Jamestown, Ghana

I got to see some more gritty urban scenes yesterday instead of the mostly middle-class or expat areas I’ve been hanging out in up till now. I went down to the old British village of Jamestown, where there is a small slave fort and a very picturesque lighthouse with nice views. I had seen a poster in the hotel advertising a walking tour of Jamestown for 25 cedis, so I decided to sign up for it. Here’s the lighthouse from the road:

Jamestown lighthouse

Upon my arrival, I met Humphrey Aryee, the tour guide. Humphrey is a teacher in the village school. He runs the tours to raise money to support the school, and presumably thereby his own salary. He seems like a very devoted and energetic guy; as it happened I ended up giving him significantly more than his announced 25 cedi fee. It was a heck of a tour. He told me to come back at 2:00, when the tour would begin, so I shuffled off to eat rice and sauce and reload on water. Upon my return, we started off by walking down a set of stairs behind the lighthouse and into a village built almost entirely of recycled wood and sheets of corrugated tin. This was the fishing village of Jamestown, home to about 5,000 people. Here’s a photo taken from the stairs:

Jamestown fishing village 2

The fishermen produce a product that almost everybody in Ghana uses – dried small fish, either sardines or mackerel or one of a number of other types of fish that we would call “bait fish” in the American fishing industry. Sun-dried or smoked, they are a very common admixture in sauces served over rice or tapioca paste (fufu). Probably the single largest source of protein in the ordinary Ghanaian’s diet. Here’s a picture of smoking and sun-drying fish:

Drying fish smoking fish

However, most of the produce is sold through middlemen. One development project has been to build a fish market so the fishermen’s wives (women do most of the market selling here, as in Togo) can sell directly to consumers. They also apparently have a marketing cooperative, technical assistance by Canadian development assistance. Sort of thing Peace Corps does in other places. Here’s the new fish market, complete with concrete floors, washing station, and political advertisements:

Fish market

We passed a place where the canoes were being constructed and I could get a look at the way they are made. The keel is a hollowed-out log, and then the sides and thwarts are sawn boards caulked with tar. I’m sure that Horatio Hornblower would have approved of their construction methods:

Canoe under construction 2 Canoe under construction 1

They like to put flags on their boats. I spotted this boat putting out to sea:

American fishing boat

He was heading west, but it would take an intrepid seaman indeed to take an open boat to America from here. I also saw this flag looming up over some houses but I didn’t check to see who was flying it:

Pirate flag

Speaking of piracy, looming over the village was another slave fort, James Fort, established by the British in 1673 in competition with the Danish fort at Christianborg, on the other side of modern Accra, and a small Dutch establishment in between. Like Elmina and Cape Coast, these three castles are in sight of each other. In fact, the Dutch Fort Crevecoeur is only about ten blocks from James Fort, just before the Anglican cathedral on the high street. Kind of like if you have a MacDonald’s on one corner, you will probably have a KFC or a Burger King on the other corner. Anyway, James Fort was a minor post in the British commercial empire here, but still many thousands of people passed through its “door of no return” on their way to Jamaica or wherever. After the era of the slave trade, Jamestown remained a British outpost. In the era of direct British colonial rule, James Fort was a prison, and Kwame Nkrumah was imprisoned here (for political activism) when he was elected Prime Minister of Ghana in 1953. Here’s the fort as seen from the village:

James fort 2

After passing through the fishing village, we climbed back up the bluff and walked through the more middle-class neighborhood. Saturday is the traditional day for funerals, and we passed several funeral processions in the streets. Apparently, the tradition is that the people carry the body of the deceased through the streets, with chanting and drumming and other sorts of demonstrations, to the church, and then from the church to the graveyard. We met this bunch of quite warlike-looking folks on the street:

Funeral procession 2

The guy in the background was holding what looked like a percussion-cap carbine of the mid-19th century.

And this lot of young people who were running in step and chanting in tribute to their friend who had died. According to our guide, who knew the deceased, he was only 30 years old and a devoted runner and sportsman:

Funeral procession 4

Near our starting point, we passed two historic buildings. The first is the Sea View Hotel, where Richard Wright holed up to write his very depressing travelogue on Ghana, Black Power, and where Maya Angelou and her husband lived during their stay in Ghana. It is a dump, there’s no getting around it. It was a dump in 1955, apparently, and has not improved since. But a picturesque and historic dump:

Sea View Hotel 1

The other is the palace of the traditional King of Jamestown. In classic British style, they didn’t depose the monarch and take direct rule, instead making sure that the person seated on the stool was willing to go along with whatever they wanted. In India, this actually led to a proliferation of maharajas, as soon as some local power figure realized that a nice pension and a whole lot of deference was available if he could convince a British District Commissioner that he was a traditional monarch. I didn’t enquire if this was the case here – he is legitimate now, and that’s all that concerns the people of the town. One thing he has done is set up the space in front of his house as a soccer field for the local kids:

King of Jamestown palace

In French colonies, traditional rulers like the Mogho Naba in Ouaga had to fight for their legitimacy. The French were much more “republican” in their approach to authority and undermined or actually deposed and arrested many local rulers.

We returned to our starting point and I clambered up the lighthouse stairs (dangerously rusted, but who’s checking?) to take in the view. A little hazy, but you can see quite a bit from up there. Gives you an impression of the size and complexity of this city, from the skyscrapers downtown to the crowded neighborhood of shacks where the fishermen live:

Jamestown lighthouse interior Jamestown lighthouse view 1 Jamestown lighthouse view 2 Jamestown lighthouse view 3 Jamestown lighthouse view 4 Jamestown lighthouse view 5

A very interesting day, and anybody who is visiting Accra would enjoy Humphrey’s tour. As long as stinky fish don’t bother you too much…


2 thoughts on “Jamestown, Ghana

  1. That one boat in the middle distance seems to be flying a Belgian flag. Any connection, or do they just collect flags from wherever?


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