Millions of Africans were captured and held in forts like the whitewashed fortress of St. George’s Castle in Elmina, Ghana,along West Africa’s coast, to be sold, and if they made the voyage, live their lives as slaves in the Caribbean and Americas. Ghana’s coast bore witness to the largest forced migration of humans who suffered at the hands of slavery.
The history of slavery spans many cultures, nationalities, and religions from ancient times to the present day. Slavery was present in many African societies. African slaves were taken by other Africans as prisoners of war, or enslaved in payment for debt or as punishment for a crime. The enslaved people were not treated as chattel slaves instead, they were given certain rights in a system similar to indentured servitude elsewhere in the world.
The European-American demand for slaves created a market to enslave Africans. Many could have been sold into European-American slavery by rival tribes, or captured during communal conflicts, even kidnapped doing everyday chores. Captured Africans could face a long forced trek to the West coast of Africa or weeks in a dungeon, like the Elmina St. George’s Castle fortress, before a lengthy sea voyage packed in the hold of a European ship.
The transatlantic slave trade began during the 15th century when Portugal, and subsequently other European kingdoms, were finally able to expand overseas and reach Africa. The Portuguese first began to kidnap people from the west coast of Africa and to take those they enslaved back to Europe.
The St. George’s Castle fortress, a UNESCO Heritage site, was built as a trading post by the Portuguese in 1482 and captured by the Dutch in 1637. It was expanded when slaves replaced gold as the major object of commerce with storerooms converted into dungeons.
Exploring the old quarter of the town of Elmina,considered the first European settlement in West Africa, along with knowledgeable guide through Elmina’s St. George’s Castle fortress, considered the oldest European constructed building in Africa, was how I spent my last full day in Ghana on my tour of West Africa with TransAfrica which I found through Undiscovered Destinations.
My West African Ancestry
The West African countries of Benin, Togo and Ghana hold my family’s ancestral roots so making the trek to these countries gave me an even greater sense of my ancestral legacy.Almost two years ago,I took the ancestry DNA test and the results show that my ethnicity estimates for Benin/Togo is the highest of my results at 28%. The next two highest, at 13% each, are Cameroon/Congo and France.Other African countries also appear on my DNA results summary including Ivory Coast/Ghana at 6%, Mali at 4%, Senegal at 2% and Eastern Africa (primarily Kenya and Uganda) at 1%. My mother’s ethnicity results are 27% Benin/Togo and my father’s was 25% Benin/Togo.Ghana also shows up for both of my parents with my mother at 7% and my father at 3%. I will never know my African ancestor who withstood the horrors of slavery so I could come to be but making the pilgrimage to the Elmina fortress and the Benin gates allowed me to pay homage and connect spiritually to my African heritage.