It was in hope of locating the source of the abundant gold carried north by the trans-Sahara caravans that Portuguese navigators first set about exploring the west coast of Africa in the mid-15th Century. It was the discovery of just such a supply at the port they named Elmina (The Mine) in 1471 that prompted the Portuguese to build a fortified trade outpost there, and which gave the Gold Coast its name. And is was the selfsame commodity that would dominate trade out of the Gold Coast for the next 200 years, granting it near-immunity from the devastation caused elsewhere in West Africa by the rapacious demand for slaves in the Americas.
By 1700, largely due to a British attempt to break the Dutch monopoly on local trade, the Gold Coast had, in the words of one official at Elmina, ‘become a virtual Slave Coast’. The numerous forts that had been built by various European powers to service the golf trade were expanded and their warehouses converted to dungeons, wherin many thousands of human captives were hoarded annually prior to being shipped across the Atlantic into a life of bondage in the Maericas. Today, these coastal fortress – two dozen which still survive more-or-less intact, most impressively Cape Coast and Elmina Castles – pay harrowing testament to a sordid saga that resulted in the forced exile and enslavement of at least 12 million Africans before the slave trade was outlawed by Britain in 1807.
The profound historical and humanitarian significance of Ghana’s ‘slave forts’ is universally recognized; indeed several of the castles are now listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These anachronistic monoliths have also become emotive sites of pilgrimage to the many African American and Caribean descendants of the captives who passed through their dungeons in the 18th centuary. Somewhat less known – and admittedly less physically bombastic – are the old slaving posts that dot the Ghanaian interior, and pay lasting testament to the widespread social and economic disruption experienced throughout the region during the slaving era. The most significant sites include Assin Manso, which lies just 40km from the coast and formed the centerpiece of Ghan’s first Emancipation Day Ceremony in 1998, as well as the more remote slave market and wells at Salaga, near Tamale, and the slave camp of Pikworo on the border with Burkina Faso
Cape Coast Castle whose gloomy slave dungeons, connected by a dank subterranean tunnel to the "Door of No Return", pay sombre testament to its 18th century role as Africa's most imprtant slave trading post
Assin Manso, where captives from the north took their "last bath" at the Nnonkonsuo River before being sold to coastal traders, and more recently where the remains of two slave descendants from USA and Jamaica were buried in a symbolic ceremony held on Emancipation Day 1998
Sirigu and Paga, the brightly painted homesteads of Sirigu and Paga, labyrinthine fortress-like adobe contructions whose unusual low doorways, partially blocked by an internal lip were originally designed to prevent slave raiders from making a surprise entry.
Pikworo, on the border with Burkina Faso, whose name - whihch translates as "Rocks of Fear" - alludes to its role as a 19th century slave camp, relics of which include eating bowls carved into the rocks, the drum rocks, a punishment tree, and cemetery for dead captives