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About This Festival

A celebration and a commemoration, the Pan African Historical Theatre Festival (Panafest) was conceived in the 1980’s as a means to examine and contemplate the effects of 500 years of the slave trade and its resulting Diaspora. Centered on the ideas of W.E.B. Dubois’ theories of Pan-Africanism, the festival includes celebrations of Emancipation Day on August first, academic lectures, musical and dance performances, and commemorative visits to coastal forts and cities on the Atlantic that played critical roles in the development of slavery beginning in the 15th century.

W.E.B. Du Bois

Born in Massachusetts in 1858, Du Bois died a naturalized citizen at the age of 95 in Ghana. He is probably the single most important African-American thinker of the 19th and 20th centuries. A teacher, a writer, a polemicist, a theorist, an activist and so much more, he spent his life fighting for equal treatment of African descendants around the globe. He advocated for anti-lynching legislation during WWI in the US, founded the NAACP (www.naacp.org), and attended and later led Pan-African congresses. Through the latter, Du Bois and other members were able to successfully agitate for the liberation of many African colonies.

Pan-Africanism and Emancipation Day

The cycle of freedom to enslavement to emancipation and the self-identification as children of Africa are at the heart of Panafest. Emanciation Day is the core element, a celebration that falls either on August 1 or the first Monday of the month and that is recognized in Africa, South America and the Caribbean as a major holiday. (A prime example of a Caribbean version is Crop Over in Barbados.)

Panafest begins and ends in Accra, the capital city. In between is a biennial pilgrimage to visit the sites that played key roles in the slave trade and the middle passage. Standing in the fortified prisons where humans were treated as chattel, working property to be sold works heavy on your heart. Understanding the pain and suffering endured by the millions of slaves is an important step in what is hopefully a cathartic process to gain an understanding of what “Africa” means today. Cape Coast activities are more thoughtful, celebratory and performance-based, with lectures, plays, and musical events taking center stage.

Important Sites

  • Cape Coast: Like many of the sites associated with Panafest, Dutch, British, and Portuguese colonialists played a hand in its development for the slave trade. Today, it’s the home of the Panafest theater.
  • Elimna: Site of the first European settlement in West Africa, Elimna was founded by the Portuguese as a fort and port city to export gold from the continent. Soon after its founding, it became a major transport hub for slaves to be shipped around the world.
  • Assin Praso: Now reduced to ruins, the original fortified castle was used as a stopping off point to “rest slaves” on their way to their final African destination before being sold abroad.
  • Assin Manso: This is a chilling monument to the horrors of the slave trade, a massive fortified castle (really, a prison), where Africans were bathed in Nnonkonsuo (“Slave River”), sorted, and redistributed to ships to be sold. Assin Manso is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is an important stop on a pilgrimage for descendants of the Diaspora. Several events are held on Emancipation Day each August 1.

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