After a long and very busy week we decided to take a trip to Cape Coast and Elmina Castle. The small fishing town of Elmina is located on the south coast of Ghana. It is known for its fishing market and its history of Trans-Atlantic slavery.
In 1471 the Portuguese arrived on the Gold Coast. Their interest in trading for gold, ivory and pepper increased over the years and in 1482 they constructed a permanent trading post on the western coast of Ghana. They named it Elmina Castle. Elmina Castle was originally built for
the trading of goods however as the demand for slavery increased in the Americas and Caribbean, Elmina Castle began to be a strategic point for slave trades. Slave trading was already a part of numerous African societies before European nations descended in Africa. Most men and women became slaves by being captured in local warfare. It has been suggested by some scholars that some traditional African chiefs engaged in wars in order to obtain slaves for trading and secure access to trade routes. The west coast of Africa became the source of slaves and attracted numerous Europeans. This resulted in many rivalries amongst European and African groups for control of the slave trade.
The storerooms of Elmina Castle were converted into dungeons. In these dark dungeons the slaves were intimidated, tortured, and treated by actions causing indignity. Up to 300 slaves were shackled and forced to live in each confined space. There was hardly any room to breath properly or move, food was scarce, and diseases spread easily. The captives were forced to defecate in the dungeons they lived in which added to the unsanitary living conditions and stench. Those who became sick were not cared for and often died.
Some slaves were chained to cannonballs in the middle of courtyards as a punishment for being “difficult” or “uncooperative”. They would be left to stand in the blistering hot sun for days as an example to the other slaves of the torture they would have to endure if they were not compliant to orders. Women would be raped regularly and rebellious captives were murdered or placed in solitary confinement in a small, dark, airtight room and left to starve.
In Elmina Castle there is a plaque above a door leading to the ocean. It states “The Door of No Return”. Through this door, thousands of slaves would leave Elmina Castle and be placed into slave ships that would transport them to slave traders across the Atlantic to the New World. Once through these doors the slaves knew that they would not return to their home country and were now being taken to a place in which they had no knowledge of. They were forced to leave behind their home, language, identity, families, and culture.
Modern Day Slavery
Walking through Cape Coast’s Elmina Castle, listening to the tour guide speak of the horrors that were the activities of the slave trade provides an overwhelming sense of eeriness to the visitor. Realizing the horrendous conditions that thousands of innocent people were put through allows us to recognize just how fortunate we are to be free. However, with our recognition often comes a false sense of comfort, relieving in the belief that the world has been completely freed from slavery.
Hanging upon the wall as one enters the castle reads a a plaque, dedicated to the many lives lost in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade trade:
“ In Everlasting Memory
of the anguish of our ancestors.
May those who died rest in peace.
May those who return find their roots.
May humanity never again perpetrate
such injustice against humanity.
We. The living vow to uphold this. ”
Although the message reads as one of remembrance, placing such injustices in the past and vowing to uphold a future without them, the unfortunate reality is that cases of slavery are still currently being reported worldwide.
The 2013 Global Slavery Index reports that an estimated 30 million people around the world are living as slaves in approximately 162 countries (BBC, 2013). Amongst the most highly ranked countries still involved in slavery include: India, China, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Ethiopia. People worldwide are still being sold, forced to work for little to no pay, and placed at the complete mercy of their employers.
Ironically, slavery has yet to even be completely abolished from Ghana itself. There have been recent cases of child slaves found working within the fishing, cocoa, and gold industries in the country (United States Department of Labor, 2012). These children are reported to be subjected to physical and emotional abuse, detrimental working conditions, and long work hours.
Modern day slavery is not limited in regards to its victim population. Men, women, girls, and boys are all subjects of human trafficking. Further, contemporary examples of these illegal and degrading activities include debt bondage, organ trafficking, sexual exploitation, child prostitution, forced labour, and forced marriage (CBC, 2012).
Visiting Elmina Castle was truly an eye opening experience. Learning about the hardships that countless innocent individuals had to face prompted us to become more aware of current, like injustices that are occurring in today’s societies. Instead of allowing our minds to believe that these kinds of activities are abolished, let us instead abide by the words engraved upon the plaque and become more informed about these kinds of issues.
“ May humanity never again perpetrate
such injustice against humanity.
We. The living now vow to uphold this. ”