In 1888, fourteen years after the formal colonisation of Gold Coast (Ghana) by the British Empire, my Grandfather was born. A fact I find interesting is how my Grandfather was born in a colonised country while my Father, born in 1958, was born a year after independence.
On the coastline of Gold Coast, there are numerous forts and castles built. My Grandfather’s hometown was the former capital of Gold Coast, Cape Coast. Roughly 12km from Cape Coast is Elmina. The location of where the first Europeans landed – the Portuguese (GhanaWeb, n.d.).
As a way of protecting their territory from other European competitors, the Portuguese built the permanent trading post on the coastal area in 1471, the Elmina Castle (GhanaWeb, n.d.). It is now a World Heritage site. To give the tone that they were in serious business with the indigenous, the Portuguese fortified the coastal area with castles, forts, churches, prisons, railways, courthouses amongst others (Britannica 2021). The buildings also became seats of colonial rule and domination, especially the castles.
Figure 1: Elmina, Gold Coast, West Africa, in the late 19th century
(Robert Brown, Elmina, Gold Coast, West Africa. 1876, Image. Reproduced from: The Countries of the World)
There were four main indigenous tribes that ruled Gold Coast: Fante (Gold Coast), Asante, Akan (Togoland/Volta) and the Northern Region as seen in Figure 2. As the Fante tribe was on the coast, the Portuguese had their first encounter with them upon arrival. The Fante tribe was of course reluctant on having foreigners invade their land.
Figure 2: Kingdoms of Gold Coast before colonisation
(Kingdoms of Gold Coast before colonisation. 2019, Image. Reproduced from OER Project)
The natives, accustomed to seeing the Portuguese arrive upon their coast in the simple guise of traders, were not prepared for the display of power brought through architectures being built on the coastal areas (Womber 2020). They perceived this with great distrust. One of the ways the Portuguese brought superiority was through armoury, which they begun to place throughout the castle as well as buildings surrounding it.
Figure 3: Canons placed throughout the castle
(Slave Castles in Ghana: Cape Coast and Elmina Castle. 2019, Image. Reproduced from Laure Wanders)
Figure 4: Canons facing castle overlooking Elmina
(Elmina, Ghana. n.d., Image. Reproduced from Getty Images (2021).)
My Grandfather is a descendent of the Fante tribe. I had always returned to the hometown of my Father, but I did not grasp the gruesome history of the area until I went to the castles. When I first visited Elmina Castle through my Grade 4 educational trip, even then I could sense the superiority of the Portuguese – just by the way it was situated.
The castle is on a hill with a long pathway leading up to it. Even from afar and without the knowledge of what it is, you would be able to tell that this is an important piece of architecture. Though now, there are buildings with similar architectural style surrounding it, it used to be an eye sore when it was first constructed. The style not matching its surroundings.
Figure 5: The Elmina Castle on the hill of Elmina
(Bokkerink, Maud. “Elmina Castle.” n.d.. Image. Reproduced from Pinterest. (2021).)
Colonisers used architecture as a tool to show their dominance, power and authority to the indigenous. The architecture never acknowledged the indigenous styles which were commonly mud huts with dried palm leaves and branches as the roof. The walls of the castle were built very high, constructed with dark brown stone, which were claimed to be so firm that it may be able to withstand a canon (Womber 2020).
Figure 6: Exterior of Elmina Castle, the “high walls made of stone”
(Elmina Castle. 2020, Image. Reproduced from Easy Track Ghana)
Though the dominance of the colonisers does not exist in the independent country my father was born in, the history of them will forever remain in the form of these architectures. There is no knowledge on whether or not the colonisers, both Portuguese and British, had intentions to have their castles and other buildings to still hold such importance in the future but their original intent of these buildings have clearly done so.
Britannica. 2021. Contact with Europe and its Effect. https://www.britannica.com/place/Ghana/Independence
GhanaWeb. n.d. Early European Contact and the Slave Trade. Accessed March 5, 2021. https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/history/slave-trade.php
Womber, Peter. 2020. “The Establishment and the Use of the Elmina Castle: From the Portuguese to the British.” Athens Journal of History 6(4): 349-372. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/334836096_The_establishment_and_the_use_of_the_Elmina_Castle_From_the_Portuguese_to_the_British
“Elmina Castle.” 2020. Easy Track Ghana. https://www.easytrackghana.com/images/photos/St-George-castle-front.jpg
“Elmina Ghana.” 2021. Getty Images March 16,2021. https://www.gettyimages.co.jp/写真/elmina-castle?phrase=elmina%20castle&sort=mostpopular
“Kingdoms of Gold Coast before colonisation.” 2019. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4bowdxeIbS0
“Slave Castles in Ghana: Cape Coast and Elmina Castle.” 2019. Laure Wanders. https://www.laurewanders.com/ghanas-slave-castles-cape-coast-and-elmina-castle/
Bokkerink, Maud. “Elmina Castle.” 2021. Pinterest March 16, 2021. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/438608451181798714/
Brown, Robert. 1876. “Elmina, Gold Coast, West Africa.” The Countries of the World. https://www.britannica.com/place/Ghana/Independence