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Places - Ghana
(Cape Coast)

Lome - city of sharks

Cape Coast
Hans Cottage Botel
Kakum Rainforst Park

Cape Coast
  The village
  The slave castle

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Sunday January 4 2004
Cape Coast and the Slave Castle

Cape coast - The village
A three hour bus tour to the west of Accra will bring you to cape coast. Located on the ocean, the town if very hilly and most of the shanty houses are tightly packed along the hillside, in an almost Victorian era like way.

This is a view of cape coast from up high. It is a picturesque, almost Victorian style town on a hill.

Like Accra, Cape Coast is very much a strange soup of underdeveloped/developed and African/European influences. It's almost surreal in a way.

This picture is taken from the cape coast slave castle. Just meters from the slave castle is cape castle's thriving fishing community, and children playing freely in the waves.

The slave castle - A history
This is most strongly felt in the presence of the cape coast slave castle. This castle is truly an experience. The castle is located on a rocky coast, with the waves splashing violently up against the sides. On either side of the castle is beach, with the east side serving as a bustling fishing community launch point. One can stand on the top of the castle, look down and see people gutting fish, selling oranges, children playing in the waves right in the shadow of what some people have called the greatest evil in history, the slave trade.

Estimates for the number of slaves that were traded off the west coast of Africa range from 12 million to 25 million. This makes for the largest involuntary ethnic dispersion in history. About a third of the slaves went to South America, a third to Portugal, and a third to North America.

They were used to man plantations of sugar cane, cotton etc... Which were dominating the world trade market. But this was tough work, thus the slaves came into play. There was what was called the "trade triangle" which a boat would travel, taking from 18 Months to 3 years. The boat would be made and manned in Europe. It would be filled with fabrics, jewellery, and weapons. These items would be taken to the west coast of Africa to be traded for slaves. The slaves would then taken be sold to the plantations in the Americas. From there the boat would pick up the finished goods farmed by the slaves and cart it back to Europe. From there it would load back up with fabric, jewellery and arms to return to Africa for slaves. Thus, the great "slave triangle".

Majestic horror
The cape coast castle is one of two nearly fully preserved slave castles, the other in Elmina about 30km away, both on the coast of Ghana. It is truly a testament to the horrors of the slave trade.

This is the courtyard of the cape coast castle. The canons in front would be filled with solid cannonballs that could fire 2km and put a hole in a ship to sink it. The Smaller morter cannons (against the small wall) would contain larger cannonballs filled with gunpowder that would travel 3km and explode on contact, igniting a ship into flames.

One is first struck by the how majestic the castle is. There are many upper chambers, and cannons overlooking the most vulnerable walls. There is even a church on the grounds... directly above the male slave dungeon.

Slave dungeons
The entrance to the male slave dungeon is exactly as the entrance to any dungeon is portrayed in the movies, a dark must curved archway leading down into the depths.

Descending into the slave dungeons...

There are five sections to the dungeons, 4 of the more or less the same. My estimates could be quite a bit off, but they were probably about 10m x 5m, and had an arched ceiling about 6 meters up. About five meters up the wall of a cell was a small window, about a food high and half as wide which was the sole supply of air and light to the room. The entire set of chambers was sloped downwards, with a small track in the middle through which excrement and urine would flow.

200 slaves would be housed in each of these rooms.

You can see the excrement tract that traverses downhill through the middle of the dungeons. The floor is not brick, it is petrified excrement and human remains.

People would of course die regularly in the inhumane conditions; malaria and malnutrition were usually what did them in the end. There were second opening in the chambers, from which 'domestic' slaves to the castle would check periodically to see if anybody had died and needed to be removed.

The ground is made of brick, but you cannot see it because there is a thick stone like hard layer above it. That layer is the remnant of humans bodies, blood, and excrement that pounded down hard enough by the number of slaves in the room to turn it rock hard. I walked on this floor.

The fifth room was reserved for the trouble makers, the ones who tried to agitate the crowds or try to escape. It was a maximum security cell. Holes could be seen on the walls where they were chained in a standing position, and the people were packed even more tightly that in the other cells.

The female slave dungeon was not too much different. There were only two rooms, but there were not as many women because they were not seen to be as useful for farming fields. The two rooms held 500 women.

On the side of a courtyard was another chamber. There were a series of three doors that would seal off the hallway entrance. Inside there was no hole for light or ventilation entry. With the doors closed the room would be in complete darkness. The sick, weak, and especially troublesome slaves would be sent to this room without food or water to starve, suffocate and die.

The door pictured here is actually from the Elmina slave castle, but it served the same purpose. As you can see the slave traders weren't shy about the death they were dealing out.

This never took more than two days before the bodies were removed and thrown into the ocean.

The gate of no return
When it was time for the slaves to be shipped out, they would be marched through a long tunnel under the castle to the entry port to the boats. The slaves that didn't decide to die in their homeland by throwing themselves into the ocean were shipped off, never aware even of their destination. The boat backed them like cargo, one on top of another. Of course many atrocities followed on the journey and once they landed in the Americas, but this is the story of the castle.

The large port door that led out of the castle into the boats was labelled (by the museum management) "The gate of no return". Slaves would be forever separated from their families and roots and often not live much longer.

The gate of return
Once the slave trade was abolished, the tunnel under the castle that led to the door of no return was sealed on both ends, symbolically representing the end of slave transfer, and to prevent corrupt people from sneaking in and continuing the use of the castle. In the Americas, two slaves who had died were taken back to the castle, and taken back through the door of no return to represent slavery would not in fact be the hopeless end of the African people. Thus, from the other side of the gate, there is a sigh that now reads "The gate of return".

Closing thoughts...
It is hard to know exactly what to make of the Slave castle, with it’s pristinely clean dungeons and the first urinal I have seen since I got to Africa (I still have yet to see a public bathroom in Togo), while simultaneously considering it’s hideous history. In all, it’s definitely a trip worth taking.

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On to Elmina...