Africa History Travel

Ghana: Kakum + Cape Coast

I spent the Christmas holidays in Ghana and wrote about it!

Our next guided tour was to the Kakum National Park and Cape Coast which is home to several colonial castles. Once more we woke up really early in the morning and got into a bus with other Nigerians and off we went on our 2 hour journey to Kakum. The national park is famous for its canopy walk which has several hanging walkways above a thick forest. Apparently some people find the canopy walk challenging and cannot go through it, that is totally understandable. It took a while walking through the forest until we reached the walkways and one by one we were guided to them not before we were warned not to swing the walkways and to refrain from such behaviour.

There are seven canopies in total, I took the shortcut which means I walked through only three. ‘Are you scared?’ one of the men presumably a safety guide asked me when I turned left for the shortcut. ‘Yes, I am absolutely frightened.’ I replied even though I had a huge grin plastered on my face and had paused to take a picture a few moments ago. As I walked hastily through the shortcut I heard the man say behind me, ‘You’re lying.’ In front of me a little girl was crying while her mother told her not to be scared, ‘We’ll soon reach the end.’ I felt sorry for her.

Part of the reason I had chosen the shortcut was because I wanted to see Cape Coast. To be honest, I was dreading it at the same time because I’d heard stories; of the slave dungeons and the door of no return, of people breaking into tears while there and I wasn’t ready to be caught unawares by several strong emotions and end up crying in public. In the end, of our Nigerian tour group it was only my mum and I that took the shortcut so we had to wait and wait for the others. The journey to Cape Coast wasn’t too long and I knew we had reached our destination when I was pointed to a castle that stone atop a hill. That castle was Elmina castle but we were going to Cape Coast castle.

We had a brief tour of the museum within the building first. The museum was dedicated to the Cape Coast castle, how it was built, what materials were originally used to build it and the ones used to renovate it etc. Next was the tour and by the point I was already getting impatient, I wanted to leave. I guess one might say that I found it a bit uncomfortable, the way tourists were about taking pictures of everything in the castle. I personally did not take any pictures of the Cape Coast castle, I found its view of the ocean breathtaking so I did take pictures of the ocean and the beach but in those pictures, the cannons chose to make an appearance.

The tour began with our tour guide talking about how African chiefs sold people to the Europeans as slaves. He described how the slaves were washed and oiled so as to appear healthier and attractive. The guide then talked about how the most rebellious male slaves were punished by being locked in a room with no light or windows IIRC after which he told every single tourist to enter into the room. I entered and came out almost immediately because of the impatience I referenced above. There were a few people complaining about the smell of the room. ‘It is dark here why do we have to stay in here all together?’ to which someone replied ‘It is to appreciate what they went through.’ And my head exploded, appreciate? Really? Even if they locked us all in there for a day, we still wouldn’t know what it was like to be a slave. You’re tourists who paid for a vacation, what can you appreciate? And why use the word anyway?

Next were the male dungeons. There was little to no light in the dungeons with the only air coming in from really small open squares (I can’t even call them windows), high above in the walls. The guide explained to us the filthy conditions of the dungeons, how previously the human waste stood at 6 feet high. And people kept on taking pictures, a blinding flash here and there ‘to preserve the memories.’ And I wondered what sort of memories they wanted to preserve. In my opinion more than half of the people that see/saw Cape Coast castle and take pictures end up pushing the horror of slavery to the back of their minds. It is just an amusing tour, I mean people do talk about it but they are not angry or baffled.

I remember a colleague from work went to Ghana and came to my office to tell us about his journey. He had taken the Cape Coast castle tour yet all he told us was how the governor used to select the finest women and rape them. He mentioned that he thought it was ironic that the castle had a church while all these atrocities were happening and he also told us how a woman, an African-American told off a bunch of white tourists for taking pictures at the Cape Coast castle. He thought she was over-reacting, ‘Why was she so angry, they were just taking pictures.’

