Like visiting a Concentration Camp, my visit to Cape Coast Castle in Ghana was a somber reminder of the depravity of the human race.
A Day Trip To Cape Coast Castle in Ghana
I hired a driver in Accra for the four-hour, 150-kilometer journey. The concierge at the Accra Marriott Hotel hooked me up with a friend and I negotiated a price of $120 (about 700 Ghanaian Cedi) for round-trip transport in an air-conditioned car with driver/guide, which was only slightly more than a round-trip on Uber. That included admission into Cape Coast castle.
The Drive To Cape Coast
Four hours for 150 kilometers? Yes…traffic was bad and the roads not always in the best condition. More than 70% of Ghanians identify as Christian and this was clearly evident during the drive down, though I shook my head in sadness at the “prophets” offering to heal strokes…
On the way down we also passed Fort Amsterdam, a UNESCO World Heritage site and remanent of the Dutch Gold Coast. It was but one of many slave castles along the coast of West Africa, though not as notorious as Cape Coast or Elmina Castle.
We also stopped at the first Methodist church in Ghana (my guide was Methodist), built in 1835 and located right outside the castle and fort in Cape Coast.
The Castle Grounds
We reached the castle at about 15:45. The structure is deteriorating, but stands a stark reminder of a horrific past. A guided tour was set to begin at 16:30, so I used the first 45 minutes to walk around the grounds myself and also check out the museum portion of the castle, one of the many Ghana museums and monuments recounting the horrors of the trans Atlantic slave trade.
Did you know that most African slaves went to Brazil or the West Indies, not North America? That hardly makes the history of slavery in the United States any less gruesome, but paints an even grimmer picture of the depth and breadth of the slave trade.
Cape Coast Castle was first erected in 1653 by the Swedish Africa Company and called Carlusborg Fort. The Danish West India Company took it by force in 1657 and the fort volleyed between Danish, Dutch, and Swedish control before the British conquered it in 1664. It served as a 17th century West African trading post for European traders and a center of commerce and Gold Coast life. By 1797, thousands of bricks had been imported form England to rebuild the fort and enlarge its slave-holding capacity.
Our tour guide took us through the castle, sharing in graphic detail the inhumane conditions that kidnapped humans endured. Life as a slave was hard, but the true test of endurance and strength was surviving Cape Coast castle.
Thousands of men were herded into confined dungeons and chained together. With no restrooms, defecation and urination took place on the ground, which spread sickness and disease. Deep below ground, there was also no air ventilation. These men were not even afforded fresh water for days at a time. Instead, small slits toward the ceiling allowed the high tide to flow in. The men had only salt water to drink, and puddles of salt water to sleep in at night. When a man died, his corpse was left to rot. It was barbaric.
And it’s not like the ladies prison was any better. Women were left for months at a time. If they survived, they were pulled out of their cell covered in menstrual and other bodily fluids.
Even with such inhumane conditions, humanity shined through. Rebellions occurred…and were brutally crushed.
Door of No Return
For those who managed to remain alive, the transatlantic voyage was just as treacherous, with people stacked like logs and still chained together on the boat.
A “Door of No Return” stands at the bottom of the fort. Those who did survive were marched out from underground dungeons to the slave ships waiting to transport them across the Atlantic (“The Middle Passage”). For nearly all of them, it would be their last breath of fresh air in Africa.
What hurt me the most was the irony of the fort’s church being located directly over the male slave holding cell. While congregants sang of the mercy and love of God, they let men snatched from their families languish in squalid conditions and suffer excruciating deaths.
The Inhumanity Of It All…
I was the only white guy there…the entire time. There was an American group of six from Atlanta that was visiting. They claimed to have traced their ancestry back to this point and were weeping by the end of the tour. I weeped too. It was so much more than I had bargained for.
I did not visit Cape Coast Castle out of guilt. But I left feeling guilty…not because of the white color of my skin or for any particular act of omission or commission I engaged in, but for the depravity and hypocrisy of my fellow man. What a horrific reminder of our capacity to sin.
The journey back took five hours because we hit no less than 40 checkpoints, apparently meant to deter drunk driving. It gave me plenty of time to reflect on all that I heard and seen…
(A big thank you to Trevor from Tagging Miles for suggesting this day trip).
This story is part of my An African Adventure As The World Shut Down trip report.