PHOTOS: West Africa's historic slave sites bear witness to brutal trade

A pulley hangs over a well at the Old English fort, which previously housed a now defunct slavery museum in the slave port of Ouidah, Benin. (Photo: Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters)

KUNTA KINTEH ISLAND, Gambia — When Gambian boat captain Abdoulie Jabang ferries visitors to Kunta Kinteh Island, he tells them that the waves lapping the shores of the former slave site threaten to wash history away.

Situated at the mouth of the Gambia River, the island is home to one of the many forts that dot the West African coast — crumbling reminders of the centuries-long transatlantic slave trade, which tore millions of Africans from their homes.

As Jabang steered his blue-painted wooden boat through the water, he gestured towards Kunta Kinteh, whose ruined fortress, shaded by giant baobab trees, is threatened by erosion.

“You see the island is very small now,” he said.

“We have to preserve this island for the young coming generations — we need to let them know about it. We should never forget what this land has been used for.”

Dungeons used to house female slaves at the Cape Coast Castle, one of several slave forts built along the Gold Coast in Ghana. (Photo: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters)

From Senegal’s Gorée Island at Africa’s westernmost point to the Nigerian port of Badagry on the Gulf of Guinea, the sites where slaves spent their final days on African soil have turned into places of pilgrimage and remembrance.

Many have seen a surge in visitors this year, which marks 400 years since the first record of African slaves arriving in North America.

Tourists can walk along the cannon-studded ramparts of slave fortresses or pass through the points of “no return,” where slaves were marched in chains to waiting ships.

Some who live and work in the shadow of the landmarks see the sites as a reminder not to let history repeat itself.

“Future generations need to know what is happening so that it does not happen again,” said Chief Seraphin Kpissi, whose village in Ivory Coast lies near a slave site on the banks of the Bodo river.

Emmanuel Mouti Dongo from Cameroon visits the Maison des Esclaves slave house on Gorée Island off the coast of Senegal. (Photo: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)

A tall stone slab wrapped in chains now stands as a memorial to the slaves who were forced to take a last bath in the Bodo’s muddy waters toward the end of their march to the coast.

The memorial was erected with the participation of UNESCO, which has granted world heritage status to Kunta Kinteh Island and several other West African sites due to the important testimony they provide of the slave trade. (Reuters)

Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Gareth Jones

Photography by Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters, Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters, Zohra Bensemra/Reuters

Photos taken June and July 2019

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A general view of Goree Island is seen off the coast of Dakar, Senegal. (Photo: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)
Ruins on Kunta Kinteh Island, Gambia. (Photo: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)
Gorée Island, off the coast of Dakar, Senegal. (Photo: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)
Fishermen in front of Gorée Island. (Photo: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)
Abdoulie Jabang, a boat captain who transports tourists to Kunta Kinte Island, leaves the island on the Gambia River. (Photo: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)
Ruins on Kunta Kinteh Island. (Photo: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)
Detail of an illustration of chained slaves walking toward a ship, at a monument at the site of the "point of no return," Ouidah, Benin. (Photo: Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters)
Two people walk along the route taken by slaves to the "point of no return," from where they were shipped west, in Badagry, Nigeria. (Photo: Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters)
A monument commemorating the "door of no return," Ouidah, Benin. (Photo: Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters)
Buildings at the Seriki Abass Slave Museum, Badagry, Nigeria. (Photo: Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters)
A lake beside the track leading to the "door of no return," Ouidah, Benin. (Photo: Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters)
Hooks used to hang prayer mats, at the Seriki Abass Slave Museum, Badagry, Nigeria. (Photo: Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters)
Boys walk along a beach where slaves were once loaded onto ships, Ouidah, Benin. (Photo: Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters)
Tourists at the Cape Coast Castle, one of several slave forts built along the Gold Coast in Ghana. (Photo: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters)
A commemorative building that is known locally as "the tunnel" near the "point of no return," Badagry, Nigeria. (Photo: Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters)
A man takes a photo beneath the monument at the site of the "point of no return," Ouidah, Benin. (Photo: Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters)
Prince Tete and his friend Coudjoe at a point where it is believed slaves once crossed the River Pra on their journey to the coast, at Assin Praso, Ghana. (Photo: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters)
A lock inside the court at the Seriki Abass Slave Museum, Badagry, Nigeria. (Photo: Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters)
Cannons at the Cape Coast Castle in Ghana. (Photo: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters)
Open gates in front of a monument at the site of the "point of no return," Ouidah, Benin. (Photo: Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters)
A shrine on a beach where thousands of African slaves were once loaded onto ships, Ouidah, Benin. (Photo: Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters)
A cannon at an old fort in Ouidah, Benin. (Photo: Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters)

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