This was a difficult book to read. Every page held grief and sorrow mixed with the historical content. If it was the sorrow of the author’s, it was mine, or a combined and collected sorrow, I cannot say for sure; more than likely it was all of the above.
Throughout most of the book I wondered where the author was leading me…surely she would not open up this wound and just leave it to fester after I ended the last chapter, would she? could she? Upon starting the 2nd to the last chapter I was silently pleading with her not to leave me there. I just could not be abandoned in the hull of a slave ship emotionally when I expect so much of myself in the physical world.
The sole academic intent of the book was the examination and exploration of slave routes in Ghana. It is mixed with the author’s exposure of her own vulnerabilties which I found endearing as it did not place “academia” outside of what transpires in our personal lives. I found it very brave and courageous for her to lay herself out as much as she did. At times in tears, anger, indifference…I believe much research from academic scholars would benefit from such open raw honesty.
Hartman is searching for some solid structure and solid recognition of the descendants of slaves on the African shores/rituals/psyche…something as identifiable as the slave forts that remain along the coast of Ghana. During some encounters she comes across as out right accusatory of her host country as continuing to benefit from the proliferation of slavery as a tourist attraction. Even though I would jump at the opportunity to visit the slave castles and the “door of no return”, she has expanded the discourse in my own head as to how and why I want to do so. Even though she does not discover some solid historical piece to fill the emptiness and ambivalence that each African American has to reconcile…being descendants of enslaved people in a country founded on such promise…that warring of two souls that DuBois is so famous for speaking on in his book The Souls of Black Folk, Hartman does discover something even more valuable…something that speaks to the future of all common folk yearning to be free and grounded. Hartman did come in like a skilled surgeon in the last pages of the last chapter and did not leave my wound open oozing puss and for that I’m most grateful.
Something I’m considering doing as a result of this book is burying all my cowrie shell jewelry…a symbollic act that states I will not be buying anymore cowrie shell jewelry for adoration until I can process this all in my own time and mind. I’ve known about the cowrie shells as currency for a few decades now, but she is the first scholar I’ve known to share how it translated to the slave trade itself. 176,000 cowries could purchase a healthy male sold in the 19th century. 176,000 cowries. 176,000 dead sea creatures.