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Retracing a slave route in Ghana, 400 years later

Aug. 25 marks 400 years since the first recorded enslaved Africans arrived in North America to work plantations in English colonies. In the centuries after, European slave traders shipped millions of African men, women and children across the Atlantic Ocean. This photo essay retraces some of the final steps Ghanaians would have taken in their homeland.

Nana Assenso, 68, chief of Adidwan, a village in Ghana's interior, looks on before visiting the grave of his uncle Kwame Badu, in Adidwan, Ashanti Region, Ghana.

Credit:

Francis Kokoroko/Reuters

Nana Assenso stands at the grave of his uncle, remembering the man he loved but also a past that has haunted his family for generations.

Series: 400 years — Slavery’s unresolved history

His uncle was called Kwame Badu, a name that has been passed on through the family in remembrance of an ancestor with that name who was captured and sold into slavery long, long ago.

A grave yard is shown with a man standing looking at a long, rectangular marble tombstone.

Assenso visits the grave of his uncle.

Credit:

Francis Kokoroko/Reuters

"Growing up, I was told the story of two of my great-great-grand-uncles Kwame Badu and Kofi Aboagye who were captured and sold into slavery," says Assenso, 68, the chief of Adidwan, a village in Ghana's interior. He followed the family tradition and named his youngest son Kwame Badu.

The River Pra is shown with a brownish color and a dark green forest on either side.

The River Pra which runs parallel to the Assin Praso heritage village.

Credit:

Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

This month marks 400 years since the first recorded enslaved Africans arrived in North America to work plantations in English colonies. In the centuries after, European slave traders shipped millions of African men, women and children across the Atlantic Ocean. Many died in horrific conditions on the slave boats, while survivors endured a life of misery and backbreaking farm work.

Related: How Africans forgot — and remembered — their role in the slave trade

For some of them, the terrible journey began here, deep inside Ghana. Captured by slavers, they were marched along dirt tracks for 125 miles to slave castles perched on the Atlantic Coast, where they boarded ships for North America. They never saw their homeland again.

A boy is shown on a bicycle riding on a narrow road with thick forest on both sides.

A boy rides a bicycle along a road in Denyase, Ghana.

Credit:

Francis Kokorko/Reuters

From here in Adidwan, the slaves were forced south, passing through the gold-mining town of Obuasi.

Related: A professor with Ghanaian roots unearths a slave castle’s history — and her own

Kwaku Agyei is a pastor and elder in Obuasi. He tells the story of the slave trade to young workers in his neighborhood, the indignity of it mixed with pride in his ancestors.

A man is shown with his hands to his face and wearing a dark blazer.

Agyei tells the story of slave trade.

Credit:

Francis Kokoroko/Reuters

"They captured us because they realized we were very strong," the 71-year-old says. "They sent our ancestors to work on sugar plantations. The slave trade made us realize that the white man was cruel."

But many rulers of West African empires, such as the Ashanti kingdom, whose descendants still live in this part of modern-day Ghana, also profited, selling captured slaves in exchange for guns, cloth, alcohol and other Western manufactured goods.

"Our elders exchanged their children for 'nice things' like matchboxes," Agyei says.

But once again, his pride in his heritage shows through. "I can say our ancestors were the ones who developed America," he says.

A mobile phone with a black and white photograph displayed is shown held by two hands.

Shaibu shows a photograph of his grandfather.

Credit:

Francis Kokoroko/Reuters

Abdul Sumud Shaibu, 50, also lives in Obuasi and tells of his strong ancestors. He shows a photograph of his grandfather that he saved to his mobile phone. "My ancestors were giants," he says. "They were well-built and strong. Look at the height of my grandfather in this picture."

They did battle with slave raiders, he says. In those fights, sometimes they lost. And sometimes they were captured into slavery.

A group of people are shown wearing white and standing ankle deep in a river.

Tourists gather at the Assin Manso river.

Credit:

Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

Near the journey's end in Ghana, the captives were given a last, ritual bath in a river before being sold. Today, the Assin Manso site is a sacred place of remembrance. In this area of mangrove swamps, an image of slaves chained by the feet promises, "Never again."

In the river, 75-year-old New Yorker Regis Thomson sits within circle with five other women from her church and prayed.

"When I think of what my ancestors had to go through ..." the US tourist says, adding that she would go back and tell of her experiences so today's children are made aware of their past. "We have a lot of work to do."

A young boy is shown in the nearground holding a large pan on his head with the ocean and Elmin Castle in the background.

Elmina Castle is seen in the background.

Credit:

Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

After they bathed in the river, the captives were then taken on the final leg of their journey in Ghana, to the last place they'd ever see in their homeland: slave forts on the Atlantic like the Cape Coast and Elmina castles.

A woman is show in a close-up photo smiling with a gold tooth that has a circle shape in the middle.

Asante shows her gold tooth.

Credit:

Francis Kokoroko/Reuters

Saviour Asante, 30, a hairdresser in Obuasi, had given little thought to slave history growing up. That changed with a visit to Cape Coast castle. "I cried the whole day," she says. "It was a very painful experience to hear these stories."

Several long wooden boats are shown in a row on the beach.

British and American flags are among other flags hoisted on fishermen's boats at the Cape Coast Castle.

Credit:

Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

From the castles, where European authorities lived in comfort right above the dungeons that held the slaves, the captured Africans walked through the Door of No Return onto the ships that would take them to America.

A man is shown in the nearground looking off with a six story building with balconies in the background.

A man walks past a torn-down colonial building in Mampong, Ashanti Region, Ghana.

Credit:

Francis Kokoroko/Reuters

By Siphiwe Sibeko and Francis Korokoro/Reuters

Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Kari Howard

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