We were shown the graves of some guy and an English couple (later on that day, my mum would tell me how she read somewhere that Zimbabwean officials stated that they were going to exhume all the bodies of colonialists and send them to their respective countries). In the female dungeons we were told how the English colonialists raped female slaves. Apparently if a female slave became pregnant she would be spared the journey across the Atlantic and given a house. She would also be made a mistress. ‘That is how today we have Ghanaians with surnames like Johnson, Williams and the like.’ the tour guide explained. I had always assumed those names were ‘slave names’ who knew they had an European ancestor? One woman told me the better option was to keep a rapist’s baby, ‘It is better than being sent to work as a slave in a foreign land.’ I prefered that the choice not be limited. There should not have been such dehumanisation in the first place.

The guide led us to the door of no return, now it is a door but back in the day it was a hole that the slaves had to crawl through. It was from this ‘door’ that slaves were loaded unto ships bound for the Americas. ‘See how our ancestors were forced to go there and here we are struggling to get American visa.’ Our guide told showed us that there was also a door of return now that descendants of slaves have the ability to return to land their ancestors were taken away from. The tour continued through the church which has since been transformed into a library, the governor’s room and the room that used to house the auction where slaves were bought and sold. We had reached the end of our tour.

I walked into one souvenir shop in the castle and struck a conversation with the salespeople there. There was a man with an really nice smile with a penchant for Jamaican slang and the Muslim girl eating fufu and pepper-soup. While on the cruise, the Nigerians on the table I sat at commented that I looked Ghanaian so I took to asking the Ghanaians what they thought. The guy with the nice smile said I didn’t look Ghanaian because my body was fresh! I think he was referring to my skin tone. I related this his colleague who shook her head and said, ‘You’ve really embarrassed us! How can you say Ghanaians don’t have fresh skin?’ She told me I looked like her cousin. I bought two books at the store; Girls’ Nubility Rites in Ashanti by Peter Saprong (I think I’m going to write a post on this after reading judging by the popularity of my essay on initiation rites) and A History of West Africa 1000-1800 by Basil Davidson. I stayed at the store to chat with them because they were amusing but soon I had to return to the bus.

In the bus while drinking bottles of malt, the usual comparisons began. ‘Look at how excellent this tour is Nigerians could do the same, we have history.’ To which my jaw connected to the floor. Some idiot once claimed that Africa has no history prior to colonisation, only darkness and to my horror people actually believe this. How can a Nigerian be happy claiming that colonial castles are ‘history’, no they are not. Colonialism only forms a part of African history but somehow this is irrelevant. ‘There is a castle in Badagry…Lagos. We can do this in Nigeria too.’ The debate spiralled into other topics; ‘What I want to know about is those Africans who sold their own people, what about them?’ and me in my wee voice had to say; ‘Why is it that slavery is associated with black people and Africa? White people were slaves too but that is conveniently forgotten.’ When I tried to speak up on how we have much older history than those colonial castles in Badagry however, my voice was drowned out.

I wondered where the pre-colonial Ghanaian tourist sites were. Our guide at the Cape Coast castle mentioned how the name ‘Ghana’ is from the ancient Kingdom of Ghana which is nowhere near modern Ghana. So knowing the Kingdom of Ghana and all its history (which I do) is not the same as knowing the history of modern-day Ghana still I’m sure that Ghana has its own kingdoms and such. I’m sure there are historical monuments out there but I know nothing of them. At least now I’ve been moved to add them to my banks of knowledge.


  1. Hello Eccentric!!! Happy New Year!!!

    I’m so jealous of your trip!!! It sounds like not only an adventurous trip but also like you saw and learned a lot about history! And I agree, colonialism is only small part of the African history, it is so sad that we are so ignorant of our own past. I think pre-colonial history should be compulsory for all African students because the current system produces graduates who know very little about who we were before colonisation.

    1. Penseuse! Bonne année! Ca va?

      That trip was seriously good times. I’m looking forward to going there again, sometime in the future. Hopefully, I’ll be travelling farther this year!

      I think pre-colonial history should be compulsory for all African students because the current system produces graduates who know very little about who we were before colonisation.

      I completely agree!

  2. I’m actually a Nigerian as well, and I moved to the US about 4 years ago. When I was in Nigeria, I was in the ‘science’ track in Federal government college, so I never had to take any history classes. Your posts and stories have made me go look for books to learn more about my history (not to discount the stories my grandparents told me). I’m getting the Basil Davidson book. Do you have any other recommendations?

