Ghana Must Go Quilt 1 2011 Found plastic-weave bags
170 x 250 cm
ʻIn Ghana and most of West Africa we call it the “Ghana must go” bag.ʼThis designation resulted from the various expulsions of immigrants that Ghana and Nigeria engaged in between the 1960’s and 1980’s. Many were only able to pack their belongings in such bags before fleeing, expelled with barely hours or days notice. Thus “Ghana must go’ is ironic at best and has mocking overtones at worst. Alternatively in Ghana, and humorously, they are called “Efiewura Sua Me”, literally “help me carry my bag”.
The slave quilt code. This idea is that African American slaves used quilts to communicate information about how to escape to freedom. The idea was introduced and popularized throughout the 1980s. However most quilt scholars and historians consider the “code” to be completely lacking any basis in fact.
Despite this, books such as Hidden in Plain View present the idea as fact. The theory gained publicity after one of the authors Raymond Dobard, Jr. appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show. The theory is based on the oral statements of Ozella McDaniel Williams, a quilt vendor in South Carolina.
Dobard believes the first quilt the seamstress would display had a wrench pattern. “It meant gather your tools and get physically and mentally prepared to escape the plantation,” he said. The seamstress would then hang a quilt with a wagon wheel pattern. This pattern told slaves to pack their belongings because they were about to go on a long journey.
Dobard said his favorite pattern was the bear’s paw, a quilt he believes directed slaves to head north over the Appalachian Mountains. “You were supposed to follow the literal footprints of the bear,” Dobard said. “Bears always go to water and berries and other natural food sources.”
The last quilt had a tumbling blocks pattern, which Dobard described as looking like a collection of boxes. “This quilt was only displayed when certain conditions were right. If, for example, there was an Underground Railroad agent in the area,” Dobard said. “It was an indication to pack up and go.”
In 2011 working together with Zimbabwean seamtress Sibongile Chinjonjo, I created a quilt showing the tumbling block or box pattern called Ghana Must Go Quilt 1.
Fact or myth, people agree that the idea of a quilt code is compelling. It is an interesting story with the potential to give back some power to the slaves in an otherwise bleak history. History is generally written by white men, and as these quilts would have been made by black women, we will never know the truth.
Ideas are brought into our everyday lives, much like viruses. They gain an identity and a history, we either coexist or let them extinguish. The word ‘fabricate’ can mean to construct something honestly, or to deliberately deceive.