The final bath to the door of no return, the preparation of slaves

Vanessa Calys-Tagoe August 31, 2022
Shown in this Dec. 1, 2010, file photo, is the "Door of No Return" at Cape Coast Castle in Ghana, a fortress used to confine slaves in Ghana before they were shipped abroad. Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP via Getty Images

In the mid-17th century, the Trans-Atlantic slave trade began and it involved the buying, selling and transportation of human beings from the shores of Africa to plantations in Europe and America. Ghana was a part of the African countries that had their indigenes sold into slavery to work on the plantations overseas. 

Slavery markets were rife at the time and the Assin Manso Ancestral Slave River known as Nnonkonsuo or Donkor Nsuo (Singular) was one of them. The Slave River served as the last bathing place of slaves before they were sent to the Cape Coast or Elmina Castle to go through the Door of No Return into the life of the unknown in the West. 

The Slave River is situated forty (40) kilometers along the Cape Coast-Kumasi highway in Ghana’s Central Region. It served as the last stop on the slave trade route that originated in Northern Ghana. Before being marched down to the slave fortresses of Elmina and Cape Coast along the coast, slaves took their final bath on African soil at the Assin Manso Slave River Site. One of the greatest slave marketplaces in the eighteenth century, the location was referred to as the “great depot” where the Asantes sent slaves to the shore. Here, slaves received food and were given several days or weeks of respite.

At the time, slaves brought in from the North and the Ashanti region were lodged at the site and subsequently transported to the dungeons of either the Cape Coast Castle or the Elmina Castle. 

When the appointed time is near, the slaves are marched to the Door of No Return where they say a final goodbye and catch a glimpse of what Ghana (then Gold Coast) looked like for the last before entering the ships to the faraway West.

Due to the reburial of two slave ancestors in 1998 as part of an Emancipation Day ritual (one from Jamaica and one from the United States), Assin Manso was once again placed in the historical imagination of the African Diaspora.

Today, the river now offers ‘The First Bath of Return’ to tourists who travel to come to see it. The bath is a symbol of spiritual cleansing, forgiveness and a connection to ancestors. 

The Door of No Return

The Cape Coast Castle, opened in 1653 and originally built by the Swedes, was one of the many forts and castles built by the West in Ghana and used to house slaves as well as conduct the day-to-day administration of the colony. 

One of the many iconic sites at the Cape Coast Castle is the Door of No Return. The Door of No Return was the exit point for slaves being forced into slave ships to the United States of America. It is located just beyond the female dungeons at the base of the central courtyard. 

The door, which is not exactly large, led the way to the sea where ships sat and waited as indigenes, some sold into slavery, others handpicked by colonial masters were forced through the doors to the waiting ships. 

They moved in a line connected with chains and colts and supposing they make it out the door alive, that would be the last time they caught sight of their home country and continent. 

The door to the ships earned the name ‘Door of No Return’ as a result of it being the final point of exit for slaves. Once a slave went through that door that was the end. There would be no return. 

Slave transportation

A typical transportation of slaves from Ghana to the West would see slaves being picked from the Northern region, the Ashanti Region and dropped at the Assin Manso Slave River where the slaves have their last bath and have some respite before the journey continues. 

From there, they are transported to the Cape Coast Castle or the Elmina Castle where they are kept in dungeons. Finally, they are forced onto slave ships through the Door of No Return. 

Today, the river where the slaves took their last bath has become a tourist site for locals and black people all over the world who come to seek ancestral connections and understand their roots better. 

New at the Ancestral River is the ancestral wall that allows tourist to pen down their name as having visited the site too. 

For the full experience, some tour guides suggest the Assin Manso Slave River as a prelude to the Cape Coast or Elmina Castle not only to give tourists an understanding of this part of history but for the tourists to experience a semblance of the journey their ancestors took. 

In 2019, the Year of Return saw a lot of blacks from the diaspora trooping into Ghana to experience and be a part of the history. 

The Assin Manso Slave River and the Door of No Return continue to stand as pillars of history that can never be forgotten and for a long time would bring blacks all over the world together.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: August 31, 2022


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