Slave Trade History Sites in West Africa

Courtyard view of Elmina Castle, Ghana

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Between the 16th and 19th centuries, the Atlantic slave trade saw the forcible transportation of more than 12 million African slaves from their homes in Central and West Africa to European colonies in the Americas. The trade changed the social and economic make-up of communities on both sides of the Atlantic forever, and remains one of the most shameful and damaging episodes in human history. Today, sites associated with the slave trade have become places of pilgrimage for visitors from all over the world, many of whom are descended from ancestors that were displaced by slavery. In this article, we look at a few of the continent's top slave trade history sites.

Ghana

Ghana is probably the most popular destination for African-Americans hoping to connect with their heritage. In 2009, President Obama visited Ghana and the Cape Coast slave-forts with his family. The most important sites are listed below.

Elmina Castle

Located in Elmina, Elmina Castle is one of several former slave forts that can be visited along Ghana's Atlantic coast. It was built in 1482 as a Portuguese trading post and served as a depot for slaves awaiting transport across the Atlantic for more than three centuries. A guided tour will lead you through slave dungeons and punishment cells. A slave auctioning room now houses a small museum.

Cape Coast Castle

Cape Coast Castle played a prominent role in the slave trade and daily guided tours include the slave dungeons, Palaver Hall, the grave of an English Governor, and more. The castle was the headquarters for the British colonial administration for nearly 200 years. A museum houses slave trade artifacts, while a video gives an introduction into how the business of slavery was conducted.

Cape Coast

The entire Cape Coast is lined with old forts built by European powers during the slave trade era. Some of the forts have been turned into guesthouses offering basic accommodation. Other forts like Fort Amsterdam in Abandze (which is believed to have housed the Gold Coast's first slave prison) have many original features, giving visitors a good idea of what they were like during the slave trade.

Donko Nsuo

Near the town of Assin Manso is Donko Nsuo river, where slaves would bathe after long journeys from the interior before being sold. This would be their last bath before they were transported to the slave ships. Tours include a visit to some slave graves and the places where men and women would bathe separately. There's a wall for memorial plaques and a prayer room.

Salaga

Salaga in northern Ghana was the site of a major slave market. Today visitors can see the grounds of the slave market, water wells that were used to wash the slaves before auction so they could fetch the best price, and a huge cemetery where slaves who had died were laid to rest.

Senegal

The main destination for slave trade tourists in Senegal is Île de Gorée, or Goree Island. Located just off the Dakar coast, the island was colonized by the Portuguese, the Dutch, the British, and the French. It was once an important stop on the Atlantic trade route.

Maison des Esclaves

The main attraction is the Maison des Esclaves (House of Slaves), which was built by the Dutch in 1776 as a holding station for slaves. The house has been converted into a museum and is open every day except Monday. Tours will take you through the dungeons where the slaves were held and explain exactly how they were sold and shipped. 

Benin

Porto-Novo, the capital of Benin, was established as a major slave-trading post by the Portuguese in the 17th century. Ruined castles and other points of interest give an insight into the country's slaving history.

Ouidah

The modern-day city of Ouidah was once one of the most prolific slaving ports in Africa. The Musee d'Histoire d'Ouidah, housed in an old Portuguese fort, tells the story of the Beninese slave trade. Visitors can also walk down the Route des Esclaves, the 2.5-mile road down which slaves would take their final walk to the beach and waiting ships. Fetishes, statues, and memorials have been erected along the way.

The Gambia

The Gambia was the homeland of Kunta Kinte, the protagonist of Alex Haley's iconic novel Roots (which tells the story of a young man sold into slavery in the 18th century and his descendants in the United States). Many slave tours are inspired by the novel and some offer the opportunity to meet descendants of the Kinte clan.

Albreda

A historic settlement on the Gambia River, Albreda was an important slave post for the French. Visitors can explore the National Museum of Albreda, which is dedicated to slavery and includes an exhibition detailing the Roots connection and a replica slave ship. Nearby points of interest include Juffureh, Kunta Kinte's home village; and Kunta Kinteh Island with its slave dungeon.

Recommended Slave Tours

Jolinaiko Eco Tours offers customized tours in Ghana, Benin, Togo, and Burkina Faso. You can opt to use local transport or hire your own car and driver. The company, which is based in Accra, is eco-friendly and gives back to the community.

Spector Travel is an American company that specializes in Africa Roots tours. It offers itineraries for several destinations in West, Central and Southern Africa includig Benin, Ghana, Senegal, the Gambia, and Cote d'Ivoire.

DMC Africa Tours, based in Mali, offers a 14-day West Africa itinerary that takes you to all the major slave trade history sites in Ghana, Senegal, and Benin. This includes the Cape Coast castles and Goree Island.

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