Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Castle with a Hidden Secret (Elmina, Ghana)


Encrusted with chipped paint, salt, sweat and misery, the walls lead to a tiny door – the door of no return. Stepping onto the beach, captives were led across the scorching sands onto ships sailing for the Americas and the Caribbean. Elmina Castle is a powerful reminder of the abhorrent history of slavery.

Approaching the tiny beachside town of Elmina, a grand white castle perches proudly over the Ghanaian coastline. Fringed by palms and with the echoes of fishermen selling their wares from handcrafted wooden boats, it appears as a resort that has seen its best days. From the outside, this castle hides its hellish past as a slave castle for 300 years where hundreds of thousands of natives were held before being shipped away.

Initially built as a Portuguese trading post for gold, ivory and tropical foods, human labour became a more valued commodity. Inside the reminders of this trade in human cargo abound. The main courtyard contains a cast-iron cannonball and chain. Slaves who disobeyed orders were chained up and left to die in the baking African sun.

The courtyard is surrounded by tiny darkened cells, stifling from the warm air, where shackled prisoners in their hundreds and thousands awaited their fate. Locked in one of these cells for only a few minutes is upsetting. Kept here for months and years, the privations and fear of the African captives are inconceivable. Larger bare storerooms stained with algae with only a couple tiny slits for air held the women prisoners in large numbers. They often remained here for two years awaiting shipment, barely surviving on the meagre rations, torture, cruel treatment and indignities.

The opulent governor’s quarters overlooked the women’s prison where his officers could select women they deemed suitable to sleep with. Those who refused were chained up in the courtyard while those who fell pregnant were moved to the town and freed.


To help maintain order, the most rebellious of prisoners were led through a door with an ominous skull and cross bones over the doorway to be killed.

Hauntingly, over half the captives who entered the slave castle never survived the imprisonment. A further half died on board the ships where conditions were equally harsh for the long journey across the oceans.

The most chilling aspect of the tour is left till last. Down a set of stairs and along a corridor to a small room with only a tiny doorway – the door of no return – only wide enough for one person to squeeze through. By this time, several on the guided tour are openly weeping. While the stories are difficult to emotionally handle, the images of this castle with its external palm-fringed beauty but cruel, inhuman interior, will stay with me forever.

9 comments:

Shannon said...

I can only imagine taking a walk through these walls, now that I know what this place represents. Haunting.

RennyBA's Terella said...

What a wonderful travel report and how exotic to a Norwegian!

Btw 1: I’m here from @foxnomad Tweet and since new here: Hello from Norway :-)

Btw 2: Since you love travelling: Your welcome to the Oslo Blog Gathering 2010!

BarbaraW said...

I also felt the "abhorrent history of slavery" when I visited the church tombs where slaves were held in Zanzibar. We must never forget.

Mark H said...

@shannon: It is a haunting place. I went there over a decade ago and still recall it vividly.

@RennyBA: Welcome to Travel Wonders.

@BarbaraW: I think they serve as a stark reminder why we must never forget such aspects of our history.

Donna Hull said...

What a haunting experience to visit this castle in Elmina, Ghana. A sad reminder of unpleasant history.

Heather on her travels said...

That's a really moving account, usually you hear about these castles from the soldier's or the colonial's point of view.

Anonymous said...

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Mark H said...

@donna: A terrible history indeed.

@heather: Thank you.

@anonymous: I am glad that I helped you on your college project.

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