Our base for the first half of the trip was Ko-Sa Beach Resort, about 20 minutes west of Elmina. We love living in the city – access to more goods, events, and people – but every now and then it’s nice to escape, and Ko-Sa provided a perfect location.
From there we drove to Kakum National Park, a tropical forest reserve. The park is quite a ways from our school – about four hours one day and another hour and a half the second day, but yet we found ourselves crossing paths with one of my students. Moments like that always make Ghana feel much smaller than it should be!
After a short hike into the reserve, we found ourselves at the park’s canopy walkway. It is 350 meters long and is suspended between seven treetops. Ranging between 40 and 50 meters high, it offers incredible views of the surrounding foliage.
Then, because all trips seem rushed at the beginning, we were off and headed to Elmina. We had driven through the town the night before and now were back to tour St. George Castle (also known as Elmina Castle). The Portuguese built this castle in 1482 and it was the first trading post built on the Gulf of Guinea. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was one of the most important stops on the route of the Atlantic slave trade.
The Dutch seized the fort in 1637 and continued the slave trade until 1814. In 1872, the fort became a possession of the British Empire and in 1957, Great Britain granted the Gold Coast its independence and control of the fort passed to Ghana.
Once again, it was difficult to admire the beautiful architecture, knowing how many people were treated as less than humans here. This time, we were taken into two cells, side-by-side. One was well ventilated with fresh air blown in from the sea. The other was dark and stifling. Both were used for “unruly” subordinates – the first, rowdy soldiers, the second runaway slaves. Those locked into the first cell were released a few hours later. Those locked into the second cell never walked back out.
There were other, equally reprehensible qualities about Elmina Castle. Just like at Cape Coast Castle, the governor had the highest, most spacious rooms. Only this time, he had a balcony that overlooked a courtyard surrounded by the female slave cells.
The male cells were far away, but the governor wanted the female slaves nearby so that they could be paraded in the courtyard. The governor then had the perfect view from which to select his victims. The women either submitted to the rape or were punished as runaway slaves and were never seen again. Even the women who submitted were often raped by multiple officers before being taken back to the communal cells.
Stories like these were hard to hear, and more than once I wondered why I had agreed to spend the first few days of our vacation surrounded by such depressing topics. But ignoring these actions doesn’t make them go away, and the only way to prevent future atrocities is to truly understand what happened in the past.
There was an incredibly powerful visual in one of the rooms. One of the cells had become home to a colony of bats and it was incredible to stand in there and count those bats, knowing that room used to house just as many humans. I don’t know how so many people could stay silent and allow that kind of injustice for so long.
An argument I’ve heard many times is that “we,” the “white man” didn’t start slavery. Africans were capturing and enslaving people as spoils of war long before the Europeans came. But something our guide said really stayed with me.
He said that, often, African captives enslaved by other tribes could work off their freedom. And that in fact, many times, the captives became part of the family they worked for – often marrying their owner’s son or daughter and being invited into the family. Their living conditions were often similar to that of the family. They were treated as people.
Looking out over the city of Elmina from the top of the castle, I couldn’t help but think of the United States. We may not have started slavery, but we helped twist and form it into a monster that is still affecting our day-to-day lives. Nothing more powerfully shows that than our current election.
How a man, a “man of the people,” could speak such hate toward just about every group of people (excepting white men of course) and still find himself, not only in a place of power, but as one of two main candidates for president baffles me.
Say what you want about politics, the other side, etc., this man is dangerous because of nearly everything he says and stands for. I don’t like to get political, I normally think, in any election, both sides will do an equally mediocre job with the presidency. This year is different. This year, I’m standing up for inclusion. Equality. Open-mindedness. Minorities. Women.
This year, I will not vote for Trump.