    1. That you have stories (they must be part of some oral tradition) your grandparents told you is awesome. Coupled with any books you may read on the subject of African history, you’ll become an expert soon!

      The Basil Davidson book is out of print I believe, I hope you get it. You should also consider When We Ruled, it is an expensive but very worthy investment!

      What ethnic group do you belong to? I ask because then I could suggest books dealing with your particular ethnic group.

      I hope you start a blog soon so you can share your readings on African history. Especially if you’re not Yoruba because while I know a lot on Yoruba history, I’m lacking in knowledge when it comes to other Nigerian ethnic groups and I love reading on other ethnic groups’ histories as well!

      1. I’m Urhobo (from the Niger Delta), and I have tried to learn about my history, but everything I’ve found has said “we don’t exactly know where the Urhobo originated, but…” So I’ll be extremely excited if you can find a book that talks about Urhobo history. And I actually found the Davidson and Walker books in my university library, so I’m going to read them when I get a chance (ie when school let’s out). I actually have a blog already, so I’ll let you know once I start posting about my reading.

        1. Oh there’ll always be the ‘we don’t exactly know where the ~insert ethnic group~ originated, but’…I think what matters is like kingdoms and historic cultures, lineages and such as opposed to exactly where a certain group came from. There’ll always be speculation and all sorts of theories. Why not just assume that ~insert ethnic group~ was always there? 😀

          I’ll search around and let you know if I find anything. Oh I thought you wanted to purchase the books. Libraries usually have copies.

          I couldn’t find a link to your blog but please let me know!

  3. VERY interesting. i’ve been wanting to go to west Africa for some time now, but i’m still deciding on what country. Saidiya Hartman has a really good book about going to the Ghanaian slave dungeons and tours entitled ‘Lose Your Mother’ that made me think about going. she and some other African Americans that have gone there have said that there were issues of respect and whatnot. Hartman said that at one point there was a club or bar at one of the slave dungeons, but was shut down due to complaints from tourists. i’s definitely something i want to see, but i don’t know if i want to do it on the terms of people who host tours and whatnot for capital as opposed to education or commemoration. and theres also talk of Ghana having some “Come Home” type year-long event for African Americans looking to go back, but not offering dual citizenship. so…am i going back so we can recover our past together or am i going back to contribute to your economy? and yes, exactly. i want to know about what was going on the centuries before colonialism. i think thats what most African Americans go there for-to heal some wounds concerning the slave trade, but ultimately to connect to a culture thats been disregarded and forgotten.
    is that true about the colonists bodies being resumed and shipped back to their countries? thats wild. i wonder what they feel that will achieve. ?? how much is that actually going to cost and could that not go to some Ghanaian orphanage or non-profit organization?

    1. I truly hope you go/come to West Africa soon! If I were to suggest countries to visit, I’d say Cape Verde (because of the music), Senegal, Ghana, Benin (because of Ouidah and the voodoun tradition), Mali (because of Festival au Desert and Timbuktu) and of course Nigeria because it is big and other people seem to want to visit it.

      I think if you want to go to Ghana, you should go for personal reasons, history and ‘recovering our past’ as you said.

      is that true about the colonists bodies being resumed and shipped back to their countries?

      I’m not sure. Please note that this rumour is not connected to Ghana but to Zimbabwe. I don’t know what they wanted to achieve but I’m sure they thought they’d achieve some sort of ‘win’ over colonists. I dunno.

  4. as I look at those your pictures, I remember my visit to Ghana, Cape Coast, Kumasi etc. I remember almost shedding tears as our tour-guide took us through the memorials of the slave trade: showed us the prison where the slaves were kept before being loaded onto ships, the door of no return; the female ward and the male ward which is just about 5feet+ high, etc. I had tried to imagine what it would be like for those people, at that time.I didnt have a camera, so I had no pictures, twas in 2003 though. Did you visit that money park? I forgot the name….there are 2-sides of the forest, one for male monkeys and the other for females. It was kinda weird seeing monkeys everywhere, going in and out of people’s houses and undisturbed. I remember that even their electricity wires are insulated just to make sure the monkeys dont get electroculated if they climb. Its nice to travel around Africa.

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