Jimmy Weasel - Thursday, 27 February 2003
Cape Coast, as it is known, lies to the West, and slightly South, of Ghana's capital. Maybe 2 hours by tro-tro (if a tire doesn't mysteriously go flat and cause a half hour delay while the decision to get the spare is discussed). A further 12km to the west of Cape Coast is historical Elmina; Portuguese for "the mine". The booklet sold in historical Elmina Castle (St Georges Castle) claims that Elmina was the among the first parts of tropical Africa to have contact with Europeans, all the way back in 1471. The Portuguese erected a fort to serve initially as a trade post for protection from other Europeans traders as well as locals. It was in the early 16th century that the main trade of the castle switched from gold and ivory to slaves.
Citing the booklet "The realities about Elmina and the Castle", we learn that slave trading most likely began after about 1441, when 10 African men, taken from somewhere near Upper Guinea (known then as Rio d'oro - "a place of gold"). The initial reasons for their capture are given as any of the following:
-to educate as interpreters
-to train as missionaries
-to serve as "proof of visiting"
Shortly after their arrival in Portugal, they were simply used as slave workers and from that time forth, every Portuguese explorer took slaves back home. The West African slaves were then taken to the mines of the West Indies, where the current 'Red Indian' slave population was dwindling due to over work, European disease and brutality. It was a missionary in the West Indies (de Casas) who suggested that west Africans would be more suited to the conditions. It was in 1510 that his theory was put to test and the first West Africans were taken from Spain to Hispaniola, where, unfortunately, they were well suited to the working conditions and it as at this point that Elmina became a slave trade capital.
The local people of Elmina decided that the aid of the local gold-mining Dutch should be called upon to overthrow the Portuguese; as at that point, the Dutch weren't slave-traders, and had previously tried to take over the fort to disrupt the profits. Unsuccessful by sea (twice) the Dutch were lead inland by locals to successfully overthrow the fort on August 27, 1637 (after about 110 years of the trading). The Dutch then turned on the locals and repaired the castle to continue the profitable slave trade.
The British and the Dutch "officially" ended the slave trade in 1807 and 1814 respectively, but much evidence suggests that the trade continued for at least 50 more years. This lead to the fort becoming useless to the Dutch (not economically viable) and was sold to the British in 1872.
The British then used the site as a "sub administrative" centre, and during the second world war, West Africans were trained and deployed to India and Burma under seemingly pseudo-slave scenario. St Georges Castle was dedicated as a world heritage monument by UNESCO in 1979 and sits to this day as a reminder to all who enter just how evil Europeans have been.
The tro-tro ride is a difficult thing to enjoy. Poor roads plus odd suspension and uncomfortable seats lead to a bumpy ride.
Accra to Cape Coast/Elmina is a chaotic affair: people stick to the correct side of the correct side of the road so long as there is oncoming traffic. When there is no oncoming traffic, it is the norm to swerve all over the road to avoid potholes and overtake the cars that just haven't got the minerals to maintain a frantic pace. Order is brought back to any convoy once an oncoming car is spotted coming over a hill or from around a blind corner.
The arrival in Elmina was at about 2, after taking time out to visit the Kakum National park and scenic canopy walk, and to haggle for bananas and wood carvings by a seedy bugger who laughed at us when the transaction ended.Better to haggling, the German Girl suggested we get two items for a better deal. Not much of a discount, but an improvement on days gone by. The taxi cost 20000 cedis; cheap to the Obroni. but long lamented by the good friend & guide for the day. Once again the advantage is with the driver in such isolated situations. A walk through the markets of fish and yam and "bush meat" delivered us unto the edge of the Elmina fishing village. A bunch of fishermen were being applauded as they brought their days catch under the bridge connecting St Georges Castle to the mainland.
In front of the castle is a large stone compass, built by the Dutch to calibrate navigational material (compasses et cetera), and allegedly also used as a sundial. The site is also used by the local enterprising youth who sell personalised sea shells by the sea shore.
"To a good friend of mine: brother Jimmy Weasel
from Tony (email provided and labelled "email")
Have a nice day" is written in felt-tipped pen upon a shell whenever they find the name of any silly chump walking past, and sold under the guise of raising funds for school materials.
The price of entry to the castle increases for the privilege of using a camera. And for being foreign. But the admission is worthwhile. The inside of the castle is a truly horrifying thing to behold.
The first cells examined were the Condemned Cells, where "troublemakers" were imprisoned until they died. There is a cell next to it for drunken/unruly officers and corrupt officials. Multiple troublemakers are locked up as a group, and thrown into the sea once the last one left alive finally starved to death, minimising the hazard of walking inside to pick out the dead.
Our friend & guide for the day asked "why do you take so many photos?" and found the response "white people are horrible and this must not be forgotten" food for thought. But the thought was interrupted by some tourist assuming that he knew where their tour guide was, figuring any black man with two Europeans was employed to be there.
There is a also a church inside the fort; rebuilt inside castle walls to avoid being open to Dutch attack just prior to 1600. Once in Dutch hands, this church was converted into a soldiers mess hall and a slave auction house.
Upon the hill used by the Dutch to launch the successful attack, said Dutch erected a second fort to prevent a similar fate to the Portuguese. It is now known as Fort San Jago, and a bastard of a steep hill climb.
To look at the Dutch Cemetery a straight line is traipsed from St George's castle, up and over fort San Jago and down some steps past local backyards. Our friend (who was born nearby (at a place where now stands a hotel with the biggest satellite dish I've ever seen)) was wary of seeing anyone he knew lest he be recognised. For reasons mumbled incoherently, we kept a low profile and minimised our time wandering around.
An overloaded taxi is a sure way to reduce the cost to the tro-tro station, where the day ended with bad traffic just outside Accra; giving time to reflect upon an uncomfortable seat about an unholy history of slave trading.
By Jimmy Weasel
Making meals for the world to enjoy.