As I turned on the news this morning, images of President Obama touring Cape Coast Castle in Ghana and speaking to the Ghanaian people greeted me. Just a year and a half ago, I walked through the same slave fortress and saw the same sights, and viewing them on TV brought the memories to the forefront of my mind. In honor of Obama's Ghanaian visit, I thought I would post a journal entry I wrote shortly after returning home about my experience at Cape Coast. It was a sobering and powerful time, and I will never forget it. For some background information, Cape Coast is just one of several slave fortresses along the African coast. It was a holding tank for Africans while their handlers waited for boats from the Americas to arrive and carry them out.
When we arrived at Cape Coast, I didn't really know what to expect or the proper way to react. I took several pictures there, but none of me because I didn't think it was appropriate to smile happily like I was at any other tourist destination. This was a slave fortress. People suffered and died there.
I cannot describe to you the conditions of the dungeons that they held the slaves in before the boats arrived to carry them away. It was horrific. No light, save for tiny ventilation windows far above. A rough-cut channel running through the middle of the floor for urine. Troughs along the edges for feces. I know we've all heard about the conditions before, but hearing about it and walking around in it is another matter. I have no words. This photo is from the female slave dungeon. It was terrifyingly dark, except for one window.
As I walked through the dungeons where so many died and thought about the inhumanity of it all, I wondered what the African American students on our trip were thinking. I kept wondering if they were seriously disturbed by their surroundings, knowing that their ancestors passed through dungeons similar to those. And then I started wondering about my own ancestors. Did they own slaves? Did they go to church and give glory to God while they bought and sold human beings alongside fabric and crops? These are the things I wonder.
No one woke up one morning and decided it would be a good day to start selling people. It just...developed...as Africans brought other Africans to trade with Europeans for guns and dishes and other such meaningless items. And the Europeans took them. Somehow it escalated, until over 12 million people were shipped out of Africa, all the while their European handlers worshiped God in churches above the very dungeons that swallowed the Africans. Somehow they justified it, thought it was OK, and it scares me to death.
Sin can get so out of control. We are all absolutely hopeless. Slavery and genocide are just two highly visible examples of the wickedness of humanity. If we allow sin to go untreated and compromise God's standards, what will be our slavery or Holocaust? These weren't heathen men. They were Christians who told themselves that what they were doing was alright. What are we supposed to do with that? There are many questions to consider and concerns to raise.
One of the most poignant moments at the slave castles came when our guide led us to the "Door of No Return," the door that led to waiting ships. When Africans set foot out that door, they never set foot on African soil again, and when he opened the door, I was shocked by the brilliance and vibrancy of life outside it.
I couldn't believe that life went on as usual outside those doors. And that's when I understood that we have to get over the demons in our past. Life goes on, and we can look back and learn from our mistakes, but we don't have to let them paralyze us. God is gracious, merciful and kind. Despite the sin and wretchedness, there's also beauty and love in this world.
As we turned around, we walked back through the door into the fort and did something none of the slaves were ever able to do. We returned to our lives, and we kept going.