2 November 2010

Sierra Leone: U.S. $5 Million Bunce Island Project to be Launched

Freetown — Bunce Island, the 18th century British slave castle located in the Freetown harbour near Pepel, will finally get the attention it deserves with the launching of a $5 million historical preservation project sponsored by the Bunce Island Coalition (BIC).

British slave traders sent thousands of African captives from Bunce Island to rice plantations in South Carolina and Georgia in the North American Colonies, and sugar plantations in the West Indies. The slave castle was abandoned in the 1840s, and over the years many of its stone walls have collapsed.

The Bunce Island Coalition has four goals:

  1. To stabilize the ruins on Bunce Island, and build a proper historical park complete with all-weather exhibits that tell the history of the island.
  2. To build a seawall to halt the erosion on the north end of the island that threatens to destroy the ancient buildings.
  3. To construct all the necessary facilities for a modern historical park, including a new caretaker's house, a jetty, storerooms, public toilets, etc.
  4. To build a museum in Freetown dedicated to the story of Bunce Island and the impact of the Atlantic slave trade in Sierra Leone.

The Bunce Island Coalition launched the project on October 27 with the arrival of a team of four American engineers and scientists who will assess the preservation issues on the island.

The team is led by Michael Schuller, President of Atkinson-Noland Associates, a U.S. engineering firm that specializes in preserving historic structures. Schuller's team also includes Donald Harvey, a structural engineer. Amanda Trienans and Christina Lombardo, materials scientists representing the New York firm Integrated Conservation Resources, are also team members. They will run tests to determine the strength of Bunce Island's remaining walls. The engineering team will be in Sierra Leone for two weeks.

During the launching of the project, BIC officers and their engineering consultants will meet with government ministers and other officials, as well as U.S. Ambassador Michael Owen.

The Coalition is working closely with the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, with which it signed a Memorandum of Understanding earlier this year, and will also work closely with the Monuments and Relics Commission, the National Tourist Board, and all other relevant government agencies and institutions.

The Coalition will also keep in close contact with the US Embassy in Freetown.

The Bunce Island Coalition has pledged to involve Sierra Leoneans in the project wherever possible, so while the U.S. engineering team will play a significant role in designing the project and supervising its implementation, Sierra Leonean firms will carry out most of the actual work on the island. The American engineers will also consult with Sierra Leonean academics in a number of disciplines, as well as local architects, engineers, and construction companies, to determine what resources are available locally.

The American engineering team will investigate the ruins at Bunce Island for a week, but they will also spend two days surveying the ruins of Old Fourah Bay College in Cline Town. The Bunce Island Coalition hopes to rebuild Old FBC and use that venerable building as a museum dedicated to Bunce Island and the Atlantic Slave Trade.

The Bunce Island Coalition wishes to express its gratitude to the Ministry of Tourism and Culture and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for their support and assistance in seeing this project off the ground.

The Coalition will host a joint press conference with the Ministry of Tourism and Culture and the American engineering team prior to the team's departure on November 12th in the Ministry of Tourism Conference Room.

About Bunce Island Coalition (BIC)

Bunce Island Coalition is made up of two groups working together to preserve the slave castle: the Bunce Island Coalition (US) and the Bunce Island Coalition (SL).

The Bunce Island Coalition (US) was formed in 2007, with the goal of raising funds for the preservation of Bunce Island through a publicity campaign to acquaint Americans with the historical importance of Bunce Island to their own country. Early this year private donors from the UK and US came forward with a pledge of $5 million for the preservation of the castle and the construction of a museum in Freetown.

Bunce Island Coalition (SL) was formed this year (2010) with the goal of working hand-in-hand with the US group to preserve Bunce Island.

The Sierra Leone group is led by Manilius Garber and Julius Spencer, while the American group is led by former U.S. Ambassador Thomas Hull as Chairman of the Board, and historian Joseph Opala as Director. Opala, who has been studying Bunce Island for more than thirty years, will act as the project Coordinator in Sierra Leone until the completion of the 5-year project.

BIC members believe that the preservation of Bunce Island will create a new industry in Sierra Leone -- African American heritage tourism. African American tourists are already traveling by the thousands every year to see the slave castles in Senegal, Gambia and Ghana, where guides tell them that their ancestors likely passed through there. But those castles sent most of their captives to the West Indies.

Bunce Island is the only major West African slave castle that sent a significant portion of its African captives to North America, thus giving it a unique significance for African Americans.

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