Ghana - Cape Coast Castle
Akwaaba means "Welcome" in Ghana.
It seemed to be an ironic statement to see posted on the wall
as we entered a structure forever haunted by ghosts of the past.
The Cape Coast Castle is one of the most culturally
significant spots in Ghana, and possibly all of Africa.
The Cape Coast Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was originally built in 1653 as a wooden structure by the Swedish Africa Company. The purpose was to have a presence and a market area in order to handle trades of timber and gold between the locals and the Swedes.
The castle was later rebuilt in stone and seized by the Danish in 1660.
The building passed through the hands of the Dutch, and even a local Fetu chief at some point, before being conquered by the British in 1664.
The castle and the surrounding areas were part of the European struggle for domination of the major sea ports along the Atlantic coast of Africa.
By 1700, the fort had been transformed into a castle and also
served as the headquarters of the British colonial governor.
During this same time, slaves had become a valuable commodity and they became the principal "product" traded in Cape Coast. Due to this, many changes were made to the Cape Coast Castle.
Cannons were added as a means of defense from those
who might attack from the sea.
The slave trade was very lucrative and many European nations flocked to Cape Coast in order to get a foothold into the business. It was very competitive and this led to conflict.
One of the smaller cannons was on display.
The huge iron cannon balls were plentiful in the courtyard.
One of the alterations made to the Castle was the addition of large underground dungeons that could hold as many as a thousand slaves awaiting export. There were three separate male dungeons with no air vents for circulation.
The conditions in the dungeons were appalling, with 300+ slaves in each room, and no space to lie down. The floor was littered with human waste, making it now several inches higher than it was when originally built. Many of the prisoners became sick with malaria and yellow fever and approximately 20% died while waiting in the cells. The average stay ranged from 2 to 6 months.
There were only two smaller dungeons for women, as they were less valuable as slaves to be sold. Their main purpose was to breed additional slaves and work as domestic servants. Each room held 200+ women, who were poorly treated as well.
Slavery was not new to Africa, nor anywhere else in the world for that matter. However, the sheer number of individuals taken from central and western Africa had a profound impact on the history of that continent - as well as the continents to which they were taken. It is estimated that over THREE million slaves passed through this building alone. The slaves were captured and sold from African chiefs to the Europeans for the goods they had to offer.
The cells were used for punitive means, but also as a signal to the other prisoners. The ones who challenged authority were left here with no food, no water and no ventilation.
No one came out of the cell alive.
Conditions did not improve for the slaves that were
led down this corridor out to the waiting ships.
Each one passed through the "Door of No Return" as they
were led like cattle onto the ramps.
This door was the last threshold for the captives on African soil.
It was sobering to stand at this spot and imagine the
harrowing experiences for those sold into slavery.
For a few who did return - and for MANY families who came to pay tributes later, the "Door of Return" was open to them - located on the opposite side of the same door from earlier.
Unfortunately, once the slaves entered the ships, the journey was just beginning as they were transported through the Middle Passage to the Americas.
Many of the captives died on the journey from malnutrition and disease.
Those that reached the Americas faced a life of slavery.
While many came to the US, many more were shipped to the Caribbean and to South America. Yet almost all began their journeys in the slave castles on the Ghanaian coast.
Totally, over 12 million slaves were shipped out of Africa to supply labor to the New World. Several million died along the way. It stands as one of the greatest migrations, although forced, of humans ever in history.
This sign was in the courtyard and is well stated.
"May humanity never again perpetrate such injustice against humanity."
This was a visit that we will always remember.