The slave castles will fill you with anger, but they're worth visiting
The most challenging part of my solo trip to Ghana was visiting the slaves castles on Ghana’s southern coast. It was one of the main reasons I chose to visit the West African country. I wanted to know what my ancestors went through and I wanted to see it for myself, and hear the story from the source.
The slave castles were originally built as storehouses, to keep traded goods. The Portuguese built them first as they came to the area for gold. They eventually wanted to make more of a profit so they started exporting slaves.
The Elmina castle was the oldest, built in 1482. It created the triangular trade system that’d connect Europe, the Americas and West Africa for centuries to come. The Europeans made textiles, rum, ammunition and tobacco and shipped it to West Africa. The West Africans would take the manufactured goods in exchange for gold, spices and slaves. The slaves were sent to the Americas to grow the cotton, sugar and tobacco which went back to Europe to be manufactured. The industrial strength of Western Europe and America was built on the enormous profits of the slave trade. Its estimated 12 to 25 million Africans were forced into the slave trade. This information comes from the museum at the Cape Coast castle. The Ghanians will tell you that initially, they would trade prisoners of their tribal wars in exchange for these goods but eventually the Europeans started to kidnap Africans from villages or force Africans to work with them to find potential slaves to sell on the coast.
I visited the Cape Coast slave castle first. This is the one former President Barack Obama visited. Ironically, I visited the castle a day after Melania Trump made a stop there.
The castle was owned by the Portuguese, Dutch, and Swedes but the British controlled it the longest from 1664 to 1877. There was a church on top of the male dungeon.
Tour guides will take you around and describe the horrid history.
I don’t want to spoil the visit for you so I’ve purposely left out the pictures I have inside the Cape Coast dungeon. I want you to experience that for yourself. I’ll tell you the dungeons are the worst part. You’ll see evidence of the people who were tortured there. They were kept there for two weeks up to three months until they were taken through the “Door of No Return,” off to slave ships to the Americas. A thousand men were kept in the dungeons at a time, 200 in each chamber, according to the tour guide. They received food twice a day in the palms of their hands.
If the men misbehaved, they were put into a cell with no air supply, left to die. The women's punishment cell had little air supply and they were starved. The women were often thrown in there if they refused to be raped by the Governor, who ran the castle.
It’s common for visitors to bring wreaths to memorialize the many who died in the dungeons. The wreaths are usually left in the male dungeon. Melania Trump chose to put hers outside the woman’s punishment cell, which guides told me was the first time they recalled a person placing a wreath there.
The Elmina slave castle is worth a visit too. It was the first slave castle on Ghana’s coast. Its setup was pretty similar except its female dungeons were above ground. A thousand slaves were held there at a time. Only a third survived according to the tour guide.
While hearing this history as I walked through the dungeons and the castles was heartbreaking and filled me with anger, it also left me with a sense of pride that my ancestors had survived and I had returned to recognize their enormous ability to persevere through such adversity. It put into perspective what happens when greed overpowers people’s ability to decipher between right and wrong and the world sits silent as the injustice continues for years on end.