Walking the Path of Elmina, Ghana’s, Slave Trade

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. 

The St. George castle fortress in Elmina, Ghana, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Erected by the Portuguese in 1482 as São Jorge da Mina (St. George of the Mine), it was first established as a trade settlement. The fort later became one of the most important stops on the route of the Atlantic slave trade. The Dutch seized the fort from the Portuguese in 1637, after an unsuccessful attempt to the same extent in 1596, and took over all of the Portuguese Gold Coast in 1642. The slave trade continued under the Dutch until 1814. In 1872, the Dutch Gold Coast, including the fort, became a possession of the British Empire. (Jan. 18, 2019)
The St. George castle fortress in Elmina, Ghana, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Jan. 18, 2019)
Entrance to the St. George castle fortress in Elmina, Ghana. (Jan 18, 2019)
Entrance to the St. George Castle fortress in Elmina, Ghana. (Jan 18, 2019)
Entrance to the St. George Castle fortress in Elmina, Ghana. (Jan. 18, 2019)
The courtyard of the St. George Castle fortress in Elmina, Ghana. It is historically and indisputably the most important and oldest European building. Built by the Portuguese, ten years before Christopher Columbus set foot on the “ New World, the fortress is historically the oldest European-built buildings outside of Europe. (Jan. 18, 2019)
The large central courtyard of the St. George castle fortress in Elmina, Ghana, is the former Portuguese church which now houses the museum and is also the first known Christian Chapel in Africa, outside of Ethiopia. (Jan. 18, 2019)
A view onto the central courtyard of St. George’s castle fortress in Elmina, Ghan, showing the former Portuguese church, now museum. (Jan. 18, 2019)
The confinement cell of the St. George castle fortress in Elmina, Ghana, is a small pitch-black space for slaves who revolted or were rebellious where they were starved to death. (Jan. 18, 2019)
Our St. George’s castle fortress guide, Richard, talking about the memorial plaque next to a dungeon door at the St. George’s castle fortress in Elmina, Ghana. The plaque reads: “In Everlasting Memory of the anguish of our ancestors. May those who died rest in peace. May those who return find their roots. May humanity never again perpetrate such injustice against humanity. We, the living, vow to uphold this.” (Jan. 18, 2019)
A slave holding dungeon of St. George’s castle fortress in Elmina, Ghana. The dark, airless dungeons were oppressive and received sunlight from only tiny windows. Slave traders would cram more than 1,000 slaves, with no water or sanitation, into a space that could barely fit around 200 people. These dungeons were uncomfortably cramped, filthy, and outbreaks of malaria and yellow fever were common. Food was scarce and disease was rampant. These captured enslaved people sometimes had to spend up to three months in such unsanitary conditions before being shipped in even more incredibly unbearable conditions to the New World. (Jan. 18, 2019)
The female dungeon entrance (at the top) and the male dungeon entrance (at the bottom right) of the enslaved Africans at St. George’s castle fortress in Elmina, Ghana. (Jan. 18, 2019)
The female slave entrance of the St. George’s castle fortress in Elmina, Ghana. (Jan. 18, 2019)
Inside the female dungeons at St. George’s castle fortress in Elmina, Ghana. Slave traders would cram more than 1,000 slaves, with no water or sanitation, into a space that could barely fit around 200 people. These dungeons were uncomfortably cramped, filthy, and outbreaks of malaria and yellow fever were common. Food was scarce and disease was rampant. These captured enslaved people sometimes had to spend up to three months in such unsanitary conditions before being shipped in even more incredibly unbearable conditions to the New World. (Jan. 18, 2019)
Inside the female dungeons at the St. George’s castle fortress in Elmina, Ghana. (Jan. 18, 2019)
Inside the female dungeons at St. George’s castle fortress in Elmina, Ghana. The enslaved women who resisted being raped, were chained to a canon ball in the center of the women’s chamber. (Jan. 18, 2019)
The courtyard of the African enslaved women’s dungeons with the governor and other Europeans living above at the St. George’s castle fortress in Elmina, Ghana. (Jan. 18, 2019)
An exterior view of St. George’s castle fortress in Elmina, Ghana, with its upper luxury level, a church included, where the Europeans lived and worshipped while the enslaved Africans were being starved and tortured in the dungeons below. (Jan. 18, 2019)
