As soon as I arrived at the Cape Coast Castle Museum, located in the Central Region in Ghana, I knew that the visit wouldn’t be an easy one.
The horror of the slave trade and the injustice that African people suffered is a painful thing to grapple with. As I went through the 45-minute tour, I had more questions that didn’t have answers, and I realized that to move forward and find healing, identity and restoration, the past with all its hurts and injustice had to be acknowledged.
Take a walk with me through the museum to learn more about this dark part of African history.
The Palaver Hall
The Palaver Hall was where the auctioning and purchasing of slaves took place. Most of the captured men, women and children were prisoners of intertribal war. They were sold off to slave masters from the Americas and Europe in exchange for guns and other forms of wealth.
Others were either kidnapped from their villages or sold by their chiefs in exchange for guns, gold dust and minerals.
Only the best slaves would be auctioned, along with firearms, fabrics and drinks. A doctor would be on site to examine the slaves on auction to determine their condition. After their report, slave auctioneers would place a price on the slaves.
Following the purchase, slaves traders would brand the slaves with hot irons as the official property of their owners. Newly purchased slaves would then be hauled off to a male slave or female slave dungeon for safekeeping before being loaded onto ships headed to different destinations across the world.
The male slave dungeon
The male slave dungeon was hot, humid and filthy. Ironically, the cell was built beneath a church where White slave traders and masters worshipped.
Up to 200 captured men would be squeezed into a single dungeon cell. The dungeon had approximately five compartments to hold as many as 1,000 men.
Conditions in the dungeon were inhumane. Human waste filled the cells, making them a breeding ground for disease. Men captured for slavery barely had enough to eat and drink, and many died from the wounds they had suffered from torture, or starvation and illness.
My tour guide mentioned that one of the horrid discoveries made about the dungeon was that human waste was knee-deep.
In memory of those who suffered in the slave trade, the museum covered the brick floors of the dungeon with some of the human waste that they found inside the cells. They did this so that you experience the pain and suffering of the millions of enslaved men when you walk through the place of their captivity.
Slave masters and traders used an underground isolation cell as a form of punishment for slaves who fought against them and for those who tried to escape.
The builders of the fort built the cell into three compartments, with the last one being the deadliest. The final chamber was an enclosed brick cell with no ventilation or light.
Often there would be more than one person inside, and those imprisoned in the cell would suffocate to death within a minimum of 6 hours. Afterwards, slave traders would parade their bodies in the dungeon to scare the other enslaved people into submission.
The female slave dungeon
Conditions in the female slave dungeon were also inhumane. The cell was hot, humid and filled with suffering.
Enslaved women experienced additional brutality. They were used as sex slaves by slave masters and traders.
Most of the female slaves wouldn’t be shipped off to the Americas, Europe or the Caribbean as they would be turned into concubines for the slave masters, giving birth to their children and being forced to serve on the forts.
Enslaved women were only allowed to bath in the ocean when slave masters wanted to rape them. If they refused to obey the orders given to them, slave masters would punish them through torture.
The Door of No Return
When the slave ships were ready to set sail to the Americas, Europe and the Caribbean, slaves would be bound together by chains around the neck, wrists and ankles. Slave traders would lead them through a narrow underground tunnel.
They would have to crouch through the tunnel to reach the door of no return, which was a small opening that led to the shore where the slave ships docked.
Slave traders would then transport the captured men, women and children to the slave ships by small boats. As soon as they loaded the slave ships with people, they set sail to the Americas, Europe and the Caribbean. Millions of African people left their native land over a period of about 500 years in this manner if they survived months of suffering in the dungeon.
The Door of Return
When Cape Coast Castle became a museum, the door of return was built as a symbol of restoration and a return to one’s identity and heritage.
It also symbolized a call to acknowledge the atrocities that were committed on African people and served as an invitation to commit to a better future that upholds human rights; a future where cultural differences are embraced instead of being used to divide.
Cape Coast Castle Museum’s location is on Victoria Road in Cape Coast. It’s about a 3-hour drive from Accra.
The museum is open seven days a week – Monday to Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm.
The museum offers 45-minute guided tours. It’s better to take a guided tour as you’ll learn more about the site and the history of slavery.
The cost of entry is GH¢ 40 ($8) for non-Ghanaians and GH¢ 5 ($0.96) for Ghanaians.
* images are mine.