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#BlackHistory365- Elmina Castle, Ghana

Looking out The Door of No Return

In the nine and half minute song, the first few moments of the tune gradually introduces the listener to cinematic sounds of wood floors creaking, the roar of the sea, rain, lightning and thunder, and then the sharp cracking of a whip emerges and engulfs the soundscape. For the next minute this particular sound doesn’t cease, like the second hand on a clock, the sound of the whip synchronously counts off the seconds; whip by whip.

After two minutes and twenty-seven seconds, The O'Jays usher in the first actual words to the song; which is the hook:

"Ship Ahoy! Ship Ahoy! Ship Ahoy! Ship Ahoy!"

The Elmina Castle (Dungeon) is the largest of 30 european built fortresses concentrated along Ghana’s coast. The name Elmina, given by the Portuguese, translates to The Mine. It was a region rich in gold and ivory resources.

The Portuguese built the Elmina Castle in 1482 to store and trade gold, but was overtaken by the Dutch in 1637. The Dutch extended the fortress and the castle came to serve the Dutch slave trade with the Americas. It was the first European slave-trading post in sub-Saharan Africa.

"Ship Ahoy! Ship Ahoy! Ship Ahoy! Ship Ahoy!

They're coming by the hundreds

Coming by the thousands, too

Look over the horizon, see the sun

Shining down on you…"

Africans were captured inland, then brought to the outpost; which was a journey that lasted many days. Once there, the men were separated from the women. The Dutch would cram more than 1,000 enslaved Africans, with no water or sanitation, into a space that was outfitted for 200 people. These dungeons were filthy, and outbreaks of malaria and yellow fever were common. Food was scarce and disease was rampant.

Routinely, women were taken out of dungeon, one by one, to be showcased to an officer looking from the balcony, choosing one for his taking. After she was selected, she was tied to an iron ball, that is located in the courtyard, right outside the cells, and given an open and public bath. Upon completion, she was escorted to a private stairwell that leads to a hallway that sits between the Master's quarters and a church. As you peek through the doors of the church, there is an inscription on the wall that reads: "Psalm 132:13 The LORD has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his habitation.” The woman is led upstairs to be raped.

"Ship Ahoy! Ship Ahoy! Ship Ahoy! Ship Ahoy!

Can't you feel the motion of the ocean

Can't you feel the cold wind blowing by?

There's so many fish in the sea

We're just, we're just, we're just

We're just masts?

Riding on the waves...

The waves

We are

Riding on the waves…"

These prisoners, at times, had to spend up to three months in these dark and infested dungeons before they were taking to the seaboard side of the castle to the “Door of No Return” where enslaved Africans boarded ships that would take them on the treacherous journey across the Atlantic known as the Middle Passage.

The voyage usually took six to eight weeks, but bad weather could increase this to 13 weeks or more. Around 30,000 enslaved Africans a year passed through Elmina until 1814 when the Dutch slave trade was abolished. A large percentage of those of those enslaved Africans did not survive the passage, and those that did, were auctioned and sold for generations to come.

"Ship Ahoy! Ship Ahoy! Ship Ahoy! Ship Ahoy!

Look over there, tell me what do you see?

Tell me, what do you see?

Tell me…

Look over here, what do you see?"

As I peered through the "Door of No Return," I felt the motion of the ocean,

I can smell the salt in the wind,

I heard sounds calling from the deep...

Voices of the ancestors saying, "AKWAABA."

As the fog dissipates...

Over the horizon, I can see...

A multitude of ships...

This time, it's their children returning home.

*I would highly recommend listening to the song I reference in the text: Ship Ahoy by The O'Jays

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