After being tested, the captives were confined to Elmina’s dungeons where conditions were shocking, even by the standards of the time.
“…There were no toilets. There were no bathrooms. In some cases, they had straws on the floor, which they used as a mattress and so on,” Afful describes.
“In all these dungeons, they were given buckets, which they were expected to ease themselves.”
“But because of the conditions they were in, the chains they had on their feet made it almost impossible for them to get to this bucket,” he tells CNN.
Captives could spend as long as three months in confinement, awaiting their journey into a dark, and unknown future.
As Afful explains, negotiations were concluded before slave ships would carry their human cargo.
But in a market where the seller had little control over how each slave could be distinguished, the buyers often felt the need to label their new property, in the most inhumane of ways.
“Now, with the branding, each merchant has its own method of doing it. Some will use alphabet; some will use numbers on the form of a metallic stamp,” Afful describes.
“They put it in the fire, already they have some oil on their body (to) prepare them for the journey. So they burn them on the skin,”
Branded and subjugated, the captives were led aboard awaiting ships through the Door of No Return.
“… when the ship came, they took them in batches through the ‘Door of No Return,’ and they get to the ship, for the journey to proceed from there,” he says.
The ‘Door of No Return’ still swings, centuries after, a menacing reminder of the captives’ descent into a life of terror and relentless servitude.
“Initially, this door was bigger. But when the slave trade began, it was reduced this way. So that one person can come in at a time,” Afful says.
The Door, the dungeons where captives were restrained and the walls through which these slaves walked all serve as cues of a story that Africa seems to have confined to the past.
It is an approach that Edmund Abaka, Associate Producer of History and International Studies at the University of Miami, believes we must rethink.
“We have to move away from the perception that, ‘oh, history is about the past, history is about people who are dead and gone,'” Abaka says.
“It is our story. If we don’t tell our story, somebody will tell their story,” he adds.
For Bartels, the accounts of Elmina’s past revive a traumatizing story, yet the necessity of hearing these tales is not lost on him.
“I can hear the wailing of my ancestors here. The souls that have been lost. … But it’s good to be home,” he says.
Today, the town of Elmina is a lively, bustling hub — but the castle towers above it, an essential, yet painful reminder of its past.