We are rattling down the Ghana coast at about 70 mph passing signs saying ‘Slow Down – 72 Deaths Here!’ overtaking the gigantic dumper trucks on flatbeds bound for gold mines in the interior. We cross a vast sleepy river and finally Elmina Castle comes into view, grasping the rocky horizon, framed picturesquely by palm trees and traditional fishing boats.
This is a rather unusual fort in that it seems to consist mainly of very large windowless caverns. There is no sign of furniture or decoration; it would make an excellent place to coral livestock such as cattle. In a courtyard we discover a well and trough suitable for creatures to drink from.
We politely decline the offer of a guide preferring to listen and record. We pass through a vault big enough for a rave and downwards into a large room, which is almost totally pitch black. There is a peculiar smell in this room, the dank and musty smell of animals, if I were to be fanciful, of ghosts. I know ghosts smell because I read an account of a ghost trapped in a bottle by Sam Bailey, a slave of Edisto Island, South Carolina. It is a pity my digital recorder cannot capture smells such as these. Much of radio’s creative allure, at least for me, is overcoming such deficits, using sound to evoke the other senses, not just the obvious ones like sight.
This room leads to another, yet smaller room which is cut into the rock. There is daylight in here, casting a ray onto four fresh wreaths laid on the floor. The light shines through a curious hole in the outer wall of the castle. The hole is narrow and tall, not big enough to transport horses or goods, but just the right size for an adult human to pass through. This is the ‘Gate of No Return’. Africans, now slaves, would have been ushered out through this portal, like so many ants, to walk single file along narrow planks, to the massive ships anchored in the bay and transported across the seas to the plantations and a new life.