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Slave Castles: The Legacy of a Horrific Past

Sep 07, 2022 09:00AM ● By Minna Davies
It is inconceivable to speak about the Slave Castles without mentioning the atrocities of the slave trade – the most cruel and diabolic holocaust meted on Black
people in history. Not only were their physical beings kidnapped and destroyed,
their minds, souls, and spirits were also uprooted and transferred as well.  

The Transatlantic slave trade dominated by the British, French and Portuguese lasted for four centuries. It is estimated that between 9.4 and 12 million Africans were transported to the Americas during this time. Of these, around 6 million are thought to have perished during the journey or soon after arrival.

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These castles which were built along Africa's West Coast near the sea were designed to assist the easy loading of their human cargoes onto ships. The castles' conditions reflected their attitudes and treatment of Black slaves. The castles were built by French and Portuguese colonialists in Ghana, Senegal and Mauritania.


Before the treacherous voyage across the ocean in a hole of a ship, life in the castles for slaves was a terrible nightmare on earth. In spite of these inhume conditions, the White slave buyers were only interested in acquiring able-body men and women from Africa who would work on their plantations for free. At first, the need for the slave trade looked to be purely economic; But the Whites needed a large amount of free labor to operate their colonial territories, so Blacks were used to fill that labor deficit. The dungeon stay lasted for about six weeks and was not subliminal; it was real and tactile. The men and the women were separated. Some of the women were employed as castle servants. The conditions at the castle were deplorable; the slaves were crammed up like sardines in a can.

A slave castles of Ghana (Google Image)

This slave castle of Ghana is a reminder of the dark history of the transatlantic slave trade. There are clusters of castles and forts built along Ghana's 500-kilometer-long coastline between Keta in the east and Beyin in the west between 1482 and 1786. Because of its huge quantities of gold, Ghana was known as the Gold Coast at the time, and these strongholds operated as fortified trading terminals affording protection from other foreign settlers and dangers from the African populace.

The Castle Passage. (Google Image)

The forts were strategically placed as links in the trade routes established by the Portuguese, who were the first settlers on the Gold Coast in the 15th century, and exchanged several times between European powers for dominance over the Gold Coast for nearly four centuries.

In many respects, the castles were the ultimate halt. They were the last experience that men and women had in their hometown before leaving. They were the final location people who did not make it to the new world saw on Earth. Every day of incarceration in the castle would eat away at the last vestiges of hope. The 'door of no return' was a portal on the seaboard side of the coastal slave castles through which slaves were lowered into boats and then loaded like cargo onto large slave ships further out at sea, never to set foot in their homeland again and saying a final goodbye to the freedom they once knew.

Today, the slave castles are a popular tourist attraction in Ghana. Visitors can explore the dungeons where slaves were once held, and learn about the horrific conditions they endured on the journey to the New World. The slave castles offer a somber reminder of humanity's capacity for cruelty, but they also stand as a testament to the resilience of the African people. Despite their harrowing past, the people of Ghana have persevered and now enjoy a vibrant culture and prosperous economy.

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The house of slaves (Google Image)

Ber was the Senegalese name for it. It was renamed Ila de Palma by the Portuguese. The Dutch changed the name to Excellent Reed, while the French called the island Goree, which means "good harbor." The term, however, did not correspond to what happened on this tiny island between the 16th and 19th centuries, when wooden ships sailed from here across the Atlantic with human cargoes shackled in their holds. Slave House, a small fort on the island, can be found. This was essentially one of the slave warehouses that Africans traveled through on their journey to the Americas. Millions of people went via the island and other comparable trading stations on their way to work on plantations in the New World, including America.

The house of slaves (Google Image)

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The slave trade was abolished in the 19th century and the slave castles were abandoned. However, they remain an important part of African history and culture.

Today, the slave castles are a popular tourist destination in West Africa. They offer a unique insight into the brutal reality of slavery and the slave trade. For many visitors, they are also a powerful reminder of the importance of freedom and human rights.

The slave castles are also a reminder of the strength and resilience of the African people. Despite the unimaginable cruelty that they experienced, the slaves never lost hope. They held on to their culture and their traditions, and passed them down to future generations.

The slave castles are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and they attract visitors from all over the world. They are a powerful symbol of freedom, and a reminder of the importance of remember our history.

 Minna Davies is a creative writer and a thespian with a degree in theatre arts from the University of Lagos.  He has been privileged to have some of his works featured on Nigeria's big stages.  It is important to dream, but if no one gets to see it, it is as good as dead. 

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