James Island and Related Sites present a testimony to the main periods and facets of the encounter between Africa and Europe along the River Gambia, a continuum stretching from pre-colonial and pre-slavery times to independence. The site is particularly significant for its relation to the beginning of the slave trade and its abolition. It also documents early access to the interior of Africa.
James Island and Related Sites
© Niels Elgaard Larsen
Outstanding Universal Value
Kunta Kinteh Island is a small island in the Gambia River which joins the Atlantic Ocean. Its location in the middle of the river made it a strategic place to control the waterway. Visited by explorers and merchants in their search for a sea route to India it became one of the first cultural exchange zones between Africa and Europe. By 1456 the Island had been acquired by Portugal from local rulers and the construction of a fort began.
Kunta Kinteh Island and Related Sites form an exceptional testimony to the different facets and phases of the African-European encounter, from the 15th to the 19th centuries. The River Gambia was particularly important forming the first trade route to the inland of Africa. The site was already a contact point with Arabs and Phoenicians before the arrival of the Portuguese in the 15th century. The region forms a cultural landscape, where the historic elements are retained in their cultural and natural context. The properties illustrate all the main periods and facets of the various stages of the African-European encounter from its earliest moments in the 15th Century through the independence period.
The specific location of Kunta Kinteh Island and its Related Sites, at the mouth of the Gambia River, is a tangible reminder of the story of the development of the Gambia River as one of the most important waterways for trade of all kinds from the interior to the Coast and beyond. The specific, important role of the site in the slave trade, both in its propagation and its conclusion, makes Kunta Kinteh Island and it Related Sites an outstanding memory of this important, although painful, period of human history.
The property includes Kunta Kinteh Island Fort and a series of sites associated with the early European occupation of the African continent. The ensemble has seven separate locations: the whole of Kunta Kinteh Island, the remains of a Portuguese Chapeland of a colonial warehouse (CFAO Building) in the village of Albreda, the Maurel Frères Building in the village of Juffureh, the remains of the small Portuguese settlement of San Domingo, as well as Fort Bullen and the Six-Gun Battery. Fort Bullen and the Six-Gun Battery are at the mouth of the Gambia River, whilst Kunta Kinteh Island and the other sites are some 30 km upstream.
The development of Kunta Kinteh Island differed greatly from the many other forts, castles, and trading posts found in other parts of West Africa in that the main focus of the Kunta Kinteh Island site was the control of the hinterland and its riches rather than control of the coast and the trade that passed along it.
The Six-Gun Battery (1816) and Fort Bullen (1826), located on both sides of the mouth of the River Gambia came much later than Kunta Kinteh Island and were built for the specific intent of thwarting the trade in slaves once it had become illegal in the British Empire after the passing of the Abolition Act in 1807. They are the only known defensive structures in the region to have been built specifically to stop slaving interests. The other fortifications of the region (including Kunta Kinteh Island), were constructed as a means of enhancing and controlling the trade in slaves (and commodities) rather than stopping it. These two military positions allowed the British to take full control of the River Gambia, eventually paving the way for the establishment of colonial government, a period well-illustrated by many colonial buildings in Banjul and the Governor’s Rest House at Fort Bullen. Finally, Fort Bullen shows evidence of its re-use during the Second World War (1939-1945) as a strategic observatory and artillery post. This later period illustrates yet another European rivalry that spread to the African continent.
Criterion (iii): Kunta Kinteh Island and related sites on the River Gambia provide an exceptional testimony to the different facets of the African-European encounter, from the 15th to 20th centuries. The river formed the first trade route to the inland of Africa, being also related to the slave trade.
Criterion (vi): Kunta Kinteh Island and related sites, the villages, remains of European settlements, the forts and the batteries, were directly and tangibly associated with the beginning and the conclusion of the slave trade, retaining its memory related to the African Diaspora.
The six parts of the serial nomination together present a testimony to the main periods and facets of the Afro-European encounter along the River Gambia, a continuum that stretched from pre-colonial and pre-slavery times to the period of independence and in particular to the beginning and the abolition of the slave trade, as well as documenting the functions of the early access route to the inland of Africa. The six sites encompass all the key remains.
All the sites except the CFAO and Maurel Frères Buildings are ruins. The CFAO Building has been restored and provided with adequate sea defence. The Maurel Frères Building was restored in 1996 and is in a good state of conservation. The Portuguese chapel and San Domingo are in a state of ruins, but these have been stabilized, with the most endangered parts reinforced during 2000.
