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The Cape Coast Castle and its role in the Atlantic slave trade

Ghana has 3 castles and 14 forts most of which are situated along the coastline.  Although beautiful today, these castles and forts have a gruesome history and this is especially true for the Cape Coast Castle.

The Cape Coast castle was built by Ghanian slaves for the British. It is situated 140 Km's outside of Accra. It was constructed in the year 1665 and took over 60 years to build. It was built on a rock that was worshiped as a God and this God is called Nana Tabir. There is also an altar inside the castle where this God is worshiped. This castle was built by the Danes in 1661 and is now 358 years old. Elmina Castle is the biggest and the oldest castle in West Africa and was built by the Portuguese around 1482. The Cape Coast castle is the youngest of the castles in terms of age and size. It began as a fort build by the Swedes around 1654. They named it Fort Carolusburg after a Kind Charles X of Sweden. The fort changed hands about 4 times due to stiff competition. The Danes took over the fort from the Swedes and in 1661 the locals ceased the fort from the Danes. The Dutch occupied it in 1664 but, due to the Anglo Dutch war in the subsequent year the English transformed the Castle into a Fort.

The Cape Coast Castle is considered a living monument because it took 60 years for its transformation and it was declared a world Heritage Site of Ghana in 1979. During the era of the Atlantic slave trade the criminals were sold into slavery as punishment along with innocent people. Slaves were brought in from Nigeria, Senegal and Benin and this was the main port of exit for slave trade. The main courtyard on the second floor is called Palava hall where the doctors and nurses examined the slaves for auction. The strong men and women were called commercial slaves but the weak were labelled as domestic captives. There was a church on top of this dungeon called the Society for the Propagation of Gospel church which is also known as the SPG church and today's Anglican church. It was run by a Ghanian pastor called Phillip Kweku who is now buried at the castle. The father of Phillip Kweku was a slave trader called Birempong Cudjo.

One male dungeon has 5 chambers and could hold up to a thousand captives at a time. The 30 by 15 foot chambers could hold up to 200 slaves each and the male prison could hold 15 men. The female slave dungeon could hold up to 150 women and the prison cell could hold up to 8 women at a time. Resisting rape or trying to escape were punishable. Pregnant slaves were sent to town and given their freedom if the father of the child was willing to take care of her. If the father (who were the soldiers or the governor) refused to take care of them, the child would be taken from the slave and she would have to return to the castle. Half cast slave children were sent to special schools. The Preferred age for slaves was 13 years and above. When the entry ways are closed off the dungeons are as dark as night. There were no toilets for the slaves to use so they had to ease themselves in the same dark place where they slept. The slaves slept on the cold hard floors for 3 months and although Ghana is very hot and humid the chambers are quite cool and damp.

There were various methods of tagging or marking slaves. Some slave traders used earrings and some used hot branding irons on the skin. The slaves were branded with the initials of their owners e.g. if a slave belonged to John Smith, they would be branded as JSS which stands for John Smith Slave. Many slaves became partially blind and many died from diseases like Malaria, hunger and diarrhea and sexually transmitted diseases transmitted by their rapists. Over 35 million slaves were transported for slavery and 25% of these passed through the Cape Coast castle.  The slaves were shipped to America from the dungeons for sale and they exited through the door of no return. If during transport it was discovered on board the ship that a slave is pregnant, she would be thrown into the sea. The slaves that died where also thrown into the Atlantic Ocean. The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade was abolished in 1933.

 

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