Ghana Castle of No Return: Over 500 Years Old, the Elmina Castle in Ghana, the Largest Slave-Holding Fort during TransAtlantic Slavery, Has Become a Major Tourist Attraction in Spite of Its Tragic History. Josephine Akarue Has Just Been There

By Akarue, Josephine | New African, June 2004 | Go to article overview

Ghana Castle of No Return: Over 500 Years Old, the Elmina Castle in Ghana, the Largest Slave-Holding Fort during TransAtlantic Slavery, Has Become a Major Tourist Attraction in Spite of Its Tragic History. Josephine Akarue Has Just Been There


Akarue, Josephine, New African


It is evening. As the white waves cascade over the huge sedimentary rocks that have defied age and weather, the voices of tourists and other holidaymakers mingle with the smell of fish, and waft through the salty, crisp air.

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Yet, untouched, undaunted by all these, is the ever stony white face of one castle that has stood over 500 years and held within its bowels, one of mankind's most gruesome history--slavery.

Here, mankind's ultimate inhumanity became etched on the faces of others and stamped on each stony wall. Welcome to Elmina Castle.

Perched on the rocky fringes of the beach in Elmina town, 12 km from Cape Coast, the castle was originally built in 1482 as a trading post. Local history says the quest for more gold and ivory, as well as the spread of Christianity, inspired Don Diego D'Azambuja, a Portuguese explorer, to lead more than 200 soldiers and masons to build the castle. It was then christened St George's Castle.

Here, the Portuguese felt safe from any external or local aggression. Then, as the old years peeled away to reveal a newer one, the lure of gold paled away into insignificance while the prospect of capturing stronger Africans to work the fields in the Americas became more exhilarating.

Along with this prospect were bigger profits. Gradually, St George's Castle metamorphosed into Elmina Castle, shedding its old name and innocence.

The cells that once held bars of gold became dungeons for humans. And days and nights overlapped in an endless cycle of pain and torture.

The only source of light and ventilation were tiny holes in the upper part of these stony prisons. The smell of human waste and sweat enveloped the thin air until the captives slowly lost all hope. Today, the people of Elmina recall that part of their painful history and recoil in pain.

Mark Tetteh, a tourist guide at Elmina Castle, quotes historians as saying that slavery began in a rather curious manner. Way back in 1441, a Portuguese, Antan Gonclaves, and his crew on a return voyage to Portugal, had stopped at a place called Rio d'Oro--place of gold, believed to be somewhere in today's Guinea (Conakry). Having captured 10 natives, he took them with him to Portugal.

Three reasons were given for this: to educate and train them to serve as interpreters for the Portuguese whenever they returned to Africa; to be trained as missionaries, and to serve as souvenirs or proofs of their visit to Africa.

Whatever reasons were given, these captives never came back. By the 1500s, the demand for West Africans to replace Native Americans in the Spanish plantations in the West Indies, became part of Elmina's sad story.

From that moment, no seasoned Portuguese explorer wanted to venture the turbulent oceans to Africa without going back with slaves. Interestingly, the Spaniards had taken the counsel of a Catholic missionary, Bartholomew de Casas, then residing in the West Indies quite seriously.

The missionary is said to have informed the Spaniards that West Africans were more resilient and used to working longer hours under more severe conditions. In 1510, some West Africans were sent to work the fields in the Americans and their strength became their undoing.

Incidentally, while the Portuguese were now fully involved in slave trading, the Dutch, who were also traders dealing in gold and ivory, were in Moree, just about 20km away.

Soon, the huge profits supposedly made from slave trade, drew the jealousy of the Dutch who attempted twice to dislodge the Portuguese from Elmina Castle. These attacks came in 1596 and 1626, a 30-year-gap in time. Both were unsuccessful.

About 11 years later, on 26 August 1637, the Dutch finally got their way with the help of the local people who felt that the Portuguese had exploited their hospitality and turned their land, Elmina--gold mine, into a slave mine. …

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Ghana Castle of No Return: Over 500 Years Old, the Elmina Castle in Ghana, the Largest Slave-Holding Fort during TransAtlantic Slavery, Has Become a Major Tourist Attraction in Spite of Its Tragic History. Josephine Akarue Has Just Been There
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