Governor General MichaÃ«lle Jean wept softly Wednesday during a visit to Elmina Castle, an imposing stone fortress on the Ghanaian coast that served as a major gateway for the slave trade to the Americas.
The Haitian-born Jean, herself a descendant of African slaves, broke down after entering the "room of no return," the last iron-gated enclosure the captives passed through before being loaded on the slave ships.
After placing a wreath, Jean stared out to sea, firmly gripped the gate and then began weeping. Several people among the dozen or so accompanying her also broke into sobs.
"My life will never be the same again," said Jean, who offered a silent prayer while squatting by the gate.
Asked about her prayer, Jean replied: "I said one thing — we shall never be chained again. We shall never be on our knees again. We shall never be humiliated again."
However Jean emphasized that slavery was not just a black issue, saying "that painful episode in human history should teach a lesson to [all] humanity."
"Slavery is still a reality today," she said, raising the issues of child labour and child soldiers.
The world cannot pretend it doesn't know these things are still happening and "if we don't pay any attention to that we should see it as a betrayal," she said.
"Not only are we betraying the people still living in those conditionsâ¦we would also be betraying ourselves."
Elmina Castle, a half-hour helicopter ride from the Ghanaian capital of Accra, was first established as a Portuguese trading post in 1482 to exchange European goods for African gold.
But it soon slipped into the slave trade, continuing under the Dutch and the British until slavery was finally outlawed in 1807. An unofficial trade in slaves continued for about two more decades before it was finally stamped out completely, castle tour guides said.
Jean, on an official five-country tour of Africa, was returning to Accra later Wednesday. The next stops on her tour are South Africa and Morocco. She earlier visited Algeria and Mali.