Father Sez

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Buildings and structures that have really moved me – Elmina Castle, Cape Coast, Ghana

Friday August 29th, 2008 by fathersez

You might know the feeling.

You turn a corner and there it is. The building or structure or natural wonder that everyone has talked about. And you see it for the first time. In all it’s splendour.  

Maybe a gasp comes out. Maybe a small lump forms in your throat. You feel your heart beating a little faster. The sight has left an indelible mark on you. And you never ever forget this feeling.  

I have had this feeling the first time I saw six particular buildings. (I am only referring to buildings or structures here.) 

The first time I visited Elmina Castle which is in the city of Cape Coast, Ghana was in 1998. It was during my second trip to Ghana. By then we already had some staff in Ghana who had started survey works, and had hence become fairly knowledgeable about local travel.    

Not being a history buff, I did not know much about the infamous slave trade. Though my friends told me a little about this, I thought the trip would be just a normal sightseeing one. And being my first trip outside Accra, the capital, I looked forward to enjoying the ride.

 A little about the Castle.  

Quote 

The Portuguese built the castle in 1482, originally established as a trading post for goods bartered for local gold and valuable gem. However, as the demand for slaves increased in the Americas and Caribbean, the castle became strategic in the perpetuation of this abhorrent human cargo trade. The storerooms of the castle were converted into dungeons, and the ownership of the castle changed hands several times, eventually ending up being seized by the British in 1872. By this time, slavery had been abolished. The British didn’t use Elmina to house slaves; they used Cape Coast Castle for that.                                                                                                                                                       

Unquote: From the Ontario Black History Society’s website

The view of the Castle from the outside was not too impressive, at least not in the sense of the title of this post. But I was not in the least prepared for what I saw and felt inside.  

 elmina_tourist.jpg

This picture is also from the Ontario Black History Society website.

The feeling hit me like a ton of bricks when I entered one of the dungeons. The dungeons used to house the slaves before they were moved through the “Door of No Return” and shipped off to those far off countries. It was a dark gloomy dungeon. Devoid of any windows expect for one slit like opening high up.  

female-dungeon.jpg

Female Dungeon 

Photo Credit: flickr.com/photos/bdinphoenix

I felt as if I was transported back into time. Standing there and seeing the slaves who were chained to the floor, in rows. Much like the way supermarkets stack their goods. Stripped of their honour and dignity, having no idea where they would end up, having no idea if they would ever see their loved ones again. Eyes haggard, spirits broken.   

I remember standing there for a while, feeling a sense of immense sorrow passing through me, on the unspeakable misery and cruelty inflicted upon humans by fellow humans in the name of commerce.  Not in the name of war or strife, but just pure commerce. Profit and loss! 

As a Malaysian and having never had any views, much less feelings about the slave trade, I was surprised at the intensity of the feeling that I had.  

Later the guide told me that such feelings were common. They often had to keep some of the tour groups separated as feelings often spilled over into perhaps exchanges of words etc.  

Some time later I visited the Ghanaian National Museum and got to learn a little more about those miserable times. There were even some copies of old sales posters on slave auctions and stuff like that. 

I thank God that this period is now history. And I pray that mankind had learnt and progressed enough to never ever repeat these kind of deeds. 

Now as I write this piece, I feel again the same sense of sorrow pass through me.  Not of that same intensity, but still “feelable”.

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