Asafohene Jan Kwaw and Asafokyereba Angelique McKay in a photo with pilgrims at Ghana's KIA

It was a beautiful and colourful sight to behold at Ghana’s Kotoka International Airport when 22 sons and daughters of the Bahamas Islands landed on African soil for the first time on 29th February 2024. Their purpose; to see the land of their origin, step their feet where their forefathers lived, and have a complete cultural immersion with Ghanaians in general but with the Ahantas in particular.

The evening breeze was at its best. The harmattan, which had lived with the Ghanaian people since December 2023, had just started bowing out. The nation was expecting a visit from early rains in the coming days.

At the airport to welcome the first-time returnees was an entourage led by Angelique F. McKay [Queen Mother Asafokyereba] and Christopher Davis [Asafohene Jan Kwaw], both Bahamian-Ahantas. The two have, since 2022, devoted their time, energy, creativity, finances, and their very lives to seeing that the citizens of the Bahamas know Ahanta as their original homeland and visit this notable tribe in Ghana’s Western Region to see and feel for themselves the roots and legacy of who they truly are.

On this rather cool evening, Angelique McKay and Chris Davis cannot hide their excitement as they welcome their brothers and sisters from home, in the Bahamas, to their original home, in Ghana. As the two royals place welcome sashes made of ‘Kente’ [an expensive local hand-made cloth, worn by royals or by regular folk on really important occasions] around the necks of the returnees, they say to them, “Welcome back to the Motherland.”

In the coming seven days, these first-time returnees would travel round the country, exploring carefully selected sites, monuments, institutions, and cities in a well-designed immersive cultural experience planned and executed by the Cultural Experiences Productions [A Bahamian all-women-led company that has been managing cultural projects globally from 2008], and Goldcoast Ahanta Travel and Tours in partnership with the University of the Bahamas North Campus and the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Bahamas.

This, though, has been long coming.

“The designing and execution of this pilgrimage started in March of 2022. I started planning the pilgrimage for the inclusion of students of the University of the Bahamas ... My mind started ticking to attract persons from the Bahamas to Ahanta, and persons from the diaspora to Ahanta, who needed to be aware of this Ahanta warrior, and needed to know where our people came from,” says Asafokyereba Angelique McKay.

Asafohene Jan Kwaw (Christ Davis), Asafokyereba Angelique McKay, and Honourable Stephen Kenya Arthur welcoming Bahamian pilgrims at KIA

From Whence It All Cometh

Ghana announced the ‘Year of Return’ in 2019. According to Ghana's Ministry of Tourism, around a million people from the diaspora visited the country during the first year of the programme. Christopher Davis, a historian and curator from the Caribbean Islands of the Bahamas was among them, conducting research for his book "Black Rinse." Chris's goal in that study was to chronicle the history of the famed Junkanoo Festival, which is the most well-known celebration in the Caribbean and several regions of the US.

Chris got in touch with two very important people who were invaluable to his research; 33-year-old Stephen Kenyah Arthur, then an Assembly Member in Butre in the Ahanta Municipality of Ghana’s Western Region, and Angelique McKay, Programmes Manager for Cultural Experiences Productions and known as the Junkanoo Goddess in the Bahamas. The trio forged a strong bond with their shared interest and passion in seeing their Black brothers liberated mentally, culturally, and economically.

“He [Chris] kept asking people [about] the one person they knew who would do anything for Junkanoo, who would kill for Junkanoo, who would die for Junkanoo, and everyone kept giving him my name. So eventually, he reached out to me, and he started to tell me he’s been doing research on Junkanoo, and he found out that Junkanoo was the name of a man called Jan Kwaw in Western Ghana, and if I would be willing to come with him in March of 2022. My response to him was, ‘When do we leave?’ It wasn’t a matter of ‘if,’ but ‘when.’” Angelique gleefully describes her meeting with Chris.

And so it happened that Angelique and Chris came to Ghana and worked with local historians of the Ahanta tribe with Stephen as their liaison to uncover the origins of the people of the Bahamas and their linkage to Ahanta.

Christopher’s research discovered that more than five centuries ago, the first three slave ships that left the shores of Ghana came from Ahanta, in Ghana's Western Region, and docked in what is now known as the Caribbean Islands of Bahamas. Through his study, he was able to prove that the well-known Junkanoo Festival originated in Princess Town, Ahanta, and was named after Jan Kwaw, a son of the Ahanta Land who was abducted by slave owners.

A statue of Jan Kwaw, the Ahanta Warrior after whom the Junkanoo Festival in the Bahamas is named

First a Goddess, Now A Queen-Mother

Angelique’s first visit to Ahanta was a profound journey of self-discovery and cultural re-connection. She recounts the impact of the first visit on her life this way, “The first time I landed at the Airport in Ghana, I realized that I was walking into my destiny.” Renowned as the Junkanoo Goddess in the Bahamas, Angelique says Ahanta felt like home. “I will say time and time again that I don't need a DNA test to know that I am Ahanta. When I stepped foot in Ahanta I felt it. The blood memory made me know that I am Ahanta,” she stressed with excitement in her voice.

