Until the lion has his historian, the hunter will always be a hero.
This is the power of a single story; this is the danger of a single story; that vital fragments of the narrative are eliminated and covered over. Most of history is fallacy, because most of history is one man’s story, his-story. And unfortunately, most of history is the white man’s story.
It would be funny, if it wasn’t so stupidly sad, the perspective of Africa that my friends, my very Caucasian friends from college had. When I told them I was going back home for the holidays, they told me how sad they were they wouldn’t have any access to me.
I said, “We have Wi-Fi where I’m from.”
They told me to take a picture of me riding on my lion.
I said, “We have cars where I’m from.”
They laughed and asked me what would happen to my coffee addiction in Africa?
I said, “We have coffee where I’m from.”
And then they told me to send my greetings to someone’s cousin’s college friend’s family that lived in Zimbabwe.
I sighed, a heavy sigh. The burden of being the only black friend in this circle, a perpetual weight on my shoulder; it was that heavy thing around my neck that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie had tried to warn me about in her book. I said, “Yes, of course I will.” Even though I lived in Ghana, even though Zimbabwe is at the far opposite of the continent. I said, “I used to ride my tiger there all the time when I was younger.”
They laughed, their blue, green, grey eyes shining with awe. How adventurous, they thought. How risky, how primitive. My sarcasm was lost on them, but the thing around my neck was heavy, too tight, squeezing the breath from my throat the longer I sat in that bar with them and heard them say, “Africa” when I said “Ghana.” It was futile, trying to tell them that Africa is not a monolith, that there are more countries in the continent than there are states in the great U.S. of A. They knew what they knew, they were the writers of history, after all. I finished my beer and said my hurried goodbyes, I couldn’t get out of there quick enough.
Where I come from, the air is sea salt and fish. The sounds are loud road noises, trucks vrooming past, their fumes leaking into the air and mixing with the smell of the fish that they were transporting to some other town which didn’t have the privilege to be by the sea. The sights are brown and blue. The brown earth, the brown skinned people milling about, the blue sky above, the blue sea visible from almost any point.
Keta. A town that is alive, a town that is moving, is raging, the sea itself a personification of the town. If Keta were a person, she would be the loud life of the party. She would be the person who never slowed down for a minute during the day, hustling and jostling, grinding. She would be all business with a loud obnoxious laugh and a loud everything. And in the night, she would come even more alive; she was the one that never slept.
Keta never sleeps. Upon my return, I stayed in my family house. I drank coconut water from a coconut and played ludu* with my grandmother—who was quickly losing her sight—under the large shady mango tree. The hens that provided us eggs all year long and would themselves provide a feast for Christmas ran around, clucking and scratching the brown earth. The little children, my cousins and nephews and nieces, they would come back from the local school and drop their bags on the ground and start chasing the hens around.
In Keta, in the town that was alive and never slept, I slowed down. I didn’t get caught up in the hustle and bustle like I had before, when I was younger. I walked the streets as the day bled into nightfall, watching the fishermen repair their nets, watching the school children playing, the hawkers selling everything from underwear to electric gadgets on the streets. And I thought, “I too.”
I too had run around and rolled in the dirt, reckless and free of all care, knowing that Mama would reprimand me and box my ears but that she would wash my one school uniform and it would be good as new by the next morning for school. I too had scurried down to the shore of the river, to tease Papa and laugh till he gave me fish to carry home to Mama for the night’s dinner. I too had bargained with hawkers and gotten sweets for half the price. And I too, had shrieked with my friends, running eagerly into the ocean.
And yet, two weeks of my stay had passed, and I had not visited the ocean. I told myself that it was because the place looked different, that the sea defense that they had built with towering rocks and boulders was too much for me to climb just to get to the sea. But the truth was, my relationship with the sea had changed. I, who had learnt to swim before I could talk, could not brave the waves anymore. When you go across that same ocean, when you learn, like I learnt, the number of people who look just like you that made a tragic journey in boats packed like sardines across the raging sea, when you learn, that more than those who survived the horrific journey, there are those who were cast overboard, considered too weak to make the journey, you cannot look at the sea the same.
The sea of ghosts.
And it would be funny if it weren’t so stupidly sad, that I’d had to go across that ocean myself, to find out our story. And this was the history that they dared to write down. If they dared to write 12.8 million slaves, if this is the white man’s history, then God only knows what the real story is.
I am back home, and yet I don’t know that this is my home anymore. I am detached from my life back across the ocean, tired of the weight of being some sort of international ambassador, teaching the people around me what “African” is. And when did that happen? When did it become my responsibility to teach them? And who made me the poster child for Africanness? There it goes again, the danger of a single story, my singular story, as a generalization for the African experience.
I am detached from my life here as well, there is the family house but there is no Mama, there is no Papa, and though Grandma loves me, she cannot see me, and so when we play ludu and tears stream down my face out of nowhere, she cannot see. And though she loves me, though my Ewe* is not fading, it is taking up an accent that means I have to say things twice before she understands me, and if I need to repeat myself, I’d rather not speak at all.
And one day, on my walk, I go somewhere I never have before. I walk along the sea defense, and I get closer to the sea than I have been in years. I do this because today is no regular day, today is my father’s birthday. A day we never really celebrated when he was alive because Papa was more about giving others joy than receiving joy, because he was always on the ocean, even on his birthday. But I would always rush to him after school, on this special day, and he’d carry me on his shoulders, his body slick with sweat, his muscles rippling with every movement and the smell of fish and bait clinging to him, I’d stick around and give him some of my toffee, and then we’d go home. Mama, would be upset at how late I’d stayed out, but every year I did the same thing, and so she got used to it.
