The third homecoming summit of Ghanaians in the diaspora was held earlier this month in Accra to celebrate the Ghana diasporeans and commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first 20 West African slaves in the United States of America.
History indeed is always retold during such summits, giving the opportunity to those of us who are not abreast of the general history and particularly the dehumanising slave trade dating back 400 years ago. A glimpse of what happened during those harrowing times is what one sees at both the Cape Coast and Elmina Castles. The humiliating treatment our forebears were subjected to when they were forcibly removed from their environment and sold for pittance to go and labour for Western nations is an emotional one and so could these “going-back-to-roots” visits.
The year-long homecoming celebrations are cherished moments for African-Americans and others who come back to trace their history and family trees, something which is becoming increasingly pertinent lately. It is also a time for them to reflect and see how they can contribute their expertise and resources to help build their ancestral country and for that matter continent.
Amazingly, these brethren, once they get here, get enchanted with the richness and uniqueness of our culture. They embrace and are quick to indulge in our various traditions and customs, sampling them one after another. To them, the year of return is not just a holiday in the sun. It is a deep soul-bonding exercise and they take every step to accomplish that while here. I am elated to know the level of interest these diasporeans have shown and continue to show in our traditions and culture, some of which they want to take on as they come in search of their real identity.
Reportedly, the homecoming initiative has proved so popular that year after year, those in the diaspora come in their numbers to see, hear and engage. This year of return for example, hotels and other guest accommodation in the Cape Coast-Elmina area are said to be fully booked for up to the end of the year. This is good business for the hospitality industry, particularly for those in the Central Region. Equally busy are the traditional leaders in the areas of attraction as they are said to be a port of call and subsequent reference for the diasporean brethren.
It is fascinating to learn that some of them come with their partners and family members from both sides purposely to either renew their marriage vows or get married in the traditional Ghanaian custom. So for such couples, the local chiefs and elders take them through what is expected of them from attire to witnesses to presentations and all the ceremonies that bring the two families together exactly as we do here.
Some others embark on this homecoming trip with the passion to undergo naming or renaming under our customary rites. Naming ceremonies are consequently held just as we do here for the newly born. They adopt Ghanaian names based on the search done tracing their family trees. Our brethren come, they see, they fall in love and are happy to call it their home as they adapt to this new environment, no matter how short the period, enjoying our local foods and wearing made-in-Ghana clothes.
The passion of the “returnees” to trace their roots is commendable. They feel proud to come down and readily present themselves as one of us. Yet this same tradition which they readily welcome here is detested by some of us who would risk their lives to go to Europe and the Americas in search of an elusive better life. That is a story to tell another time.
Thankfully, some Ghanaian professionals who have trained and lived abroad for years are gradually coming back, setting up and putting their expertise to practice to help develop the country. This is evident in the private healthcare system where specialised hospitals, clinics, palliative care, imaging and scan centres, ambulance services and many others have sprung up. Though relatively expensive, it is good to have in our midst available and much-needed quality healthcare services with dedicated specialists for timely interventions. The same goes for some other areas of services.
The focus on the year of homecoming is a laudable idea that must be jealously nurtured by all the allied institutions set up to promote culture and tourism, with heavy support from the Ministry of Tourism. The entire tourism chain, including affordable hotel accommodation, beautiful beaches, well-developed tourist attractions and souvenir shops, should be given special attention not only to create jobs but also to bring in revenue and encourage networking.