Saturday 31 March 2012

Horrors at Elmina Castle, Ghana

This is a beautiful little castle built by the Portuguese in 1482 to store gold, but has a history of horrors when it became the point of no return for tens of thousands of slaves, who were traded, bought, sold, captured, and killed. Elmina Castle was an end point for slaves for more than 400 years. Shipped overseas to the Americas and one of the best surviving castles of the region it is a serious tourist site.
The three doors have great symbolic resonance. The door on the far right allows for entrance and exit, but only for the masters, not the slaves. The middle door opens to a cell for soldiers who were punished, usually for being drunk. But they had a window through which air, food and water could pass. The far left door is for slaves who attempted to escape or rebel. There was no window. It quickly becomes stifling hot inside. Slaves were thrown in here to die, and starved to death. Thus the crossbones. Their screams served as a warning to others not to attempt to escape. Their bodies were thrown into the ocean, also as a warning. For over 400 years this was done. Our guide had our group in the two cells for us to feel the difference. There is chapel in the courtyard for the soldiers and officers.

In the room of no return, this is the door of no return. It is estimated that more than 12 million Africans were shipped overseas from the various castles and forts along the west coast of Africa. Wreaths were left in memory of the slaves. This was the last room in Africa that slaves were to see before being loaded on to the slave ships. If they survived the journey, they were slaves for the rest of their lives, unlike in Africa where they were indentured servants, able to marry, start their own businesses, and buy their freedom. With the heat, and some reflection, I had to sit. Our guide through the castle did a great job of conveying the importance of the site.