The old slave castle looks peaceful today, covered with a coat of
white paint and overlooking the waves lapping the rocks along the
Local boys play soccer matches among abandoned buildings nearby.
In the evenings they move into the castle and fill the warm air with
the beat of energetic drum circles.
None of this can overshadow Cape Coast Castle's gruesome past for
hundreds of tourists who pass through each week to tour the grounds
and weep in its eerie dungeons.
Cape Coast lies about three hours from Accra, the modern capital
of Ghana, on a stretch of West Africa known as the Gold Coast.
Ghana may well have the highest concentration of slave posts
anywhere in the world, giving it the dubious nickname "the shopping
street of West Africa."
Dozens of historic castles, forts, and trading posts may still be
found along a coastline less than 310 miles long.
In Cape Coast and nearby Elmina, the castles have been converted
into well-maintained museums that educate as much as they torment,
while many other forts are now inexpensive hotels with breathtaking
views of the ocean.
This former British colony has become a destination for African-
Americans digging for their roots or looking for a different
perspective of the continent that seems to generate only bad-news
Because it is one of the few stable, democratic countries on the
continent, and one where English is the official language, American
tourists generally feel comfortable here.
Ghana Airlines offers nonstop flights once a week from New York
and Washington to Accra, and British Airways flies through London.
Finding a round-trip ticket for under $800 is nearly impossible,
but, once you've arrived, you'll find that everything in Ghana tends
to be inexpensive.
It's easy to find comfortable accommodations in Accra or Cape
Coast for less than $70 per night, and a scenic, safe highway
connects the two coastal cities. The best time to go is in February
and March or July and August, just before the Gold Coast's two rainy
"I have come full circle back to my destiny: from Africa to
America and back to Africa," Atlanta resident Contrena Randolph
wrote in the guest book at Cape Coast Castle, built by Swedes in
1653. "I could hear the cries and wails of my ancestors. I weep with
them and for them."
Kwadwo Opoku-Agyemang, a professor of literature at the
University of Cape Coast, warns against the danger of forgetting, in
poems about Ghana's slavery castles: "In silence and alone mothers
hear the cries of their stolen children. The castle breathes
sweetness. If people died of all the things they remember, we would
The tour through Cape Coast Castle is saddening though subtle, as
the soft-voiced guide speaks with neither anger nor alarm in his
voice. He points out scratch marks nearly two feet high on the
dungeon walls, the height to which prisoners' waste reached as they
waited, sometimes for months, for slavery ships to take them to the
"Something startles where I thought I was safest," writes
Professor Opoku-Agyemang. "The darkness of the dark continent was
born here in the fretful culture of dense fear."
The tourist also sees the one-room, windowless cells, where
unruly prisoners were condemned to death by starvation.
This contrasts sharply with the roomy, illuminated quarters
upstairs for the Europeans occupying the castle at that time.
But Cape Coast's most powerful display is a Smithsonian-funded
exhibition saved for the end of the tour. It provides a
chronological journey through local history, before the Europeans
arrived, showing the traditional lives of local African tribes, both
around Cape Coast and also farther inland, where the majority of the
The men hollowed out canoes and painted them with symbols. …