Slavery in Ghana is a Dark Part of
the Country’s Past,
But its Powerful Artifacts
Educate and Inspire for the Future
Slavery in Ghana is a topic that often comes up among the country’s visitors. It’s not simply the fact that slave forts and the vicious battles for life and freedom among Ghana’s early tribes are so embedded in the country’s abstract consciousness, but that remnants of the era in which slavery reigned are still very visible.
In fact, one of Ghana’s most important and certainly most meaningful tourist attractions consists of Elmina castle and other slave forts which stand as monuments to the difficulties endured by so many. What were once bastions of inhumane treatment and greed are now able to educate and influence our knowledge of the past and our ideas for the future.
The history of Ghana in terms of formal slavery dates back many hundreds of years, well before it was colonized and Kwame Nkumrah brought about its modern freedoms. European explorers took advantage of the country’s availability of slaves beginning in the fifteenth century. Coastal tribes, including the Fanti Nation credited with founding the great city of Elmina, captured people from rival tribes in the country’s inland regions and sold them to European slave merchants.
When the Portuguese established an official presence in the country, they built Elmina Castle, which still stands in the port city (and is an UNESCO Word Heritage Site) and has much to tell about the history of Ghana slavery. The structure was finished in 1482 and served as a trading outpost for gold and other highly valuable items, which, at the time, included slaves. Those condemned to sail to Europe or the New World were incarcerated in this and many other slave forts.
The forts feature ominous “doors of no return,” or portals from the interior of the fort to the loading docks outside. The narrow doors looking out onto the endless sea create startlingly bleak image, recalling what it must have felt like to see one’s freedom and family ties utterly disregarded and destroyed.
It is for this reason, the basic understanding of the cruelty and inhumanity of slavery in Ghana, that many organizations operate special tours of the slave forts and relevant cites, helping to connect modern Ghanaians and descendants of slaves with their roots, and to put citizens of lands around the world in touch with this dark chapter of Ghana history.
Slavery in Ghana devastated thousands of lives, encouraged conflict among its peoples, and ultimately allowed the country to be toyed with among the Portuguese, Dutch, British, and Swedes for hundreds of years.
Yet today, the remnants of the era of slavery in Ghana are able to help prevent such atrocities from ever occurring again.
As a plaque at the Cape Coast slave fort proudly declares, “In everlasting memory of the anguish of our ancestors; may those who have died rest in peace. May those who return find their roots. May humanity never again perpetrate such injustice against humanity. We, the living, vow to uphold this.”