On Friday ISEP, my program of 17(?) international students, took a trip to Cape Coast, a city around 3 hours away from our current home, Accra. Upon arrival, we toured what is called the Cape Coast Castle. This was a Castle used as a distribution center for slaves in the triangular trade.
This initially presented itself as a mind-opening opportunity for me, as I knew about the triangular trade and slavery within plantations in America but I knew much less on how the slaves were captured and brought there. I never thought about at all, actually. I pictured it as one easy motion, “We catch you now get on the boat and go” …which, doesn’t make much logistical sense and… obviously… was not the case.
Our black tour guide gave us a passionate and life-altering experience of the torture his fellow brothers an sisters once faced. He explained that in many cases fellow Africans were bringing the Europeans slaves because their form of indentured servitude was far different and did not involve the mistreatment of others. Once these Africans discovered the unspeakable conditions their people would face, some still continued this trade with the Europeans. “You will find people like that anywhere” our guide says. This statement I found very profound, and this tour was no longer about the mistreatment of black people but about the mistreatment of humans as one body.
He lead us throughout the castle. We started in the male Chamber. A humid, dark, basement underground where ~800 men were stuffed in at a time. There were a few “rooms”, each room would have ~200 men. There was one small window for ventilation and light in each room. The men lived there for months with little food and 1 bucket for a toilet. If someone caught a disease, which happened often, they’d defecate themselves right there…and would eventually die right there.
One room had a larger window/platform, which had a purpose. The room was directly under the church. Church goers would peak in using this platform to check-up on the slaves. This check-up would be to make sure they are all still there and not dead, as the church goers were invested in the slaves as property. The smell was too horrid for these people to actually come down into the cave, so the peep-window served sufficiently.
We toured the women’s dungeon, which was smaller as they had less women captured. As punishment for a woman who did something bad, such as refuse to have sex with a guard, she was put in a very tiny room with no windows for a fixed period of time.
Our tour guide leads us all into a small room similar to the dungeon rooms the men and women were kept in. He closes the door and turns out the light. Darkness fills my eyes and humidity touches my face. There is absolutely no windows in this cave. He tells us that this is where the men would go, in groups, for punishment. The men sat in this until they did not hear any breathing…then they’d know that everyone they came with is dead. But they are not dead, and the guard will not come open the door until everyone is dead. So the men sat. They sat until they died.
He took us out the “Door of No Return” where slaves would leave and, you guessed it, not return. The door is now labeled on the outside “Door of Return” to welcome those people back. There have been two accounts of people being brought back in the form of human remains by their children, of which a celebration is held. There have been many who’s ancestors once left the door of no return who come back, representing their ancestors’ victory.
We then went up the stairs to the governors and other European’s bedrooms. There probably was more windows than walls in this space. The governor had 4-5 rooms to himself. Each window had an amazing view of the beach, and you could taste the salt in the air.
“The men’s dungeon is directly below us here” our guide says, “but you could not here the screaming and crying. The walls are thick enough and the ocean is loud enough that you could not hear anything here”. My eyes swell up. There is no explanation, only grief.
We walk down the steps to the entrance of the church. We are shown the hole in the ground of which people would peep in on the slaves. My stomach weeps and water fills my eyes. How could this be going on? I think. People had church right above those suffering. I answer my question again with the statement:
There is no explanation, only grief.
Black Lives Matter.