US-Funded Coalition Restores Key West African Slave-Trade 'Castle'

By McClanahan, Paige | The Christian Science Monitor, August 5, 2011 | Go to article overview

US-Funded Coalition Restores Key West African Slave-Trade 'Castle'


McClanahan, Paige, The Christian Science Monitor


A group of historians, archaeologists, and concerned citizens is transforming Sierra Leone's Bunce Island castle into a museum exploring the transatlantic slave trade.

For nearly 140 years, this tiny scrap of an island on West Africa's Atlantic coast was the point of no return for hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children who were stolen from their homes and sold into slavery, many of them bound for the rice plantations of Georgia or South Carolina.

It's a place of singular importance to both African and American history, but today Bunce Island is an overgrown mess of jungle that gets just a handful of tourists every year. The ruins of the slave castle that once dominated the island's 1.5 acres have been smothered by vines and eroded by the 13 feet of rain that fall every year here in Sierra Leone. A couple of rusting signs are the only indication of Bunce's grisly place in history.

But that could be changing soon. Backed by some wealthy anonymous donors in the United States, a group of historians, archaeologists, and concerned citizens is working to preserve what's left of the slave castle and build a museum that explores its role in the transatlantic slave trade.

"It's the most important historic site in Africa for the United States," says Joseph Opala, an American historian and the director of the US branch of the Bunce Island Coalition, the organization that is working to preserve the island.

Key funnel for US slaves

Roughly a quarter of the tens of thousands of slaves who passed through Bunce were shipped directly to what is now the US, Mr. Opala says. That's a huge percentage compared with the other slave castles along Africa's Atlantic coast, most of which sold their captives to buyers in South America and the Caribbean. …

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