I have gone forth and back to Ghana and each time I must visit Elmina Castle above. Like a kid once told me in the city of Port Harcourt, ’Everybody goes to Ghana’. But to me, nobody goes to Ghana until you visit Elmina Slave Castle. As an African, there is no other beautiful way to have a feel of what our fore fathers felt centuries ago, like a visit to Elimina. Our past can help us to chart a better future for our children, that is what I learn every time, I step on the ‘Point of No Return’, in Elmina Castle. Join me, in this flash black as we take a journey through the sands of time and take a front seat peep to witness the evil inflicted upon Africans of yore. Let place our feet on the soil, remember and pay homage to all the dead Africans, to hear, smell, feel the suffering and hear the voices beckoning that we must not forget what was done here centuries ago.
Elmina took its name from the Portuguese word ‘Al Mina’ meaning ‘the mine’. It was given to this town because of its richness in gold. And it served as headquarters for Portuguese trade in Africa, it was considered as one of the most important possessions of the Portuguese empire. The town is situated along the Coast of Cape Coast, Ghana. Elmina was the first point of contact with Europeans, when the Portuguese arrived in 1471, to trade in gold, spices, ivory and other African artifacts.
In 1482, the desire for more gold and to spread Christianity, led Portuguese Don Diego D’Azambuja to gather about 200 soldiers, masons, carpenters and other artisans to build Elmina Castle. Initially, it was meant to serve as a trading post, to protect trade and traders from possible attacks by other European states and local people. But, in 1637, the castle was taken over by the Dutch, who kept control for another 274 years. Under command of the Dutch, Elmina became headquarters for the West India Company. Then, the misery of our fore fathers commenced on a larger scale.
As the castle was used to mainly ‘store’ slaves from Burkina Faso, Togo, Niger, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Mali, Ghana and from other slave markets in the hinterland, where slaves were ‘sorted‘according to age and sex, and sold. Some of the most able bodied Africans were auctioned for the highest bidders, while they waited for slave ships to arrive and collect them.
In Elmina, millions of Africans had passed over this ground, sacred ground, connecting death trails to cold, cruel coastal dungeons ,via the belly of the sea in merchant ships and through the chilling, shivering and harsh reality of Plantations in the Americas, as if there are no grave in Africa.
According to the rapporteur, a convivial gentleman and guide, it is estimated that at least one thousand men and women were held in the enormous vaulted dungeons at any one time. Divided into two, there is a cell for female and then another one for the male. Particularly, there is one cell known as ‘condemned cell’ where ‘troublesome slaves’ were kept. The room is dark, without any ventilation as only a very small window is fixed for air and light. All of these are mainly below the sea level in the belly of the earth. At a time, deposed King Prempeh of Asante was said to have been kept here before being exiled to the Seychelles. The infamous Christopher Columbus was also said to have apparently used this castle as one of his bases for his exploitative mission to ‘discover’ the so called New World.
Infact, the history of Elmina littered with the bloods and bones of Africans who had trekked and trekked from violent captures, struggles to resist and killed. Of those who had fell sick from fatigue and frail body and soul. Elmina history is littered with the African bodies strewn along its path, left for dead or killed for defiance, and whose bodies were left for vultures, and other animals of prey to feed upon.
Apart from the main evil of slave trade, certain unforgettable evil occurred here. There was a Governor, who presided over the colony from Elmina. But life in the castle was too boring as the castle was always sort of short of women, ’the salt of life’. Since, there was an official ‘ regimento’, or set of regulations from Europe , set down for any outpost, in 1529 which mandated that at any given time, Elmina Castle must not have more than four women, (who were required to cook, nurse, and, for a set fee, provide sexual services to the men).
Consequently, therefore to satisfy the sexual appetite of the lord of the manor, whose libido was higher than the mythological incubus, he would take a vintage point from the dungeon and pointed to any appealing damsel of his choice. Quickly, the woman would be washed and prepared for the master to copulate with her. After which she would be returned. The men of the Governor were no better. And infact, outright raping and forced conjugation was the norm. In most cases, an issue always marked such unions of the ‘beauty and the beast’, and hence by the 16th century a new breed of African known as mulattos were formed and already recognized as a distinct segment of the population.
