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From Gwollu to the Slave Castles: Enoch Holu '13 Seeks Answers in Ghana About His Nation's History

In northwestern Ghana, fragments of an old wall still dot the small rural town of Gwollu. Built by villagers in a desperate attempt to protect themselves from capture during the 19th-century transatlantic slave trade, the remnants are haunting relics of a grim era.

Enoch Holu '13 grew up confounded by the wall that used to guard his town, which is composed of farmers. “Why would anyone come from somewhere to take our people?” he wondered.

The question began to burn as he matured.

As a high school student in Accra, the cosmopolitan coastal capital that lies nearly an entire country away from his hometown, Holu was eager to engage in cultural and historical discourses but was placed in a science program at odds with his passions and talents.

Yearning to explore his anthropological interests, Holu came to the United States on the American Field Service exchange program. Though he had traveled to Australia and was prepared for different world from the one he knew, nevertheless,Holu was shocked. “All the visions I had of America came crashing down,” Holu says of his arrival in New Hampshire.

“I was expecting to see New York, and it was this wooded area. I was blown away. But I don't think I would have done well in New York, to be honest.”

Living with a host family in Grantham, N.H., and studying at Lebanon High School, Holu struggled to adjust. Despite his fluency in English, Americans' quick speech and accents made it sound like a new language. He longed for familiarity, but his beloved tuo zaafi with vegetable soup, a traditional Ghanaian dinner pairing, was nowhere to be found.

These were small prices to pay, however, as Holu found the academic freedom he had longed for. “It was fantastic,” he recalls. “I got to take classes I really wanted to take. The freedom here to choose and decide your own educational path is just amazing.”

Once adjusted to U.S. culture and its educational system, Holu could devote himself to his passion for history in college. Colby-Sawyer, with its small size, seemed ideal. “It reflected the nature of my upbringing, where all the members of a family live in the same place, in a close community. I had a wonderful experience here, in both an academic sense and a social sense. It's been great,” he says.

For three years, Holu cultivated himself as a History, Society, and Culture major and member of the Wesson Honors Program to prepare for his Capstone project. The question born in him as a child in Gwollu still reverberated, and he sought to understand the slave trade that had indelibly marked the history of the people in Gwollu.

With the assistance of the Wesson Idea Fund, a Colby-Sawyer grant program that supports independent research, Holu took his project beyond a research paper.

After completing an internship as host of his own Ghanaian radio program, he set out on a 15-day trek across Ghana to trace the journey endured by his enslaved ancestors. Holu followed their path from Gwollu to the coastal castles where they were held before being shipped across the ocean.

“From stories my grandparents told me and from what I read, I identified vantage points in the route. I made sure to visit each for at least a day to talk to people about their knowledge of the slave trade and how they feel about it,” recounts Holu. “I underestimated how difficult it was going to be. I went to some places I literally couldn't get out of once I got in, transportation-wise. Fortunately, I had Facebook friends I'd never met in most of the towns I visited. I messaged them, 'I'm coming to your town, but I don't have anywhere to stay. Can you help me find a hotel?' They'd reply, 'There's no hotel, but you can stay in my house.' One great thing about Ghanaian people is that they are very kind and always ready to help.”

According to Holu, “Some of the realities and truths were hard to swallow. There's no way I can even come close to experiencing what the slaves might have experienced along that route. But, in some of the places I visited, I felt like I was there with them.” These places included Gwollu's wall, a castle's bat-ridden slave dungeons, and a tree considered haunted by some locals that had served as the site of a slave marketplace.

“Very early on,” Holu says, “I felt I was a custodian of my culture and African history, and I felt the honor was on me to preserve these histories.” He has succeeded, having presented his findings during November's International Education Week and receiving the Colby-Sawyer Award at Commencement. But he envisions his project going further. “I think this will be the cornerstone of my life's work,” Holu says. “In graduate school, I'm going to aggressively pursue this topic. I'll probably write a book, but just educating myself on my people's history is rewarding enough for me.”

Whatever Holu chooses to do, the world will benefit. As Holu says, “Knowing global history, from any perspective, is one way of fostering worldwide understanding and global citizenry."

- David Hart '13