On this one-hour guided tour we witnessed firsthand the dank, windowless dungeons that kept 400 men and women each in separate quarters. The tour guide informed us that the stench we were inhaling in one of the female dungeons is a mix of the ocean deposits, blood, urine and feces that had accumulated over the years. Even centuries later, the horrid smell of these fateful encounters still exist.  We were escorted through the spacious, airy quarters given to the British governor–a space that is larger than that of the crowded holding cells. We toured the courtyard that captured women would crowd in as the British governor stood from his balcony above and pointed out who he desired to sleep with. The chosen woman would be hosed down and sent up, unwillingly, up a back staircase that led directly to his boudoir. We saw the unventilated holding cells used for those who misbehaved and resisted capture. These death dungeons were a message to others to not get out of line. We toured the church that would have Sunday services for the governor and his staff directly over the male dungeons, drowning out cries of suffering with exuberant hymned song.  We passed through the dark, cavernous route the enslaved marched through-one by one, shackled together-from their holding cells to the awaiting ships on the Atlantic Ocean. Touring Elmina can be an emotional experience but transformative for understanding one’s racial history, present and future.

Backpacking from Accra to Cape Coast: The Elmina castle experience

Of the anguish of our ancestors. May those who died rest in peace. May those who return find their roots. May humanity never again perpetrate such injustice against humanity. We the living vow to uphold this

This statement was gleaned from a memorial plaque that our tour guide pointed to in the middle of the tour. For me it encapsulated all I needed to take back from the Elmina castle experience. It symbolised the very essence of the castle and makes significant the need for me and you as well as posterity to experience this castle at least once in their lifetime.

Backpacking from Accra to Cape Coast: The Elmina castle experience

Elmina Castle was built by the Portuguese in 1482 as São Jorge da Mina (St. George of the Mine) Castle, also known simply as Mina in present-day Elmina. It was the first trading post built on the West coast of Africa and it is the oldest European building in existence in sub-Saharan Africa.

Elmina castle was established as a trade settlement, the castle later became one of the foremost stops on the route of the transatlantic slave trade. The Dutch seized the fort from the Portuguese in 1637. The slave trade continued under the Dutch until 1814; in 1871 the fort became a possession of the British Empire. Britain granted the Gold Coast, now Ghana, its independence in 1957, and control of the castle was transferred to the Ghana government. Elmina castle today is a popular historic site which is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

We had been in Cape Coast for about 48 hours now. We had earlier on in the day visited the Kakum National park and passed through Hans cottage to see crocodiles and to have breakfast. We had stopped off to witness the traditional way of making palm oil by the roadside and experienced some car problems that threatened to derail our long drive from Kakum Park to Elmina.

Eventually we did get to Elmina and before entering the castle itself we took a walk around it to get a sense of how huge this edifice was. I spotted fishermen mending their nets and saw a few abandoned canoes on the seashore next to the castle.

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After paying the fees to enter we joined other tourists and were allocated a guide.

We were taken through windowless dungeons that housed, separately, female and male slaves. Each dungeon would have held as many as 400 men and 400 women in them.

We were shown the large and well ventilated living quarters of the govenor and his staff. His kitchen was impressive and horrifyingly he had a trap door which was used in bringing up female slaves to his private room.

On this one-hour guided tour we witnessed firsthand the dank, windowless dungeons that kept 400 men and women each in separate quarters. The tour guide informed us that the stench we were inhaling in one of the female dungeons is a mix of the ocean deposits, blood, urine and feces that had accumulated over the years. Even centuries later, the horrid smell of these fateful encounters still exist. We were escorted through the spacious, airy quarters given to the British governor–a space that is larger than that of the crowded holding cells. We toured the courtyard that captured women would crowd in as the British governor stood from his balcony above and pointed out who he desired to sleep with. The chosen woman would be hosed down and sent up, unwillingly, up a back staircase that led directly to his boudoir. We saw the unventilated holding cells used for those who misbehaved and resisted capture. These death dungeons were a message to others to not get out of line. We toured the church that would have Sunday services for the governor and his staff directly over the male dungeons, drowning out cries of suffering with exuberant hymned song. We passed through the dark, cavernous route the enslaved marched through-one by one, shackled together-from their holding cells to the awaiting ships on the Atlantic Ocean. Touring Elmina can be an emotional experience but transformative for understanding one’s racial history, present and future.

