From slave ships to migrant boats

Elmina. It is supposed to be Portuguese. Portuguese to mean Mina. A mine in English. There is no Gold. There is only salt mining. It is a fishing town in Ghana.  Wooden fishing canoes have flags lined up like the opening ceremony of the Olympics. Country flags. Football club flags. The village is on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean in the Gulf of Guinea. Tinned roofed houses dominate the buildings. There is a choking smell of fish. Clogged drainage with water the color of oil, black. Emerging from an air conditioned bus, you’re met with air that is a mix of fresh fish, dry fish, garbage, food and a clogged drainage system after the rain.



Elmina is the home of a 534-year-old castle. The São Jorge da Mina was built in 1482 by the Portuguese. It was a link for trade. Trade in actual goods. A fair exchange. From goods, it became a place for the slave trade. The trade of human beings. The trade of Africans. The property ownership of Africans. It is in this castle that African were mistreated. Beaten. Killed. Tortured. Sold. Exported. Raped. Chained. The castle dominates the skyline of Elmina.



A video has emerged. On Facebook. Migrants rescued from an overloaded and almost sinking boat are singing. Celebrating. They could see Europe ahead. Thousands risk their lives to cross to Europe. Some make it. Others don’t. Some are Africans. Others are not. Africans are fleeing their countries. Countries where they feel left out. No jobs. Mandatory military service. State capture. War. They feel let down. They are being criticized. You are not in their shoes. They chose a path. A path that the African slaves were forced to take. They are not in chains. The chains are not physical.


Inky picky ponky, father had a donkey. That is what the governor of the castle would do when they lined up female slaves. He would look around from his balcony. Bring me that one. As he pointed at the female slave he wanted for the night. His second-floor balcony overlooked the female slave dungeon. With a kitchen to himself and a large sized bedroom, he used slaves to satisfy his sexual desires. His bedroom was the size of the holding area for about 70 slaves. It had ventilation. It had wardrobes for his clothes.



No ventilation. 500 years later, there is a smell that causes nausea. The smell of death. Blood. Defiance. Pain. Helplessness.  Tears. Anger. At the center of the castle. A chapel. A chapel meant for prayers. Where the lord the was praised and thanked for life. A chapel not for the African slave. Adjacent to it is a door. Above that door is the symbol of skull with two images of bones making the X sign. It was the killing room. Killing room for naughty African slaves. African slaves that challenged their captures. Defiant slaves. I did not enter the room.



African chiefs participated in the trade. They sold the Africans. They were given gifts. They lived the lavish life. The church. The leaders. The slave traders. All culpable. 500 years later, unemployment. Poverty. Profiteering. Wars. Rape. State capture. All prevail. Underpaid health workers. Children studying under trees. Poor education. Cars for MPs. More benefits for those who have. Trade policies. Inclined towards the strong. Those that built an economy on the unfair trade of humans. They called it labor. Africa watches. It rises. Then falls. The people enjoy a new form of slavery. It doesn’t require physical chains.


The point of no return. To access this room, bend. Then get up. Walk. Then bend again. Count five steps. Bent. As you walk. Then rise. In this room, there is a small opening. Enough to for a human being to walk through. It would lead to the ocean at the time. The slaves walked through this opening to the slave ship. It was the point of no return. There was no going back home. No going back to the family. No turning back to Africa. Only history remembers the African slave. There is history we have to re-write now. Before it also becomes a memorial.

We are not at that point yet. We can turn our continent around.


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