Our next destination, Cape Coast, was about sixteen miles west of Fort Amsterdam on the Ghanaian coast. A city of about 170,000 people today, Cape Coast was once the capital of what was known as the Gold Coast, but after the British consolidated their power in the region, the capital was moved to Accra in 1877.
The slave castle in Cape Coast is one of Ghana's most visited tourist sites. Before we entered the castle, however, we stopped at a little batik fabric dying place run by a church member that Shelley knows. It was an inauspicious location:
Her building was right next door to one of the largest of the thirty slave castles on Ghana's coast: Cape Coast Castle. This site and Ghana's other coastal forts/castles merit a position on the UNESCO World Heritage list. The UNESCO site notes:
The castles and forts of Ghana shaped not only Ghana's history but that of the world over four centuries as the focus of first the gold trade and then the slave trade. They are a significant and emotive symbol of European-African encounters and of the starting point of the African Diaspora.
The tide was out and we started to walk the shoreline in front of the castle, but we were stopped by a boy who told us it wasn't safe for us to go there, implying that the danger was not from unexpected waves but from unpredictable men in the area:
Slave ships used to drop anchor some distance from the shore, sending canoes to shore to deliver trade items like clothing, spices, sugar, and silk, and to collect "goods" in return, including slaves, gold, and other resources. One of those ships was captained by Bob's great-great-great grandfather, who traded at this castle at least once.
Cape Coast Castle is quite large--three stories plus an underground dungeon--and has been well-preserved and carefully renovated twice, once in 1920 by the British Public Works Department, and then in the 1990s by the Ghanaian government using funds from the United Nations Development Program, USAID, the Smithsonian, and other NGOs.
At one of the castles/forts, a guide told us that because of the buffetings of the ocean, the constant rain, and the high humidity, the buildings have to be whitewashed every year. This one looks like its year is up:
|Photo from here|
I think this is the Ghanaian equivalent of "George Washington slept here" signs in the United States:
|It seems a bit bizarre to unveil a plaque that was made before you were present to celebrate your presence.|
|Lots of dark-suited secret service dudes. Picture from here|
|President Obama strolls across the courtyard. Picture from here|
This video of Anderson Cooper's interview with President Obama as they walked around Cape Coast Castle is a little long, but it has some excellent shots of different parts of the castle. (It's also fun to watch the secret service men hovering inconspicuously--and not so inconspicuously--around the President.)
It was possible to believe we were visiting a regular fort as we strolled around the buildings, but once we went down into the dungeons, which are as deep as ten feet underground, the illusion ended. As many as 500 women and 1,000 men were kept in these tiny, dark, airless rooms at any given time. Slaves could be locked up for as long as twelve weeks, waiting to be sold to the next slave ship captain. Bodies were packed in rooms like this so tightly that there was not room to lie down. With no toilet facilities, feces and urine were theoretically carried away down the channel in the center of the room but in reality covered the floor. Obviously, many Africans died here before even beginning the "Middle Passage" across the Atlantic.
|The Obama family standing on the ocean side of the Door of No Return. Picture from here|
The rooms upstairs are spacious, have hardwood floors, and take advantage of cross-ventilation.
Dictionary.com defines "palaver" as "a long parley, especially one between primitive natives and European traders, explorers, colonial officials, etc." Palaver Hall was the room where the prices for men, women, and children were negotiated:
Several other upper-level rooms comprised the castle's museum:
We watched these boys for several minutes. Soccer is played in any open spot in Ghana, even on the wet sand where the incoming tide might snatch the ball away:
Making our way back down to ocean level, we got a good look at the work that needs to be done to maintain this place:
Substantial work could be used outside the castle walls as well. Surrounding homes are little more than lean-tos:
Turning away from the poverty, we chose a more picturesque background for our photo shoot:
As our tour group stood outside the Door of No Return for some final words from our tour guide . . .
The brilliant colors of boats, nets, and people made a wonderful kaleidoscope:
What I want most to remember from this visit are two groups of people who joined us on our tour. One group was that man in the tan suit and pink tie and his two lovely daughters in their beautiful white dresses. By the end of the tour the man's pants were drenched with muddy water almost to his knees. The girls were wearing what we used to call "Sunday socks"--the kind with frilly lace around the ankle. However, in my journal I noted that while the socks were white, the lace was black and looked strangely like manacles. What brought them to this place in those clothes? They were quietly respectful throughout the tour. I wish I knew more of their story.
I think he was waiting until the end of the tour to address her comments. Although he was not what I would normally consider a strong orator, in a humble voice he gave a masterful, articulate, and poignant speech about the need to focus not on the past, but rather to join together to end modern forms of slavery, including sex trafficking, child labor, diseases such as HIV/AIDS, the withholding of basic rights, drug addiction, poverty, racism, and oppression of all kinds.
In another setting, such as in front of a microphone in a great hall, his speech may not have had much punch, but on the grounds of Cape Coast Castle, it was magnificent. I'm not sure the Woman with the Rainbow Umbrella was moved, but I was.