Friday, July 9, 2010

600 men, 400 women

7-9-10 @ 9:13a

I’m looking forward to the memories of right now…

Worse than I could have imagined. Something no one can prepare for. We went to Elmina Castle first in the town of Elmina located in the Cape Coast region of Ghana. Elmina was changed from El mina or ‘the mine’ because there was a lot of gold when the Portuguese first came to Ghana. There was so much gold that Ghana used to be called ‘Gold Coast’, Ivory Coast received its name because it was rich in ivory.

The Portuguese reached Ghana’s coast in 1452 (I think) and originally built Elmina Castle as a trading post. As mentioned in an earlier blog the slave trade picked up immensely after the ‘discovery’ of the Americas. When slavery became profitable inter-tribal war broke out and Africans would sell tribesmen and women that had been captured from neighboring tribes to whites. We were overwhelmed with facts about the castle and historical information, such as when the Dutch captured the castle and when the British bought it from the Dutch. I would encourage you to look online for such facts. I have a bad memory. But note that when the Dutch captured the castle more slaves were held and sent off than any other time. I hope they lose to Spain. :)

The sight of the castle from the far distance sent chills up my spine. As we drove up the coast you could see it, covered in fog, elevated on a hill. As you attempt to enter the castle the locals try to make friends and sell their goods. You easily get distracted and forget the horror of the upcoming experience. You enter the old structure, most of which has been unchanged. As I journaled about this experience, Kind of Blue played through my headphones. You start in the museum and get the historical facts of the fort that I mentioned earlier.

It begins. The female dungeon first. I wanted to vomit from the smell. 1000 people held at a time in the castle, 600 men, and 400 women. It was dark; the walls were damp, almost no sunlight, no showers for months, one meal per day. Sometimes there was no meal. The only sunlight was when the white governor stood on his balcony overlooking an atrium. All of the women were brought out, naked, and he would pick the woman to satisfy his desires. The ball in my throat grew larger and larger. Breathing became more and more difficult. I thought of my sisters and the women in my life that I hold close to my heart. She was allowed to bathe and sent up a wooden staircase that led straight to the governor’s room. If a woman rebelled she was chained to a heavy ball and forced to stand in the sunlight all day with no water or food. Deep breaths I told myself. But the stench made me want to hold my breath instead. Sweat dripped from my forehead. “Breath Abdul, breath.”

To the dungeon of no return we went. Male slaves that resisted in any way were sent to the dungeon. Locked in. No sunlight and left for death. A small room, we packed in and the curator closed the door. I imagined my brother Omari lying next to where I stood and tears began to flow as they are right now. Just before we entered, Sonny had to confront a German couple for their jolly spirits in the female dungeon. When I exited it was as if someone had breathed life back into my lungs.

Off to the male dungeons, which led to the room of no return. This room also had the famous door of no return. Dark, damp, watch your step, duck so you don’t hit your head as you enter the room. I was last to the see the door of no return and I began to weep upon seeing it. Narrow, and short with beaming sunlight on the other end. You could see sand and water. I knelt down, felt the ground, the walls, attempting to feel what they felt. Tears flowed like a child. They wouldn’t stop.

Upstairs was the next stop. We walked where the soldiers walked and patrolled. The ocean right there. Never has the sound of the ocean been so deafening, the smell of the sea has never been so rancid, the sight so blinding and ugly, and the taste of salt grotesque. I located where the small boats would wait outside of the door of no return and grew angry. I wanted to be upset with the elderly white woman on the tour with us. But my upbringing forced me to assist her up a step instead.

The tour took us to the governor’s balcony. I didn’t want to step foot on it. And when I looked down at where the women would stand I began to sob yet again. Something about our women. So loving, caring, beautiful, made me ache at the thought of their pain, more than anything else in the castle. The protective nature we have for women came out. The ball in my throat has returned as I write. They took us to the governor’s bedroom. I waited outside. I couldn’t touch the walls that had witnessed so much pain and rape. But hey, it’s ok because the store accepts all major credit cards according to the sign on the wall just outside of the governor’s room.

I do not know if posting pictures from the castle is appropriate. I don’t know if taking them was appropriate. This experience cannot be captured by words or pictures. This is an experience that EVERYONE should have. No matter your race, class, sex, gender, country of origin, etc.

Before Elmina Castle was built the tribes would gather where the castle is located and have festivities praising the Gods for a good year. This day was the start of the festival. They gather, dance, poor libations, and thank the Gods for a plentiful fishing season (it is a fishing community). We saw the chiefs and queen mothers being carried in the parade and the spiritual healer. They were all dressed in beautiful kente and bright colors. It was cool to see. Ghana is a matrilineal culture. It’s extremely interesting and I’ll try and devote a blog to explaining it (as best I can).

Time for class. I’ll tell you about Slave River another time.

The life and times of amo…


  1. That is really interesting

  2. That's deep. Thanks for painting that vivid image for us. I am certain that I will have no complaints about anything for a while. And when I want to complain, when I think things are bad, I should re-visit this blog...

  3. The ocean/see...a place I want my ashes to be dumped when I die. At one point, you mention…the noisy, sour and gross way it made you feel. The same place that under any other circumstances makes you feel so happy… a sign of vacation, warm weather, or just being out of MN. The emotions I felt when I went through the castle will never erase from my mind. It might be one of the most vivid memories I have and will forever hold onto. I remember seeing the ocean and thinking of the release…the sounds and smells being a distraction from wailing, death and torture.
    I’m happy you helped the woman…we should applaud "them" for going to see what their ancestors did to people. I would imagine the experience as someone who still has soo much “privilege” being hard as well!
    Thanks for sharing Abdul…can’t wait to chat when you’re home.
    Salim - you are right, when we start the “pity on me” it’s a great reminder.
    The next place for me is to go to Cincinnati to see the Underground Railroad…I think 

  4. Thanks you for making me feel like im there with you. I could just picture everything so vividly.
    Like Salim, I shouldnt complain. We dont ever realize how good we have it and its difficult to keep that thought in the fore front of our minds(shouldnt be an excuse), but we do it. Glad to hear about "The Journey of Abdul Majid in Ghana" . Love it. Miss you!

  5. Bro your killing me with the descriptiveness and detail of all that you sense, it makes it all too real. You know its one thing to know what happened their but to have a sense of the smell, feel and or taste of the pain takes you to a whole new level. It breaks my heart to know that taking the gold was not enough and that they felt the need to take the most valued of all in human dignity away from us. I definitely understand how you’re feeling; I could not imagine my own sister, cousin or mom paraded about for some Godless asshole to take a pick. I wish I could see this place. Keep it up bruh.

  6. I remember this experience and I remember the smell...and the door of no return...some things stay with you for life. YOU will never forget is a very powerful experience, and you are right EVERYONE should experience it or something like it. What a reminder, yes?

    Wow Abdul, you are really taking the world by storm! I salute you in your studies! Ghana is definitley a beautiful place and the people there have such great spirit and presence...I'm going to check in and continue to read about your travels now that I found your blog. THANK YOU for sharing your experience, peace & blessings to you.