The past two days I have spent at Elmina and Cape Coast slave castles. I knew that these days were going to be emotionally hard going in, but experiencing it in person was far worse than I ever could have prepared myself for. Both castles were almost replicas of
each other. They had pure white washed walls that jutted straight up into the air. The highest level was for the governor of the castle. He lived in the highest room that overlooked the entire structure. In both castles, there was a balcony that allowed him to view some of the women’s dungeons. This was so that he could easily pick a woman to sleep with. There was even a special staircase leading from his bedroom to where the women were kept for this function.
The entire experience consisted in constant juxtaposition. Everyone kept saying how beautiful the castles were, and they are. They are gorgeously crafted and architecturally structured. The views of the ocean and the surrounding towns are incredible. It was psychologically conflicting to wrestle with the paradox of it all. I wanted to take pictures, and I did. We all did because of how gorgeous it was. But then we went through the tunnels and cages underground, first the women’s dungeons and then the men’s.
As we declined, we had to use our flashlights to watch our step because there were limited light sources and as well as little ventilation. The stench was still awful. We learned that hundreds of people would be kept in each cell that was about size of a large dorm room. They could not see anything expect the peeping squares near the ceilings of the dungeons where soldiers would watch over them and occasionally throw down food to keep them alive. There were no bathrooms, only a small declining groove in the floor for the feces to flow down to the ocean. One of the things that stood out the most to me was the build up of all of it. In one room, renovators had scrapped up all of the feces that had hardened on top of the ground. Once they finally found the brick floor, the ground level had declined
about 2 whole feet. In all of the other dungeon rooms, they left the build up to show the difference. It became real to me in that moment. Realizing the extent of the suffering, the darkness, the lack of amenities, and the sloshing around in 2 feet of feces, the constant supervision of the soldiers from the peepholes, and the confinement all became real. In one of the rooms, they had a recording of women screaming and crying. I felt nauseous and could not keep from imagining real people in this very excruciating situation. Real people who died there and were thrown into the ocean without burial. Real people who retaliated and were executed. Real people who died during the voyage to America. Real people who suffered even more during their enslavement in the plantations. Real people who were the grandparents and great-grandparents, etc. of some of my friends. These people were real and going to these castles made it come alive for me, more than a history textbook.
All of this injustice was juxtaposed with the beauty of the castles, along with the churches that were built atop the very dungeons where people were dying. The churches and the Bible verses that dwelled within these slaughterhouses made me think about how people can use religion to justify their own evildoings. I kept thinking to myself, “How can there be a church in the midst of all this evilness? How can there be verses above the bed where the governor would rape women?” In Cape Coast Castle, soldiers were forced to pass the peephole into the male dungeons before entering the church because of the structure of the doors. It is crazy to me how these people could claim Christianity while continuing the slave trade.
This whole experience made me think about other religious radicals like the KKK, ISIS, etc. All of these types of groups use religion as a justifier for their actions even when the religion doesn’t justify it. I began to think about all that I had learned in my Faith and Ethics course. We learned how interpretation is based on what you want to hear and how you were socialized to hear it. I think that there is a lot of injustice in the world, there always has been, and there always will be, and religion will always be a source of comfort and justification for it.