Ghana. OBRONI is the best way children can express their love for you and can welcome you. When you visit a home and they see you as OBRONI, they will give the best cup to drink in. It is because they admire you and want to treat you special. Children love white people in Ghana and would treat them very special. They know nothing about the slave trade nor anything to do with racism. They are just acting natural. So if they see you and start calling you OBRONI, it is because they see you as a whiteman maybe because of your dressing and especially gadgets. I know as an African American coming out of the Cape Coast castle or the Elmina castle you would feel embarrased let alone insulted by being referred to as OBRONI. But you must accept it for those who shout it at you do so because you appear like a white man and if anything, it is out of admiration and not out of hostility.

  5. T. White Says:

    A question,

    I am wondering If anyone has ever considered that the problems that some African-Americans are having connecting in Ghana has to do with the fact that those particular African-Americans’ ancestors are truly not from Ghana. Perhaps their ancestors are from another area in West Africa? I know I have met Africans from overseas and they have come up to me and said, “Brother, you look like the people in Nigeria” “And brother, their are people all over Ghana who look just like you.”

    After some years of study, I have come to the true conclusion that African-Americans are absolutely not all the same. We have actually kept our tribal delinations throughout slavery. For instance, some of the original people are actually indigenous to America. Some of our tribal cultures are more militant while others were more agrarian based. Some are matriarchal and others are patriarchal. This one of the reasons why the African-American community is not unified. It is because we are really a consortium of different tribes that came from another continent.

    I am very interested in Ghana because I have a distinct common culture tie to that area because my maternal families are all Gullah people from South Carolina. I have been fortunate to know my family history.

    Perhaps people would feel more comfortable If they found out exactly the area their ancestors came from and then tried to see If their are similarities to their family structure and the ones across the sea.

    This of course is just a suggestion.

  6. Daniel Says:

    Well, what about the stories I have been told of being laughed while visiting various countries in West Africa because we don’t look like any bit like Africa anymore? If I am being told wrong, don’t be afraid to reply

  7. Yeye Akilimali Funua Olade Says:

    T. White, you could be right! I have always gave the advice that Black people should study African ethnic groups and find the one they like the culture the most and chose that one to embrace. Since our slavery line is mixed with many difference groups it’s better to choose one that you like the culture than to just go anywhere and say you want to be that without knowing whether you like the culture or not. Ophra Winfrey used DNA to find her group but that would be one out of many other groups we have as ancestors since the whites in amerikkka mixed all the slaves up to cut down on slave rebellion. However saying that I would also say you must be ready to embrace the culture as much as possible and learn the language no matter how long it takes because that’s the only way you get back to your BLACK self and fit in no matter how light skin you are Daniel. If you do so Africans will accept you because you love their culture and they know that you didn’t have to come back at all.

  8. Yeye Akilimali Funua Olade Says:

    Brother Daniel,Being laugh at and pointed out because of light skin and white amerikkkan behavior(behavior difference from the Africans in question!) is something you can get used to since Africans with mixture and light skin are pointed out in a continent where BLACK skin is the norm.You need to have a sense of humor about it and be ready to explain to ignorant Africans how you got that way-the history of slavery,without bitterness and hostility.Forgive them for it is ignorance that causes that but once the history is taught them they respect you for coming back home. African schools teach white nonsense just like in amerikkka and don’t tell the story often of slavery in its full implication. Forgive them for they know not what they do! You are back HOME and you can lovingly educate them! Children are especially fond of pointing out white skinned people as funny looking. Then you need to pick up as much of their behaviour as you can and greet them in their language.You can do it! I did it and if I don’t open my mouth no body will know I was a slave in amerikkka before cause I dress in African dress,and you need to also even if you are just visiting to show your respect for the culture!

  9. La-kee-a lowry Says:

    I love all of these comments. I am a 31 year old single mother. I am so deperate to connect to my african ancetsry. I do not want it to be superficial, but true and honest in whole. Growing up, it seemed all of my friends had customs and culktures to connect to…and I was told that I was a descendent of a slave….without a culture. I do not feel totally welcomed in America, and when I went o Ghana, I was warmly welcomed, but my African friends here in rthe US do no totally eceot me. I have a deep felling, that I AM AM AFRICAN!!!, no one can stop me!!! When I was a kid, I used to have dreams, of a old african woman, chasingh me down a road…telling me to wait, I have to tell you something! She told me That I have to stop running in my life! that is why i never get anywhere. Today at age 31, this woman still visits me in my dreams!! mainly when I am going through hardships! I do not know who she is. I have described her to family members, and no one seems to know who she is. I am sincere in my journey, and I feel a calling to it. I want to embrace my African culture, and not fight with my own brothers and sister in doing so. How do I do this? We need to get along, or they will contiue to divid us!!! This has to stop. I am ready to move back home!! for good! I am a REFUGEE IN AMERICA! that is what I feel like. The older I get, tghe cleare the picture gets.