The trap door

The courtyard was huge. Notably, It had two prisons. One we were told was used in holding slaves that broke rules without food until they died to serve as a warning to others. The other prison was for European soldiers who misbehaved. Theirs was larger and they were given sustenance whilst there.

On this one-hour guided tour we witnessed firsthand the dank, windowless dungeons that kept 400 men and women each in separate quarters. The tour guide informed us that the stench we were inhaling in one of the female dungeons is a mix of the ocean deposits, blood, urine and feces that had accumulated over the years. Even centuries later, the horrid smell of these fateful encounters still exist. We were escorted through the spacious, airy quarters given to the British governor–a space that is larger than that of the crowded holding cells. We toured the courtyard that captured women would crowd in as the British governor stood from his balcony above and pointed out who he desired to sleep with. The chosen woman would be hosed down and sent up, unwillingly, up a back staircase that led directly to his boudoir. We saw the unventilated holding cells used for those who misbehaved and resisted capture. These death dungeons were a message to others to not get out of line. We toured the church that would have Sunday services for the governor and his staff directly over the male dungeons, drowning out cries of suffering with exuberant hymned song. We passed through the dark, cavernous route the enslaved marched through-one by one, shackled together-from their holding cells to the awaiting ships on the Atlantic Ocean. Touring Elmina can be an emotional experience but transformative for understanding one’s racial history, present and future.

The courtyard

On this one-hour guided tour we witnessed firsthand the dank, windowless dungeons that kept 400 men and women each in separate quarters. The tour guide informed us that the stench we were inhaling in one of the female dungeons is a mix of the ocean deposits, blood, urine and feces that had accumulated over the years. Even centuries later, the horrid smell of these fateful encounters still exist. We were escorted through the spacious, airy quarters given to the British governor–a space that is larger than that of the crowded holding cells. We toured the courtyard that captured women would crowd in as the British governor stood from his balcony above and pointed out who he desired to sleep with. The chosen woman would be hosed down and sent up, unwillingly, up a back staircase that led directly to his boudoir. We saw the unventilated holding cells used for those who misbehaved and resisted capture. These death dungeons were a message to others to not get out of line. We toured the church that would have Sunday services for the governor and his staff directly over the male dungeons, drowning out cries of suffering with exuberant hymned song. We passed through the dark, cavernous route the enslaved marched through-one by one, shackled together-from their holding cells to the awaiting ships on the Atlantic Ocean. Touring Elmina can be an emotional experience but transformative for understanding one’s racial history, present and future.

Slave prison to the left

On this one-hour guided tour we witnessed firsthand the dank, windowless dungeons that kept 400 men and women each in separate quarters. The tour guide informed us that the stench we were inhaling in one of the female dungeons is a mix of the ocean deposits, blood, urine and feces that had accumulated over the years. Even centuries later, the horrid smell of these fateful encounters still exist. We were escorted through the spacious, airy quarters given to the British governor–a space that is larger than that of the crowded holding cells. We toured the courtyard that captured women would crowd in as the British governor stood from his balcony above and pointed out who he desired to sleep with. The chosen woman would be hosed down and sent up, unwillingly, up a back staircase that led directly to his boudoir. We saw the unventilated holding cells used for those who misbehaved and resisted capture. These death dungeons were a message to others to not get out of line. We toured the church that would have Sunday services for the governor and his staff directly over the male dungeons, drowning out cries of suffering with exuberant hymned song. We passed through the dark, cavernous route the enslaved marched through-one by one, shackled together-from their holding cells to the awaiting ships on the Atlantic Ocean. Touring Elmina can be an emotional experience but transformative for understanding one’s racial history, present and future.