“People who know me know the one topic that I stay clear of is the topic of slavery; it makes me too emotional and it takes me too long to gather myself again from the anger and heavy burdens of emotions associated with slavery. So having walked that walk to see where my ancestors were plucked from and brought to this side, it had a serious impact on me and it makes me feel everyone on this side needs to take a trip back to the motherland to see from whence we came,” she added

With her background in Cultural Project Development, having been a key member of the Junkanoo Commandos and spearheaded their performances all around the world, being the Programmes Manager for the Cultural Experiences Productions, Angelique made a public declaration and a personal commitment to assist in the development of the cultural heritage tourism project for the Ahanta land.

This has since become the drive of her life. Indeed, that first trip to Ahanta was a meeting with her destiny.

Side Note: It was at this event that she was crowned Queen Mother Asafokereba of Ahanta as Chris became Asafohene Jan Kwaw II.

Queen Mother Asafokyereba and Nana Eziaku of Agona, acting President of the Ahanta Traditional Council.

Let the Preparations Begin

Preparations for the pilgrimage began earnestly. Being the boisterous, energetic, and passionate sanguine she is, Angelique set out to design an immersive cultural experience that would become a regular pilgrimage to Ahanta for Bahamians and other Africans in the diaspora immediately after she returned to the Bahamas. “Three days after I came back from my first trip to Ghana. I called the Vice President of the University of the Bahamas, Dr Ian Strachan. With all my excitement, I said to Dr Strachan ‘The students of the university need to be a part of this pilgrimage, they need to be able to experience Ahanta, they need to see where we came from.’”

Angelique had worked with Dr Strachan on other projects in the past. So, it was easy to convince him about a regular feature in the university’s calendar where students would spend 3 to 4 weeks in Ghana to learn about their roots and the period credited to their degrees.

This is how Dr Strachan describes that initial interaction, “I happen to have had previous knowledge of some of the key people, especially Angelique Mckay who were spearheading these trips to Ghana. She and I had a conversation and I just felt that it would be a wonderful thing to be able to expose our students and faculty to such an opportunity to be able to go back to the motherland of Africa and reconnect along various lines; whether they be professors or artists or planners, people in various disciplines, as well as, of course, our students for educational benefits, and for the special benefits of [establishing] interactions between institutions in Ghana and institutions in the Bahamas.”

By April of that year, Angelique had prepared a document and began seeking partnership with Cultural Experiences Productions and Goldcoast Ahanta Travel and Tours, headed by Honourable Stephen Kenya Arthur.

It was during this period that the Honourable Minister Ginger Moxey, Minister of Grand Bahama and the Bahamas Representative for Sister Cities played a significant role in the signing of a sister-city agreement with Ahanta. The event was another colourful celebration that happened in June 2023 amid a downpour of rain. Minister Ginger delivered a powerful speech that captured the importance of the agreement to Bahamians. Angelique was the Project Manager on this.

As part of that trip, the Junkanoo Commandos set foot on African soil and performed on the continent for the first time ever.

Minister Ginger Moxey speaking at the Sister-City Agreement ceremony in June 2023

In December 2023, Angelique was appointed Head of Department for the newly-created Orange Economy Unit in the Bahamas, which is designed to expand the reach of professionals in the Orange Economy industry, to assist in allowing them to go beyond our borders. She secured the support of the Bahamas Ministry of Economic Affairs for the pilgrimage.

The pilgrimage that she had started planning in March 2022 fell right into her new role and that gave her more gusto to see it through.

Calls were made for interested pilgrims through media promotions and planning was intensified.

Honourable Stephen Kenya Arthur, Logistics Coordinator for the pilgrimage and Manager for Goldcoast Ahanta Travel and Tour, local partners in Ghana, describes the planning period, “Queen Mother is the magic behind this pilgrimage planning. She and I would have Zoom meetings after she had put the programme together, identifying the various sites based on the history of the sites, the time between the various locations, and the accommodations.  It was a lot of meetings with various stakeholders. We had so many ideas and plans, we had to make several adjustments during the course of the planning to ensure that things ran smoothly once the guests arrived in the country.”

A promotional artwork by Cultural Experiences Productions for the pilgrimage

And So Began the Voyage

From the 1st to the 9th of March 2024, the group of 22 Bahamians, among them students, doctors, lawyers, academicians, artists, researchers, and families, embarked on a poignant journey through Ghana, visiting significant sites of the transatlantic slave trade and African resilience, forging partnerships along the way.

Starting at the Nkyinkyim Museum in Ada Foah of the Greater Accra Region, moving through Elmina Castle in the Central Region, and exploring the Western Region's history with the Ahanta tribe, they engaged deeply with the painful past and the strength of African ancestors. Stops at Bisa Aberwa Museum and landmarks like Cape 3 Point, Forts Metal Cross, and Batenstein in Butre highlighted stories of resistance and survival. The journey, culminating in Accra at the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park, was a powerful homage to the African spirit, celebrating cultural heritage and the unbreakable resilience of the African Diaspora.

