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Architectures of West African Enslavement

Louis P. Nelson
Buildings & Landscapes: Journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum
Vol. 21, No. 1 (Spring 2014), pp. 88-125
DOI: 10.5749/buildland.21.1.0088
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/buildland.21.1.0088
Page Count: 38
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Architectures of West African Enslavement
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Abstract

The horror and tragedy of the West African slave trade took place in real spaces. Yet there are no marked battlefields and few sites of memory. The castles along the coast of Ghana have become increasingly important sites of heritage tourism, and that is to be celebrated. But their actual functions and interrelationships remain poorly understood. Most castles were not major holding stations for thousands or even hundreds of enslaved Africans at a time but subsidiary providers to the headquarters; for the British the headquarters was the fort at Cape Coast. These castles were, in fact, only part of a wide range of architectural strategies that emerged along West Africa's coastline. The majority of enslaved Africans never even saw a castle; they were held in small African-built mud-walled cells of factories or open-air barracoons near the coast waiting for the arrival of the next slaver ship. These spaces—from the most monumental to the most temporary—were designed to facilitate the transformation of an African into a slave. Fieldwork in Ghana and a careful examination of documentary and visual records in England, Ghana, and the United States allows the reconstruction of the spatial experience of the enslaved, examining when possible not just the physical spaces but also the spatial experience of the senses.

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