On this one-hour guided tour we witnessed firsthand the dank, windowless dungeons that kept 400 men and women each in separate quarters. The tour guide informed us that the stench we were inhaling in one of the female dungeons is a mix of the ocean deposits, blood, urine and feces that had accumulated over the years. Even centuries later, the horrid smell of these fateful encounters still exist. We were escorted through the spacious, airy quarters given to the British governor–a space that is larger than that of the crowded holding cells. We toured the courtyard that captured women would crowd in as the British governor stood from his balcony above and pointed out who he desired to sleep with. The chosen woman would be hosed down and sent up, unwillingly, up a back staircase that led directly to his boudoir. We saw the unventilated holding cells used for those who misbehaved and resisted capture. These death dungeons were a message to others to not get out of line. We toured the church that would have Sunday services for the governor and his staff directly over the male dungeons, drowning out cries of suffering with exuberant hymned song. We passed through the dark, cavernous route the enslaved marched through-one by one, shackled together-from their holding cells to the awaiting ships on the Atlantic Ocean. Touring Elmina can be an emotional experience but transformative for understanding one’s racial history, present and future.

View from inside the slave prison

 

Our tour guide led us back into, from the courtyard, a dark alley into the male and female slave dungeons and perhaps more harrowingly through the door of no return. The last door that slaves were taken through to be “loaded” up like goods into waiting boats then onto ships.

On this one-hour guided tour we witnessed firsthand the dank, windowless dungeons that kept 400 men and women each in separate quarters. The tour guide informed us that the stench we were inhaling in one of the female dungeons is a mix of the ocean deposits, blood, urine and feces that had accumulated over the years. Even centuries later, the horrid smell of these fateful encounters still exist. We were escorted through the spacious, airy quarters given to the British governor–a space that is larger than that of the crowded holding cells. We toured the courtyard that captured women would crowd in as the British governor stood from his balcony above and pointed out who he desired to sleep with. The chosen woman would be hosed down and sent up, unwillingly, up a back staircase that led directly to his boudoir. We saw the unventilated holding cells used for those who misbehaved and resisted capture. These death dungeons were a message to others to not get out of line. We toured the church that would have Sunday services for the governor and his staff directly over the male dungeons, drowning out cries of suffering with exuberant hymned song. We passed through the dark, cavernous route the enslaved marched through-one by one, shackled together-from their holding cells to the awaiting ships on the Atlantic Ocean. Touring Elmina can be an emotional experience but transformative for understanding one’s racial history, present and future. On this one-hour guided tour we witnessed firsthand the dank, windowless dungeons that kept 400 men and women each in separate quarters. The tour guide informed us that the stench we were inhaling in one of the female dungeons is a mix of the ocean deposits, blood, urine and feces that had accumulated over the years. Even centuries later, the horrid smell of these fateful encounters still exist. We were escorted through the spacious, airy quarters given to the British governor–a space that is larger than that of the crowded holding cells. We toured the courtyard that captured women would crowd in as the British governor stood from his balcony above and pointed out who he desired to sleep with. The chosen woman would be hosed down and sent up, unwillingly, up a back staircase that led directly to his boudoir. We saw the unventilated holding cells used for those who misbehaved and resisted capture. These death dungeons were a message to others to not get out of line. We toured the church that would have Sunday services for the governor and his staff directly over the male dungeons, drowning out cries of suffering with exuberant hymned song. We passed through the dark, cavernous route the enslaved marched through-one by one, shackled together-from their holding cells to the awaiting ships on the Atlantic Ocean. Touring Elmina can be an emotional experience but transformative for understanding one’s racial history, present and future. On this one-hour guided tour we witnessed firsthand the dank, windowless dungeons that kept 400 men and women each in separate quarters. The tour guide informed us that the stench we were inhaling in one of the female dungeons is a mix of the ocean deposits, blood, urine and feces that had accumulated over the years. Even centuries later, the horrid smell of these fateful encounters still exist. We were escorted through the spacious, airy quarters given to the British governor–a space that is larger than that of the crowded holding cells. We toured the courtyard that captured women would crowd in as the British governor stood from his balcony above and pointed out who he desired to sleep with. The chosen woman would be hosed down and sent up, unwillingly, up a back staircase that led directly to his boudoir. We saw the unventilated holding cells used for those who misbehaved and resisted capture. These death dungeons were a message to others to not get out of line. We toured the church that would have Sunday services for the governor and his staff directly over the male dungeons, drowning out cries of suffering with exuberant hymned song. We passed through the dark, cavernous route the enslaved marched through-one by one, shackled together-from their holding cells to the awaiting ships on the Atlantic Ocean. Touring Elmina can be an emotional experience but transformative for understanding one’s racial history, present and future. On this one-hour guided tour we witnessed firsthand the dank, windowless dungeons that kept 400 men and women each in separate quarters. The tour guide informed us that the stench we were inhaling in one of the female dungeons is a mix of the ocean deposits, blood, urine and feces that had accumulated over the years. Even centuries later, the horrid smell of these fateful encounters still exist. We were escorted through the spacious, airy quarters given to the British governor–a space that is larger than that of the crowded holding cells. We toured the courtyard that captured women would crowd in as the British governor stood from his balcony above and pointed out who he desired to sleep with. The chosen woman would be hosed down and sent up, unwillingly, up a back staircase that led directly to his boudoir. We saw the unventilated holding cells used for those who misbehaved and resisted capture. These death dungeons were a message to others to not get out of line. We toured the church that would have Sunday services for the governor and his staff directly over the male dungeons, drowning out cries of suffering with exuberant hymned song. We passed through the dark, cavernous route the enslaved marched through-one by one, shackled together-from their holding cells to the awaiting ships on the Atlantic Ocean. Touring Elmina can be an emotional experience but transformative for understanding one’s racial history, present and future.

