Sunday, October 30, 2016

Slave Castle

There are a few places on our lovely planet that sit in silent testimony to the horrors man can inflict upon his fellow man, and I had the honor and privilege to visit such a place today. I write this with difficulty, but it must be written. What I've felt today must rival what one feels at a concentration camp (I've yet to visit one, but I must). There is nothing but sadness at this place, the knowledge of just how low humanity can sink, how evil can take over a good man's soul.

We left early this morning for a three-hour drive from Accra in a VERY small Hyundai, over relatively good roads. The trip was uneventful, except for being stopped by the Ghanaian Police who warned Alfred, our driver, not to stop for bandits who are dressed in the uniforms of the Ghanaian Police. Got that? The scenery en route was fascinating. I have tried to take photos of the street scenes here, but I simply cannot do it justice. Picture block after block after block, mile after mile after mile, of unfinished storefronts, tables, booths, piles of coconuts, larger piles of coconut shells, smoked fish, every manner of electronics from at least 30 years ago, car parts, tires, motorcycle parts, ornate caskets, statuary, pretty much anything and everything. And every manner of vehicle, from a few Mercedes and even a Lexus GX to little carts pulled by a motorcycle chassis. And people. More people per square foot than I have ever seen in my life. Today, many were in their Sunday Best, and there were several outdoor church services to be found by the roadside. Ghana is majority Protestant, and the people are quite religious.

We arrived at Cape Coast, and with the aid of my Cities2Go app (like I know where I am in Ghana), we found the Castle, one of several on the Ghanaian shore (once called the Gold Coast) that was the center of the African slave trade. You can look up the numbers; they are mind-numbing. Millions of slaves passed through these forts/castles on their way to the New World. Many died here, mainly from disease, many more died en route. Some chose to throw themselves into the ocean from the ship, and as there were a number of them chained together, that created a similar deadly choice for all. Perhaps it was better that way. 

It should be made clear that both Europeans and Africans were involved in the slave trade. Raids were conducted into a good part of Western Africa and human beings who were just minding their own business were captured and delivered to the slavers. Prisoners of tribal wars got sent off to slavery.

The sordid list goes on. No party, save the victims themselves, were innocent in this horror. And it should also be mentioned that a majority of these tortured souls were sent to nations other than the United States. In fact, about 40% went to Brazil alone, and today, this is the nation with the second-highest number of people from African extraction. There's a lot of guilt and a lot of blame to go around.

This is a shot from within the Male Dungeon. There were multiple chambers here, each holding something like 200 men, without room to lay down, with no toilet, and with water and food delivered once a day. The three window openings provided what little ventilation was to be found.

Here is the walled-up original "Door of No Return" through which the slaves passed through to reach an underground tunnel leading to the port at the base of the castle. There are viewing areas along the castle courtyard looking down into the tunnel, allowing soldiers to monitor progress. The slaves never saw daylight from the time they arrived here until they reached the New World. If they were alive when they got there.

The "Door of No Return" was recut into a different wall, and those of African descent whose ancestors left from this place may request a "Door of Return" ceremony to mark the occasion of their visit, and bring things full circle.

You'll be happy to know that while slaves suffered and died below, the various Governors (this place was built/rebuilt/run/owned at various points by the Swedes, the Dutch, the Portuguese, and the British) lounged in this lovely room with cool sea-breezes that drowned out the stench of death coming from the dungeons.

My readers know I am not a big fan of the current occupant, but it was fitting and proper that the first American President of African ancestry visited here in 2009 and placed this plaque:

Mrs. Obama, in fact, found that her ancestors did indeed pass through this horrible place en route to America. 

A few years ago, I was in Germany, and had the opportunity to visit Hitler's podium on the Zeppelin review stand in Nuremberg. You've seen the stands in newsreels from the end of the war, when the Allies shot the swastika off the top of it. I stood there and felt some small glimmer of the triumph of good over evil. Hitler died a nasty death, and the parts of my family that left for America survived. Up yours, Herr Shickelgruber. I guess the Castle has a happy ending as well, but it's hard to see it standing in the dungeons where men and women were held like animals, where many died like animals. Our guide, Sebastian, put it thus: "The only way this could have happened was for those in power to stop seeing their captives as human." I have no better answer. But at lunch, our driver, Alfred asked this, "How could religious people do this? How could they go to the church on the grounds and then do this to people?" To that, I have no answer.

The profound sadness the Castle inspires is not pleasant, but something I think all must experience. I leave here changed a bit, a little older, a little wiser, a lot sadder. We have not learned the lessons we should have from all this. The Castle ceased warehousing people in the early 1800's, but slavery continued, and sadly still does to this very day. Not 150 years later, the Holocaust not only enslaved people, but deliberately slaughtered them as well.

But here I am in Ghana, a proud, free nation that remembers this shameful past, but goes on with life, building and growing. Maybe that is the answer after all. 

Go on with life. Forgive. But don't forget. Don't EVER forget...

No comments :