Historic Cape Coast was a fishing village when the Portuguese first arrived there in the 1500. They named the place Cabo Corso after the short promontory that formed the fishing cove. The castle was built by the Dutch in 1650, and expanded by the Swedes in 1652. The English changed the name to Cape Coast after they captured the castle in 1664. Cape Coast developed around the castle and the slave trade. Photo by Michael L. Tuite.
The Ancestress, Alice Ewurafua Baoye Arthur, at home with her great grandchildren in Hayward: Anthony Adeyinka DaSilva, JR., (far Left), Miles DaSilva, next to the Ancestress, Christiana Folarinde DaSilva and Malik DaSilva. Photo by Kenneth Walker.
In 2007, Alice Arthur returned to Cape Coast after a three year sojourn in the U.S. In the picture are the Ancestress, (second from left), Auntie Araba, (far left), Maame Yohan Coker, (next to the Ancestress), Dr. Folarinde Christiana Harrison (in eye glasses), Mrs. Sally Adjei (nee Harrison), second from right and Ms. Rebecca Buckman, far right. Photo by James Adetokunbo Harrison.
By Babatunde Harrison
In the ancient African empires of West Africa, the Griot was the custodian of the histories and genealogies of the people of West Africa. Through epic songs and poetry, the Griot told and preserved the traditions and memories of ancient Mali, Songhai and Ghana..
Since the arrival of the Portuguese, the Cape Coast was gradually transformed into a slave port and emporium where Africans were bought and sold in exchange for gold, liquor and gun powder and then exported to the plantations of the Americas.
At the spot where the Portuguese landed stands the Cape Coast slave castle dungeon, built by the Dutch, English and Portuguese, which served as a brief tortuous warehouse, housing millions of African captives before exportation.
The Cape Coast Castle is a symbolic archival story of the African in the Diaspora. There are not enough Griots to tell the stories of the brave men, women and children who lived through the pain and stench of the dungeon castle.
This castle holds millions of intangible horror stories. And, annually, thousands of descendants of the millions gone return to pass through this dungeon to imagine and relive the horrors their ancestors.
There are Caucasian historians who make believe and tell tales that slavery came to an end at some dubious point in history. With tongue in cheek, the same historians tell the awesome tales of how the French, the British, the Germans, the Portuguese and the Spanish congregated in Berlin in 1844 and carved out portions of Africa as colonial possessions.
There are Griots, colonial and post-colonial Griots, whose perspectives on the colonial question were offensive to some European minds.. It took decades for Africans to emancipate from the mental slavery conditioned by colonialism.
I am a Griot after the generation of James Kwegyir Aggrey, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Kwame Nkrumah, nationalists from the colonial regime of British West Africa.
I was born in the Gold Coast, now Ghana, at the end of World War II, and my father, Albert Akinola Harrison, was the son of Emmanuel Jenkins Harrison of Lagos, Nigeria, who was a lawyer and soldier in the British West Africa Frontier Force.
My mother, Alice Ewurafua Baoye Arthur, was a trained seamstress and a daughter of the Royal Abadze Egyir Dwin Family of Ambrado Yard, Cape Coast.
Diaspora, is defined as “the movement, migration, or scattering of people away from an established or ancestral homeland or people dispersed by whatever cause to more than one location.”
Labia Harrison, my great grandfather, was kidnapped in the early 1800s by Fulani slave raiders and sold to a Portuguese slave ship bound for the Americas. The ship was intercepted by the British Navy and diverted to Sierra Leone where the captive Africans were freed at Freetown.
In Freetown, he joined the Anglican Church and trained as a tailor. He later returned to Nigeria, settling in Abeokuta and Lagos. Labia Harrrison had an only son, Emmanuel Jenkins Harrison, after whom I was named.
He attended Christian Mission Society (CMS) Grammar School; entered Government service from 1901 to 1911 as a clerk in the Judicial Department until he went to England to study law.
According to the. (The Red Book of West Africa), he was called to the Bar (Middle Temple) in 1911.
He had five children and several grandchildren, including Dr. Wole Soyinka, the Nobel Laureate.
I consider myself the family Griot because I am a trained journalist, and the first born and only male of the five children of my father’s branch of the Harrison family. The Harrison family is dispersed in the Diaspora, in England and America and being an Abadzenana of Cape Coast I see the African in the Diaspora as kith and kin.