The tour of Elmina included a walk through the highest elevated parts of the castle. This, I imagined, would have been where the colonialists took in the views of the surrounding areas. There were canons positioned on this level of the castle ward off enemies. The views towards the sea would have been the same but, the views towards Elmina town had changed. Modernity in the form of moto vehicles and architecture has crept in.

On this one-hour guided tour we witnessed firsthand the dank, windowless dungeons that kept 400 men and women each in separate quarters. The tour guide informed us that the stench we were inhaling in one of the female dungeons is a mix of the ocean deposits, blood, urine and feces that had accumulated over the years. Even centuries later, the horrid smell of these fateful encounters still exist. We were escorted through the spacious, airy quarters given to the British governor–a space that is larger than that of the crowded holding cells. We toured the courtyard that captured women would crowd in as the British governor stood from his balcony above and pointed out who he desired to sleep with. The chosen woman would be hosed down and sent up, unwillingly, up a back staircase that led directly to his boudoir. We saw the unventilated holding cells used for those who misbehaved and resisted capture. These death dungeons were a message to others to not get out of line. We toured the church that would have Sunday services for the governor and his staff directly over the male dungeons, drowning out cries of suffering with exuberant hymned song. We passed through the dark, cavernous route the enslaved marched through-one by one, shackled together-from their holding cells to the awaiting ships on the Atlantic Ocean. Touring Elmina can be an emotional experience but transformative for understanding one’s racial history, present and future. On this one-hour guided tour we witnessed firsthand the dank, windowless dungeons that kept 400 men and women each in separate quarters. The tour guide informed us that the stench we were inhaling in one of the female dungeons is a mix of the ocean deposits, blood, urine and feces that had accumulated over the years. Even centuries later, the horrid smell of these fateful encounters still exist. We were escorted through the spacious, airy quarters given to the British governor–a space that is larger than that of the crowded holding cells. We toured the courtyard that captured women would crowd in as the British governor stood from his balcony above and pointed out who he desired to sleep with. The chosen woman would be hosed down and sent up, unwillingly, up a back staircase that led directly to his boudoir. We saw the unventilated holding cells used for those who misbehaved and resisted capture. These death dungeons were a message to others to not get out of line. We toured the church that would have Sunday services for the governor and his staff directly over the male dungeons, drowning out cries of suffering with exuberant hymned song. We passed through the dark, cavernous route the enslaved marched through-one by one, shackled together-from their holding cells to the awaiting ships on the Atlantic Ocean. Touring Elmina can be an emotional experience but transformative for understanding one’s racial history, present and future. On this one-hour guided tour we witnessed firsthand the dank, windowless dungeons that kept 400 men and women each in separate quarters. The tour guide informed us that the stench we were inhaling in one of the female dungeons is a mix of the ocean deposits, blood, urine and feces that had accumulated over the years. Even centuries later, the horrid smell of these fateful encounters still exist. We were escorted through the spacious, airy quarters given to the British governor–a space that is larger than that of the crowded holding cells. We toured the courtyard that captured women would crowd in as the British governor stood from his balcony above and pointed out who he desired to sleep with. The chosen woman would be hosed down and sent up, unwillingly, up a back staircase that led directly to his boudoir. We saw the unventilated holding cells used for those who misbehaved and resisted capture. These death dungeons were a message to others to not get out of line. We toured the church that would have Sunday services for the governor and his staff directly over the male dungeons, drowning out cries of suffering with exuberant hymned song. We passed through the dark, cavernous route the enslaved marched through-one by one, shackled together-from their holding cells to the awaiting ships on the Atlantic Ocean. Touring Elmina can be an emotional experience but transformative for understanding one’s racial history, present and future. On this one-hour guided tour we witnessed firsthand the dank, windowless dungeons that kept 400 men and women each in separate quarters. The tour guide informed us that the stench we were inhaling in one of the female dungeons is a mix of the ocean deposits, blood, urine and feces that had accumulated over the years. Even centuries later, the horrid smell of these fateful encounters still exist. We were escorted through the spacious, airy quarters given to the British governor–a space that is larger than that of the crowded holding cells. We toured the courtyard that captured women would crowd in as the British governor stood from his balcony above and pointed out who he desired to sleep with. The chosen woman would be hosed down and sent up, unwillingly, up a back staircase that led directly to his boudoir. We saw the unventilated holding cells used for those who misbehaved and resisted capture. These death dungeons were a message to others to not get out of line. We toured the church that would have Sunday services for the governor and his staff directly over the male dungeons, drowning out cries of suffering with exuberant hymned song. We passed through the dark, cavernous route the enslaved marched through-one by one, shackled