La Porte du Non Retour – Benin

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Today is Emancipation day so I thought I’d share this photograph I took in Ouidah, Benin on the West Coast of Africa. It’s the detail from ‘La Porte du Non Retour’ or The Door of No Return. The Republic of Benin, Ouidah and UNESCO built the monument in 1992 as a symbol to commemorate African ancestors lost through the transatlantic slave trade. It’s difficult to find the words to describe the emotions you feel when you visit this place. The air is thick with violence, memories, loss, betrayal, the sadness really is overwhelming. At the same time there is a sense of pride and strength which many, including myself believe is the spirit of those that were forced to leave.

My next stop was Cape Coast Castle, one of about 30 slave castles in Ghana, my brother admirably drove most of the way with malaria which he dealt with by placing a handkerchief on his head to soak up the sweat from the fever. I am pleased to say he no longer gets malaria.

About 1000 male slaves and 500 female slaves occupied Cape Coast Castle at any one time in separate dungeons. Each slave would be locked up for 6 to 12 weeks, waiting to board one of the ships. The design of the dungeons reveals the complete and brutal disregard for human life. There are a couple of windows but they only let in a small amount of light rather than fresh air, the ceilings are so low you have to stoop when you are inside and there is a channel down the middle for human waste. There were only a handful of people on my tour, the horror was visible on all our faces. I couldn’t stand that place, it had an unbearable smell. I cannot tell you how relieved I was when an African American man in the group started crying. He gave release to the emotions I felt too paralysed to surrender. I later discovered that he had traced his ancestry to Ghana and spends half his time there to support the enterprise project he set up with the local community.

There is a memorial plaque in the courtyard at the entrance to the castle. It says – 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.

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