At his whim, the Governor stood on his balcony to select one of the 400 female slaves gathered below to be his ‘mistress’ for the day. A purpose-built staircases led directly from women’s dungeons straight to the Governor’s quarters. In return for being at the mercy of the Governor’s sexual fantasies, the terrified women received a proper meal and the first wash they would have had since being captured.

elmina castle balcony

elmina castle courtyard

Female slaves were gathered in this courtyard so the Governor could make his selection

Elmina Castle was built by the Portuguese in 1482. It was taken over by the Dutch in 1837, and then by the British in 1872. The strikingly white castle is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is the oldest European building in existence south of the Sahara. Yet, despite its beautiful architecture, it has a dark and gruesome history.

elmina castle 2

elmina castle canon

Elmina Castle used to be a trading post for the Portuguese to sell gold and ivory which was plentiful in Ghana. When the slave trade began in the 1500s, coastal tribes were sent as ‘slave-catchers’ to the African interior. They then traded the captured people to the Portuguese in exchange for textiles or horses. Little did the slaves know about the hellish journey they were to face.

The slaves at Elmina Castle were separated by gender and then forced into underground dungeons. The dungeons were small, yet they housed up to 400 slaves at any given time. There wasn’t even enough room to lie on the floor so slaves had to sleep in shifts, as well as having to defecate in the corners of the room due to the lack of any sanitation provisions whatsoever. The dungeons were almost always completely dark, and the only air vent into the female’s dungeon came from a neighbouring room which stored chemicals and gunpowder - meaning toxic fumes often flowed straight into the suffocating dungeon. Outbreaks of malaria, cholera and yellow fever were widespread, meaning many slaves died under these gruesome conditions before being able to be sold off to American or European plantation owners in the Caribbean.

elmina castle dungeon

The female dungeon - The heavy door on the left was always shut, so that no light or fresh air could get into the dungeon.

elmina castle prison cell and plaque

Left: A prison cell; Right: A memorial for one of the Governors. A European priest left a personal message underneath saying that the Governor was a ‘just, honest, and god-fearing man’ - the same man that raped women on an almost daily basis.

Those slaves that survived their imprisonment in the castle were eventually taken to the ‘Door of no Return’, a door that led straight from the castle to an awaiting ship that would take them on the treacherous journey across the Atlantic. Those who survived the 10-week journey had to work tirelessly in plantations and endure physical and sexual violence, torture, and merciless forced labour. It is estimated that about 30,000 slaves were shipped from Elmina Castle to the Caribbean each year.

elmina castle flowers

Flowers left in the final room slaves went to before they were taken away on the ships

elmina castle door of no return room

Slaves were led down this slide (left photo) before being led onto the ships through the door of no return (right photo).

Although slavery was officially abolished in the 19th century, slavery still exists today. Modern slavery is a multi-billion Dollar industry and the United Nations estimates that 21 million men, women and children are currently trapped in the slave-trade industry. This includes the women who get trafficked to work in brothels throughout the world; Cambodian men who work in Thailand’s fishing industry who are held captive on boats offshore; Bangladeshi and Nepalese construction workers who work and live in appalling conditions in Dubai or Qatar (including to support the FIFA World Cup in 2022); or Indian children whose bodies get mutilated by organized gangs, so that the children can earn more money as beggars. In Cambodia I worked with people whose family members were trafficked abroad, and they haven’t seen them in years. They didn’t even know if they were still alive.

Visiting Elmina Castle and learning more about the slave trade and the horrific practices was a humbling experience. It makes me sad that Europeans and Americans would allow such brutality and inhumanity for such a long time. And it makes me sadder still that humankind still hasn’t learned from its mistakes and allows this barbaric practice to continue.

Practical tips:

  • Entrance fees to Elmina Castle: 40 Ghana Cedis (c.US$10)
  • How to get there: Elmina is located about 150Km West of Accra. From Accra you can get to Elmina by bus from Kaneshi bus station via Cape Coast. It takes about 2.5-3 hours, depending on traffic.
  • Where we stayed: Coconut Grove Hotel, right opposite Elmina Castle. Top tip: As a guest of Coconut Grove Hotel you can use at no cost the swimming pool of its sister hotel, the luxury Coconut Grove Beach Resort, which is a 10 minute taxi drive away.

About Tammyonthemove

Tammy & Chris are a couple hailing from Germany and England, meaning between them they are efficient and polite, but unable to talk about football. Find out why they stopped pushing pens around the British civil service to travel the world on their blog.

