My friend Elena recenlty came out for a visit from Switzerland so it was the perfect opportunity to explore a new part of Ghana. I’d already heard that the Western Region has some of the the most beautiful beaches in Ghana, and I was excited to visit a few new places, including the 2nd oldest slave fort in Ghana, St. Anthony and the Nzulezo Stilt Village, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
We stayed at what I can honestly say is the most beautiful spot in Ghana, Loumoon Lodge. This was our travel base from which we did all our day trips. Situated a few minutes drive from the town of Axim, it’s about an hours drive from the airport in Takoradi. It’s a little piece of paradise, tucked away in lush green surroundings, complete with palm tree-lined sandy bays. We ended up going with one of the island suites, which comes with its very own splash pool, and literally overlooks the Atlantic ocean below. The food and service were impeccable and the entire stay was just perfect.
Back to the sites of the Western region – although we didn’t manage to visit the Ankasa Forest and Nature Reserve, we did make the 1 hour car journey to Nzulezo; a village built entirely on water, and one of only two of its kind in West Africa (the other, is in Benin).
The settlement of Nzulezu is built on lake Tadane and is situated about 90km West of Takoradi. “Nzulezu” is an Nzema word meaning “surface of water.” The inhabitants of the village are said to have migrated from Walata, a city in the ancient Ghana Empire, the earliest of the Western Sudanese States. According to tradition, ancestors of the village were brought here under the guide of a snail – which is why the snail is their totem animal.
All activities relating to everyday life such as schooling, worship and burial take place on the lake – even new born babies are baptized in the lake. Children learn to swim at a very young age, due to their constant proximity to the water. Most of the inhabitants make their living off the water, in some shape or form. Fishing is obviously one of the main activities, and locals make use of fish traps made out reeds. Others tend to small pieces of land a few kilometres upstream on the main land, where they grow fresh produce.
Visitors are encouraged to make a donation to the only primary school in the village. Once children finish primary school, they must make the daily trip up river and onto the main land to attend high school.
The village itself is around 400 years old and offers a unique glimpse into the everyday life of a people who live entirely on the waters surface. Only about 600 inhabitants live here and it is said that they are a very conservative people who do not inter-marry with other tribes.
The following day, we made the quick car ride over to Fort St. Anthony, constructed in 1515 by the Portuguese (then called San Antonio). It is the second oldest fort after Elmina fort. It is still in very good condition and is currently overseen by a caretaker and guide, who will take you inside and give a very thorough and at times, realistically chilling account of exactly what went on behind the fort walls.
The history behind the slave trade in the area then known as the Gold Coast spans from the early 1500’s to its peak in the 18th century, until it was eventually abolished in the late 19th century (1807).
When the Dutch captured the fort and took over its operations trading in human lives in 1642, the Portuguese left the Gold Coast permanently. The British later gained control over all the coastal forts in the 19th century. Fort Santo Antonio became St. Anthony when it was ceded to the British in 1872.
The fort is a reminder of mans’ inhumanity to man. The dungeons, where captured Africans were kept until such time as they boarded ships for the New World to be sold into slavery, are incredibly depressing, the dispair hangs heavily in the air, even after all these years. You can’t even begin to imagine what these poor souls must have gone through and how they could even have survived such harsh conditions. Many didn’t…. And to make things even more confusing and disturbing, is that the European officials were living just above these dungeons of sadness, conducting business as normal, often hosting parties and even attending chapel – ironically often constructed above the very prisons where they were keeping their captors.
After the sombre tour of the fort, our taxi driver took us on a guided walk of Axim town. We headed down the main road and branched off into one of the side streets leading down to the beach, where hundreds of colourful fishing boats bobbed up and down in the low tide waters. Locals were going about their everyday business – buying and selling, preparing their lunch, washing their clothes and observing the two of us walking around, standing out like sore thumbs!
I would really recommend both trips, especially if you’re looking to add a cultural and historical aspect to an otherwise coastal/beach getaway!