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African Countries Need Slave Memorials too

A recent article in the New York Times titled, “America Needs a National Slavery Monument,” really got me thinking. America is not alone. African countries need slavery memorials too. It is no longer a secret that

A recent article in the New York Times titled, “America Needs a National Slavery Monument,” really got me thinking. America is not alone. African countries need slavery memorials too.

It is no longer a secret that Africans played an important role in the transatlantic slave trade, which lasted from 1525 to 1866. The slave trade system preceded the European colonization of Africa. Thus, it could not have been successful without local African traders, mainly selling local criminals and prisoners of war from neighboring ethnic communities to European slave merchants. Slavery and the slave trade laid the foundation for contemporary cities like Lagos, which was a major port in the trade.

However, of all the former ports on the historic West African Slave Coast, only Senegal (Goree Island), Ghana (Cape Coast and Elmina), the Benin Republic (Ouidah), and to a lesser extent Nigeria (Badagry) have erected slave memorials (Araujo 2014). The first three countries have used their slave heritage sites to annually attract large numbers of Afro-descended tourists from the African Diaspora.

But where are all the local African visitors of slavery heritage sites?

Although locals residents of former slave ports are somewhat aware of their slave past, a majority remain detached and feel as if “slavery and the slave trade did not happen to them so it doesn’t affect them.” This mentality is why African countries need slavery memorials not only for members of the African Diaspora but also for their local and national communities. The point of a slave memorial is more ideological than physical. It is not to assign blame. It is to bear witness to histories that can never be fully recovered. It is to begin our psychic, collective healing as a race.

No longer can we hide behind our masks of ignorance, indifference, shame or regret. We need to look at ourselves in the mirror completely. Remember. Mourn. And Rebuild.

“Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” –James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

Kanyinsola Obayan
Ithaca, New York – Kányinsọ́lá Ọbáyàn is a PhD Student in Africana Studies at Cornell University, where she is investigating questions of nationalism and postcoloniality; transnationalism, diaspora, and globalization in contemporary Nigeria. She is currently Deputy Editor of Applause Africa.
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