Black Gold of the Sun: Searching for Home in Africa and Beyond
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At the age of thirty-three, Ekow Eshun—born in London to African-born parents—travels to Ghana in search of his roots. He goes from Accra, Ghana’s cosmopolitan capital city, to the storied slave forts of Elmina, and on to the historic warrior kingdom of Asante. During his journey, Eshun uncovers a long-held secret about his lineage that will compel him to question everything he knows about himself and where he comes from. From the London suburbs of his childhood to the twenty-first century African metropolis, Eshun’s is a moving chronicle of one man’s search for home, and of the pleasures and pitfalls of fashioning an identity in these vibrant contemporary worlds.
them. But there was no one I recognized and, gazing up at the net-curtained windows of the old house, I felt nothing beyond the shallow wash of nostalgia. It seems to me now that the act of departure affects the nature of the place you leave behind. Between leaving and coming back, you change. And because you don’t stay the same, neither does the place to which you return. When Capitein was baptized in Holland, he renounced Africa. What drew him back? Did he accept he’d always be a stranger in
written on notepaper bearing J. W.’s personal crest, a tiger crouching. A catalogue advertising the sale of antique English shooting pistols lay on the floor, along with a children’s atlas illustrated with drawings of angry-looking Russians in fur hats and smiling Negroes wearing loincloths. I heard my mother calling from the floor below. I climbed down the stairs covered with dust and received a scolding. But as I see that scene again in my mind, I imagine myself staying up there for good.
shells and kola nuts, Joseph would have come to the section of the market where dozens of men and women were roped together for sale. Walked to Salaga by northern traders, they stood naked, the welts of beatings dark on their skin, as merchants such as Joseph bartered over their worth. The slave business would have offered no struggle of conscience to him. How could it when it was so common-place? Each year 15,000 men and women were sold at Salaga. Most became domestic servants and joined the
Opuku Frere rose to become Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1800 – an ascension he celebrated by establishing his own house-hold of slaves. The vagaries of the domestic trade threw up other notable figures, not least of whom was John Konny, the ‘Negro Prince of Prussia’. In 1711, Konny, a fifty-year-old African merchant, controlled Cape Three Points, a lucrative trading site on the coast. Its position gave him a local monopoly over commerce. All slaves bought by Europeans, all guns and schnapps
This is where my ancestor was most culpable. The mulatto Joseph de Graft exploited his white parentage to do business with the forts. The lightness of his skin and his Dutch surname enabled him to turn the European belief in African savagery into an advantage over his local black rivals. In this he wasn’t alone. By the close of the eighteenth century, some 800 mulattoes lived around the European trading posts. Many were employed as servants at the forts. Others were independently wealthy, such as