Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Bunce Island...

This past Saturday a small group of us headed out to one of the most significant historical sites in Sierra Leone: Bunce Island. This is the location of an old 18th-Century British slave castle, perched on a strategic wooded island at the limit of navigation for ships sailing up the river. It was here that ocean-going slave ships met the traders from the hinterland to collect their cargo of men, women and children.

Although a crumbling ruin now, many parts of the castle are still visible and as we clambered out of our canoe and onto the island, I could really feel the dark history of the past. We were given a tour and as we walked in amongst the ruins it was easy to picture how this place looked some 250 years ago.

I could see the soldiers standing next to the cannon on the battlements, in readiness to prevent any attack from the sea. I could see many African men and women being marched into the castle, never to taste freedom again. I could hear the cries as families were torn apart - separated into male and female sections of the fortress. I could see the men and women getting flogged and beaten. I could hear the shouts and calls of traders, as they prepared slaves for an arduous - and devastating - voyage across the seas. I could smell the stench of death wafting across the waters from the waiting slave ships. I could see death and despair. Indeed, the people torn from their homes and loaded onto the ships had only a 1 in three chance of surviving the journey to (primarily) America.

But I could also see hope on the horizon. In 1807 the British Parliament made the slave trade illegal, and in the following years the Royal Navy sent out regular patrols from Freetown to intercept illegal slave ships and free their precious cargo. The tide had turned against slavery.

The ruined castle is in much need of preservation and I believe it should be renovated and saved before the decay becomes too great. The trees (pictured here) are already becoming intertwined with the structure of the buildings. Bunce Island must stand as a lasting reminder that such an ugly, destructive trade should never happen again. And as the sign welcoming you to Bunce Island puts it,

"With gratitude to God we wish to honour the brave African Men and Women who endured the Cruelty of Slavery..... This island stands as a testament to their memory and to the triumph of the human spirit."

Looking back towards the mainland and our Land Rover as we head off across the waters to Bunce Island.

The canoe (with an outboard motor) that transported us to the island.

Although having been partly submerged for centuries, a cannon is still easily recognisable on the shore.

A cannon, its carriage long since disintegrated, sits guarding the battlements.

Inside the castle grounds...

... You have to be careful of spiderwebs!

Peering out from inside the castle's powder magazine.

The island also has a couple of old cemeteries. This is the African cemetery...

... And this is one of the graves in the European cemetery. The graves date from the 1750s.

Jamie walks along a pretty path.

Heading back towards the mainland...

... Where we were met by a crowd of sweet local children!

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