A Guide to Sites, Museums, and Memory

Ghana Museums and Monuments Accra, Ghana

The National Museum
The National Museum, Accra: the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board head office.

The Ghana Museums and Monuments Board (GMMB), the legal custodian of Ghana's material cultural heritage was established in March 1957 as a result of the merger of the then-interim Council of the National Museum of the Gold Coast and the Monuments and Relics Commission.

The GMMB is governed by the National Liberation Council Decree (NLCD) 387 of 1969, now known as Act 387 of 1969, and further strengthened by the Executive Instrument (E. I.) 29 of 1973.

The history of GMMB traces back to an Ethnographic Museum that was established at Achimota College in 1929 and later transferred to the Department of Archaeology, University of the Gold Coast, in 1948. In 1952, the British Colonial government established an "Interim Council of the National Museum of the Gold Coast" to facilitate the creation of a national museum.

The Museums Division of GMMB oversees eight main museums, including the National Museum. Two of the museums are situated inside a castle and two inside a fort. Apart from their regular exhibits, the museums also organize temporary exhibitions on topical social issues.

The Cape Coast Castle Museum, St. Georges Castle (Elmina Castle) Museum, and Ussher Fort Museum offer guided tours of some of the structures involved in the slave trade, as well as exhibitions that explain the mechanics of the slave trade in Ghana and the role played by their respective sites in its development.

Specific slavery-related topics that are strongly represented by GMMB, Cape Coast Castle are issues related to the European transatlantic slave trade: its beginnings through to the end. Emphasis is placed on each segment of the trade from the time people were captured to their deportation to the New World.

Themes represented include how Africans were captured and transported from source regions to depots for incarceration in places as castle dungeons, dungeons of fortresses, lodges, pens, and under sheds.

Also represented at the Cape Coast Castle are topics concerning how slaves were auctioned at the different slave markets and halls of trade within European fortifications; slave life within these fortresses; exit doors — "doors of no return"; the Middle Passage (the "journey of no return"), and life in the African diaspora (working conditions, punishment, etc.) Themes related to early European-African contacts are also represented, as antecedents to the slave trade that followed thereafter.

African cultural practices and institutions that favored and or promoted the European transatlantic slave trade are not glossed over as specific themes.

Among the institution's collections are:

  1. A varied collection of Forts and Castles, built and occupied by the Portuguese, Dutch, Danes, Swedes, French, British and Brandenburg-Prussians (Germans) between the fifteenth and twentieth centuries. These fortifications serve as reminders of the European trading activities on the Gold Coast and in West Africa. They are legacies and icons, representations of the brutalities and desperations of people of old. They are memorials that unfold the feelings and conditions of persons under slavery who were being prepared for slave trading to "strange" lands.
  2. Exhibits of iron chains, shackles, branding sticks, chisels, and other instruments and equipment utilized for the perpetration of slavery and slave trade. These are replicas of objects that were used in keeping captives together during transportation to prevent escapes. There are also photo exhibits of captives in chains and shackles being transported to the coast from the hinterland.
  3. Flags of participating countries and merchants are displayed in the museum gallery at Cape Coast Castle in succession. This is to communicate who occupied the facility and at what time, as well as the purpose of occupation.
  4. Maps, paintings, and drawings related to slavery and slave trade. These include maps of the triangular trade detailing areas from where captives were gotten and where they were transported. There are also drawings that depict slave ships, slavers, slaves, auction halls/blocks, plantations, the different forms of punishment that were meted out to slaves, rebellions, freedom fighters, and movements.
  5. Exhibits of commodities that were used to exchange or buy for the captives. These include brass and copper wares, bottles of hard drinks, enamel and ceramic plates and cups; smoking pipes, guns (muskets) and gunpowder.
  6. Slave dungeons, condemned cells, auction halls and markets, exit doors ("door of no return"), exit tunnels, canons, and mortar. These are all there for one to see and feel. They tell their own stories.

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