The governor’s upper level quarters at the St. George’s castle fortress in Elmina, Ghana, were spacious and airy, with beautiful parquet floors and scenic views of the Atlantic’s blue waters. (Jan. 18, 2019)
Views of the Atlantic were had by the governors and officers of St. George’s castle fortress in Elmina, Ghana. (Jan. 18, 2019)
Views of the Atlantic from the top level of St. George’s castle fortress in Elmina, Ghana. (Jan. 18, 2019)
Views of the Atlantic from the top level of St. George’s castle fortress in Elmina, Ghana. (Jan. 18, 2019)
Views of the market and town of Elmina from the top level of St. George’s castle fortress in Elmina, Ghana. (Jan. 18, 2019)
Views of the market and town of Elmina from the top level of St. George’s castle fortress in Elmina, Ghana. (Jan. 18, 2019)
Views of the market and town of Elmina from the top level of St. George’s castle fortress in Elmina, Ghana. (Jan. 18, 2019)
The Coenraadsburg as seen from St. George’s castle fortress in Elmina, Ghana. The Dutch Fort São Tiago da Mina was built in 1652 on the site of a Portuguese fortified chapel to protect Fort Elmina from attacks. The Dutch ceded the fort to Britain in 1872, together with the entire Dutch Gold Coast. (Jan. 18, 2019)
Me standing by one of several exits at the St. George’s castle fortress in Elmina, Ghana, for slaves through the “Door of No Return” onto waiting European ships that would transport them to the Caribbean and Americas. (Jan. 18, 2019)
The enslaved Africans who survived imprisonment at St. George’s castle fortress in Elmina, Ghana, were eventually taken to the ‘Door of no Return’, that led straight from the castle to an awaiting ship that would take them on the treacherous journey across the Atlantic. (Jan. 18, 2019)
The Atlantic where the European slave ships would dock and where the enslaved Africans imprisoned at St. George’s castle fortress in Elmina, Ghana, were forced to board and leave their homelands forever. (Jan. 18, 2019)
The Atlantic where the European slave ships would dock and where the enslaved Africans imprisoned at St. George’s castle fortress in Elmina, Ghana, were forced to board and leave their homelands forever. (Jan. 18, 2019)
Exiting St. George’s castle fortress in Elmina, Ghana. (Jan. 18, 2019)
A view of St. George’s castle fortress along the fishing bay of the Benya Lagoon.(Jan. 18, 2019)
The bricked Bridge House located directly opposite St. George’s castle fortress in Elmina, Ghana, was the first merchant house built by the Dutch.        (Jan. 18, 2019)
Young men sitting along a bridge overlooking the St. George castle fortress in Elmina, Ghana. (Jan. 18, 2019)
The Elmina fishing harbour in Elmina, Ghana, where the fishermen have brought their fresh catch into the harbour where it is being sold at the Fish Market close-by. The fishing port of Elmina is also known for its role in the former transatlantic slave trade. (Jan. 18, 2019)
The Dutch Cemetery of Elmina, Ghana, was constructed on the order of Governor of the Dutch Gold Coast J.P. Hoogenboom in 1806.
The cemetery was renovated in 2006, as part of the Elmina 2015 Strategy. The reconstruction was funded by the Dutch embassy. Among other things, the gate was restored, and the inscription, translated states: “Oh good mother, receive your children again.”                                                                      (This photo was taken in passing on the bus. Jan. 18, 2019)
The Dutch Cemetery of Elmina, Ghana. (This photo was taken in passing on the bus. Jan. 18, 2019)
The Dutch Cemetery of Elmina, Ghana. (This photo was taken in passing on the bus. Jan. 18, 2019)
Driving through the sites of Elmina, Ghana. (Jan. 18, 2019)
Driving through the sites of Elmina, Ghana. (Jan. 18, 2019)
Driving through the sites of Elmina, Ghana. (Jan. 18, 2019)
Driving through the sites of Elmina, Ghana. (Jan. 18, 2019)
Driving through the sites of Elmina, Ghana. (Jan. 18, 2019)
This run down structure is called a Posuban Shrine in an Elmina, Ghana, neighborhood. It stands as a reminder of the town’s defenses. The Asafo companies, makers of these shrines, were militia-like organizations that once had military duties but are now largely ceremonial in nature and undertake community service. Each of the shrines is dedicated to one of the Asafo, expressing the company’s guiding philosophy or proverb and its superiority over rivals. Many Posubans originated as storage houses for arms and company regalia. (Jan. 18, 2019)
This run down Posuban Shrine in an Elmina, Ghana, neighborhood stands as a reminder of the town’s defenses. (Jan. 18, 2019)
This run down Posuban Shrine in an Elmina, Ghana, neighborhood stands as a reminder of the town’s defenses. (Jan. 18, 2019)