together-from their holding cells to the awaiting ships on the Atlantic Ocean. Touring Elmina can be an emotional experience but transformative for understanding one’s racial history, present and future. On this one-hour guided tour we witnessed firsthand the dank, windowless dungeons that kept 400 men and women each in separate quarters. The tour guide informed us that the stench we were inhaling in one of the female dungeons is a mix of the ocean deposits, blood, urine and feces that had accumulated over the years. Even centuries later, the horrid smell of these fateful encounters still exist. We were escorted through the spacious, airy quarters given to the British governor–a space that is larger than that of the crowded holding cells. We toured the courtyard that captured women would crowd in as the British governor stood from his balcony above and pointed out who he desired to sleep with. The chosen woman would be hosed down and sent up, unwillingly, up a back staircase that led directly to his boudoir. We saw the unventilated holding cells used for those who misbehaved and resisted capture. These death dungeons were a message to others to not get out of line. We toured the church that would have Sunday services for the governor and his staff directly over the male dungeons, drowning out cries of suffering with exuberant hymned song. We passed through the dark, cavernous route the enslaved marched through-one by one, shackled together-from their holding cells to the awaiting ships on the Atlantic Ocean. Touring Elmina can be an emotional experience but transformative for understanding one’s racial history, present and future. IMG_9332Ghana's Shito_ On this one-hour guided tour we witnessed firsthand the dank, windowless dungeons that kept 400 men and women each in separate quarters. The tour guide informed us that the stench we were inhaling in one of the female dungeons is a mix of the ocean deposits, blood, urine and feces that had accumulated over the years. Even centuries later, the horrid smell of these fateful encounters still exist. We were escorted through the spacious, airy quarters given to the British governor–a space that is larger than that of the crowded holding cells. We toured the courtyard that captured women would crowd in as the British governor stood from his balcony above and pointed out who he desired to sleep with. The chosen woman would be hosed down and sent up, unwillingly, up a back staircase that led directly to his boudoir. We saw the unventilated holding cells used for those who misbehaved and resisted capture. These death dungeons were a message to others to not get out of line. We toured the church that would have Sunday services for the governor and his staff directly over the male dungeons, drowning out cries of suffering with exuberant hymned song. We passed through the dark, cavernous route the enslaved marched through-one by one, shackled together-from their holding cells to the awaiting ships on the Atlantic Ocean. Touring Elmina can be an emotional experience but transformative for understanding one’s racial history, present and future. On this one-hour guided tour we witnessed firsthand the dank, windowless dungeons that kept 400 men and women each in separate quarters. The tour guide informed us that the stench we were inhaling in one of the female dungeons is a mix of the ocean deposits, blood, urine and feces that had accumulated over the years. Even centuries later, the horrid smell of these fateful encounters still exist. We were escorted through the spacious, airy quarters given to the British governor–a space that is larger than that of the crowded holding cells. We toured the courtyard that captured women would crowd in as the British governor stood from his balcony above and pointed out who he desired to sleep with. The chosen woman would be hosed down and sent up, unwillingly, up a back staircase that led directly to his boudoir. We saw the unventilated holding cells used for those who misbehaved and resisted capture. These death dungeons were a message to others to not get out of line. We toured the church that would have Sunday services for the governor and his staff directly over the male dungeons, drowning out cries of suffering with exuberant hymned song. We passed through the dark, cavernous route the enslaved marched through-one by one, shackled together-from their holding cells to the awaiting ships on the Atlantic Ocean. Touring Elmina can be an emotional experience but transformative for understanding one’s racial history, present and future. On this one-hour guided tour we witnessed firsthand the dank, windowless dungeons that kept 400 men and women each in separate quarters. The tour guide informed us that the stench we were inhaling in one of the female dungeons is a mix of the ocean deposits, blood, urine and feces that had accumulated over the years. Even centuries later, the horrid smell of these fateful encounters still exist. We were escorted through the spacious, airy quarters given to the British governor–a space that is larger than that of the crowded holding cells. We toured the courtyard that captured women would crowd in as the British governor stood from his balcony above and pointed out who he desired to sleep with. The chosen woman would be hosed down and sent up, unwillingly, up a back staircase that led directly to his boudoir. We saw the unventilated holding cells used for those who misbehaved and resisted capture. These death dungeons were a message to others to not get out of line. We toured the church that would have Sunday services for the governor and his staff directly over the male dungeons, drowning out cries of suffering with exuberant hymned song. We passed through the dark, cavernous route the enslaved marched through-one by one, shackled together-from their holding cells to the awaiting ships on the Atlantic Ocean. Touring Elmina can be an emotional experience but transformative for understanding one’s racial history, present and future.

