Cape Coast

The tro-tro to Kasoa, our first stop on the way to Cape Coast, was easy. It filled up very quickly and the road was without much traffic or potholes. As we went, I added to my list of interesting, religousy store names: God Is in Me Fashion and Inshaah Allah Fast Food. Finding a tro-tro to Cape Coast from Kasoa was a little trickier. The very large one at the station had no room left, so we had to wait. It was already too hot to wait in the next van that appeared, so by the time it filled, Matt and I were left with two of the outer jump seats. The road remained smooth, but we got stopped twice by police. The tro’s passengers, unusually chatty, clamored at once that our driver was bribing the officers.

Instead of taking us into Cape Coast, the tro dropped us off on the main road that bypasses downtown. We thought we were on a Cape Coast tro-tro- largely because the mate told us that we were- but it turns out that there were only three riders going to Cape Coast on a van meant for the farther-away town of Takoradi. The chatty passengers had bellyached when they heard the driver was going to bring us into town, so out we went.

Luckily, the other woman who was bound for Cape Coast, a Ghanaian woman in a sharp business suit who put my sweaty self to shame, shared a cab with us into the city. Cape Coast had a much different feel to it than the other Ghanaian cities we visited. It is laid out like cities I am familiar with- on a grid system- and the streets felt wider too, though that didn’t ease traffic at all.

The reason we were in Cape Coast was to visit its castle. Our Bradt series guidebook, which had generally been useful, accurate, and even entertaining, includes only one freaking sentence about the castle’s most notorious history- that it housed slaves.

The building itself loomed large and white, especially striking against the tropical water and white surf. When we walked in, we had thirty minutes or so before our tour started, so we walked through the self-guided museum. Things I learned:

  • Other things happened in the castle, too. Like school- and church. Three major Christian religions were instituted there. Yep.
  •  Ghana gained independence from Great Britain on July 1st, 1960, along with the name, Ghana. It had previously been known as the Gold Coast.
  • Throughout history, lots of countries had owned and operated the castle: the Dutch, the Danes, the Swedes, the Portuguese, the Brits.
  • The slave ships were designed to pack in the most bodies physically possible.
  • The roof of the castle is made, in part, of asbestos.
  • Cape Coast ended its slave trade in 1833.
  • Most of the estimated 12-25 million slaves went to Brazil. The second most went to the Caribbean, the third most to the U.S. It was in the U.S. that slaves received the most foul treatment.

The view from the neighboring beach.

When it was time, we joined a tour of a few Ghanaians and four Spaniards, who were accompanied by their Ghanaian translator, who spoke fluent English, Spanish, and Ga (at least).

We started off by descending into a bricked hell. The dungeons where you might imagine 40 people to stand uncomfortably were actually prisons for hundreds. Three rooms of that size held between 700 and 1,000 prisoners. Three rooms, with a few tiny, high-up windows and a carved gutter for urine. Shallow trenches along the wall held feces. Our guide demonstrated that the feces grew to over a foot high. Standing in that room, in those dungeons, was a powerful experience that is hard to translate into words.

The window- singular- in the women’s dungeon.

Weapons everywhere up top.

The bright and airy governor’s quarters.
There are lots of Mormons in West Africa. There were two at the castle when we were there.
Fresh water source.

The bustling market outside of the gated beach entrance to the castle. This is where prisoners would board the ships that would either kill them or deliver them to a life of slavery.

 If you are ever in Ghana, I think this is one of the most important sites to visit. (This or one of the other slave castles along the coast.) When I was 16, I visited Dachau in Germany. It was important in the same way. We’d planned to walk down by the beach on our way out of Cape Coast, but ultimately felt too drained to do anything but start the next leg of our journey.

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