So here I am, walking over the sea defense, slowly. Breathing in the sea salt air and the smell of fish, slowly. The sounds of the town fade behind me as I walk toward a part of this beach stretch I’ve never been to. It’s some sort of fort. I try to think back to what I’ve heard about it, and realize I haven’t heard much, that this story isn’t told. What is this fort, what is this place? How have I seen it off in the distance for so many years and neglected it? My feet make their way to the entrance, and I inhale, slowly, surveying the sight before me. Standing there, I can almost see what it looked like, before. Before the winds and the sea raged against it and crumbled it.
Keta is the place that the great Ghanaian poet Kofi Awoornor wrote about in his poem, “The Sea Eats the Land at Home”. The ocean here is angry, as it should be, eating at everything, destroying settlements, and eroding whatever this building is.
I walk over to the back, and there it is, “Fort Prinzenstein. Built by the Danes in 1784.”
Google is my best friend, and all of a sudden, I am overtaken with curiosity. Filled with a thirst, I must know this place and I must know its story. I do not step in, past the arched and crumbling doorway. I take out my phone and google this place. And Google, this version of history, tells me that the Danes built this fort as a defense against the Ewes in the Sagbadre war. My mind spirals. What war? When? How did my people fight a war that I have never heard of?
I read on. The fort was used later in the slave trade. My stomach turns. And after the slave trade, it was a trade harbor. And now….
I look up from my phone and at this building that is turning into a pile of rubble, and I know that I will never know its entire story, I feel the questions humming in the air. Who were the people here? Who lived here? Who died here? What were their stories and what were their songs? What kept them alive and what made them want to die?
I step in.
On Google, Fort Prinzenstein is listed as a tourist site, but there is no tour guide here to romanticize the treachery that occurred here. There is no souvenir shop right outside selling pleasant little trinkets I could take back to college with me and show my friends that look, this is my history. Fort Prinzenstein is no Elmina Castle; it is no Cape Coast Castle. In our limited knowledge of the effects of the slave trade here on Ghanaian soil, it is the stories of the Ashantis and the Akans* that are shouted loud and proud, if these stories are told at all. It is just me, walking through this hollow dungeon, watching my step, crumbling rock and stone all around me, bird feces and God knows what else permeating the air, and the walls… Dear God, the walls, tally marks.
I place my fingers tentatively on the wall, aware of the filth and germs but more curious. The stone is cool under my touch, the lines etched into them. Who were you? What were you counting down for? Why did you stop? The walls have stains on them, I do not know what. Blood? Feces? Something worse? And what could be worse? These people, Ewe slaves? Is it not the same blood that runs in my veins now? I feel my heart thump louder than ever, I hear it thudding in my ears and I feel my pulse at my very fingertip. There are names and words scrawled into the stone; some I can make out and some in a language I do not understand.
And up, written in bold and plain English, is this.
UNTIL THE LION HAS HIS HISTORIAN, THE HUNTER WILL ALWAYS BE A HERO.
Behind me, the sea is still raging. If I strain my ear enough, I can make out a few shouting fishermen, hear a few cars whizz by on the road. If I follow the sea defense, I can find me way back home. If I were to cross this ocean, I would go back to Austin. And yet I stay here, frozen, feeling everything and nothing at once. I fall to my knees. I do something I haven’t done in forever.
It is not a lengthy prayer, and I have long lost my religion so I do not know who or what I am praying to. Maybe all I am doing is speaking to the ghosts that haunt the air here. I say a word of gratitude, for whoever it was that wrote this on the wall, certain that it was for me; I was meant to find this. And then I weep.
I weep for the war, I weep for all the stories that I was never told, all the stories that will remain trapped in this squalid dungeon and never see the light of day. I weep for this crumbling pile of rock; I weep because it is just a matter of time before it is nothing at all. I weep for the ghosts in here and the ghosts in the ocean and the ghosts that follow me everywhere I go. I weep for Mama and Papa, who gave everything so their only daughter would have a better life, a better story to tell. I weep because while I was out there writing my own story, they were both ripped from this world suddenly, before I could say goodbye. I weep for the homes and the settlements that lie in the belly of the ocean. I weep for my class six textbook, that told me about the Sagrenti war and the Yaa Asantewaa war* but never about the Sagbadre war. I weep for the stories that go untold. I weep, I weep, I weep.
My people say, “ati deka me wo na ave o.” A single tree cannot make a forest. And a single story, a single perspective, does not a comprehensive inclusive history make. For now, I am weeping on the ground of a decaying fort, I am grieving for generations. Who will I be, what stories will I tell when I get the courage to get up from here? I do not know. For now, I weep.
*ludu- a traditional African board game
*Ewe – A Ghanaian dialect spoken mainly by the people of the Volta and Oti regions of Ghana. The clans here bear the name Ewe as well.
*Ashantis and Akans – Ghanaian ethnic groups mainly in the Central and Ashanti regions of the nation.
*Sagrenti war and Yaa Asantewaa war – wars fought by the Akans and Ashantis against the white man, during colonialism in Ghana, formerly known as The Gold Coast.
About the Author: Dzifianu Afi Edoh-Torgah believes “I live to write, I write to live.” She’s an 18 year old student at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana (where she was born and raised), studying Biomedical Science. Dzifianu loves to combine her love for the Arts, and Science. When she’s not obsessively researching something in the library, she’s reading and falling in love with fictional characters, or writing her own characters for others to fall in love with. She’s a chronic story teller, a poet, a content creator and a student leader. Yes, she wears many hats, but Dzifianu believes that she can, and she will have it all.
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