Following the Spanish expansion into the West Indies and South America
in the 16th century was the barbaric trade in Africans as slaves, by the
Portuguese, Dutch, Danes, British and other Europeans, to be sent to the work camps. Ishmael Mensah writes about the slavery experience in Ghana.
Most of the slaves were captured through war and slave raids while others
were given up to slavery as repayment of debt. According to John Hall,
a British Captain,
the appearance of a slave ship on the shore was the signal for Africans to go upstream in their canoes, returning two or three weeks later with their canoes full of
The slave route cut across the Sahara, passing through the old Ghana
empire, Timbucktu, Kano, Gao, Jeno, the Niger river basin to Marakech in
(Morocco), Tunis, Tripoli, and Al-gahiro (Cairo).
The slave routes in present day Ghana essentially linked the hinterland
slave markets, and coastal ports with the New World through the Atlantic
important slave markets included Buna and Bonduku in modern-day Cote d’Ivoire, Salaga in northern Ghana, Sonsomt Mongo in modern day Togo, Abomey in
Benin, Aflao at the present Ghana-Togo border and Assin Manso in the south of Ghana.
A Journey to Servitude
A typical journey to the New World began from northern Ghana. Captured
slaves were sent to the Salaga market, chained together at the neck, hands
Here, for a few cowries or cola nuts, their captors would sell the slaves.
Like oxen to the slaughter, they travelled through the dense and thick
forest, with the chains and shackles restraining their movements, to the
coast. By the time they
got to Assin Manso, some would be dead, from exhaustion and diseases. Here, they were allowed to take their bath in the ‘Nnonkonsuo’ (Slave River) to replenish
their lost energy and regain some freshness and vitality. They were then sorted out according to age and sex and sold to coastal merchants.
Afterwards, they were marched amidst whips and curses, down to Cape
Coast. This was when white merchants paid courtesy calls on local chief
and handed them
enticing presents of cloths and bars of iron, so they will grant them authority to trade in slaves. The coastal merchants at this time would be busily shaving the heads
of the slaves (so that no grey hairs are seen). They would also polish their skins with palm oil so that they looked younger and stronger.
With Nana’s authorisation, the white merchants met with the coastal
merchants to examine the slaves and begin bargain for them. The slaves
were forced to jump,
run and stretch to show their strength. The selected ones would then be exchanged for rolls of cloth, basins, firearms etc. Iron from a burning furnace was then used
to brand the slaves. They were then marched to a canoe through "the gate of no return", to an awaiting ship, to be taken to a strange land where they will face a far
The Slave Route Project
The project provides a common theme for integrating some of Ghana’s
attractions with complementary slave route features in other West African
countries, so as to
promote the common heritage of monuments, sites, manuscripts, archives and documents as a result of the slave trade among these countries. It involves the
development of monuments, receptive facilities, libraries, interpretative facilities and infrastructure, the collection and display of relics, artefacts and other materials
associated with the slave trade, and the training of local tour guides.
Ghana at the hob of the Slave Trade
Of the 45 forts and castles built by Europeans on the West African Coast, 32 were in Ghana. Also, not less than 96 fortifications were constructed along Ghana’s coast. Names like Tacky, Albert Sam, Quamina, Cudjoe and Adoe, documented as ‘rebel slave leaders’, have their roots in Ghana. The reference to British slaves as ‘coromantee Negroes’ is traced to the Ghanaian fishing community, ‘Koromantin’, where the British built a fortified lodge to keep slaves brought from the hinterland. Presently, there are people in the Caribbean whose names and cultural traits bear close resemblance to the Ghanaian culture. Ghana also had about sixty slave markets.
The defence walls and mud roofing architecture, as in Nalerigu in the
Northern Region, and Guollu in the Upper West Region were also meant to
prevent slave raids.
Some tribes, like the Damgbe Shai, were also believed to have abandoned their fertile settlements for refuge on mountains, to escape capture into slavery.
Furthermore, some traditional festivities in Ghana, like the Fjord festival are used to commemorate victory over Samori and Babatu, two notorious slave raiders.
Slave Castles and Markets
The Cape Coast Castle (Carolusburg), built in 1853 as a transformed
Dutch fort, was the seat of the colonial administration (British) until
1876. It now houses a
museum with exhibits on slavery and the Central Region.
The Elmina Castle (St.George), built in 1482 by the Portuguese,
remains the oldest surviving European structure in tropical Africa. It
is also associated with King
Prempeh, of Asante who was kept there before being exiled to the Seychelles. Christopher Columbus also used the castle as one of his bases on his mission to
discover the ‘New World.’
In the Central Region lies Assin Manso, with a slave market where
slaves were sold and taken to ships. It has a Slave River ‘Nnonkonsuo’
a tributary of River Ochi,
in which slaves had their bath after their long journey from the north. It is believed that during the rainy season, when the volume of the river increases, it makes
noises, similar to the moaning of slaves as they bath in the river. There is also cemetery ‘Nnonkosie’ where dead slaves were buried.
The famous Salaga slave market was an important commercial nerve
centre, linking Western Sudan and the African Inland. It was a meting point
for Hausa traders
from Gyamon, Tagyon, Bonduku, and Timbucktu to trade in slaves and general goods.