Monday, September 28, 2009

Live Blog: Slave Castle Reflections

This is a live blog of the Slave Castle Reflection Explorer Seminar. Many of the excursions included visits to Elmina or Cape Coast castles, which were holding places for slaves before they were taken on the transatlantic journey to "The New World." These people were starved, beaten, raped and shackled at the castles, and visiting them can be an emotionally taxing experience. This seminar gave students the chance to process their feelings and reflect on how the seeing the castles has changed their outlook on modern instances of slavery.

7:58—The reflection’s going to start in a couple of minutes… there are roughly 25 students here so far, in addition to a few faculty and staff members. Living Learning Coordinator for Diversity Ana Barraza Gonzalez will be moderating the discussion.

8:00—Ana has begun. One of the counselors, Pat Larsen, is here also to help students process their emotions. One of the students, Ashley, has begun talking about her experience at Elmina Castle and how it made slavery more real to her. She spoke of the Room of No Return, so named because it was where slaves passed through to be loaded onto slave ships, never to step foot on African soil again.

8:04—Another student, Victoria, is speaking about how it made her feel more connected to her heritage as a black person… she said that while her family is from Barbados, and she has never felt connected to Africa, but when she arrived at the castle she felt her African ancestry for the first time. She said it was very difficult for her to go into the dungeons.

8:10—Global Nomad, Tonya Phillips, said when she walked into Cape Coast castle she couldn’t breath. It was such a intensely personal experience for her. She said the tour guide left her with this question at the end of her visit. ‘The shackles are broken, we don’t have slavery anymore, but is slavery really dead?’ She said there is still a need to talk about and deal with the ramifications of slavery, which she said are still felt today.

8:14—One student spoke about how overwhelming it was to find that the smell of death remained in the dungeons remains, centuries later. Ana has responded by talking about how difficult it is to grasp what it must have been to be locked up down there.

8:19—Victoria said it made her want to know what her real familial name is beyond the European name her family now uses; she wants to know where her people are from. She said she’s always had a bit of an identity crisis just from being black, but being there impressed the importance of finding out her families past. She said it made her wonder, "Am I Ghanaian? Did my people come through this place?"

8:20—One student had commented about how stunning it was that at Elmina the church was built right above the slave dungeons. He said the hypocrisy was impossible for him to understand.

8:25—A group discussion is going on about the treatment of the female slaves, who were often raped by the governor and soldiers in the rooms above the dungeons. If found to be pregnant before they were put on a slave ship they were freed, but if the pregnancy wasn't discovered until after the journey began, they were thrown overboard.

8:35—Pat said she reflected on how the people of Ghana are still so proud of their country even after centuries of exploitation. She said it’s really amazining that they are so hopeful even though they have only been under free democratic rule for only 50 years.

8:37—One student is talking about how she wondered if her family was involved in enslaving people. She talked about how she didn’t know, but she has to deal with the fact that it was a possibility.

8:42—The conversation has now turned to instances of slavery that exist in the modern world… namely human trafficking and child soldiers. They are also discussing how illegal immigrants in the United States are usually paid far below the minimum wage, and how that’s a form of slavery. It has raised the question about the extent to which slavery still exists in America, not just remote parts of the third world.

8:48—The students are now talking about what they want to tell their family and friends about their experience at the castles when they get home. The general consensus is that they think it’s something everyone should experience in their lifetime. They say no book can do justice to the era, and evoke the emotions that being in the castles did.

8:56—One student said that slavery was born out of rampant desire for comfort and luxury… subjugating other people to make their lives easier. She said that realization caused her to ask herself, “What are the ways in which my own desires are perpetuating bondage for people around the world?”

9:01—Ana is wrapping up the discussion now, and encouraging the students to continue to talk about this subject amongst themselves in the days and weeks to come.

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