Cape coast

When I reached the coast I instantly realised I should have devoted more time to its exploration. It I didn’t, it was for fear of being distracted from appreciating the rest of the country, which might well have been the case because starting from here I would never have wanted to go anywhere else. During the last week, then, I savoured the most succulent bit I had set aside to round off my trip.

Cape Coast held a promise in its very name and vouched for the rest of the coast to be a highlight. I was so curious to see the ocean that I left for a walk immediately after taking the room. I walked along the street and then on the beach up to the castle. At the end of the bay, dark rocks close the sandy stretch and provide solid foundations for the sturdy building. A little above, the white fortress looms large. If its bulk were not awe-inspiring enough, black cannons stick out of the battlements to remind that they meant business.

When I visited the interior the next day, I was fascinated and regretted the stupid notion of neglecting it that had crossed my mind: it would have been insanity. If the outside was a remarkable sight, the inner esplanade, the geometry of lines, and the colours all treated my eyes to a feast. The ocean and the beaches from the ramparts appeared under new magnificent perspectives. The colourful fishing harbour stood in sharp contrast with the whiteness of the building, with plenty of motley boats and black human bodies busying themselves in the water or mending the nets.

The interest of this fortress stems not just from its beauty, but from the tremendous history that marked its existence. Dominating powers alternated in its coveted ownership. The lucrative slave trade enriched individuals and nations beyond measure, and for the sake of wealth no principles ruled anybody’s conduct, no personal scruples or public debate brought those wretched people to reason for centuries. With unbearable hypocrisy those who proclaimed themselves agents of civilisation and harbingers of the Gospel worked one of the worst crimes ever committed against humanity. What logical justification could there have been to justify the barbarism?

Over the centuries that this crime was perpetrated the ethnic map of the world was altered forever. The present-day Afro American population is a reminder of the dimensions of this phenomenon that marked the destiny of millions of people brought to new shores to be exploited. It is a sad and tragic story, and to think that the wealth of certain nations was accrued immensely by this ruthless system upset me even more.

A black priest and a nun wearing immaculate white tunics were also visiting. His waist was girdled in a crimson band, and they walked barefoot. The nun handed me a flyer bearing the mysterious denomination of “Brotherhood of the cross and the star”, which served as a come-on to the zealous lecturing session on the truthful prophecies contained in the scriptures. Later they both knelt to kiss the earth in several spots, especially where the guide explained that the ground was covered by a thick layer of muck, indulging in lurid details about its composition.

After Cape Coast I made it a point of seeing other forts in the surroundings. The first was Elmina where another impressive castle harbours a thickset cubic church standing in the inner court. It was used as an emporium and auction house, an appendix to the segregation cells where the precious slaves were kept imprisoned until sold. Ironically, the Dutch governor’s tombstone proclaims the virtues of a righteous man in fear of God.

Outside the fort there is a lively fishing harbour. Numerous houses in European architectural styles, European surnames, a Dutch cemetery with northern European funerary monuments provide more evidence to the cultural graft. It is sad to acknowledge that the most remarkable historic traces in this country were left by the Europeans in a context of brutality and a lopsided balance of power.

Moving to the east of Cape Coast I reached two other minor castles, Fort William and Fort Amsterdam. I walked between the two following the beach, paying special attention to the areas outside settlements which are used as open-air toilets and refuse dump. They obviously do not make pleasant walking terrain.