On this one-hour guided tour we witnessed firsthand the dank, windowless dungeons that kept 400 men and women each in separate quarters. The tour guide informed us that the stench we were inhaling in one of the female dungeons is a mix of the ocean deposits, blood, urine and feces that had accumulated over the years. Even centuries later, the horrid smell of these fateful encounters still exist. We were escorted through the spacious, airy quarters given to the British governor–a space that is larger than that of the crowded holding cells. We toured the courtyard that captured women would crowd in as the British governor stood from his balcony above and pointed out who he desired to sleep with. The chosen woman would be hosed down and sent up, unwillingly, up a back staircase that led directly to his boudoir. We saw the unventilated holding cells used for those who misbehaved and resisted capture. These death dungeons were a message to others to not get out of line. We toured the church that would have Sunday services for the governor and his staff directly over the male dungeons, drowning out cries of suffering with exuberant hymned song. We passed through the dark, cavernous route the enslaved marched through-one by one, shackled together-from their holding cells to the awaiting ships on the Atlantic Ocean. Touring Elmina can be an emotional experience but transformative for understanding one’s racial history, present and future.

Elmina castle had been an eye opener. It capped the end of our backpacking trip from Accra to Cape Coast. Emotionally i’d imagine this place could haunt those to whom slavery had had the greatest impact. Those whose heritage, culture and language had been permanently taken away by the transatlantic slave trade would find the stories about Elmina in a way that perhaps others wouldn’t. All, however, should draw some lessons from this castle. Indeed the memorial plaque could not have stated it better.

Of the anguish of our ancestors. May those who died rest in peace. May those who return find their roots. May humanity never again perpetrate such injustice against humanity. We the living vow to uphold this



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