Akwaaba (welcome) back to part II of Bevy & Dave's Travel Journal: Ghana. Today, March 6, 2021, we celebrate Ghana’s 64th year of Independence from Great Britain.
In this installment we are taking you along the Central Region coastline to Elmina Castle in Cape Coast. This particular region holds a distinct place in history. It was from this coastline of Ghana that millions of Africans were separated from their homeland and families and shipped to various points in the world, becoming commodities in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.
A Brief History of Elmina Castle
Elmina Castle was erected by the Portuguese in 1482 after negotiating the land from then chief of Elmina, Nana (most honorable) Kwamina Kweigya Ansah. Originally named São Jorge by the Portuguese, the castle was meant to be just a trading post of goods that had already been traded between Ghana and Portugal such as: guns, gunpowder, enamel bowls, iron bars among others for Ghana's gold, spices, ivory, artifacts, and others.1 This had remained the case until the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade began.
The Portuguese ran Elmina Castle until they were finally defeated by the Dutch in 1637. The Dutch continued the slave trade until it was finally abolished by the Netherlands in 1863.2 By 1872, the castle had become unprofitable, and the Dutch gave the castle and its other forts to the British in a trade agreement. The British ran the castle as an administrative hub until 1957, when Ghana was given its independence.
Elmina Castle is one of forty castles/trading posts built in Ghana. Today the castle stands as a tourist attraction in the now small fishing town of Elmina. We were greeted by locals at the gate, "Akwaaba, welcome home my brothers and sister." We’ve been hearing this the entire time we've been in Ghana, but on this day, it was especially poignant.
We were silent upon entering this place that we had only heard and read about. A place that represents pain, suffering, and inhumanity while at the same time a place that holds the reminder of the strength of mind, body, and spirit of African people. A sacred place for descendants scattered around the world to return to and pay homage to their ancestors.
We chose reverence over shame, entering this place with our heads held high in complete understanding that we are the victorious descendants of courageous ancestors.
We started at the on-site museum that gives a history of the castle and the local community of Elmina, including the Asantes. After much reading and perusing we were lead across the large courtyard up a set of steep stairs. At the foot of the steps, a dark archway led to the male dungeon and at the top of the stairs another dark archway led to the female dungeons.
As we headed down the hall of the female entryway it was impossible not to think about the ancestors, shackled in iron, being forced down this very corridor. We turned a corner to the bright sun shining down on the courtyard of the female dungeons. We gathered in the largest of the cells surrounding the courtyard where Bright explained to us that in this cell the females stayed chained for 3-months before being put on ships never to return.
We continued to the male dungeon, a large poorly ventilated room with a conspicuous square opening in the ceiling. Bright explained that the Portuguese put this there for several uses, one of which was to eavesdrop on the males being held captive. The ancestors did not go without a fight. They often rebelled and were punished harshly for doing so. Because of their resistance and strength, the Portuguese eventually narrowed the passageways to the ships to control the movement of the ancestors. Notice the short narrow doorways in the images below.
Our young traveler Phoenix sat at the door of no return and instead of peering out at large transport ships and bush, he saw light. The sun radiating over the sea as fishermen gathered nets and minded their boats. This door is now called the “Door of Return.” It is a symbol of hope, remembrance, and gratitude.
As we exited the castle, we passed by a plaque inscribed with a pledge mounted into the wall.
Intentionally, only the surface has been scratched in this journal. This is an experience like no other and we encourage you to visit not only Elmina Castle, but also Cape Coast Castle located just a few miles away.
Look out for the next installment of Bevy & Dave’s Travel Journal: Ghana, the adventure entry.
1Ashun, A. (2017) Elmina, The Castles and The Slave Trade. Nyakod Printing and Publishing Co. Ltd.http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/abolition/africa_article_01.shtml#:~:text=The%20transatlantic%20slave%20trade%20began,they%20enslaved%20back%20to%20Europe.