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Opinions of Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Columnist: Seth J. Bokpe

Jamestown, one of the cradles of Ghana’s fight against colonialism

It is a hot, sunny afternoon on Saturday but the crowd is oblivious of the heat. Two gloved boxers, probably in their early teens, throw a flurry of punches. Cheers and jeers rise in unison for and against the two pugilist, until one visits the canvas—a cracked cement floor. That was the end. The winner was carried shoulder high.

Not far away, a group of bare-chested children chase a deflated football, but in no time, they abandon the game for azonto, a Ghanaian dance that has gone international.

Busy folks bob and weave through narrow streets, vendors sell their wares and music flows out of almost every house.

At first glance, it is just another crowded neighbourhood in Accra but in the annals of the country’s history, it is not an ordinary crowded space. This is the popular Jamestown, one of the cradles of Ghana’s fight against colonialism.

The history

Two edifices tower above all other buildings—the James Fort and the colonial-era Lighthouse.

Built by the British in the 17th century, the fort offers great views of the Atlantic Ocean. It served as a prison until recently and there's no chance of entering it, but it's still compelling as a peeling, whitewashed relic days past.

Like the fort, the Lighthouse, built in the 1930s, offered an unrestricted panoramic view of the Accra’s rising skyline and an incredible spot to view the kaleidoscope of colours that fishermen, their canoes and fishmongers can offer.

Jamestown also has in its belly quite a number of boxing gyms where many young people dream of escaping poverty.

An article written by Mr Nat Nuno-Amarteifio, a former Metropolitan Chief Executive, tells the story of Jamestown.

The story of Jamestown began with the erection of James fort by the British in 1673–74. The British fort was the last European trading post to be erected in Accra. It was the smallest of the three forts and was built about one and half miles from the Dutch fort. It stood at a village called Soko owned by the Ajumaku and Adanse clans.

The site for the fort was leased in 1672 to the Royal African Company by the Ga Mantse Okaikoi. King James I of Great Britain granted a royal charter to the company to build the fort and gave permission to name it after himself. Jamestown’s cosmopolitan mix of peoples started literally at its birth.

The British brought slaves and labourers from the Allada kingdom in Nigeria. Allada was a major regional market for slaves and the word Alata, a corruption of Allada, entered the Ga language to describe people from Allada. It survived to identify Yorubas in general. Before the British created Ngleshie Alata there was already in Accra an Alata community residing at Osu. The neighbourhood, Osu Alata, is still in existence. Ga and Fanti workers joined the workforce at James Fort, as artisans and labourers.

Political hotbed

From the struggle against British colonial rule to present, Jamestown has been a hotbed of political activity.

Emmanuel Odarkwei Obetsebi-Lamptey, one of the country’s many intellectuals, was a member of the “Big Six” politicians, alongside Nkrumah, who valiantly fought for and won Ghana’s independence from Britain in 1957.

When Dr Kwame Nkrumah first contested the 1951 elections, Jamestown was among the many communities in Accra Central that voted for him to win the parliamentary seat.

Even today, the buzz of the country’s political season is incomplete without campaign rallies at Mantse Agbona Park—the forecourt of the Jamestown chief’s palace.

The vibrant coastal community is also home to an annual arts and culture festival known as Chale Wote—a blend of youth, artistic work and fashion.

Lost heritage?

In spite of its rich political history, there is a great debate about whether the town still has its heritage intact.

“We don’t have anything we can point to and say that this is the property of the people of Jamestown. We lost everything, from the slaughterhouse, Piccadilly, the Sea View Hotel and many other things that kept us going,” Ms Angela Naadza Sackey, a resident, said.

What remains of the Piccadilly is a church, and the remains of the slaughter house which was demolished on December 19, 1998 is a huge ranch where livestock is sold.

“Our leaders have sold everything. The only thing left now to be sold is the sea. We don’t know what we are leaving for generations yet to come. It is a sad story of our existence as a community.”

But an heir to the Jamestown stool, Nana Kofi Bonsu Bruce, had a contrary opinion.

“We must be proud of our heritage. As individual families, we have lands and other properties that we should be proud of Jamestown is Ga and Ga is Jamestown. Most of the Ga intellectuals you see would trace their lineage to Jamestown now.”

He, however, admitted that the hunger for education among the youth in Jamestown today was not something to be proud of.

“Growing up, education was a competition. People used to fish, go to the slaughter house, work there in the morning to pay for their fees and take care of themselves but the youth have no interest in education.

“It is mostly those of us who have had the benefit of education that are educating our children. Majority of our people don’t care about the education of their children,” he added.

Although present Jamestown has lost its shine, yesterday its valour made it possible to add areas such as Dunkona, McCarthy Hill, Afuaman, Weija, Oblogo, Krokobite and Adjen Kotoku.