Elmina – Ghana’s Yad V’Shem




Perched high atop a hill overlooking the Ghana Bay, facing due south at the Atlantic, stands a huge white castle. Built by the Portuguese, who were the first to colonize the area, and subsequently captured by the Dutch, the French, the Danes and ultimately the British, the structure stands as a monument to one of the cruelest chapters in human history. Through its gates were marched sixteen million slaves between the late 1400’s and the early nineteenth century.

They were kept in abysmal squalor, as many as 150 in a room that would be considered a fair sized dining room by our standards.The walls were thick concrete; dank with mould and mildew. The fungus found the atmosphere very inviting since the room housing the slaves was almost pitch black. Ventilation was limited to two one square foot windows with a collection of urine, feces, vomit and blood formed the flooring. Slaves had been captured as a result of inter-tribal warfare, kidnapped by whichever colonizer was in power, or sold as debt remuneration by individuals who had obtained them as indentured. In these fetid, overheated cells they wallowed, got sick, starved, dehydrated or succumbed to any combination of the previously mentioned while awaiting the next slave ship to carry them off to the New World. The final leg of the journey was through a low archway known as The Point of No Return.

Point of No Return

They were crammed into the hold of the waiting vessel and those who were fortunate (?) to survive the hellish Atlantic crossing were sold into slavery upon reaching Jamestown, Virginia or any assortment of Caribbean islands.

There is a small room off of the main courtyard. Above the doorway is a bas relief of a skull and crossbones. This was the ‘Go to Die’ room. Slaves who misbehaved were tossed into an unlit chamber and denied food or water until they died of starvation, thirst or disease. The only light that entered the room was through a small grate that the soldiers occasionally peered into in order to eventually remove the corpses.

Go To Die Room


Should any of the garrison’s soldiers commit a transgression against any of the native population in the area, such as rape, murder, theft, they too were punished. They were placed in a cell adjacent to the Room of Death and were forced to endure a well ventilated, well lit chamber for two or three hours, at which point they were released after promising to try to behave in the future.

View from Governor’s Balcony


The top floor of the castle housed the Governor and his aides. His bedroom was larger than the holding area in which 400 slaves were often kept for days. To keep him company, he would look down at the interior courtyard and select any desired female captive who tickled his fancy.

She was brought upstairs for whatever his particular form of amusement was that day. Slaves impregnated by the Governor were taken out of the castle and allowed four years to raise their children, after which they were returned to the building to await deportation. Many of the mulatto Ghanians living in the area of the Coastal Region trace their ancestry to gubernatorial dalliances.


Adjacent to the Governor’s quarters was the officer’s quarters and mess hall, On the same floor was a large, high ceilinged church where the local Vicar lived and preached on Sundays. The entire structure was a huge processing plant that was designed to move as many slaves through it at enormous profit to the colonizers.

I found it incredulous that the level of beastly treatment accorded these poor souls was allowed and encouraged, in particular under the aegis and in clear view of the Church. Further research has provided the answer to my query; the justification can be found by finding the errant word in my previous sentence. Can you find it? Here goes- according to the Christian world, starting with the Pope and all the way through the Vatican hierarchy, the natives did not have souls, Ergo, they were not people and hence were be dispatched with the same efficacy as coconuts, sugar cane, or gold. Just another commodity to be plundered.


UNESCO has declared Elmina Castle a World Heritage Sight. The government of Ghana has been running tours through the property for twenty years and the historical goings on within are now part of the national school curriculum.The incredible lack of human compassion displayed by the various colonizers is identical to the Nazi’s sentiments that Jews were nothing but vermin to be eliminated. Ditto Lon Nol and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda and General George Armstrong Custer in the US. Unfortunately for our species, the actors change but the script remains the same.



  • Cookieman
    Posted at 13:18h, 24 December Reply

    Phew, well you just started my day with a downer. Well written piece Bruce, glad you stayed away from bad puns or trite comments. This is very difficult to digest, and it is truly disheartening to see history keep repeating in such horrific ways. Thank you for sharing.

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