Welcome the Diaspora: Slave Trade Heritage Tourism and the Public Memory of Slavery

By Araujo, Ana Lucia | Ethnologies, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Welcome the Diaspora: Slave Trade Heritage Tourism and the Public Memory of Slavery


Araujo, Ana Lucia, Ethnologies


This article examines the emergence of the public memory of slavery and the Atlantic slave trade in the Republic of Benin, by explaining how the heritagization of slavery was crucial for the development of a local tourism industry. The article shows that the rise of the public memory of the Atlantic slave trade in Benin is not an isolated venture and that similar initiatives were also developed in other West African countries. The article also discusses how the plural memories of slavery are articulated with the expectations of African American and Afro-Caribbean tourists, who are the main target of projects focusing on slavery cultural heritage and roots tourism. The article concludes that although slavery heritage tourism helped to place Benin among the international slavery tourist destinations, it also contributed to make visible the plural memories of slavery and to commodify African tangible and intangible heritage.

L'article examine l'emergence de la memoire publique de l'esclavage et de la traite atlantique des esclaves dans la Republique du Benin, en soulignant le role crucial de la patrimonialisation de l'esclavage dans le developpement de l'industrie touristique locale. L'article montre que l'expansion de la memoire publique de la traite des esclaves au Benin ne fut pas une entreprise isolee et que des initiatives similaires furent egalement developpees dans d'autres pays de l'Afrique de l'Ouest. Il discute aussi de l'articulation des memoires plurielles de l'esclavage avec les attentes des touristes afro-americains et afro-caribeens, qui constituent le public cible des projets de promotion du patrimoine culturel de la traite atlantique des esclaves et du tourisme des racines. L'article conclut que le tourisme patrimonial de l'esclavage a aide a placer le Benin au rang des destinations touristiques internationales de la traite atlantique, mais en contrepartie il a aussi contribue a mettre en evidence les memoires plurielles de l'esclavage et a transformer les patrimoines materiel et immateriel africains en objets de consommation.

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Over the last two decades the Atlantic slave past has received increased attention. In the Americas, Europe, and Africa, emerging initiatives highlighting the memory of slavery in the public space largely resulted from the political struggle of social actors fighting for social justice or seeking to occupy the public space to obtain political prestige and economic profits. To examine the public memory of slavery and its relations with the development of African diaspora tourism, this article develops a historical and ethnographic analysis of Atlantic slave trade commemoration initiatives. It argues that the work of memory conveyed through festivals, monuments, and local museums remembering slavery and the Atlantic slave trade allows recreating, reinventing, and rethinking this painful past. Consequently, public memory of slavery is not direct transmission, but belongs to the scope of postmemory (Hirsch 1997), to a transitional space where this past is relived, re-enacted, and re-experienced (Robin 2002). This article argues these multiple discourses emanating from public manifestations with the public discourses of local social actors who during the last twenty years actively participated in the debates surrounding the implementation of slave trade tourism initiatives.

The article is divided into two parts. The first part introduces the broad context of the emergence of the public memory of slavery and slave trade tourism in West Africa. It sheds light on how North American and Western European conceptions of heritage and tourism were transplanted, adapted and transformed in West African countries, including Ghana, The Gambia, Senegal, and the Republic of Benin. It argues that the promotion of the Atlantic slave trade heritage was crucial for the development of a West African tourism industry. The second part contextualizes the development of official slave trade cultural heritage projects in Benin, particularly in Ouidah, an important former slave trade port. …

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