Reflection by Lex Trevelino
Elmira Castle – A Holding Prison for Slaves
Today we visited the Elmina Slave Castle on what is known as the Gold Coast of Ghana. As we got off the bus we were swarmed by locals asking our names and trying to sell us their “one of a kind” artwork, but once we got through the doorway of the castle the hagglers left us alone. Our tour guide hadn’t arrived yet so we waited in the first Portuguese church, which has been converted into a museum. Here are a few facts that I remember: The Castle was built in 1482 when the Portuguese arrived looking to trade. At first they traded gold and salt with the locals. Then it shifted to the slave trade and the castle was transformed into a dungeon to hold the slaves before they were put on the boats and trafficked around the world. In the 1670’s the Dutch took over the castle and the trade. Our guide pointed out to us the red bricks were used by the Portuguese and the Dutch used yellow bricks. The British took over after the Dutch until Ghana earned its independence in 1957.
First we went to the Women’s Slave Dungeon. Our guide explained to us how the Governor would choose women to use, how the guards would clean the women with the well-water and walk them up to the governors rooms. Afterwards the women would just get thrown back into the dungeon.
He said the Europeans would force 150 people into dungeon cells not much bigger than a school bus. We went into another cell that had rags and chains on the ground. Our guide explained to us that last year 48 Africans from all over the continent put themselves in this cell to be able to relate to the hardships the slaves endured. They stripped down and covered themselves with only the rags and chained themselves just like the slaves. They stayed in there for 12 hours and experienced only a small taste of the terrible conditions of the cell in the past, which included the accumulation of urine, feces, and vomit.
Next we visited the Room of No Return – this was the room where slaves would go to board the boats that would take them to the large ships. Our guide told us something very moving: that in slavery every stage was worse than the one before. The boats were far worse than the dungeons at the castle. Our guide quoted one captain saying they put slaves on the boats like books on a bookshelf. No space was to be wasted. Also the slaves were chained together and more often than not they would be chained to a dead corpse. The lack of space, food, and water is what lead to nearly half of the slaves on board dying. Pregnancies were also very common aboard the boats. The horror mothers endured was terrible.
Our guide then took us to a smaller cell and locked us in. This was the cell Europeans were thrown into when they got too drunk. It was considerably nicer than the ones for the slaves. Right next to it was the dungeon where they would kill slaves. They shut them into the room with no food, no water, no light and would starve them to death.
The castle was very moving and it was very frightening to imagine what these people must have been through. Words can not accurately describe it. It hard to imagine that approximately 500 slaves were taken each month from this Castle for over 300 years. That’s around 1,800,000 people. It’s simply astonishing that this practice endured for so long. Our guide ended the tour by asking each of us to take action in our daily lives to ensure that no such tragedy happens again.