Welcome to Withenay’s Wednesday Word: a wandering, wondering dip into the dictionary. The topics are always varied and rarely predictable!
to release from slavery
from Latin manus, the hand, and mittere to send
Many years ago, my husband worked for a few months in Ghana, and I went to join him for a month towards the end. We spent some time travelling, and made our way along the coast from Takoradi to Accra, and the plane home.
The West African coast is dotted with fortresses and castles. Many are wonderful buildings, sturdily standing the test of time in the great heat and monsoon rains that are thrown at them. Prominent on the promontories, they are highly visible from sea, so the original sea-faring traders could spot them and come in to harbour.
Traders, you note. Not navy. Trade. These castles are the shame of the western world, the gateways of slavery. African natives were rounded up from the inland forests and brought to the castles, from which they were traded and sent to the New World. Slaves: usually associated with the sugar plantations of the Southern USA, but also exploited domestically in the UK, lower than servants in the household hierarchy.
We visited Elmina castle. I remember being very impressed by its architecture and stature and layout…until we were taken to where the slaves were kept. It was practically underground, dark, dank and no doubt (200 years ago) one of the smelliest places in the building. The holding chamber was quite spacious, until you thought through squeezing hundreds of people into it: no room to sit, and no space to shit (if you’ll excuse my language).
There was one source of air: a hole, barely the size of a man. It opened to the world outside – you might think this a place of hope, but no. This doorway opened straight onto the sea, ships that took the slaves far from their homeland and on which the sanitation was even worse than within the castle, many dying en route.
I could cope with Elmina: it was a Dutch castle. A few miles away was Cape Coast, a British base for their slave trade. There I carry some of the burden, for it is my ancestors (in one shape or another) who perpetrated this crime. The Western colonists’ collective guilt over this base and inhuman industry is immense. That people should view it as right and proper to own others – such that they could do as they wished with them, with no regard for payment or conditions, or health, or food – is shameful.
The work of Mr Wilberforce didn’t come a moment too soon. Tragically there is still slavery occurring across the world today, and the sooner all are manumitted and slavery eradicated the better.
IN EVERLASTING MEMORY
of the anguish of our ancestors
May those who died rest in peace
May those who return find their roots
May humanity never again perpetrate
such injustice against humanity
We the living vow to uphold this
Wording on Elmina Castle Memorial Plaque