Bunce Island is an incredible and humbling place. It is one of 40 castles, or fortified trading posts, built along the West African coast, by European merchants. This was in the 18th century during the period of Atlantic slave trade. During this time, tens of thousands of native Africans were captured, imprisoned and loaded aboard ships that were set to make the transatlantic journey through the middle passage to America. Africans specifically from Sierra Leone were sought after for their rice growing skills and sent to the southern American colonies of South Carolina and Georgia.
A National Monument
Slavery on Bunce Island was abolished in 1808, but it actually wasn’t until 1840 that the fort was completely abandoned, and it remains uninhabited to this day. In 1948, Bunce Island was declared a national monument. Sadly, the castle now lies in ruin. Many of its walls have collapsed with tropical vegetation growing over them. However, there is still evidence of its harrowing past as you walk around the grounds and find the European graveyard, and various artefacts including a cannon with the crest of King George III on it.
Bunce Island’s exhibit is made up of interpretation panels. The display tells the story of the European Merchants and the Africans that were kept in captivity. This is done through period drawings of the castle over time, and pictures illustrating the slave trade era, both in Sierra Leone and North America. It also contains written extracts that have since been discovered from this era. During the 17th century photography did not exist. As a result there is no photographic evidence. Instead computer-generated images and archaeological knowledge present how life on Bunce Island would have been in 1805. There is also a video to accompany the display.
This island stands as an incredible testament to the memory of the men, women and children who endured slavery and it represents a tale of the resilience of human spirit and courage. Bunce Island is not far from Freetown but makes for an interesting and informative day trip. Staff at the Radisson Blu Mammy Yoko Hotel, Freetown will be able to assist you with planning your trip here