Abe Lincoln once said – “Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.” Words which hang heavy in the air as I step into Elmina castle.
Castles conjure dreams of fairy tales and knights in shining armors. Amidst all the tales of gruesome wars and blood baths also lie tales of heroism and romance. Elmina is a far cry from all of this. The castle was first established as a trade settlement by the Portuguese. After many a takeover, it became one of the most important stops on the route of the Atlantic slave trade. Located on the Gold Coast and exploited for its importance as a crucial source of gold, Elmina grew in importance in the 18th century. With that also grew the demand and supply of Africans as slaves. Elmina and its surrounding region soon became a holding point for people marched from interiors and held captive here for countless days under inhuman conditions throughout this period.
First view of Elmina Castle on the Cape Coast road
The entrance to the Castle. The white castle against the backdrop of the azure sky and sea paints a pretty Grecian picture today. For people in history, this was the most dreaded place they knew.
The central courtyard. The rooms, or shall I say cells, circling this was where the captives were held before transport.
They were just crammed into tiny rooms – like peas in a pod – joined together to live or die in their own sweat and tears, blood and excreta.
A tiny slit in the wall without a direct view was the only source of fresh air and natural light.
This was the Door of No Return – a small, slim door through which the captives boarded the waiting ships to sail to far away shores. When I asked my guide about the slimness of the exit, he merely said there was just a skeleton left by the time the people reached this door. Many never made it to this door and many did not make it to the shores beyond.
Punishment for any sort of disobedience was harsh. For the rulers and the ruled. A dark cell was the answer but no it wasn’t the same for both. The cell (again crammed to maximum capacity for the slaves) for the ruled had an iron door with just a few holes for air and a slit in the wall whereas the ruler punishment cell was a little airy and usually empty.
The door on the left with the skeleton face and cross below was for the prisoners while the door on the right was for any misbehaving soldiers.
Today a bustling town greets the visitor at Elmina. With a beautiful coastline and ample fishing opportunities the locals here thrive. Located close to the capital Accra, this is a popular weekend getaway and resorts offering virtually private beaches dot the coast.
Local tradesmen carrying their goods cross the golden sandy beaches
Just round the corner from all this, Elmina castle stands. It has survived the most ruthless chapter world history has ever witnessed and its people have come out stronger for it.