I’ve visited several former slave islands, houses, forts and castles throughout Africa. However, none of these visits have been as disturbing as my visit to Elmina Castle near Cape Coast, Ghana. Read on.
Elmina Castle Facts
Elmina Castle was created by the Portuguese in 1482. Firstly as a fort which was later expanded into the castle you see today. It’s believed the name Elmina came from the Portuguese ‘al mina’ which means ‘the mine’. The mine is referencing the vast amount of gold mines in the area. However, Elmina is also Arabic for harbor and there is an argument that this is where the name came from. In 1637 the Dutch captured the castle from the Portuguese. It’s during the Dutch period when Elmina Castle was its most prosperous. Sadly, the profits in this area came from the slave trade and gold mining. European exploitation of Africa is a more suitable way to describe the purpose of this castle. Finally, the British ruled the castle from 1872 to 1957 when both the slave trade and gold rush were over.
The Slave Museum is located within the former Portuguese Catholic Church. Not only can you view the church interior but you can also view images of Elmina Castle and its surroundings throughout the years. This Slave Museum has a few original items from these years such as slave shackles on display.
Male Slave Dungeon
Male slaves were kept in a cramped, dark room with very little ventilation. Not only were hundreds of slaves in shackles packed in here but they were also shackled. They were fed very little and had no access to toilets. When they were fed, the food wasn’t handed to each slave, it was simply passed through a hole in the wall. The slaves would then share what little food they had.
Male Slave Dungeon Interior
All slaves could do is sit and wait for the next slave ship to come into port which could be months. Not a lot of people are aware of this but slaves would be brought here from all over the region and would not all speak the same language. A European equivalent to this would be people from France, Britain, Netherlands and Portugal being locked up together. Communication between them would be impossible. Finally, some slaves would be in the dark so long that they became blind.
Female Slave Quarters
The female slave quarters were conveniently located close to the Governors quarters. As a matter of fact, at the other side of the courtyard is a staircase to the Governors quarters. Female slaves would be taken there and they didn’t have any other choice. If they did have a choice, the only other option was punishment and potentially death.
Female Slave Punishment
Female slaves who refused to cooperate with their Dutch masters would be cruelly punished. They would stripped naked and shackled to a heavy metal ball. In this state, they would be displayed opposite the female slave quarters in the courtyard. Not only were they exposed to the hot sun but they were also starved for several days. Consequently, the Dutch would torture any female slave who refused to sleep with them and those that didn’t were made an example of.
Slave Prison Cell
What happened to slaves which rebelled? Slaves rightly believed it was unjust being kidnapped in their own country by foreign invaders. Even worse, they were about to be shipped to another continent against their will. Despite being kept weak by the Europeans, some slaves were able to rebel. Unfortunately, rebelling would see them put in the slave prison cell. It’s believed that no slave came back out of this cell alive. Before you enter, I must warn you, this slave cell still smells of death to this day.
Slave Prison Cell Interior
Firstly, the picture I took of the interior was taken with the door open and using night mode on my phone. In reality, this is a dark room which still smells of death to this day. When I first entered, my guide unexpectedly closed the door just to give me a glimpse of the pain slaves felt. Thankfully for me, he opened it again and I was free.
Slaves were no doubt beaten before being thrown in the slave prison cell. Once in this hot, dark room, they had no access to any food or water. I have no doubt that corpses from previous slaves would also surround them. All they could do here was die a slow death. Scratch marks made in desperation are clearly visible on the walls.
Stairs to the Governors Office
What disturbed me most about this slave castle was how the female slave were treat when it came to rape. I have no doubt this happened at slave islands and castles throughout the region but the guides did not explain how it worked like they did here at Elmina Slave Castle. If a European castle resident or the castle governor himself desired the company of a female slave they would summon one directly from the female slave quarters. For many female slaves that meant they would climb this staircase to the European quarters. They either complied or faced being shackled to the heavy stone in the courtyard. Once in the European quarters they would be cleaned and given a meal before being raped.
The castle governor had his own large room with balcony overlooking the castle. He would live a life of luxury in complete contrast to the kidnapped Africans below. The two main threats to the Europeans in the castle were other Europeans as well as disease mainly transmitted through mosquitoes.
Views from Elmina Castle
Elmina Castle offers stunning sea views. Europeans could enjoy these views which was in stark contrast to the slaves kept in the dungeons below. Today everyone can enjoy these views together!
Once the female slaves had been cleaned and eaten she would then climb the ornate staircase to the governors quarters. For the female slave, this kind of staircase was a world away from the dungeon below or even the place she was kidnapped from. These ladies must have been so scared. What’s worse is that female slaves of all ages were captured so who knows how young they were. Rape and exploitation of women was not solely done by the governor. Other Europeans living in the castle would also be involved, even those who were part of the church. As a matter of fact, doesn’t the whole meaning of religion lose its purpose in a place like this? Europeans praying in church whilst holding kidnapped Africans against their will in dungeons below doesn’t sound religious to me.
Route to the Door of No Return
When the slave ship was in port it was time for the slave to leave Elmina Castle. They would walk through the narrow passage to the Door of No Return and onto the slave ship. This would take these kidnapped Africans to the Americas. The conditions on the ship were just as bad as those in the castle. As a result several slaves would die on route.
Door of No Return
You cannot walk through the Door of No Return at Elmina Castle for 2 reasons. Firstly, dues to the changing landscape it’s no longer lined up with the beach. Secondly, it’s too narrow to squeeze through anyway. When I looked at the guide in disbelief that this was in fact the Door of No Return, he explained something to me. He told me Africans are typically bigger and stronger than the average European. For this reason, Europeans left slaves in rooms with very little food to keep them weak and prevent an uprising. What’s more, because they became so skinny, they could easily pass through this tiny door.
For centuries African men and women were stolen and sent to the Americas. On top of this, anything of value in the continent was stolen. To make matters worse, Africa was then split up into colonial countries where the exploitation continued. Even after colonial rule, European countries continued to exploit Africa one way or another. Be it through currency or war in Africa, Europe was the main beneficiary and even today this exploitation continues. Remember all the luxuries you have in Europe when you visit arts and crafts shops in the castle. For sure, whoever is creating and selling these items has not had anywhere near the luxuries you have. In addition to the souvenir shops there are local charities which help street children in Ghana.
Respectfully Visit Elmina Castle – Slave Castle in Ghana
Visit Elmina Castle, pay attention to the guide and learn the truth about a Slave Castle in Africa. Although what happened is horrifying beyond belief, Europeans are still very welcome here, as is everyone from every nationality. In addition to European visitors as myself, many African Americans who have traced their routes also visit this castle.