Cape Coast part 2: The Awful History of the Slave Trade Castle
I'm walking along the beach. Tiny pieces of crushed seashells are sparkling like silver particles on the yellow, fine-textured sand. There are a few fishermen pulling the catch of the day out of the sea. Some children are wondering around the beach and chatting with tourists instead of going to school. Waves are breaking to a rocky wall in front of me, throwing salty showers of water on young men rapping and singing for the ocean on the rocks. And at the highest point of the cliff is an old castle.
The castle's white paint has weathered and turned dark grey, partly greenish. I walk up the stairs leading towards the castle. On the way I meet those familiar art and souvenir sellers. They come with the widest smiles to do those familiar Ghanaian greetings; handshake, finger snap, tapping the fist against the chest, and maybe hugging. The atmosphere is cheerful and relaxed. I ask them about how the business is going these days. Next, they start showing their latest goods to me and I tell them that I would quickly visit the castle and then get back to see if there’s anything I’d like to buy. "Okay, go and come, sister!"
"I always have this tense and sad feeling
when I enter through the castle gate."
Here again. The whole atmosphere changes inside the gates. I get shivers. I meet my favorite guide, Sebastian. He is genuinely happy to see me too and comes to give a big, warm hug. We chat for a while and he just keeps laughing: ”You are here again! You always keep coming!”
I've joined the guided castle tour a few times. At first in 2009 when for some reason I didn’t really get that much out of the place; and for the second time, after which the castle has become so important and symbolic to me. Nowadays I go to visit the castle - meditate, find my peace and balance - whenever I'm in Cape Coast.
I'm standing alone in the middle of the castle square. There are old, heavy and brownish cannons lined-up in front of me. On my right, above the entrance of a dark tunnel, there is a wooden board with a carved text: MALE SLAVE DUNGEON. I step into the heavy and humid-smelling darkness.
For four hundred years, thousands of slaves at a time were held in the underground male slave dungeon. There was only enough space to stand; not to move or lie down to sleep. The only source of light was a small, ten-inch-wide hole in the wall. All faecal waste, blood and vomit were spread around the floor as it was impossible to make one’s way through the crowd to the buckets in the corners of the room. Today, all that waste is a thick, caked layer on the floor. On the other end of the dungeon, there was a larger window that was kept closed except on Sundays, when the European population used to gather together for church services on top of the dungeons, and amused themselves by watching the starving, slaves underground.
"It is hard to even breathe in the room,
being there makes you feel uneasy and so heavy."
There are smaller caves on the other side of the castle square; some for female slaves, one for the slaves who tried to escape, and another one used to be a room for raping the female slaves. The deserters used to get locked in a dark room to die for starvation, thirst, and lack of oxygen. All deserters in the room had to listen in the darkness, how their fellows suffered and died one by one until their own time came by.
There’s a famous door right on the beach side end of the castle.
Millions of Ghanaians walked through this doorway from the 1500s all the way to the early 1800s and got taken to ships that took them to the Americas, especially the Caribbean. Most died of diseases and starvation during the voyage, some jumped overboard. When one decided to jump, the others attached to the same chain went along.
"All the way from Senegal to Angola,
about 12 to 25 million slaves were traded
over the Atlantic Ocean during the colonial time.
The deep feeling of sadness, humility and shock that the castle creates can’t even be described. The most horrifying fact is that such brutalities are still practiced nowadays, just in a slightly different forms, around the world. It’s awful. On the other hand, it’s wonderful and admirable that a country with a history of such torture and deprivation of liberty, is one of the most joyful and receptive in the world! Anyone with good deeds is ALWAYS welcome to this country, and always provided with the best, the warmest hospitality. Ghana is full of happiness though things could be way better for so many people! This can only happen when bitterness and fear are replaced by faith and hope. As you often hear here:
"One day, one day..."
It is disgusting to me when I come across foreigners who behave arrogantly towards the locals. I'm also angry by the fact that I can go around the world as much as my budget allows, but it’s so hard for Ghanaians to get out of here. (This is kind of getting into politics, so I'll leave it here.)
I do not willfully go to the castle to peek at things that are somehow uninhibited and insolent to even talk about. But there is also an unexplained, beautiful and liberating side about the castle. Though the whole area carries a feeling of death and suffering, the clear, blue and infinite sea surrounding this place blows the winds of freedom.
As I sit on the thick castle wall looking at the sea, I feel free from all obligations, rush and heavy things in life. I feel small, my problems get erased, and my purpose of being becomes somehow clearer every time. It’s wonderful and empowering. It builds faith for better. It’s about letting go of the old bad times and embracing the coming.
It would also sometimes be interesting to hear local thoughts on this subject. Do they feel consequences of the history in today’s Ghana? What kind of emotions does the history raise within them today?
"Ghana has a lot of such places and things
that give me deeper meanings than just fleeting events.
That is one of the reasons why
I'm totally in love with this country."
So if one day you find yourself at Cape Coast, make sure you visit the castle! The guides are just great and they are happy to tell you everything you are willing to know about the castle's history! The experience is breath-taking. You can read more about Ghana’s slave trade history here.
I walk out of the gate, buy my son a small wooden bracelet and walk to a restaurant nearby for lunch...
More stories from Cape Coast next time!