On the central coast of Ghana, a water-washed castle towers above mounds of rock. A great deal of commerce revolves around this castle; however, very few Ghanaians know that the British used this building for the incarceration of their ancestors, and that the shores on which they park their fishing boats were used to stabilize slave boats that shipped prisoners out to sea: each African attached to a chain and stuffed into a space the size of a coffin.
Inside the castle, I entered through an archway that led down a pathway into the men’s slave dungeons, where hundreds of captives suffered confinement. Each dungeon had a tiny window from which a small portion of sunlight broke through: just enough to see the surrounding filth. Throughout the 19th century, the cement floors were covered feet-deep in corpses, sweat, urine, and feces. The prisoners slept in it all.
Directly above the slave dungeons was the church. While the pampered British sang praises to their Lord, the captors simultaneously listened to the cries of their discontented prisoners. With a practiced glare, the tour guide illuminated the irony of placing a house of Heaven directly above the dungeons of Hell.
In one of the dungeons, a colony of bats hung comfortably in the abandoned space. Hundreds of bats crowded the low dungeon ceiling, finding refuge in the darkness that, centuries ago, brought a great deal of misery to its inhabitants. Beneath the ceiling of cold cement, I could feel the bats swooping overhead, haunting me with tufts of air that rushed at me like invisible breaths.