It is an old custom in Ghana that when a rich merchant was buried, his coffin would be shaped to represent the life he led when he was alive. Hence coffin would be made in the shape of cars, birds, fruits and vegetables, shoes and a host more interesting shapes. It beats being buried in any old plain wooden box. I wonder what shape I would like my coffin to be in. A bank note (from my days in the bank), or maybe a globe, to represent my interest in travelling.
We visited a coffin maker in Tema, to the east of Accra. There were coffins everywhere, and they were beautifully finished, with the interior being padded and completed with shiny silk. I was very impressed.
Ussher Fort, at the eastern end of James Town, is one of three European forts that were built in Accra. Officially all three are closed to public, but Ussher Fort is the only one where you can get a -illegal- tour for a small fee.
Ussher Fort was built as Fort Crêvecoeur by the Dutch in 1649, and started its existence as a trade fort. In the 18th century, it started to play an important role in the slave trade. Where the fort in Elmina was the Dutch Headquarters in the whole of West Africa, the one in Accra was the base for the eastern part of the region. The Dutch here took most of their slaves from the Ashanti region around Kumasi.
In 1782, during a Dutch-British war, the British took over the fort and destroyed it with the canons they took out of the fort, that were brought to the nearby James Fort. In 1786 however, the remains were returned to the Dutch who rebuilt it stronger then ever before. In this period the Dutch remained strong bonds with the local people of so called "Dutch Town", now called Ussher Town. A lot of people still have Dutch familynames and there even is a streetname Van Hien Street, named after a Dutch official Carel Hendrik Van Hien.
In 1862 Fort Crêvecoeur was heavily damaged by an earthquake, and partly reconstructed in the next years. In 1868 it was handed over to the British, because of the end of the slavetrade. They gave it its current name Ussher Fort. Soon they turned the Fort into a prison and they enlargened it to its current size.
After the independency the Fort stayed a prison, until it was closed in 1993. It was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, and slowly they are restoring the building. During this work it is possible to ask some of the workers to show you around and tell about its history. You should bargain about the price. I paid 20.000 cedis for my 30 minutes tour: about $ 2,-. During this tour you can have a look in the old slave cells as well as the prison cells where Dr. Nkrumah also was kept for some years, and walk around at the inner square.
My beloved Accra
"Accra: the cleanest African town"
Everybody will tell you: coming to live in Accra is a reward for expatriates. The city is very clean and has a micro-climate. You enjoy the warmth and the brise from the sea, but it is not too hot. During the raining seasons, it rains very few times.
You land in Accra at night and you are directly under the charm. The smell of Accra is a mix of sun and fried plantain in spicy oil, with a blow of sea wind.
"Accra: the safest African town"
I have never felt as safe as in Accra. Whatever reports can say, you can walk everywhere at any time without the fear of being jacked. Accra has the lowest criminal record of the large towns in the world.
It is at the same time very large, more than 3 million inhabitants and very small, when you are there you always go to the same few places.
welcome: you feel always welcome in Accra, it is a never ending entertainment. Working in Accra is being on holidays all the time.
There is no lost time. Each instant is lived intensively, and you don't want to go to sleep because you will loose time.