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Notes on the Geography of Ghana: Elmina

St. George of Elmina ("the mine") was established by the Portuguese, who arrived in 1482 and went into the gold-trading business. About 150 years later, the Dutch found a convenient hill from which to bombard the Portuguese into surrendering. That happened in 1637, by which time the primary export from the Gold Coast was slaves. It remained slaves until the Dutch outlawed slavery in 1814 (seven years after the British). Perhaps the Dutch had no great interest in retaining the place, but in any case in 1872 they sold it--along with all their Gold Coast properties--to the British.

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Ghana: Elmina picture 1

Here's the fort today. Elspeth Huxley's nutshell description is this: "The oldest of them [the Gold Coast castles], and the finest, is Elmina, founded in 1482 by Don Diogo de Azambuja, at the head of an expedition of 500 soldiers and seamen and a hundred workmen and engineers.... The Portuguese brought all necessary materials with them, stone already dressed and timber morticed, and they rushed the fort up in record time. They named it São Jorge de Mina, probably because of an abundance of gold. 'In beauty and strength', Bosman justly observed more than 200 years later, 'it hath not its equal upon the whole Coast'.... After the Dutch captured the castle ..in 1637, they carried out many alterations, and it stands today much as they left it, with tremendous granite walls and battlements whence one can survey the flat surrounding country and the ridged green sea" (Four Guineas, 1954, p. 145)

Ghana: Elmina picture 2

Far and away the most colorful spot in Elmina, and perhaps in Ghana as a whole, is the fabulous fishing harbor that hugs the castle. Canadian, French, and American flags? Go figure.

Ghana: Elmina picture 3

Despite the fact that these boats are hardly more than canoes, they venture to sea for days at a time.

Ghana: Elmina picture 4

A boat returns, with laundry hung over a long beam.

Ghana: Elmina picture 5

Entrance to the castle.

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The moat is dry.

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Inside, a fine courtyard, surrounded on three sides by massive buildings.

Ghana: Elmina picture 8

Fine Renaissance staircases.

Ghana: Elmina picture 9

The view to the sea.

Ghana: Elmina picture 10

Cannon overlook the harbor, too.

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Handsome quarters, but where to put the bed?

Ghana: Elmina picture 12

Below, a slave-holding dungeon. Did the people in the room above sleep well?

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If it's this worn after four years, how will it be after 40?

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Looking from the castle to the fort atop St. Jago. It was from that hill, at the time unfortified, that the Dutch launched the cannonade that forced the Portuguese to surrender in 1637. Wise to the site's potential and its vulnerability, the Dutch then fortified it.

Ghana: Elmina picture 15

The Dutch Cemetery. The arch reads: "O beneficent Mother, receive your children again." The cemetery was established in 1806, which means that there must be an earlier one. Heaven knows where.

Ghana: Elmina picture 16

The Dutch were good enough to allow English burials.

Ghana: Elmina picture 17

A generation later, the "military commander of the fixed establishments of this coast" died in 1848.

Ghana: Elmina picture 18

M. Joost, we read, was fatally injured during the surrender of the coast. Judging from the date, 1872, that would be the sale of the coast to the British.

Ghana: Elmina picture 19

Some Dutch lingered long after Dutch rule had ended. Could Catherine Menson have been the daughter of a missionary?

Ghana: Elmina picture 20

A block away, a Methodist church.

Ghana: Elmina picture 21

We're in the commercial district now, where a chief's house has found a good tenant.

Ghana: Elmina picture 22

Want a phone? Looking for directions? No problem; you can't miss the place. (MTN is a South African Company, operating widely in Africa.)

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