To read about it in your high school textbook is one thing. But to actually experience the Trans-Atlantic slave trade through your own senses is another.
Approaching the castle, you really don’t know what to expect. The week before you dreamed about horrific images of mal-nourished people being beaten mercilessly and treated like human waste. Last night you tried to emotionally prepare yourself for the torment. And today comes. You stand in front of the castle. All of those dreams, lectures and last minute preparations are washed away by beach waves of nerves and anxiety.
Or at least that’s how I felt…
Re-visiting Cape Coast and the Elmina slave castle felt like a new experience. I knew exactly what I was going to expect, but it was as though my memory had failed me because I missed out some crucial details like the putrid vomit smell mixed with stifling mold that covered the walls of the female dungeon quarters. However, that gut wrenching odor couldn’t be compared to real-life conditions some hundreds of years ago. Imagine a hot, stuffy room overflowing with 150 or more women crouching to preserve space. Their own menstruation, feces, vomit among other fluids surrounding them. Since there were no separate quarters for children, young boys would be kept in the male dungeons and the young girls would be kept with their female elders. A girl under 10 years old in those conditions is nearly unfathomable, outside of the fact that this was once–and in some places in the world, today–a reality.
The room had very little ventilation, and one of the openings in the main female dungeon led to the magazine, where ammunition was kept. Gun powder fumes and other explosive gases would seep into the female dungeon quarters, suffocating the already dying and the sick.
In front of the main female dungeon was an opening where, after the Governor chose his woman for the evening, she was made to wash up in front of her counterparts and white, male captains. After being washed and given a small portion of food for sustenance, she was led up a flight of stairs that took her straight to the Governor’s bedroom. There he had his way with her, either for the night or for longer. Still, this abuse was not enough. She would then be violated and raped in sequence by his subordinates, all before she returned to the miserable and foul quarters to rejoin her peers.
After the tour of the female quarters, we were taken around the rest of the castle. Towards the end of the tour, we visited a dungeon were slaves were taken to be punished. There, “unruly” slaves would be kept until they died. At times, the living and the dead would be chained together, and although the captains knew one died, they did nothing. The mental and emotional torment had to have been tremendous. The living slave had to sit, idly awaiting his own death.
We were also taken to the door/dungeon of no return, where slaves were gathered before they were shipped across the Atlantic. Standing in that room, many of my colleagues shed tears of disbelief and anguish. Around us, there were wreaths that were placed by past vistors– commemorating the loss of their ancestors to this trade of human cargo.
Today this castle stands as proof to much of history’s nightmares and dark secrets. Much of African Diaspora as we know it today, started with selling and trading–with Elmina as one of those sites. Many people would like to hush the whispers that are heard through these castle walls, claiming that we’re in a post-racial society. But how could we ever be? Many of us still wear the brand that made us to be sold and traded in the first place. My skin color could never change. Neither can the shape of my nose, lips, nor the coils in my hair–at least not without external modifications. Furthermore, because we’re in the 21st century oppression changes shape accordingly–so please don’t think because you aren’t being sold and made to be a slave, that you aren’t just that: a slave. Our ancestors that left those Atlantic shores are like the chaff which the wind carried away…