We knew this would be a very long day that would begin at 7am. The drive alone from Accra to the Elmina Castle would be 3 1/2 hours. After Elmina we would see Cape Coast Castle. As we drove over the fairly decent highway, we saw the daily life of Ghanians happening with school children going to school and men and women setting up shop and selling their wares. We drove through a congested place called Big Town with tons of people up and down the roads.
So that it’s clear to you, please understand that both of these horrible places used to hold, punish captives before boarding the slave ships have a “Door of No Return; essentially the very last place they would be before being shipped off to the Americas and the Caribbean. Elmina was built by the Portuguese and Cape Coast was built by the Swedes and was later taken over by the British. There is no way I can recreate the experience for you but I will try. Remember, they were captives first before becoming slaves. The pain our ancestors felt so long ago can still be felt today by you and I. We were actually inside the dungeons for only minutes. We were 22 deep and it was tight but some of these cramped areas would hold over a hundred chained and shackled together by 5. Imagine 3 or more months waiting for the ships to come from England, being subjected to everybody’s bodily wastes. Over 30,000 were traded every year in Elmina until slave trading was abolished. The more robust and seemingly fit would be traded. The weaker would be designated as domestics to clean the cells daily. The captors would pit tribes against each other; thus “divide and conquer” and another cliche’ of only the “ strong survive”. #1 to survive the dungeons, and #2 to survive the lengthy, arduous journey to the Americas.
While all this human misery and abuse was going on, above the dungeons there was a church and the Europeans were having religious services. I had to ask myself, “What God were these people serving”. There was even a peep hole so they could look down into the dungeons. I won’t say there was a stench but there was definitely a distinct odor about the place.
Cape Coast Castle is about 15 minutes from Elmina. Cape Coast is where President Obama and Michelle visited and there is a placque commemorating their visit. There were 5 rooms that housed 1,000 male captives crammed together, urinating, defecating and sleeping in the same place. Those that died were thrown in the ocean. The female dungeons held 300 at a time. Some were sexually assaulted by the Europeans. If they became pregnant they were freed. If they were found to be pregnant while on the slave ship, they were thrown overboard. Then there was the “Condemned Cell”. Men who attempted to escape or attack the Europeans were beaten and sent there and locked behind 2 doors without light, ventilation, food or water. They stayed there in chains and shackles and the bodies were left until the last man died then all thrown into the ocean.
The bright spot in today’s events was the Coconut Grove Beach Resort where we had lunch with a lovely ocean view to enjoy. While there I was introduced to the Queen Mother of the Elmina area and a Chief who personally invited me to come back in July. Unfortunately I had to decline the invitation but assured them both that I would return next year; possibly in March.
Tomorrow we go to Torgorme, a beautiful village on the lower course of the Volta River. We will participate in a naming ceremony, where we will be given a traditional African name.