Elmina Castle, Ghana, November 30, 2007

Trip Start Sep 19, 2007
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Trip End Jan 05, 2008


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Flag of Ghana  ,
Friday, November 30, 2007

There were numerous slave trades in African history - the localized forms of slavery many African tribes practiced, that of the Arabs across the Sahara to North Africa, that of the Arabs from East Africa to Arabia, and the best known of all the trans-Atlantic slave trade conducted by Europeans.  Between the 1500s and early 1800s most European powers engaged in the trans-Atlantic slave trade which took Black slaves from the length of Africa's west coast from today's Senegal to Angola.  This trade, though, was centered on The Gold Coast, an area that today lies mostly in Ghana. 
Thus, Ghana is the site of the best preserved trading forts from that era, posts which engaged in trade of numerous commodities of which gold had perhaps the greatest financial value but humans the greatest notoriety.  Although slaves were taken in tribal warfare and in raids from many regions and far inland, the greatest number passed through trading forts on the Gold Coast.  This area became a center of the trade for two geographic reasons.  First, it was near the production centers of the highly valued commodity whose trade preceded that of slaves - gold.  Secondly, in contrast to the flat and swampy areas that predominate along West Africa's coast, Ghana's coast has many rocky areas that create fine natural harbors. 
We toured two of the old trading forts (or castles, as they are also known) on Ghana's coast, Saint George's Castle in Elmina and Cape Coast Castle, the two places where it is believed more African passed through to slavery in Europe and the Americas or perished than from anywhere else, a significant proportion of the estimated 15 million Africans taken over several centuries in the Atlantic slave trade.  The physical beauty of Saint George's and Cape Coast Castles, both brilliantly white washed, immaculately clean, and impressively perched on low rocky peninsulas that jut into the Atlantic can easily let one forget that they are among the places where mankind has done the worst things to some of its members, places similar in most respects to Auschwitz and other concentration camps in Europe. 
Saint George's Castle was originally built by the Portuguese in the late 1400s, was captured by the Dutch in 1637, and came under British control with the rest of the Gold Coast in 1872.  The fort tour included the commandant's quarters, the church, a museum, and storage and trading rooms for goods, and the turret room where the British imprisoned the Ashanti king, Prempeh I, for four years, but the main attractions were the poignant slave dungeons, rather small dark underground chambers where several hundred slaves were kept at a time in their own excrement and vomit for up to several months until being shipped out.  There were five such male dungeons and two female dungeons at Saint George's Castle alone.  Also shocking were the "death cells", punishment cells where misbehaved or rebellious slaves were packed tightly together and left until all were dead. 
Beyond the castle, Elmina is actually a very rather town with many attractive colonial-era buildings and a big seaside fish market.  In the half hour I had before we continued on to Cape Coast, I took a short wander through the town and market and up a nearby hill to Fort Saint Jago, a smaller Dutch fort built to protect the castle.
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