November 26, 2014
– West Africa’s
Oldest Slave Fort
The Elmina Castle is one of the 30 slave forts along the coasts of Ghana. It was built in 1482 by Portuguese traders on the site of a town called Amankwaor Amankwakurom. It was the first European slave-trading post in all of sub-saharan Africa. The Portuguese gave it the name of São Jorge da Mina, or St. George’s of the mine, or simply “Elmina” (the mine). At four storeys high, it was one of the most imposing coastal forts, and for many years the largest one. It was originally build by the Portuguese as a warehouse to protect the gold trade, but later it became the center of the Dutch slave trade, after its capture by the Dutch in 1637. The British attacked the city in 1782, but it remained in Dutch hands until 1872, when the Dutch Gold Coast was sold to the British.
Slaves were typically captured inland, and then brought to the fort on an arduous journey that often lasted many days. Half of all captives did not even make it to the coast. Once at the fort, the slaves would wait, often for a long period of time ranging from 3-9 months, until a ship arrived. Imagine waiting in crammed conditions, packed in cells like sardines for 3 or more months!
Elmina, like other West African slave fortresses, housed luxury suites for the Europeans in the upper levels. The slaves were kept in cramped and filthy cells below, each cell often housing as many as 200-600 people at a time, without enough space to even lie down. Staircases led directly from the spacious governor’s chambers on the third level to the women’s cells below, making it easy for him to select personal concubines from amongst the women to “service him” every night.
There was also a discipline cell for “freedom fighters” : those who disobeyed were shut in this cell until they suffocated or starved to death. Ironically, Elmina also held Christian church services for the Europeans, on the second floor of the castle.
On the seaboard side of the castle was the Door of No Return, the infamous portal through which slaves boarded the ships that would take them on the treacherous journey across the Atlantic ocean known as the Middle Passage. At Elmina, the door of no return was a child-size window that slaves squeezed through to board the ship.
By the 18th century, at least 30,000 slaves on their way to the Americas had passed through Elmina each year. That is 30,000 slaves each year for at least 250 years: about 7.5 millions! Appalling!!
Today, Elmina’s economy is sustained by tourism and fishing. Elmina Castle is preserved as a Ghanaian national museum and the monument was designated as a World Heritage Monument under UNESCO in 1979. It is a place of pilgrimage for many African Americans seeking to connect with their long lost heritage. Enjoy the video below which is very educational!