Journey through Elmina Slave Castle/Dungeon

Greetings to my readers… It has been about a month since my last post when I shared my experiences at Cape Coast Slave Castle/Dungeon. To be honest, it takes a tremendous amount out of me emotionally to continue writing after re-living that experience. It is a very dark story of an atrocious time in our history when humans were treated worse than animals and deprived of all dignity, humanity and sense of regard. It is an ugly history and viewing the pictures I took and describing the experience took me back to that dreadful place reeking of centuries of torture, abuse and the fight for survival. In this my final post about my first trip to Africa – to Ghana, I want to share a few experiences and pictures of yet another slave castle/dungeon – then move on to my final reflections.


Elmira Castle/Dungeon is one of the oldest slave castle/dungeons on the coast of West Africa. It was built by the Portuguese in 1482 and was under Portuguese rule for 155 years. The Dutch ruled next for 235 years, followed by British rule for 85 years. Ghana gained control over the castle just 55 years ago. Standing with your back to the door of the Portuguese Church you are facing the male and female slave dungeons which housed 600 enslaved males and 400 enslaved females. so every-time the enslavers/colonizers came out of their “church” door, their immediate view and reality was the horrors of the slave dungeons… the cries for mercy and deliverance, the hollering from pain, deprivation and inhumane suffering, the smells from 1000’s of bodies forced to lie in human waste wafting in the air, yet the faith, will and strength of African people to live and  believe in a better day.

What kind of people can inflict this upon human beings? Where was their sense of humanity? What God did they serve? What happened to the mindset of the descendants of those people who brutalized and dehumanized us for 480 years? What do they carry in their DNA and psyche? What do we as African people carry in our DNA and psyche? Trauma is real and healing is needed for all. The short and long-term effects of this type of generational enslavement, genocide and institutionalized racism cannot be eliminated by “simply getting over it”; instead,  holistic rituals, prayers, drumming, offerings, therapy, financial restitution and formal apologies are all necessary to bring healing and a realistic attempt to rectify these generational wrongs and bring closure to this horrific chapter in the history of man.

Walking through the hallways of the castle down to the dungeons was a horrific experience. The hallways slanted down and the deeper down we went, the darker and drearier it was, with a pungent odor permeating the air…the scent of generational death and despair…

Our tour guide explained to us the horrors that both male & female enslaved Africans were subjected to! The enslavers would routinely pick the woman/women they wanted to rape! After months of lying naked in human waste (urine, feces, vomit & menstrual blood) these women were dragged to the courtyard for the enslaver to make his choice of which one he wanted to abuse & then the “chosen” ones  were scrubbed in the open for all of the public to view…another level of sheer humiliation before being raped! When the African women got pregnant they were housed in “stone houses” in the village below the castles. Once they delivered they were either thrown back into the dungeons or kept as an enslaved concubine!

Their mixed race babies, with their lighter skinned complexions, light eyes and straighter hair were the product of the rapes of African women, by their White enslavers! Their European features distinguished them from pure bred Africans! These bi-racial children were elevated above the enslaved Africans! These children who were given the names of their European rapist fathers, were forcibly taken from their mothers & raised on the “top” of the castle by the “Whites in power.” Some were sent to European countries, educated & returned to work as slavers themselves! This was another example of the divide & conquer methodology which was employed as a means of control by European colonizers throughout the world! The descendants of these children in Ghana still carry the surnames of their enslavers, such as: VanDykes, Bartels, Jacksons, Robinsons, just as we do in the Americas!! The horrible legacy of slavery still divides us by name, skin color, hair texture & experience! Yet we are one!

I walked into one of the female dungeons, the opening entrance had huge steel bars – I stood behind those bars, clutching them, and trying to envision  the anguish, pain, suffering, torture, rape, abuse and even death my grandmothers, and aunties saw, felt and experienced for generations right here in these same dungeons, on these same floors. I felt their spirit implanted here in this place – and SUDDENLY – I was no longer just me – no longer just Helen! I have always been open to ancestral connections and in that moment, the spirits of my ancestors linked with the “me that is me” and a spiritual entity, fusion, collective energy manifested through my body – I became a vessel and I was aware of it. I felt a surge of energy move through me, and I felt the weight of a thousand people and hundreds of years!  I started sobbing hysterically as I felt the magnitude of this moment. I recognize the depth of these ancestral connections, and the awesome power and energy that had consumed me.

I understand spirit and the way my ancestors guide me in my life. It may be hard to explain to those who believe in religious dogma, or a logical sequence of events, but I know what I experienced. I believe at the moment of conception a “spirit” is formed, and that spirit develops into a physical body -“shell” to interact with others on a physical level. However, when that physical body -“shell” dies – I believe the spirit lives on – just not on a physical level. I know what I have experienced with those who have transitioned. My ancestors guide, warm and protect me. I  also recognized the potential for the ancestral spiritual connections that had attached to me to go in one of two directions – it could manifest as a negative energy that pulls me into recurrent sadness or darkness; or a positive force to motivate me on my journey to continue telling our story.

I must admit I was shook after this experience. I had very explicit dreams that took place inside of Elmina Castle for close to a month after I returned to the US. I finally honored my ancestors again, lit my white candles, gave food & light to my ancestors, prayed for their spirits to be at rest, and vowed to continue to learn and share my people’s stories.

Never forget – “We are the children of those who chose to survive” (Julie Dash  from Daughters of the Dash)

I was born to do this work – I am a keeper of the culture!
I wil never forget! I will seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave, and I will always tell our stories!
I am honored that I a daughter, sister, auntie, granddaughter of Mother Africa was blessed to return to the shores of Ghana, West Africa and the slave castle dungeons of Cape Coast and Elmina and stand in the same place where my ancestors stood and summoned enough faith to propel our family forward for many generations. I draw my strength from their stories and experiences. If they could carry on in the face of unbelievable horrors with no known awareness of what the future would hold – then surely I can live my life on life’s terms. I vow to be the keeper of the culture always. Stay tuned for more cultural journeys.


4 thoughts on “Journey through Elmina Slave Castle/Dungeon”

  1. I’m in tears. Beautifully written to the point where you took me back to the experienced we shared with 9 other Black women. To truly know your purpose is a blessing. You’re meant to tell and retell your stories, your experiences it’s in your DNA


  2. Yes, beautifully written was my first thought upon reading your story. Your powerful account of your experience there, took me there. Thanks for enlightening me. The visuals with words were great!


  3. Dear Helen, I have taken this journey vicariously with you and in doing so, was brought to tears as you described the evil our ancestors endured. I believe you were chosen to deliver this portion of our history to everyone who will take the time to follow you as you continue to write. You have been blessed with the ability to describe your experiences in a way that puts the reader right there with you. Thank you – your friend.


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