Elmina Castle, Ghana and “Homegoing” by Ysa Gyasi

[June 2018]

This summer I had the pleasure to attend Orff Afrique, a music course hosted by Nunya Music Academy in Dzodze, Ghana for two weeks. I arrived two days early so that I could attend an optional day tour. Our second stop on that tour was to Elmina Castle which was used at one point for slave trade by the Portuguese while the Cape Coast Castle was operated by the British. I feel strongly that this stop warrants a post of its own.

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I read “Homegoing” by Ysa Gyasi in the summer of 2017. Each chapter alternates between the descendants of two Asante half sisters. One marries a British soldier and the other is sold into slavery from the Cape Coast Castle. We did not make it to the Cape Coast Castle that day (although we could see it from the Elmina Castle walls), but it’s easy to connect “Homegoing” with Elmina Castle.

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We had an incredible guide who made every room of our tour come to life, and there were despicable things he shared with us that had also been described in “Homegoing,” such as the balcony above the courtyard used to select a woman for the governor’s pleasure, and the staircase that led to the door in the floor to enter his quarters.

Between the book and the shared history of our countries, I can tell you that the entire experience was EXTREMELY powerful. Was Elmina Castle more powerful due to having read “Homegoing,” or was “Homegoing” made more powerful by standing in a slave trade castle? Either way, I cannot recommend it enough to experience these two things hand in hand.

I’ve stood in castles and dungeons before, but my experience here was unique because it served a different purpose. It wasn’t about gold, mirrors, or crystal chandeliers, and it wasn’t about the folklore of vampires or witches. Instead, it was much like going to a concentration camp for the first time.

This place serves as a reminder of the awful ways we have, and in many cases still do, mistreat our brothers and sisters. Sometimes we have different skin colors, but sometimes our skin is the same. I don’t think I had ever been taught or realized until I read “Homegoing” and visited Ghana that many, not all, to-be slaves came from different kingdoms selling their prisoners of war.

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As I stood on the castle walls and admired this view, the crashing waves, and the sounds of hammers building and repairing boats, I couldn’t help but wonder how these tragic events in human history happen in such stunning places.

I cannot imagine being forced on to a crowded boat, associating seagulls and the smell of saltwater with knowing that I’ll never see my homeland again. That I, a person, am now owned by another person. If only it were safe to say that we, as an entire human race, have risen above human trafficking. Sadly, it still happens everyday.

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