21 Thoughts on “Learning about the gruesome slave trade at Elmina Castle, Ghana

  1. Last week we visited Fort Amsterdam in Abandze, a bit before Cape Coast, where we had a similar experience as you had in Elmina. The history of these places are so sad.. Yet, I think it’s good to visit them to make us all aware of this terrible and inhumane past.
    Lydian recently posted…How To Spend A Day in LisbonMy Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on May 12, 2022 at 7:24 am said:

      I agree. It is really important that these places have been turned into museums now, so that future generations can learn about the horrible past.

  2. Wow this is horrible! To be honest I never thought about what happened to the slaves before they were shipped to America. Thanks so much for sharing this story.
    Richelle Gamlam recently posted…Learning to Scuba Dive with Koh Tao DiversMy Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on May 12, 2022 at 7:25 am said:

      I didn’t really know either. I mean, I knew it probably wasn’t nice, but I wasn’t exactly sure what happened, so I am glad that I went.

  3. What an incredible place - and a fascinating post. Such a dark and terrible history and yet, as you say, slavery still exists today.

    • Tammyonthemove on May 16, 2022 at 1:12 pm said:

      You would have thought that mankind has learned from its mistakes, but sadly greed still often takes precedence.

  4. It’s hard to believe that slavery still exists and closer to home than most would realise as this report by the Gaurdian last year shows ‘Up to 13,000 working as slaves in UK’ Desperately sad.
    Kathryn Burrington recently posted…Don’t fuel the orphanage industry in NepalMy Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on May 16, 2022 at 1:48 pm said:

      That is shocking that in a country like the UK, so many slaves still exists. I didn’t know it was as many as that.

  5. Wow, an eye-opener! It is indeed unbelievable that all this happened not so long ago… And as you say, probably still does, just under a different form and much more hidden, which makes it much more difficult to see…
    Els recently posted…The life of an expat: the good, the bad and the ugly!My Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on May 16, 2022 at 1:50 pm said:

      Yes, slavery is much less obvious these days, which is why there are still so many slaves trapped.

  6. This is a very powerful piece and thanks for writing it. Topics like this cannot be discussed too much. You are correct about the modern day slave trade and it is incredibly sad what one human can do to another in the name of money. I agree that not demolishing these places is of the utmost importance as people tend to forget if something is no longer in their field of vision.
    Tim recently posted…It’s Just Not FairMy Profile

  7. This was a really interesting post about such a sad story. I think it’s good that travel bloggers can use their stance to educate people about this kind of thing. Great blog 🙂
    Dannielle Lily recently posted…Good Morning, VietnamMy Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on May 16, 2022 at 1:52 pm said:

      Thanks so much Dannielle. I am glad you like the post and I agree that topics like that are important to discuss publicly.

  8. Hi Tammy,

    Fascinating topic and depressing to think that some of the worst instances of slavery continue to take place in some of the most ‘advanced’ and richest societies (actually, that’s partly how they became rich and advanced in the first place, the UK being a case in point…).

    Off topic: glad to see that everything is going so well for you and Chris in Ghana and the work you are doing sounds very important and rewarding. Please pass on my best wishes to Chris. As you can see, I still don’t do that new-fangled social media thing so having to resort to glom onto people’s travel and work blogs. I’m sure that breaks some social media protocol. :/

    Bw, Rory

    • Tammyonthemove on June 8, 2022 at 2:18 pm said:

      Hello Mr Yeomans, how the devil are you? Chris says hi and that it is lovely to hear from you. He also avoids social media like a plague so this counts as quite a conversation by his standards. 🙂 We are both really well. Hope you are too. Would love to hear how you are if you have another means of communications.

  9. This was definitely the most powerful part of my trip to Ghana a few years ago, as well.
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted…Wet and Wild in OrlandoMy Profile

  10. I remember visiting the place when I was in Ghana - a really saddening experience
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  11. Kirsten on July 25, 2021 at 4:21 pm said:

    Hi! A friend of mine has visited Elmina and did not feel very safe (short blond Dutch girl), did you experience those sorts of problems there? Apparently not enough to keep you from sleeping there? Thanks!

    • Tammyonthemove on July 28, 2021 at 7:50 am said:

      Elmina can feel intimidating because it is soo packed and locals will stare at you if you are foreign. We stayed in a hotel right opposite the castle and the hotel was perfectly safe, but we didn’t go out at night. There is nothing to do there anyway, so we felt more comfortable in the hotel.

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