Just outside of Elmina Castle, ocean mist is fresh in the air, but the salty scent evaporates past the perimeter. Within the castle’s dungeons, the odor of mold and knowledge of its history overpowers every other scent, taste, touch, sound and sight.
Elmina Castle, the largest and oldest castle associated with the trans-Atlantic slave trade, is one of Ghana’s top attractions. The nation’s top two castles, Elmina and Cape Coast, drew more local and international visitors in 2012 compared with 2011.
In 2012, Elmina Castle received 61, 731 visitors from January to July, compared with 81, 677 visitors for all of 2011, according to Nicholas Ivor, the regional director of Cape Coast Castle, in an interview with the Ghana News Agency on May 27. Ivor said 7,360 Ghanaians visited Elmina Castle from January to July of 2012, an increase from its 5,102 visitors in 2011.
Justice Adu-Tieku, 24, from Cape Coast, has toured Elmina Castle as a local visitor. He said the hardest part of the tour was going into the holding places for slaves.
“You can’t see anybody,” Adu-Tieku said. “You hear the voices, but you can’t see faces. That was the saddest part.”
Ato Ashun, a tour guide at Elmina Castle, claims that 75 percent of the residents of Elmina have not toured the castle. Ashun said that the night a documentary about the castle aired on TV, he was overwhelmed by inquiries about the castle and the slave trade.
“That night that they telecasted it, I drove my car into a gutter,” he said. “I had calls upon calls upon calls upon – I was amazed. ‘Is it true? How did it happen? Is it true?’”
The castle piqued Ashun’s interest when he was a teenager. He has now been giving tours for 15 years, ever since he began working at the castle for his national service. He wrote a book, “Elmina, the Castle & the Slave Trade,” so it could be a foundation for understanding an incomprehensible crime.
“I ask people to keep a moment of silence in memory of all those who went through this process,” Ashun said to his tour group once it reached The Room of No Return, the last dungeon the slaves filed through before they were forced onto boats to endure worse conditions than those of the castle. “After that, be bold enough to say, ‘Never again.’ And don’t just utter some words, but vow to do the little things you can do, in your own small way, making sure this evil will never be repeated.”
Ashun and the other tour guides at Elmina Castle insist that the past is in the past. They explain that slavery existed before the slave trade, and that no one African tribe is responsible for all the horror. The only group Ashun assigns responsibility to is his tour group.
“I tell people, ‘you cannot undo the past, but for certainly you can affect the future.’”