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Routes of Remembrance

Refashioning the Slave Trade in Ghana

Over the past fifteen years, visitors from the African diaspora have flocked to Cape Coast and Elmina, two towns in Ghana whose chief tourist attractions are the castles and dungeons where slaves were imprisoned before embarking for the New World. This desire to commemorate the Middle Passage contrasts sharply with the silence that normally cloaks the subject within Ghana. Why do Ghanaians suppress the history of enslavement? And why is this history expressed so differently on the other side of the Atlantic?

Routes of Remembrance tackles these questions by analyzing the slave trade’s absence from public versions of coastal Ghanaian family and community histories, its troubled presentation in the country’s classrooms and nationalist narratives, and its elaboration by the transnational tourism industry. Bayo Holsey discovers that in the past, African involvement in the slave trade was used by Europeans to denigrate local residents, and this stigma continues to shape the way Ghanaians imagine their historical past. Today, however, due to international attention and the curiosity of young Ghanaians, the slave trade has at last entered the public sphere, transforming it from a stigmatizing history to one that holds the potential to contest global inequalities.

Holsey’s study will be crucial to anyone involved in the global debate over how the slave trade endures in history and in memory.

272 pages | 15 halftones, 1 map | 6 x 9 | © 2007

African Studies

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Black Studies

History: African History


Routes of Remembrance sets a new benchmark for studies of the slave trade in African and African-American memory. In an insightful ethnography of a major site of diaspora tourism, Holsey reveals the complexity of Ghanaian silences concerning the slave trade, ‘routes’ these through a contested history of European and African-American narratives, and presents a fascinating account of how a new generation reworks this history to create a new diasporic vision.”

Rosalind Shaw, Tufts University

“I thoroughly enjoyed reading this fascinating book. Indeed, it is rare to find such a sensitive account of how people deal with painful memories of the past and the complex social forces that dictate the shape and form that those memories of the past take.”

Jennifer Cole, University of Chicago

"In this thoughtful contribution to discussions on memory, history, and identity, anthropologist Holsey examines the memorialization of the slave trade on both sides of the Atlantic. . . . A powerful entry into understanding African silences on the slave trade. The style is lucid and engaging."


"A complex and unsettling book about slavery that artfully combines historical and ethnographic scholarship. . . . This provocative and engaging book raises the larger question of the narratives black people the world over are telling about themselves."

Edward M. Bruner | Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Table of Contents

Note on Akan Orthography   
Part 1   Sequestering the Slave Trade
1 Of Origins: Making Family, Ethnicity, Nation 
2 Conundrums of Kinship: Sequestering Slavery, Recalling Kin 
3 Displacing the Past: Imagined Geographies of Enslavement    
4 In Place of Slavery: Fashioning Coastal Identity         
5 E-Race-ing History: Schooling and National Identity  
Part 2   Centering the Slave Trade
6 Slavery and the Making of Black Atlantic History                  
7 Navigating New Histories     


Royal Anthropological Institute: Amaury Talbot Prize

Association of Global South Studies: Toyin Falola Africa Book Award

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