By early 18th century, the first set of apartheid practices surfaced in Africa; when a communal house was built just behind the Elmina Castle across a small canal for all such children. At the age of 5 or 6 years, they were separated from both the Africans and the Europeans. In the communal house, they were educated in the art of letters, the foundation of economics, and some crafts, as well as in the making of plantations. And granted special status, this group was known as the vrijburgers,in Dutch or 'free citizens' or 'free people,' in English and they were given the rights and privileges afforded by Dutch law.
Millions of slaves were shipped through this castle. You can still see the old cannons and you would be able to take a tour of the castle and even get a look at the "Door of No Return” that so many slaves walked through. Once a slave, stepped on that spot, it was believed that even ‘God’ could not slave such slave again. In 1664, the British took over the Castle. And after the abolition of the slave trade, the British Crown took possession of the castle and adapted it into a garrison of the British Frontier Force .Today, Elmina Castle stands as testimony to the age of European exploitation and the subjugation of Africans by Europeans. The Castle is now a UNESCO Heritage site and a tourist delight.
My next comments might look or sound rather unbelievable, but it is true. You can still perceive the stench of the slaves that passed through this place several centuries ago. And when you get to the dungeons, you won’t but hear the clenched cry of pain and agony of those that were bound with shackles and fetters there, centuries before now. It is not a mere dejavu, some of such are like the blood of Abel, and nothing can ever drown the cry of vengeance. I have met Europeans and American tourists there before, they confirmed my feelings.
Perhaps one day the world would realize that the slave trade, the Middle Passage phenomenon is worst than the Holocaust. Slave trade is the worst of all the evils and cruelties ever known to man. Million slaves had died en route to the Americas and millions more suffered in the crowded, disease-ridden, dark bowels of the merchant ships. The effects of the transatlantic slave trade had led to the destruction of African cultural traditions, languages, and religious practices(can someone remember, the Austrian- Late Mrs. Susan Wenger’s protective work in Osun- Oshogbo) and development, from which only few African nations, if any had recovered. The pains felt by African families torn apart by the hands of the Dutch, Spanish, and English traders and merchants and the greedy profits gained by European nations and the burgeoning colonies in the Americas, Like, Judas Iscariot’s retuned thirty pieces of silver is nothing but the ‘price of blood’ and anything done with such is anything but ’The field of blood’.
In my sojourn to Ghana, I have come to realize, that the Ghanaians are the real and remaining Negro specie on the continent of Africa. Other Africans, through genetic mutation, geographic drift and probably or perhaps through sexual selection have lost with time and tide, their real African-ness; the warmth to their guests, their untainted Negro skin and physique among other. There is always an exciting mix of friendly folks around Cape Coast and Elmina in particular.
Within less than a second, you can be a friend to the most beautiful girl around –no pretence or playing hard ‘hide and seek’ game .The aged ones are outstanding unlicensed rapporteurs and moving encyclopedia, they are always eager to be a friend and talk to you as one old time friend, sharing a long time folk tale that evoke a graphic details and pains of slavery? You can never get missing in a crowd. There are fresh fruits, fish and good local brew around. I always like my local delicacy while in Ghana,in ‘Buske’, Nigeria’s equivalent of ’Mama put’, you won’t get that in ’On-The-Run’ (Ghana’s Mr Biggs). ‘Banku’ made of corn and cassava with Hkatenkuuwan soup, served with a big clay bowl, always my delight. I always prefer washing it down with Lamujii, but I think pito (a local brew with marginal alcoholic contents) still remain my main choice to wash the delicacy down the troublesome alimentary canal- Bon Appétit .
And if you are from Western Nigeria, you will surely relish the local greetings of the good people of Cape Coast which is not assimilar to the Yorubas’ WELCOME greeting; ‘Eku abaa’
In memory of the people who passed through this horrifying horror, a giant wreath is placed close to the inner side of the exit door with the seal of the governor of the state of Maryland, United States. While conspicuously is a modest plague with the following Inscriptions;
“IN THE 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”
I dedicate this to the people of Libya, Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe, and Venezuela and everywhere, where the spirit of slavery is rearing its ugly head again. And to all my friends in Ghana and the 6 Million registered Nigerians domiciled in Ghana-One love, one God, one destiny. Africa shall rise again-AMEN!!!
First published via :http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=219709254707578&set=a.214784528533384.59158.100000055151673&type=3 ...Dated May 3, 2011