Year of return: 400 years after the transatlantic slave trade

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Year of return: 400 years after the transatlantic slave trade
As February marks Black History month, we take a look at why some African diasporans are choosing to move back to the land of their ancestors centuries after the transatlantic slave trade. – Feb 8, 2020

Known as Ghana’s “Door of No Return,” it was the last step African slaves took on their homeland before being shipped off on slave boats headed to the “New World.”

On their journey across the Atlantic Ocean, slaves were chained together and forced to lie shoulder to shoulder, with little fresh air or water.   

Last year, Ghana marked 400 years since the first slave shipment left Ghana’s coast for the United States. Ghana has a dark history of being one of Africa’s main shipping points for slaves.

READ MORE: (From July 31, 2019) Nancy Pelosi speaks in Ghana about history of slavery, U.S. commitment to African growth

The transatlantic slave trade from West Africa to the Americas lasted centuries. Cape Coast, west of the capital city of Accra, is home to more than 30 dungeons where slaves were held in captivity by European colonies before being transported to the United States, South America and the Caribbean to work on plantations.

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“There’s no way our ancestors could have comprehended that … limbs are going to be cut off, tongues are going to be cut out of their mouths, babies are going to be fed to alligators for bait,” said Afia Khalia, a resident in Ghana. “I’m saying our women are going to be raped repeatedly. And I mean, there’s no way they could have possibly known.”

Khalia was born and raised in Los Angeles and moved to Accra in 2017. She’s part of a movement of people repatriating to Africa in the hopes of better embracing their African heritage and ancestry.

Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo kickstarted a campaign intended to encourage African diasporans to settle and invest in the continent. Dubbed the “Year of Return,” many of African descent flocked to Ghana in 2019 and continue to do so in 2020 for “Beyond the Return.”

“The year of return is 400 years of recognition of enslavement and the history of colonial violence on African peoples’ lives,” said Roberta Timothy, an assistant professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.

WATCH BELOW: (Oct. 3, 2018) U.S. first lady Melania Trump tours ‘slave castle’ in Ghana

Click to play video: 'U.S. first lady Melania Trump tours ‘slave castle’ in Ghana'
U.S. first lady Melania Trump tours ‘slave castle’ in Ghana

In 1619, a ship with 20 African captives landed at Point Comfort in Virginia, ushering in the era of American slavery. This was part of the transatlantic slave trade, a triangular route from Europe to Africa, to the Americas and back to Europe.

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On the first leg, merchants exported goods to Africa in return for enslaved Africans, gold, ivory and spices. The Middle Passage across the Atlantic to the American colonies usually took more than seven weeks.

The Africans were sold as slaves to work on tobacco, cotton and sugar plantations. Those goods were then transported to Europe.

It is estimated that 12 million Africans were transported — and almost two million died — on the Middle Passage, according to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database.

While slavery was abolished in the U.S. in 1865, Timothy says the generational impact still lives on today.

“When you’re trying to understand the impact of transatlantic slavery or African enslavement and colonization … it is the beginnings of anti-Black racism.”

Timothy, who focuses her work on the generational health implications of African/Black and Indigenous communities, says there are health disparities between Black people and other populations.

“And I think people sometimes forget that we didn’t come with generational money, or [that] generational money was taken away from us. Our resources were taken away,” Timothy said.

For Khalia, the move from L.A. to Ghana felt right for her. She works as a massage therapist, is a music artist and has started a non-for-profit with a colleague called H.E.R Collective, which helps continental Africans and Africans of the diaspora to connect and share experiences.

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“I came to Africa and found love … I came to Africa and found another level and layer of myself. It’s like an onion. There are so many layers,” Khalia said. “I’ve broken it down to that nice sweetness in the middle. And I’m still evolving. I’m still growing.”

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