On Saturday, I went to the Cape Coast Castle to tour the place where slaves had been kept before being shipped off to lands unknown during the slave trade. I recall being excited by the prospect of finally seeing the remnants of what was to me nothing more than a story. I had no idea that by the end of the day I would be churning with hatred and a whole cocktail of murderous feelings.
If the walls could talk, they would no doubt lament to this day the brutality and inhumane atrocities that were committed within that castle… and yet from a distance it looks so tranquil, so inviting and indeed so picturesque.
We toured the castle… visiting the dungeons that once held men captive. Big gaping holes dug into the earth where human beings were tossed in to wait for three months in order to voyage into lifelong servitude, suffering and indignity.
My skin crawled as I stood in that dark cave, stuffy and mouldy, listening to the endless drone of the tour guide who spoke as impassionately as one who had grown accustomed to telling a tale so tragic and horrific that he did not need any theatrics to make his audience understand the hell that our ancestors went through.
It was the size of a tiny room, this cave-like dungeon, built to accommodate 150 men but later accommodated as many as 300 men. Men who did not see the sunlight, the sky or feel the breeze on their skin for three months as they awaited ships. Men who slept together, urinated and defecated on one another, whose excrement piled and rose to mar the walls of their prison.
Men whose stench, sweat and fear fouled the air. Men who lost their dignity and freedom to the whims of a white man. And the high roofs of the dungeons captured their odours and bore mute testimony to their dehumanization. When it rained, the waters seeped in through and turned the excrement into a soggy mash of filth – men lay in it and some died in it.
Even now, I do not understand how a human being can treat another human being so callously. How? It does not make sense to me and it feels me with rage, with hatred and yes I admit, with the thought of vengeance.
But the tour continued, to the female dungeons… to where the women were kept also for three months in the most cramped little burrow in the earth. They too, like the men, had to pee where they stood, defecate where they slept and watch in humiliation as their menstrual blood flowed down their legs. And those who had children kept them in there… in that hell hole to share the nightmare of losing their freedom.
The women were bathed… only when they were picked out by the soldiers and the officials – picked out to be raped and have their bodies plundered ruthlessly. And those who refused, were placed in solitary confinement…in the tinniest shelf of a hole until they gave in; until they surrendered and until they quit fighting.
And above these dungeons, sat the irony of white hypocrisy – the missionaries’ chapel where they sought an audience with God while their hands dripped with blood and their crotches flaked with the blood of torn hymens.
I wished I was a racist – so I could HATE. Hate with abandon, allow the madness to consume me and embrace the poison of bitterness so I could just walk over to the nearest European tourist and mercilessly, unrepentantly stab them through the heart.
I wished I was a racist so that the powerlessness I felt could have been translated into some action, into some cruelty of unimaginable proportions – so that I could have the satisfaction of avenging those who had so needlessly died and so needlessly suffered.
But I am not a racist, I have been tutored in the Queen’s language to know that hate is barbaric and it’s bad enough that I have a black skin without allowing my soul to become as black as my posterior.
I felt it. This agonizing stab of pain, felt the tears well up in my eyes and heard the thudding of my breaking heart as I retraced the steps, taken centuries ago by my ancestors and I wished so very hard that I was a racist.
I wished it, I will not lie.
Wished to grab every white person in the vicinity and drive them out – and tell them they had no right to be there. To be desecrating the shrine of our forefathers’ gravesites. I wanted to ask them why, why they returned to the scene of their ancestors’ most heinous crimes. I wanted to scream at them, to rant and rave and tell them how dare they, how dare they soil this place with their presence – to look on with curious faces and inscrutable expressions at the hell holes that once held our kin captive.
I will not lie. I wished I was a racist. Wished I had a gun and the mind of a lunatic to go on a rampage and not fear the reprisals. To gun down every person who was not of my skin colour, to bash their head in with the barrel, crack their ribs with a vicious kick and pummel them to death.
As we retraced the steps they took, past the door of no return – it hit me just how much those men and women had lost just by walking through a door. They lost their identity, they lost their freedom, they lost their dignity, they lost their language, they lost their roots, they lost their family, their homes, their friends and they lost every shred of who they were and of what they had once owned.
I will visit the Cape Castle again. Because I owe it to them to remember and not forget. For even though the experience does nothing but grate at my innards – I have no business forgetting what it means to be a child of Africa, and the struggles of being a woman of color.