Castles and Forts
Ghana is home to lots of castles and forts that used to be owned by the Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, and British. The Portuguese were the first to start trading with the Ga people going all the way back to the 15th century, followed by the Dutch, Danish and the British. What started as a commodity trading, quickly started to include slave trade. Most of the forts and castles were used as a temporary storage for the commodities, which proved for poor human storage as time progressed. However, they were all built at the water’s edge, so location, location wins over any other consideration. We got a chance to visit the Ussher Fort in Jamestown, Accra and Cape Coast Castle in Cape Coast.
Ussher fort started as a Dutch post in 1642. It was then enlarged and named Fort Crevecoeur in 1652. The British temporarily controlled it, before it was returned to the Dutch. It was abandoned and damaged by an earthquake until 1868 when the British rebuilt it and renamed it Ussher fort.
Today it’s located in the middle of Jamestown and restored to be a Museum which opened in 2007. We went on Saturday and the museum wasn’t open, so we were obliged to pay 10 cedis to the caretaker for a self-guided tour.
The street hustler we invited to hangout with us (he kept calling us Mr. and Mrs. TJ as he kept forgetting AT) showed us around and told us the brief history of it. As you enter, the compound is divided in large white buildings with named sections: tailor, office, kitchen, etc. Some of the building have a big haul upstairs (for the masses) and individual cells downstairs (solitary to make you crazy). To our surprise, and from our television knowledge of what a prison is like on the inside, it’s built as a modern prison, with a church at its center. Each building has small pair of rectangular holes from the outside used to pass food inside.
the buildings were divided into men, women and children. The food passage was quite narrow and like a shoot, so no solid food could pass through.
Close to the water, constructed was a shaded platform, to serve as the almighty auction block. Once they were sold, the buyer will take them through the stairs adjacent, and load them into the ship, never to return to their land. (The stairs are closed now to secure the fort).
Looking through the window into the closed museum, we could see chains and other equipments which was used to chain the slaves. Standing behind the museum which is located right behind the beach, you can see many small fishing boats anchored all day long in what used to be the gateway of the slave ships.
Cape Coast Castle
The first thing I observed in Cape Coast castle was the long row of big cannons on the walls facing the ocean. The riches of all commodities, human and goods needed to be protected, of course.
The Castle changed hands several times. It first started as a Dutch settlement, before it finally remained a British property.Today it’s turned into a museum.
As all over Ghana tourists attractions, there is a Ghanaian and Non-Ghanaian price. We had to embellish our age, and negotiate for a student discount. (Hey it isn’t a fair world ). The lovely lady seeing how desperate we are about saving money gave us more discount. “Thank you Auntie” we said, as they say here in Ghana.
Our tour lasted a good hour. Our tour guide was entertaining and also presented great knowledge about the history of the castle. We started the tour by going into the dungeons on the right side, where they used to put hundreds of male slaves at a time. The dungeons were built, to keep the slaves in the dark and confined place until they get into the ship, so they won’t attack the guards.the rooms has only one small hole as a source of light, food, and entry for water to ‘clean’ the space.
The slaves were forced to stay in the dungeon chained to each other and if one wants to defecate he has to drag the whole line of slaves with him to the front. They chained slaves from different areas together so they can’t communicate. Without being able to tap your chained neighbor on the shoulder to ask to use the restroom, you just go where you stand. Without verbal communication, the only kind left is physical…
The tour guide pointed to the ground and ask us what we see. There wasn’t enough light in the room, but it looks like hard black mud, mixed with an old brick floor, we thought. Wrong! It’s the remains of those who didn’t survive the dungeon mixed with excrement left there to decay, and the pressure of mens feet for over 200 years. I was so disgusted and sad.
At the end of the dungeon, there used to be an entrance to a very narrow tunnel that the slaves used to be transported directly to the ships. Once entering the castle, the slaves never saw the light of day, for fear of escape. After slavery was banned merchants were still using the castle illegally to ship slaves. The tunnel was blocked by the British to stop that.
The castle also has dungeons for female slaves, and adjoining was very small room they used to have the female slaves ‘entertain’ the guards. These are some nasty guards! These women don’t see light, deficate, and mensturate on themselves, and you want to feel good?!? Barbaric!
Another small room with a heavy door (this is the only original door left), and no window was used to put slaves that don’t follow order. They were kept there until they slowly suffocated. They were used as a lesson to the other slaves. Staying in that room, you feel death much closer.
The gate to the ocean has a placard overhead that states “Door of No Return.” Whomever leaves through that door is doomed not to ever return.
However, in a welcoming effort of diasporas of Africa to return, the gate has a new placard facing the water that states, “Door of Return.”
Above the tunnels and dungeons is where the Governor would stay. Very spacious rooms with lots (16) of windows (number of window used to dictate your wealth) and magnificent view of the ocean.
There is also a comprehensive museum that displays chains and other items used to secure the slaves, traditional dresses, slave route maps and photographs of African-Americans and their stories who struggled for freedom (Martin Luther King and Frederick Douglas among the few).
At the end of our tour, our guide asked us if we think slavery is over? Well, I didn’t have to look far for the answer. Standing on top of the castle, on the left side you see poverty. Fishermen village with small dilapidated houses, kids working hard and not going to school and fishermen begging for money and something to eat as they don’t make enough money to support their family. Look to your right and you see beautiful beach, foreigners enjoying the sand and sipping a beverage.
People might say slavery is over, but my opinion, slavery didn’t go anywhere. It’s just got very sophisticated so that people are clouded to its existence. African people are still living behind those bars.