Sierra Leone: Saving Africa’s Former Slave Ports

Ranging out of my area of focus a little, I wanted to call readers’ attention to this story about Bunce Island in Sierra Leone:

Bunce Island, Sierra Leone

Some former slave ports in Africa are now tourist destinations, but not Bunce Island in Sierra Leone. It’s abandoned and its slave castle is in ruins.

The British established Bunce Island as a slave port in the 1670s.


Journalists, students, staff and teachers from the Fatima Institute, in Makeni, Sierra Leone, recently decided it was time for them to look into this history themselves.

They traveled in a cramped four by four on a route that included driving on railroad tracks, and then getting on a pirogue (boat).

They broadcast their journey into history live on their radio station back in Makeni, via cell phone.


[Reverend Joe Turay from the Fatima Institute] said turning the island into a tourist spot also could help Sierra Leone overcome its own painful past, following years of civil war. “This takes us to the new discourse of human rights. There are various forms of injustices happening in our situation, in our country, in our context today.  The slave island should serve as a symbol, as a symbol of resistance, a symbol of the fight against injustices,” he said.

I hope this group will succeed in bringing some attention to the island. As they say, the history is important, the site has deep cultural significance, and the tourism it attracts could provide economic benefits to the country. That’s been the case with the Cape Coast Castle in Ghana (where President Obama visited last July) and Goree Island in Senegal, which I took visitors to several times when I was living in Dakar – and whose museum boasted photographs of leaders like Presidents Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela.

Living monuments to the grief of slavery are worth preserving.