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Looking Slavery in the Eye

It has taken me a while to write about the castles we toured while in Cape Coast. I needed time to reflect on the trip. We toured two castles; Elmina and Cape Castle. Both held hundreds of thousands of slaves before being shipped off to the Caribbean or America. The castles are where the slaves lost all rights to being a human and became property or objects for purchase. The history behind both castles is so inhumane it seems unreal. From having a church above a slave dungeon to making women lift 25 kg cannonballs to undergo being slashed 40 times, the tours were emotionally taxing.

Unlike American attractions, the guides aimed to tell us the truth and leave us with a lesson learned. While in front of the door of no return we sang Amazing Grace. While touring the dungeons we stood in the dark as the guide continued talking.

Elmina hit home for me while touring. Our guide aimed to make the tour an experience rather an activity. After a brief introduction about the castle, we headed into the women’s dungeon. The women were kept without light or a secure source of air. There is a vent in part of the dungeon but it was connected to the magazine, or the storage closet for the soldier’s guns and ammunition, that pushed poisonous air into the dungeons. Women were kept there for months before heading out to a worse fate. After hearing about what happened in the dungeons it’s hard to imagine it could get worse when they left the castle. There are no bathrooms in the dungeons so women sat packed together on months of feces. The only time they were let out was when the governor wanted a mistress and needed to select one. The chosen one would be washed off and guided upstairs to be raped by the governor. When he was finished with her she was guided back down and often subject to more rape from the soldiers before being thrown back into the dungeons. Women were also not fed adequately for months and then expected to lift a cannon ball; if they failed to lift the ball then they were whipped. This served as one of many ways the soldiers exerted their control over the slaves.

While we walk through both castles I think about how some of my ancestors on my dad’s side probably went through this inhumane treatment. I am unaware of the country in Africa my family descends from but the possibility that they came to America through slavery is highly probable. Both tours ended with the guides telling us to let the castles serve as a lesson for our own actions. Although slavery seems so inhumane and long ago, it really wasn’t and still continues in areas of the world. The guides didn’t urge us to preach to the world why it is wrong but instead look at our own actions and make better choices. Both castles have left an everlasting impression on me.