A fairly early start as we have a long journey south to the coast. The stomach upsets seem to be spreading around the group unfortunately!
Suitably medicated we set off heading south towards Cape Coast. We passed through the suburbs of Kumasi and then out into open country with palm oil trees, cocoa trees and bananas. We crossed a range of obviously volcanic hills. Everywhere there seemed to be funerals taking place , marked out by the red and black outfits everyone wears and in one case by the presence of a coffin.
Our first stop was at a village called Assin Monso on the slave river, so called because it was the last place the slaves got a chance to wash before they were taken to the dungeons in the castle at Cape Coast and from there to the Caribbean, or North or South America. Slaves from all over the west of Africa were brought here in chains and made to wash in the river so they could be sold on to the foreign traders. They were also fed here and grouped by sex and age. It was an incredibly beautiful spot and hard to imagine that at one time it was the site of so much misery. In the compound, which is very wel maintained there are two graves of slaves whose remains were returned in 1998. One was if Samuel Carson the first black man to join the U S navy. He rose to the rank of captain. The second grave was of a woman called Crystal who was a slave in Jamaica. She protested against her treatment and went on hunger strike and died. It was very moving to think that these people had returned to their land.
We moved on to Cape Coast and the castle. Our lunch was in the restaurant alongside the castle and to be honest, was not up to much. I quite liked the spinach soup with hard boiled eggs in it, but to be honest boiled plantain and yam just do not do it for me. Anyway I wasn’t feeling like too much to eat which was probably just as well. On the way in we were really hassled by young man trying to sell pictures and it was just as bad on the way out! An election vehicle drew up outside the restaurant as we were leaving and its amplifier was clearly set to 11 so that we were deafened by the noise. Ghana is certainly a loud country. Last night in the restaurant in Kumasi there were two televisions on, some music from the bar and an unbelievably loud speaker booming out over the terrace outside. Some people were sitting as close as they could to it, without any sign of pain!
We entered the castle and joined an excellent guide who took us around. The first timber structure was built here by the Danes in 1653. In 1663 it was occupied by the Dutch and then in 1664 the British took it over. From 1762 onwards the British extended the castle creating slave dungeons deep underground in order to receive the large numbers of slaves they were sending to the Caribbean and the USA. This was truly a terrible place.
We started in the museum which laid out all the basic facts about slavery and the triangular trade in a very objective way. We next visited the Palaver Room where slaves were bought and sold and the governor’s quarters which had magnificent views over the coastline. It is very picturesque with the surf breaking on rocks below the castle and fishing boats hauled up on the beach while fishermen mend their nets and children play in the waves. Hard to imagine the appalling conditions that existed in the dungeons below. We walked down a slope from the main courtyard into the darkness beneath. Here, in 4 cells, up to 1,000 men were kept. There can barely have been room to sit, never mind lie down. Channels in the tiled floor were meant to take away excreta and urine but these became blocked. In the first barrel-vaulted room the most difficult slaves were kept. Water and food was thrown down to them from above as they sat shackled on the ground. The floor here had been scraped clean revealing the bricks beneath but in the other rooms the accumulation of filth is still there, presumably now rendered harmless with age. From the end cell a tunnel led under the front of the castle to the eastern end, where slaves were led out to the waiting ships through the ‘door of no return’. At that end of the castle was the women’s cell identical to the men’s, but only one room as fewer women slaves were taken. We walked through the door of no return, where the slaves would have been put on board local dug out fishing boats to take them to the big ships waiting some distance off shore. The view of the beach, the boats, and the headland beyond with a rsinbow above it, looked stunning and again it was hard to relate that to these horror of what happened here.
At the end of the tour we were shown the cell where slaves who had rebelled or caused serious trouble were put. It was cleverly designed with three doors. Once all three were shut no air could get in so prisoners slowly suffocated to death in the total darkness. Opposite was the church where the governor and his staff worshipped every Sunday. No more needs to be said.
We fended off the salesmen and got into the bus to drive to our new hotel, the luxurious Coconut Grove Beach Resort. We noted the sign in the car park pointing to the horse stables and the crocdile pond! We were taken to a lovely room within the sound of the breakers on the beach. Furthermore everything seems to work and to be safe. Hot water, a flushing toilet, safe power points, a properly made bed, are all here and it is hard for us to believe that they exist. True it is not cheap – our meal in the restaurant was rather more than we’d paid before, but who cares. Tomorrow we don ‘t have to leave until 10.15 so a lie in, a swim, breakfast and then a stroll along the Palm fringed beach seem to be the order of the day. What could possibly go wrong?