  10. Yeye Akilimali Funua Olade Says:

    Sister La-kee-a lowry! You are similar to how I was at 35 years when I pushed my Blackamerikkkan husband to let us go BACK TO AFRICA! I too have never felt happy in amerikkka since I was ll years old! Now you must get close to your God! However you worship Him you must ask Him to show you how to get ready to go back home,from now! No more delay.Ask God everyday to show you what to do that day to prepare and get back home. You will not be happy until you do and your children will be delayed in getting rooted in African language and culture because the way my children embraced Yoruba language(it took them l month in public school to learn it) and the culture was so inspiring to me and my husband!Don’t look back-you must come BACK TO THE MOTHERLAND!

  11. Yeye Akilimali Funua Olade Says:

    Any one who wants to come home indicate that you want me to e-mail you and I will help you with any personal advice and contacts I have.

  12. Yaa Woodgett Says:

    Greetings Yeye,

    Just wanted to say It was a breath air to find this post today. I am a 30 year old single mother of three boys. I am planning to make the permenant move home in late August. I am excited and I have to plans on turning back. I feel like a lost child who is going to be able to return home. I love my African heritage and now finally I will have the opportunity to embrace it fully. My native tounge… Not english (YUCK). My true religion that the world refuses to accept…. That’s because they are afriad of our power. If we are going to call on GOD we need to make sure that we are calling on our own. It is very important that we are feeding energy to our spirit powers not someone elses. They ancestors and the Great Spirits need us to return to them. I know that we were brainwashed, enslaved and led to beLIEve that our ways were wrong. But its time for us awaken… STOP SLEEPING…. KNOW THYSELF…

    YeYe I would like to keep in contact with you… Please email me

    Peace and Many Blessings

    Yaa Yaa

  13. Yeye Akilimali Funua Olade Says:

    Sister Yaa Woodgett, and you know you will find your PERFECT Black man in Africa too!You can not live in the Motherland and be by yourself! People will always be looking out for you and looking for a good partner to you and all good things like that. They love you like family here. That is if you don’t bring a superiority complex here like you “Africans don’t know what you are doing”like some of us do. You must learn to be humble and absorb all the BLACK behaviour you can! Start acting like your natural BLACK self you dig. Once you give them the respect due our ROOT Fathers/Mothers and listen and learn you will have no better family to take good care of you and yours! And raise children-whow-Yorubas raised my 4 children to be perfect Yoruba children and that is something else! Cannot wait for you to come home. Will e-mail you for all the details and what you want to know Sister,NOW!

  14. Yaa Woodgett Says:

    Wow Yeye,

    Thanks for the response. You got me all excited 🙂 I am very humble and simple and very ready to soak up the culture and learn. U won’t find superiority complex here. The funny thing is my African friends call me African and I call them African American.

    Seriously, I have to get my sons out of the U.S. I can’t see them going down the of cycle of destruction path that the majority of our Black men in the U.S. are going. People can’t see how messed up we are mentally over here. We don’t value anything unless it has monetary value. When the money is gone… and it will be… what will people do?

    Anyway… Enough venting about that…. It could go on and on 🙂

    I will be back home soon, where love still exist even when times are hard. Where there is a true sense of family……Where we practice the saying “It takes a Village to Raise a Family”..

    Not to mention…. A PERFECT BLACK man…. I did not think they existed.. LOL

    Just Kidding… My sister and my 2 year old neice will be moving to Ghana with me as well. She is just as excited as I am.

    Nice to hear from you. I will keep in touch.

