In part five of her series, writer Starrene Rhett-Rocque goes off the well-worn tourist path in search of lesser-known attractions during her first-ever trip to Ghana. In addition to a stilt village and a bead factory, she also visited a slave heritage site that caused quite an emotional reaction.
When it comes to visiting Ghana, most people think of Cape Coast Castle, Elmina Castle, or Accra attractions such as Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park or the Labadi Beach. However, there are some unique places and attractions tucked away in the countryside, which in some cases aren’t always easy to find — but worth the time. Here are four of my favorite Ghana adventures that are slightly more off-the-beaten path.
Before you head to the slave castles, check out Assin Manso Park, where you will get a tour and a history lesson about where the slaves were kept just before trekking to the ports at Elmina and Cape Coast Castles. Located about 40 km from Cape Coast and Elmina, it was once the pathway for many slaves coming from northern parts of Ghana and other West African countries to the slave castles. It’s an attraction that the locals keep alive through visitor donations.
While there I stopped by the “Last Bath,” which was literally the last spot where captives were taken before they were auctioned and sent to the Cape Coast and Elmina Castles on foot. While at the Last Bath, slaves, while still in shackles, were inspected for injuries and physical handicaps, bathed, slathered in shea butter and then sold to Europeans. Slaves who weren’t deemed fit were left behind, which meant their fates could go either way; either they were killed or somehow managed to integrate to their new location.
The bodies of former slaves Madam Crystal of New York and Samuel carver found in Jamaica were re-interred here. Their remains were brought in on July 31st 1998 and buried in Assin Manso near the river. Visitors can leave flowers and gifts by their respective graves as acknowledgements. This isn’t a visit that will be easy, especially for people who are highly empathic. Many people are brought to tears or may feel a range of emotions. I felt anger, and grief, especially when I saw and touched the actual former slave shackle that had been recently discovered in the river earlier this year. However, I put things into perspective by realizing that my ancestors were forced to walk a distance that is typically 5-6 hours by car and forced to endure horrors that I can’t even fathom. It was heartbreaking to hear the tales of how slaves were treated, but also liberating in a sense.
Brazil House is a slavery museum that is tucked away in Jamestown, Accra. It’s a memorial for the Tabom people (slaves forced to go to Brazil), who eventually got their freedom and returned to Ghana. There’s not much on the inside other than some photos with self-explanatory information on the walls, but I was able to wander around on my own and get a sense of the place without any assistance. Street art junkies will get an eye full in Brazil House’s courtyard, because there are some cool graffiti murals to gawk at.
It looks more like a big yellow house than a museum, and it’s out of place from the rest of its surroundings, but it’s attended to by a local woman who will accept a 5 cedi entrance fee. The surrounding slum can be alarming because it’s dirty and run down, but I felt fine when I was there. I was with a guide, which is highly recommended and don’t be surprised to notice that the people there will be just as curious about you as you are them. In my case, children often wandered over to stare at me and a woman tried to sell me some wet clothes that had presumably just been washed, but I didn’t feel threatened, especially since the vibe of the neighborhood was festive, with music blasting.
Cedi Bead Factory
The Cedi Bead Factory is easy to miss, but worth the two-hour drive from Accra. It’s nestled in the nook of what appears to be an off-track road in the middle of the small town of Odumase-Krobo, but once you get to the property, you see that there is much productive activity going on. It’s a family business where visitors can learn about those colorful glass beads you see all over Ghana, which have probably been sold by African vendors elsewhere around the world (most likely supplied by the Cedi Bead Factory).
Many of the beads are the products of recycled Coca Cola and Heineken bottles, so visitors who come bearing empty glass bottles are be especially appreciated. The bead-making complicated process includes many steps like pounding, figuring out shapes, sizes, and colors, and an intricate heating process that produces the final results—beautiful beads for amazing jewelry.
There is no entrance fee but I gave my guide a donation of cedis on my way out and I purchased items from the no-pressure gift shop. It is at the gift shop where you will browse the fruits of the bead factory’s labor. There are necklaces, bracelets, bowls decorated with beads, and loose beads on sale for as low as 1 cedi per single bead, 3-5 cedis for bracelets, 10 and 20 cedis for individual necklaces, on up to 30 cedis for complete sets. The people on the premises are laid back and friendly, and will most likely be listening to music as they work.
Nzulezo Village, also known as the Stilt Village, is a cluster of wooden houses situated on stilts at the edge of Lake Tadane. This UNESCO World Heritage site is located near Beyin, which isn’t far from Takoradi, on the west side of Ghana, close to the border of Ivory Coast. The only way to get there is by canoe. This is a journey that I made, but be warned — it’s not for people who are squeamish about water or wooden boats. The canoes were sturdy, and I felt safe because I can swim and wore a life vest. The Nzulezo villagers, who will be your rowers, can swim too and have a lot of experience with this method of travel. You will be in good hands as long as you don’t freak out and rock the boat. For me, the 30-minute ride was relaxing and once you get to the village, you will be given a tour. I stayed long enough to get a tour, meet the chief, donate to the school, and buy a handmade canoe with my mother’s name written on it. The people are welcoming, warm and encourage visitors to stick around, eat and have a good time.
Read more from Starr’s series:
Part 1: Doin’ Accra: Six Ways To Catch Some Culture In Ghana’s Capital
Part 2: Staying Safe In Ghana: A First-Timer’s Tale
Part 3: Shopping In Accra: Five Places To Get Your Bling On
Part 4: Gettin’ Wild In Ghana: 5 Attractions For Nature Lovers
Part 6: Coming Full Circle: Tracing My Roots In Ghana