Cape Coast, Elmina and the Door of No Return

Spread the love

“One’s destination is never a place, but a way of seeing things” – Henry Miller

Most tourists go to Cape Coast to visit the castle and to spend the night in the tree house and do the canopy walk at Kakum National Park.   The idea of spending a night in a tree house many metres off the ground with forty other people, as well a walk over a forest on a bridge made of wooden planks held up by some rope sent chills down my spine.  I decided to visit the castles and the fishing villages in Elmina and Cape Coast instead. 

Cape Coast was the centre of the British Administration in the Gold Coast as Ghana was then called. Now it is known for the slave castles, fishing, and Cape Coast University. The old colonial buildings are still standing although many are now very run down. After an hour watching waves on the beach I walked towards the centre of town in search of breakfast and adventure.  It was very quiet for a Saturday morning, most action appeared to be taking place on the fishing boats moored on the beachfront.  The market and stalls along the streets were open but there were hardly any customers.  St George’s Castle itself looked abandoned and closed, unable to find something interesting to see or a restaurant to sit down and have breakfast, I grabbed some fried plantain from one of the street vendors and hopped into a Taxi heading towards Elmina.

Elmina
Elmina Fishing Village

Elmina is about fifteen minutes away from Cape Coast and a lift in a shared taxi costs less than two cedis, a bargain.  Unlike Cape Coast, Elmina was buzzing with activity, the roads were heavily congested with both cars and pedestrians heading in all directions. The fish market by the shores was lively with vendors, customers and fishermen with colourful boats decorated with flags representing almost all countries in the world.  As I walked around taking in all the colour, the aromas and noise around me, I came across a group of people all dressed in red and black congregated next to a rather interesting building with a boat on top.  Fascinated, I asked one of the young men standing by what they were celebrating and if he knew what the building represented.   It turns out that I was in the middle of a funeral ceremony.  The mourners (if I can call them that) were in such high spirits I would not have guessed.  The young man himself was not familiar with the history of the building but he found a local friend who gave me a brief history of the AsafoCompanies to which the building belonged.

Asafo Company Building No.5 Elmina

The drunken interruption aside, the tour was very poignant, especially after seeing and going through the door of no return.  Prior to the visit, I had read the history of the castle and of the conditions under which the slaves were kept, however seeing the place and retracing the steps that the slaves took never to see their homes and families again was almost too much.  What I found most shocking was that right next door to and above the dungeons, the Dutch and the Portuguese had churches where they went to pray after either raping or branding the slaves with hot iron rods.  How could they do such horrendous things and then get down on their knees and pray? What God were they praying to?  I am filled with rage thinking about it even now.

Elmina Castle Courtyard

The drunken interruption aside, the tour was very poignant, especially after seeing and going through the door of no return.  Prior to the visit, I had read the history of the castle and of the conditions under which the slaves were kept, however seeing the place and retracing the steps that the slaves took never to see their homes and families again was almost too much.  What I found most shocking was that right next door to and above the dungeons, the Dutch and the Portuguese had churches where they went to pray after either raping or branding the slaves with hot iron rods.  How could they do such horrendous things and then get down on their knees and pray? What God were they praying to?  I am filled with rage thinking about it even now.

Pigs like the beach too

I preferred Elmina to Cape Coast as it had a lot more happening. My only gripe with Elmina is the state of the beach. I went for a walk along the waterfront after a heavy lunch at the castle restaurant. Unaware of the scenes around me and still reflecting on what life must have been like for the families that the slaves left behind, I was shocked when I turned to walk back and in front of me was a bunch of people, young and old, squatting doing their business on the beach.  I can now understand why there was a pig roaming around, never have I seen so many people unashamedly pooing in public. After seeing what surrounded me, I made a quick exit and went in search of the remaining Asafo Campanies buildings.

×