If our morning was fun, our afternoon was emotionally draining. Elmina and Cape Coast are popular tourist sites here in Ghana. They are along good roads which make access easy, and they do have fun vibes in the towns themselves. But the main sites to see are the castles or forts which were used to hold slaves before they were shipped off to the Americas.

I’ve grown up knowing about the slave trade. I still remember so much of what Ms. Ramsey talked about in our Junior US History course. I remember being horrified at hearing of the conditions on the boats crossing the ocean as well as what happened to slaves on plantations. However, visiting it, standing there, seeing these holding cells…I hope no one goes without being deeply shaken.

We stopped first at Elmina. This harbor town was held by the Dutch who called it ‘The Coast of Gold Mines’ (Da Costa de el Mina de Ouro) after the Portuguese and before the British. We took a guided tour of the Castle of St. George, aka hell.

First we saw where the female slaves were kept. In one of these cells, over a hundred and fifty women would be shoved together. It’s a dungeon cell with very little light. The women were shackled together. There was no where for them to relieve themselves, so that became the new floor of the place. These women were usually held for three months before being put on a ship. They had nothing to help them clean up their monthly cycles. As I said earlier, it was a hot day. Our guide group was about ten people. Just standing apart from each other we smelled from sweating in the heat. Imagine that times fifteen for over three months while no one can take a shower.

Then our tour guide pointed to the governor’s balcony, where the governor would come out to look at the women below. He would pick who he wanted to please himself with. She would be forced up a small staircase, sent to his room, and taken back down to the holding when the rape was done. The other Europeans there also made free with these women. Any woman who resisted was left in the dudgeon courtyard with eight lead balls strapped to her legs and left in the stark heat with no food or water until she relented. Shana and I were both so horrified, we didn’t really know what to say.

I can’t understand how these men could not understand that these people were people. And if they aren’t people, then you shouldn’t want them for sex. As Shana said, “How could so many smart people of the time not question this? Speak out that it’s so wrong?”

The whole thing makes me wonder what we accept now that will be barbaric to future generations.

More than the cruelty of the dungeons or the death sentence of being sent to the containment cell, I was floored by the fact that the fort had a church. And that while doing all of this everyday, the Dutch would refuse to worship in the formerly Catholic sanctuary of the Portuguese and put their “holy” space elsewhere in the fort. Though it may sound too righteous, I could not believe the gall of these men to pray to God like they were good Christians when they were committing such outrageous crimes.

A World Heritage site and one of the largest slave-holding sites in the world, Cape Coast Castle is much larger than St George’s. It’s recommended to stay an hour and a half. Originally a market town, Cape Coast grew to a key trade port between the British sailing in and locals meeting them from their trade routes inside the territory’s jungle. Cape Coast was pivotal in the transatlantic slave triangle.

Shana turned to me when we got there and said she couldn’t listen to another story. I wasn’t sure I could either. We skipped the much lauded tour there and just wandered around for a few minutes. The dungeons were ever so much larger and darker than St. George’s. Walking down into the men’s dudgeon, Shana almost turned back because we could see anything. It was more than four rooms connected. Coming up into the sunlight would have disoriented people enough to ensure they couldn’t overwhelm the guards immediately.  These forts are located along beautiful beaches and are still painted white. They are so deceptively pretty.

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