For pilgrims like Tamara Ducombe, a Health Researcher, this voyage represented a chance to heal the scars of the past and forge a path towards a brighter future. By immersing herself in the rich history and traditions of Ghana, she hoped to pay homage to her ancestors whom she had been told about since her basic school days and find healing in the interactions and relationships she would form.

“As a child of the African diaspora, there has always been the lingering question of how we got to where we are today. I always go back to that child that was separated from their parents, and even though that child is separated, they always have that question of why they were separated from their parents. Nonetheless, the love is still there. They always have those lingering questions, and they are always searching for answers to allow them to heal emotionally. For me, when I say healing, that is the perspective that I am coming with, just wanting to understand these stories,” she said, with tears in her eyes and her voice almost quivering.

But it was in Butre, at Fort Batenstein, that their journey reached its emotional zenith. Here, they stood on hallowed ground, where the echoes of history reverberated through time. As they paid homage to the Great Ahanta King Badu Bonsu II, they felt a profound connection to their ancestral homeland.

In Princess Town, the pilgrims embraced the legacy of Jan Kwaw, the legendary Ahanta Warrior who had defended his people with unmatched courage. Amidst culinary delights and cultural celebrations, they honoured his memory, knowing that his spirit lived on in the hearts of those who refused to be silenced.

It was a surreal experience for Tamara. In her own words, “We've heard about the stories of Junkanoo and who we thought he was. The stories that were told to us were through a very Eurocentric lens, so it painted a totally different picture as to who this person was. And this Junkanoo person was actually the birth of a very important cultural tradition in the Bahamas. Just visiting here and hearing the stories through the lands of the people in the Ahanta region, I think not only is it educational, but essentially, I think what we have been told was not, in fact, true or accurate.”

Pilgrims listening to a tour guide at the Nkyinkyim Museum

The Academic Exchange

This visit included a delegation from the University of The Bahamas (UB) North Campus specifically purposed to meet with four major Ghanaian universities to discuss the potential of academic marriage.

Honourable Stephen contacted the universities ahead of the pilgrimage. “I was the one who arranged and attended all the meetings at the various universities. We planned to meet four Universities in Ghana, with the leadership of UB North Campus- Dr Andrew Moxey, Dr Letereh Munnings, Tanquest Hannah, Ambassador at Large for Culture and History, Dr Michael Pateman, and Nana Jan Kwaw II,” he explained.

The delegation met with a faculty from the Takoradi Technical University, the University of Cape Coast, Ashesi University, and the University of Ghana and covered subjects like business, environmental and climate sciences, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), humanities, social sciences, and cultural studies.

Dr Leterah Munnings is the Director of Institutional Collaborations, Leadership, and Global Studies at UB North. According to her, "We think that creating strong international collaborations is not simply about expanding our reach, but about fostering meaningful connections that transcend borders.”

And, yes, it was a crucial strategic part of this pilgrimage. According to Dr Strachan, the discussions with Ghanaian universities will, hopefully, lead to exchange programmes between Ghanaian and Bahamian universities.

“My plan is to actually create many more partnerships. That is a part of the agenda for the travel. We are going to a number of institutions, including the University of Ghana. So that we can have some of our students come and spend a semester abroad and our faculty can come up with collaborative projects. So that even the very trip that is taken, the pilgrimage that is taken, can be something students can do for credits which can count towards their degree,” he illuminated.

Bahamian delegation in a photo with faculty of the University of Cape Coast in Ghana

An End, Yet a Beginning

According to Asafokyereba Angelique McKay, who is the helm of affairs for the pilgrimage, the intention is to conduct the pilgrimage twice a year with large groups, while also providing opportunities for smaller groups to experience either the same pilgrimage or a modified version at different times.

She mentioned that although the cap for this first trip was set at 20 persons due to logistical constraints, there has been interest from individuals who couldn't be accommodated. She aims to market the pilgrimage to the African diaspora community with connections to Western Ghana and the Ahanta Region, as well as to people of colour who may not have direct ties but can still benefit from the experience.

Honourable Stephen believes that the trip was a great success. According to him, “The trip went very well. We were able to follow our itinerary almost to the exact plans. The feedback we got from everyone was awesome. They did not want to leave. Some of them asked when we would do this in another region of Ghana so that they could sign up.”

Angelique shares the same sentiments. “Looking back on this pilgrimage, it was worth every sleepless night, every bit of agonizing stress. And if I have to do it all over again, knowing what I do, I will do it all over again because I believe that my creator put these ideas in my head and that I am guided by my ancestors,” she said.

The 22 who returned to Ahanta have returned to the Bahamas. They know now that they have two homes. With the recent signing of a visa waiver agreement and the appointment of Bahamas' first High Commissioner to Ghana, the future between the two nations looks brighter than ever. Citizens of both countries stand on the precipice of a new era of cooperation and collaboration, where the bonds of friendship forged on this journey will serve as the cornerstone of a stronger, more united Black African-Caribbean community.

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DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.