Tuesday, November 4, 2014


Fort St. Anthony (Portuguese) was our third slave-related destination in Ghana after having visited Fort Amsterdam (Dutch) and Cape Coast Castle (British).  While in Ghana I was totally confused about the difference between forts and castles. Both were used to hold slaves until they were sold to slave traders, and they have similar facilities: a central courtyard, offices, living quarters, and slave dungeons. According to my husband, the difference between a slave fort and a slave castle is that a castle was an administrative seat for the country participating in the slave trade, and the forts were satellite facilities. Typically the castles, because they housed more bigwigs, were also larger and better equipped than the forts.
Built in 1515, Fort St. Anthony was the second fort built on the Gold Coast by the Portuguese, who were the first Europeans to get a foothold there. It was a satellite of Elmina Castle, which we visited the following day. In the beginning, Fort St. Anthony was used primarily for the gold trade and was said to have amassed more gold than every other fort on the Gold Coast put together. However, the Portuguese were pushed out of the area, and by the 1720s, this fort was owned by the Dutch, who would have been the ones conducting the slave trading here. In 1872, long after the slave trade was abolished, the Dutch turned this fort over to the British.

I took this photo from the fort, looking back across the muddy field that served as a rudimentary parking lot, towards the city of Axim:
We had driven across the bumpy surface, crisscrossed by channels of water created by rain, and parked next to the fort. Obviously, we were clueless about the big soccer match about to occur on this field--one complete with uniformed players, a rarity.
 I can imagine these boys discussing the predicament:
"What are we going to do about this car parked in the middle of our field?"
"Let's use it for goal practice."
"Nah, we'd better find out who it belongs to first."
"I'M not going to go tell someone to move his car. YOU do it."
"I'm not going to do it. You do it."
"Let's just use it as for goal practice."
"Extra point if you break a window."
"Sounds like a good idea to me."
Luckily, Russ noticed the problem and moved his car out of the way in time. (And quite honestly, the African children are so polite that I think they would have just stood there and waited for us to return, even if it had been hours.) A little later, we watched the boys play from our perch on the upper floors of the fort. It was a hard, fast game full of spectacular players with amazing ball control, especially considering how young they were. Ghana was set to play the United States about a week later at the World Cup, and soccer fever was evident wherever we went.

A young male guide appeared out of nowhere, and after we paid our fee, he took us deep into the recesses of the 500-year-old structure:
Ghanaians have a heavy accent, and even though they speak excellent English, it's often hard to understand them. However, in our short time in Ghana, we grew to love the strange sounds and cadences of their speech. I ran across this video of a tour of St. Anthony's filmed by a group called "Africa Works." They gave me permission to post it here. I think this may have been the same guide we had, a young man named Seth. Listen for at least a few minutes to hear the musical but confusing qualities of his accent:

I love his pronunciation of Eur-ROW-pee-uns. I think we should all say it that way. It sounds so much better than Eur-oh-PEE-uns, doesn't it?

Our guide pointed out the tomb of one of the Dutch governors in the slave courtyard, right below the balcony that he fell from (not shown in this picture). Note the grinding stones next to the wall on the right that were used by the prisoners to make flour from whatever grain or vegetable was available:
There are three dungeons at Fort St. Anthony, one each for men, women, and children, and each held only about 25 people. (The slave trade, while definitely part of Fort St. Anthony's history, was not nearly as large as in other places.) It seems impossible that men and women were kept in these underground rooms. The slaves were allowed out of the dungeons for short periods of time to "receive the sunshine," according to our guide.

This is the entrance to a tunnel that used to go all the way out to one of the offshore islands. Perhaps slaves or goods were taken through this tunnel to the island for easier pick-up, making this the fort's Door of No Return. These days the tunnel is gone and only the entrance continues to exist.

An old clockface was propped up in a cubbyhole, a metal rod protruding from the center. The guide said it is "the oldest clock in Ghana."
In the 1950s this fort was being used as offices for the Ghana Board of Education, and a few of the interior rooms have been restored to some extent--plastered and painted--but whatever upgrades were done to the rest of the buildings have been swept away by persistent weathering, leaving the fort much as it must have been several hundred years ago.

I was intrigued by the architectural details, such as the buttress-like balconies on the sides of this structure:
Note the gracefully arched windows and doors:
. . . the fancy balustrade:
. . . and the free-standing staircase:
The architect of this fort managed to achieve an airiness that seems incongruous with its purpose.  

How about this lovely veranda overlooking the ocean, perfect for a fancy soiree (if it weren't for those two very threatening cannons):
It worked very well for our Kodak moment:
Ominous clouds and water muddied by the storm made for a tempestuous day and photos blurred by humidity:
Again, we seemed to be the only tourists at the site as we followed our guide around the fort:

Time for more Cannons with cannons photos:

Our guide was more than happy to take our picture:
. . . from multiple viewpoints:
Bob took this series of window shots, capturing perfectly the many moods of Fort St. Anthony:

Like a magnet, the angry sea kept drawing us to the battlements to watch the wind-whipped waves:

In my imagination, these could easily be the boats that transported shackled slaves from the Door of No Return to the dark, airless hull of the slave ship:

Once anchored near the shore, however, they lost their menacing look:

As we left the fort, I asked about this enormous tree growing next to it. Our guide said it was a kapok tree, and that we should stay away. Locals perform sacrifices to it as part of a regional type of animism, or the belief that natural objects possess souls.  We didn't want to get in the way.
No, we definitely didn't.


  1. My favorite of all the forts, aside from the historical connection to Captain Cannon at Cape Coast and Anomabu. I would love to have gone to sea in one of the canoes and seen the beautiful coast from that angle.

  2. Those fort/castles look rather stark, especially with the gloomy sea behind them. Love the video with the hard-to-understand guide. He was fun to listen to, even if it took me a touch too long to catch what he was saying.

  3. Austere is the word that comes to my mind, even though that location perched right on the shore could have been beautiful in the right circumstances. Quite a history you have here, and I'm struck by the differences between how the people were treated like caged animals once caught into these forts, and the free-roaming animals you saw on the first part of your trip (although they have also been caught and captured). What a range of experiences you've had on this trip!