Africa Leaders Magazine

CAPE COAST – the city of our Ancestors

Forever haunted by the colonial horrors of the past, Cape Coast is one of Africa’s most culturally significant spots. This former European colonial capital, originally named Cabo Corso by the Portuguese navigators João de Santarém and Pedro Escobar who sailed past in 1471, was once the largest centre for the trade of enslaved people in West Africa. At the height of the trade, it received trafficked people from locations as far away as Niger and Burkina Faso, and enslaved people were kept locked up in the bowels of Cape Coast’s imposing castle. At the shoreline, these enslaved people were herded onto vessels like cattle, irrevocably altering the lives of generations to come.

One if not the most active slave trading post was the Cape Coast Castle. It stood only a few miles from another slave castle built by the Portuguese at Elmina in the late fifteenth century. Originally built by Sweden in the 1650s, Cape Coast Castle shifted into Danish, Dutch, and then English possession by the 1660s. In the castle’s early decades, trade revolved around gold, wood, and textiles before English merchants began to seek captive Africans in large numbers.

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Large, permanent trading factories like Cape Coast Castle gave European traders competitive advantages in the marketplace. By focusing resources in and around these sites, merchants could build alliances with local political leaders to ensure steady supplies of African commodities. The town that grew around the castle supplied labor to merchants, supplementing the castle’s own enslaved workers. In addition, relationships between European men and African women led to a significant biracial population around Cape Coast. These individuals served in military units, learned skilled trades, and provided a bridge between European and African cultures.

When Cape Coast Castle’s commerce became increasingly dependent on supplying slave cargoes, the fort added dungeons to hold larger numbers of captives. In doing this, the castle’s merchants could outfit ships more quickly, at higher prices, and with greater profits than their smaller competitors. Over the course of the eighteenth century, most of Cape Coast Castle’s trade was in African captives bound for the Americas. After Britain legally abolished the slave trade in 1807, the castle became an educational and administrative center.

Today, Cape Coast is an easygoing fishing town with an arty vibe, fanned by salty sea breezes and kissed by peeling waves. Crumbling colonial buildings line, the streets, seabirds prowl the beaches and fishermen cast nets where slave ships once sailed. Many travelers use Cape Coast as a base to explore Kakum National Park, Anomabu and even Elmina.

cape coast castle - african leaders magazine

It is one of the country’s most historic cities, a World Heritage Site, home to the Cape Coast Castle, with the Gulf of Guinea situated to its south. According to the 2010 census, Cape Coast had a settlement population of 169,894 people. The language of the people of Cape Coast is Fante.

The older traditional names of the city are Oguaa and Kotokuraba (meaning “River of Crabs” or “Village of Crabs”). From the 16th century until the country became the independent nation of Ghana in 1957, the city and fishing port changed hands between the British, the Portuguese, the Swedish, the Danish and the Dutch. It is home to 32 festivals.

Cape Coast was founded by the people of Oguaa and the region ruled over by the paramount chief, or Omanhene, is known today as Oguaa Traditional Area. Cape Coast is one of the most historical cities in Ghana. Portuguese colonists built a trading fort in the area. In 1650, the Swedes built a lodge that would later become the better-known Cape Coast Castle, which is now a World Heritage Site. Most of the modern town expanded around it. The Dutch took it over in 1650 and expanded it in 1652. It was then captured by the British in 1664.

Trade was an important motivator in the creation of fortresses and settlements on Cape Coast. Traders from various European countries built these trading lodges, forts and castles along the coast of modern Ghana. Unfortunately, the acquisition of gold, slaves, honey, and the many other goods that composed the African leg of the Triangular Trade was increasingly detrimental to the inhabitants of Cape Coast. In 1874, the British dominated all European presence along the coast of modern-day Ghana using Cape Coast as their base of operations, Gold Coast. With the establishment of formal colonial administration, they relocated to Accra following opposition to the “window tax” in 1877. Accra became their state. Cape Coast Castle was also where most of the slaves were held before their journey on the Middle Passage.

cape coast castle - african leaders magazine

There are Public Transports from Cape Coast to major cities such as Accra; Kumasi, Mim, Ahafo; Sunyani; Tamale; Tema; Ho; Wa; Bolgatanga; Elubo; Aflao, Techiman.

The area is dominated by batholith rock and is generally undulating with steep slopes. There are valleys of various streams between the hills, with Kakum being the largest stream.

The minor streams end in wetlands, the largest of which drains into the Fosu Lagoon at Bakano. In the northern part of the district, however, the landscape is suitable for the cultivation of various crops.

Cape Coast has a tropical savanna climate (Köppen: As) with two long wet seasons – a heavier one from March to July and a lighter one from September to November – alongside two short dry seasons in January/February and in August.

Cape Coast is a humid area with mean monthly relative humidity varying between 85% and 99%. The sea breeze has a moderating effect on the local climate.

The crab is the city’s mascot and a statue of one stand in the city centre. Fort William, built in 1820, was an active lighthouse from 1835 to the 1970s, while Fort Victoria was built in 1702.

The main market of Cape Coast is called Kotokuraba Market.

Other attractions include a series of Asafo shrines, Cape Coast Centre for National Culture, the Oguaa Fetu Afahye festival (held on the first Saturday of September), and since 1992, the biennial Panafest theatre festival. The city is located 30 km south of Kakum National Park, one of the most diverse and best preserved national parks in West Africa.

kakum national park in cape coast, Ghana - african leaders Magazine

It is believed that Michelle Obama, US First Lady, considers Cape Coast as her ancestral home, and on 11 July 2009, she took the rest of the first family to tour Cape Coast Castle as part of her husband’s trip to Cape Coast.

Cape Coast is the seat of the University of Cape Coast (UCC), Ghana’s leading university in teaching and research. Cape Vars, as it is popularly called, lies on a hill overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. It also has one of the best Polytechnics, the Cape Coast Polytechnic (C-POLY). The city also boasts some of Ghana’s finest secondary and technical schools:

university of cape coast - african leaders magazine

The Fante people of Ghana are notable for their way of cooking. They are known for eating rich cuisine, mostly with more fish, meat, or any form of protein than necessary. It is believed that this is because of the number of rivers and lakes situated in the town. The people are known for their expert fishing and fish preservation abilities. Some of the cuisines are fante fante, etew and pepper sauce or okro stew, fante kenkey, which can be eaten with soups, stews or shito.

video credit: Omotayo Akomolafe

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