    Peace and Many Blessings

    Yaa Yaa

  15. Bobby Says:

    I am a 26 year old African American. I am well educated. African Americans some of us you cant even tell us we are African. The first time I was told go back to Africa I was 8 years old. Then in political debate, our good white friends here in the USA, tell us to go back to, Africa. We are Africans, who just happen to be in America. To be an American I believe you have to be of European Decent. Africans were brought to America for slavery, and Slavery in the US was no where like the servitude we faced in Africa. The British were slaves for Romans, Irish slaves for Brits, but you see now the white world has come together, they still fight, but when it comes to you and me, we are Africans. They didnt put Zimbabweans in Aparhtied because they were, Natives, They didtn put South Africans in Aparithed because they were , Natives. My parents were bornJim Crowed in American because they were native, it was because they were all African. African America do have some oppounties that our family in Africa cant get, but other than that its work for whites, pay for an education you cant pay for. People say our ancestors invested a lot into this country, yes we might have but when Barack Obama says no reparations ( because he got his) then we lost that investmnt. West Africa is were my people come from, one of my ancestors were captures by the Dahomey, modern day Benin, the others came from the British West Indies, from the West Coast of Africa, I dont care where u go in West or Central Africa, that is you ancestoral home. I pick The Gambia, I believe that is close enough to both my homes. I dont feel American. Barack Obama has convinced me, that Africa is my true home, and I avoided this my entire life, untill I read Exodus, and then i realized that America is no place for a true black man, like Garvey said, an ambitious Negro will not be happy in America. I get so tired of people excusing racism, and how poor our race is because of saggy jeans, N Word and 50 Cent. The black educated always scapegoating for institutionalzied racism.

  16. Mizzday Says:

    Bobby, if you don’t feel like an American that that is your personal problem. Go back to Africa and see if you like it there. However, you have to realize that due to one drop theory, there are many people who have been lumped under the same umbrella regardless of ancestry, culture. 500,000 people were brought to these shores as slaves. Our numbers grew naturally and also in part by the large number of darker skinned american indians who were disenfranchised and classified as black for the sole purpose of taking their land. All dark skinned people are not African or majority African. I would impress upon you to take a DNA test before you decide to move anywhere. Why would a narrangansett, shinnecock, montauk, wampanoag, desire to settle in Africa just because people like donald trump and yourself have decided that anything dark skinned and not latino is black?
    Furthermore, why would you expect Barack Obama to agree on the reparations issue being that he is the descendant of WHITE SLAVE OWNERS? Is he supposed to benefit based on his brown skin? No. This is what happens when people force others under the same umbrella. When are you going to learn? Black America tried this with latino’s up until recently when that community has decided that they aren’t black and actually share no kindred spirit to black America. See yourself as an individual and stop worrying about collectivism. It does not work.

  17. Negro Please Says:

    Afrocentric people from around the world need to come together to support this movement. We need ships, crews, and good lobs and housing when we get there. This is our destiny. It’s time we broke free of the chains that the white devils and the jewish masters have locked us up with.

    Glory be to Barack Obama, Rev. Farakahn, and Oprah who will lead us there.

  18. Stephanie D Says:

    I am a single mother of one and looking to move to Ghana in 2011. I have lots of questions and would love to consult with you. Please email me at… I look forward to speaking with you

  19. BlackPride » Blog Archive » Womanist Musings: African vs African American Says:

    […] in South Africa?  How about when we transport to worker castles to see a unpleasant story and are mocked and taken advantage of?  What about a comprehensive rejection of a right to take on a tag Black, given a several hues, […]

  20. Kwesi Incoom Says:

    It very nice to hear there are still Good And Potential Blacks people who think of Africa and still want to come back home…Am from Ghana and Am always wondering if one day our dear brothers in America will think and plan of coming home cos when i look at this racist thing on Television…I feel so sad and Go like Ahh..WE HAVE A VERY SAFE AND HEALTHY EVERY THING THAT A HUMAN BEING DESERVE TO LIVE WITH!!! WHY DON’T YOU FIND YOUR WAY HOME…WE ARE EVER READY TO RECEIVE YOU AND EVEN LEARN MORE FROM YOU All.

  21. Emmanuella Nmejor Says:

    I really love yr comments kwesi. Askin our african blood 2 com home is as good as anytin in the world

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  24. malcolmaaron1 Says:

    I’m an African-American who has been living in Ghana for almost 10 years straight. I wouldn’t say that there’s really a “Back to Africa” spirit here, as most Ghanaians I met find it hard to understand why an African-American would genuinely want to come to Ghana for an extended stay, anyway, as America is seen more or less like a paradise. The spirit here is more like welcome, give me money and take me with you when you go.

    I’ve also been to the Ghana Immigration Service in Accra, and I didn’t receive what I would call an encouraging response in trying to attain Ghanaian citizenship.

    All of that being said I think its the responsibility of every single African-American to at least visit Ghana, Ivory Coast or some other West African country that they likely descended from, and I am in the process of setting up an organization to bring such about.

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