Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cape Coast Slave Castle

I have gone to museums before. Some more memorable than others, but this, this was an overwhelming monument—evidence of the atrocities that humanity is capable of slipping into throughout history. What does it feel like to visit a slave castle? A feeling of suffocation, helplessness, and humiliation for mankind. A haunting sensation-like walking among the shadows of ghosts. I have asked Myra to help me with some pictures. In some ways I feel like we had two completely different experiences, each viable in their own right.

Allow me to share what I learned by going on the museum portion of the site, now situated in the British quarters offering a history of slave trade and the Cape Coast Slave Castle in context.

For more than one hundred years, the Portuguese exploited the wealth of the Gold Coast (former Ghana) and dominated trade without European competition, but when other nations, such as Britain, Denmark, Sweden, and France, picked up on the resource trading posts were set up all along the west coast of Africa. Elmina (just up the road) and Cape Coast were especially significant because they were the most likely constructed with approval from local leaders from communities who were fighting among themselves. At one time there were sixty posts and strongholds within a three hundred mile stretch along the coast of Ghana.

Cape Coast and Elmina were two of the largest outposts and the regional headquarters for the development of trade in the area. They had soldiers, merchant doctors, and officials, but they also served to protect the local population in times of war as a trade off.

Cape Coast, I learned, has quite a history. The origins are still a little obscure, but it was built by the Portuguese and has been extended and passed to several different countries like the Dutch, Swedes, Danes, until finally being captured by the English in 1664.

The most notable thing I found in the museum was a sign above the entrance of one of the doorways with this quote by Marcus Gravey. “No one knows when the hour of Africa’s redemption cometh. It is in the wind, it is coming. One day like a storm it will be here. When that day comes, all Africa will stand together.” That really stuck with me, and I asked the local museum worker what he thought of that statement. He thought of it as a kind of prophecy, but struggles with the reality of it. We talked a little bit about the World Cup and how that might be a positive indication of Pan-Africanism, but he has yet to believe it.

When we were ready to begin the tour of the slave quarters our local tour guide pointed out the two plaques that marked the entrance. One mentioned Obama’s visit last July, and the other the dedication of the castle. Our guide was very passionate that we learn these lessons and not merely remember them in history, but that we vow it will not happen again. All things considered, he was surprisingly nonjudgmental towards any one particular group of people, and seemed to have a balanced perspective of the larger picture.

Before we enter the slave cells with Myra, let me just mention a conversation I had with my friend Michael about this experience. Once we returned from our mid semester retreat I shared some of my many pictures with him. While we were thumbing through I noticed it was not the monkey sanctuary or hippo hunting pictures he lingered on, it was these from the slave castle. He has yet to go, but was a little disappointed that I did not leave a flower wreath along with Obama’s from his visit. If I ever return I will not make that mistake again.



British Quarters

Original Canons. Aimed at Castles Up the Coast.

"May those who return find their roots"

Entrance to Slave Quarters

"There is a ghost on guard at Memory's door" Kofi Anyidoho

The Men's Slave Quarters. Held 1,000 slaves at a time. Sat directly below the church chapel.

Window of the sick cell

The chains and fingernails on the cement of the condemned cell.

The Door of No Return. The passage to board the boats to leave home forever.


(Field Notes:51.2-3, 87.16, Images from Mid Semester Retreat)

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