With its just over one thousand residents, Gorée Island sits two kilometers (1.2 miles) off the coast of Dakar, Senegal. For tourists, the small island is a recognized cultural destination and UNESCO World Heritage site, based on its famed history as a slave-trading station as part of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. But for island’s residents and businesses, it’s a small economic magnet for a local economy.
“Please, it’s somehow deep,” the tour guide warns as each member of the group climbs down into the dark cell. “Come closer and take a look, but watch your head.” Each descends, one by one, away from the slave castle’s bright exterior and into an inner chamber, engulfed in near total darkness.
This is Cape Coast, a town on Ghana’s southern coast that attracts throngs of visitors every year. It’s a Saturday, and hot; the sun is high in the sky. Down below, the waves push up against the shore. The structure’s white walls gleam in the midday sunshine, a stunning, white-washed camouflage to the still dank, still dark and still seemingly haunted chambers below. The group of tourists circle round the tour guide as he recounts history.
And it has a heavy history, this slave castle. For many who visit the castle, its memories and rememories are still fresh. A holding place for slaves just before their shipment across the Atlantic to the New World (and the first seat of government for the British colonial government), this is perhaps one of the more recognizable and faithfully preserved edifices of Ghana’s (and black people’s) economic exploitation. But the castle is also an important part of Cape Coast’s history, an opportunity for experiential tourism to explore the past, and a resource that could — and should — be leveraged to support the city’s economic future.