The Elmina slave was first built by the Portuguese (1482), but was taken over by the Dutch(1637), and then the British (1814). The Portuguese were known to have treated their slaves worse than the Dutch or the English. The castle was built about a few miles down the coast of Cape Coast Slave Castle, and there’s a watchtower right up the hill.
When we went to the Cape Coast Slave Castle (Barrack Obama went there on his visit to Ghana) a few months before, we toured it with our entire group. It was very emotional. We had a combination of whites, Africans, and African Americans on our tour. I feel like since everyone knew each other, people felt more comfortable to get emotional.
The Elmina slave castle was known to be more intense tour; it was one of the most popular castles used for slave trade. At its peak, around 30,000 thousand slaves strutted out of the infamous “door of no return” per year. Even if the castle averaged 10,000 slaves a year, you’re still looking at over 4 million slaves over 400 year stretch. AND THAT’S JUST ONE CASTLE!
Women were asked to lift this 25 kg cannon ball…if they did not succeed they were whipped 40 times.
As we walked the castle, we were brought into large cellblocks that held hundreds of slaves at a time. You could still smell it! The smell of death: a built up of body odor, urine, feces, and lost hope. People talk about slavery occurring so long ago, almost as it’s just a story to learn from. But, being at this castle made it clear how REAL and recent it is.
We were on a group with some other foreigners, and a group of adults that were joking around throughout the tour. That kind of lightened the mood, which was less depressing, but it also hindered our experience. We were told about the female slaves that would be allowed to shower and get clean only so the masters could rape them. We saw the doors that allowed the guards to secretly rape the slaves AGAIN after they had been raped by the head of the castle. So sickening. So gruesome. So sad.
What’s crazy to me is that outside of the slave castle, normal life goes on as if there is no depressing historic sight near by. The town is not built on tourism from these castles at all. At first I didn’t like it. Hundreds of years of suffering, millions of lives lost, generations of enslavement, and unless you stepped foot inside the castle, you would have no idea how disheartening Cape Coast’s history is. Yet, the sight of kids playing , people hanging out by the water, and sailors setting off for a nights work represented freedom. These sights are constant reminders that the past in the past. As important as it is to remember what has happened and to also learn from it, it is also important to move on in life in order to live a life filled with freedom. The workers outside of the Elmina slave castle may not live a luxurious life, but they’re finally free. Free from European rule. More importantly, they are free from enslavement.
Cape Coast is filled with churches and other buildings built by the Dutch, Portuguese, or the English. Those tall buildings serve as a reminder to all of the people of Ghana how far they’ve come.
Jeremy Kwabena Ginsburg