Burials lay the groundwork for St Helena’s future as hub for ‘slavery tourism’
South Atlantic island plans memorial for remains of freed slaves as part of project to educate the world about the Triangular Trade
Archaeologists discovered the slave remains while construction work for St Helena Airport was taking place CREDIT: University of Bristol/SWNS.com
Following the discovery of their remains in 2008, the British Overseas Territory has commissioned coffins for Africans who died there more than 150 years ago after being liberated by the Royal Navy.
More than 300 skeletons will be buried on Anglican church land in the first stage of a £333,000 project to make the South Atlantic outpost an “international hub” for slavery-related “discourse and cultural tourism”.
St Helena, which currently attracts visitors as the site of Napoleon Bonaparte’s final exile, will seek to make itself a “niche” destination appealing to African and African diaspora tourists who are increasingly travelling to learn about the Triangular Trade.
Authorities plan to build a memorial to the island’s freed slaves, update the local school curriculum with more of this history, and develop St Helena into a centre for “global scholarly research” on slavery.
Plans were recommended to the St Helena government, which recently secured a £30 million funding package for investments from the UK, by the island’s Liberated African Advisory Committee (LAAC).
Shelley Magellan-Wade, an LAAC secretary, told The Telegraph: “Reburial will be the first long-term, tangible step in memorialising the ‘liberated African’ site. It is considered the most significant physical remaining trace of the transatlantic slave trade on Earth.
“It therefore could also become an international hub for research, discourse and cultural tourism – a unique location where people from across the globe can connect with this poignant part of history.”
The Royal Navy seized slaving vessels and liberated those on board following the abolition of the slave trade in 1807. Many freed slaves, brought to depots on St Helena from about 1840, perished and were buried in mass graves, while others were dead on arrival and interred to prevent disease.
In 2008, 325 intact human remains were unearthed in Rupert’s Valley during the construction of the island’s airport, and it is estimated there may be as many as 10,000 liberated Africans buried on the island.
The 325 are to be buried in a multi-faith “community ceremony” as the exact African homelands and therefore likely religious practises of the dead are unknown. Wood for their coffins will be imported, then crafted on St Helena.
Their few belongings, likely have been hidden from slave traders when they were stripped, will be buried with them after being digtally scanned for posterity.
These finds provide rare physical evidence of “middle passage” conditions for slaves, and it is hoped these arfefacts, such as beads, earrings and necklaces, will help future research planned on the island.
The LAAC said of the difficulty of providing a proper burial: “The LAAC is aware the people whose remains are to be reburied were likely not Christian. Unfortunately, studies are unable to pinpoint where in Africa these people came from, what their beliefs or customs, burial rites, and traditions at that time were.
“Therefore, the best we can do is host a community service where all faiths and, all cultures, etc, have equal opportunity to pay respects.”
It added: “The Diocese of St Helena are very much concerned about the rights of these people who had a tragic experience in being captured as slaves, that they wanted to assist where possible and have done so by providing land for reburial.”
It is hoped that the site of the burial and memorialisation will become a place of interest for those researching the slave trade and their own ancestry.