ACCRA, GHANA- On my trip to Accra Ghana West Africa I learned a lot about my family. I was meeting new people and was introduced to a culture that I had longed to experience for most of my life. But there were many questions in my mind about the people, the culture, and the history of Ghana. My father suggested that we learn about a major event that shaped the country, the slave trade. So my family and I took a 3 hour bus ride from the capitol city of Accra to Cape Coast. There, we stopped by one of the castles that was an integral part of the slave trade.
I am standing in Elmina. It's one of the many castles that housed slaves. From here it was on to America where they would never return to their homeland again.
Elmina castle was erected by the Portuguese in 1482. It was first established as a trade settlement and became an important stop on the route of the Atlantic slave trade. When the Portuguese came they were attracted by rumors that the land was rich in ivory and gold.
"The Portuguese brought tobacco, ammunition, beverages, and the mirror," our tour guide said.
Our tour guide explained to us that when the Portuguese arrived, they were given gifts from the African people.
"The rate at which the Elmina people were giving the Portuguese gold in exchange for tobacco and wine, gave them the impression that the land was full of gold. So they named the place Elmina meaning gold mine," he said.
There were some good things that came from the exchange between the Africans and the Portuguese. The African people adopted a western european form of education. This developed schools for children from the nursery level on into higher education.
But there was also hardship that came as a result of their interactions. Africans were being taken from their homes, tortured and then sold in America.
Our guide began our tour of Elmina castle by showing us where the female slaves were held.
Four women were crowded into this dungeon. You can still see the original steel bars and decaying walls from when the facility was built. This small room housed about 600 men. The slaves came to Elmina castle came in different ways. One group of slaves were prisoners of tribal wars.
"When you were defeated they would capture the community and sell you into slavery. And the second one is African raiders, slave raiders. They were trained by the Europeans with guns. They would come to your house, burn your house and capture you. Europeans also captured them, " he said.
Our guide says when the Africans traded slaves for items such as iron, guns, and plates they were unaware of the conditions and torture they would face. The African tradition of slavery was one of individual servitude for a time and was not passed on to the next generation. They would have rights, could marry, and even had slaves themselves. But in the European tradition things were different.
When slaves arrived to Elmina they were treated very badly. They were beaten, starved, and many of the women were raped. Because many of the male slaves were warriors they often resisted and fought the Portuguese soldiers.
One punishment for resistance was being locked up in a tight cell. When the male slaves misbehaved they were taken to this cell for weeks at a time with little ventilation, or light, and no food.
After months at the castle then it was time to take the long journey to America.
This door is called the point of no return. The door was small to make sure that no slaves would run away. Our tour guide say if slaves were too large to fit though the opening they were starved for three months to slim them down. Once they went through the door they were lead to a boat waiting for them at the edge the shore.
Some families have placed a small collection of flowers at the entrance of the door of no return in honor of their ancestors who were sold into slavery.
Officials with Elmina castle say that their goal in keeping the facility open is not to open up old wounds or to create friction between races. They hope to raise awareness not only about what happened to the African people but also the effects that slavery has on people all over the world. They are hoping for an end to the enslavement of people in any form so that everyone can enjoy the freedom that should come to all human beings.
Years after the slave trade Ghana is thriving with major businesses and construction projects. Coming up on first news we will sit down with the mayor of the city of Accra to find out his plans for the future.