The isolated position of Kunta Kinteh Island in the river has conserved its setting to the present day. Fort Bullen is also bordered by the river on one side and a large open tract of land on the other, naturally serving as a buffer zone and helping to preserve its setting. It is in a relatively good state of conservation, though the wall on the seaward side is suffering from sea erosion. Parts have collapsed and 20 metres were rebuilt in 2000. The Six-Gun Battery is in a good state of conservation. The ruined sites need on-going maintenance if they are not to deteriorate over time.
Kunta Kinteh Island Fort was subject to destruction on numerous occasions. Since the last time by the French, in 1779, it has remained a ruin with only minor attempt at consolidation and minimizing the effects of sea erosion. The Island is a landmark for all concerned with the slave trade, especially the local community and Africans in the Diaspora. Apart from a short period of re-use during the Second World War, Fort Bullen and the Six-Gun Battery were similarly abandoned in the late 19th century. At San Domingo there are very few visible remains, but the area has considerable potential for archaeological research. The ruins that convey the Outstanding Universal Value are extremely vulnerable to erosion. At the time of inscription the ruined sites were seen to be part of a wider cultural landscape that needed protection in order to protect the setting of the sites and to allow them to be understood.
Protection and management requirements
Kunta Kinteh Island, Fort Bullen and all the significant historic buildings in the Albreda-Juffureh complex are legally protected as National Monuments (1995) under the National Council for Arts and Culture Act, 1989 (revised 2003). The proclamation instrument also establishes a buffer zone for all the sites that should be kept free of incompatible developments with adverse effects on their setting. As National Monuments the historic structures are under the custodianship of the National Centre for Arts and Culture (NCAC) who are responsible for their conservation and upkeep. Day to day management rests with the Directorate of Cultural Heritage of the NCAC, who employ site attendants and caretakers. The Six-Gun Battery is located within the State House grounds and is protected by the Office of the President. The sites also have a 5-year management plan that sets out what is acceptable at the individual sites and at national level. This plan was prepared as a result of the joint effort of ten different national and local organisations, supported by the Africa 2009 programme.
The financial resources required for the management and maintenance of the sites are relatively scarce, and come mainly from entrance fees. Every three months, the Head of the Museums and Monuments section of the NCAC performs a physical inspection of the sites. This condition assessment is carried out with a representative of the local stakeholders and, if possible, with a local guide. A brief report is prepared after each visit and these are summarized in an annual report.
Since 1996 the Gambia Government, through its Department of State for Tourism and Culture, has instituted an annual event called the ‘International Roots Homecoming Festival’. Considered to be a “heritage week”, the main aim is to attract visitors from the African Diaspora. The festival usually devotes a daylong spiritual pilgrimage to Kunta Kinteh Island and the Albreda-Juffureh area. To the visitors the property has symbolic and emotional significance, as a visit to Kunta Kinteh Island is a pilgrimage to their roots. As a piece of historical evidence, much can be learnt from the Island, and it already forms part of the history and social studies syllabus in Gambian schools.
The property contains very fragile ruins that need to be protected and conserved as the tangible elements that convey Outstanding Universal Value. There needs to be ongoing maintenance monitoring and conservation to allow these ruins to have the best chance of survival and be robust enough to withstand the onslaughts of nature.
James Island and the related sites on the Gambia River provide exceptional testimony to the different facets of the African-European encounter, from the 15th to the 20th centuries. The river formed the first trade route into the interior of Africa and became an early corridor for the slave trade. The sites were directly and tangibly associated with the beginning and the conclusion of the slave trade, retaining its memory related to the African diaspora.
The property consists of seven separate sites: the whole of James Island, the remains of a Portuguese chapel and a colonial warehouse in the village of Albreda, the Maurel Frères Building in the village of Juffureh, the remains of a small Portuguese settlement of San Domingo, as well as Fort Bullen and the Six-Gun Battery, which are located in three different districts in Gambia. Fort Bullen and the Battery are at the mouth of the Gambia River, while James Island and the other sites are some 30 km upstream. Albreda, Juffureh and San Domingo are contained within a large buffer zone, which stretches 12 km along the coastline of the Gambia River, extending some 500 m inland from the high-water line. James Island is a small island (0.3 ha) in the middle of the Gambia River, which made it a strategic place from which to control the waterway.
The original structures comprise the fort itself, the slave house, the governor's kitchen, the blacksmith's shop and a store, all now in ruins. The fort is situated in the middle of this low island and is vulnerable to flooding by the tidal waters. Albreda, a Mandingo village on the north bank of the river, is surrounded by agricultural land and is part of the buffer zone, but it contains two buildings that are included in the inscription. The chapel, built by the Portuguese in the late 15th century, is in ruins. Just 30 m to the west of the chapel is a free-standing wall, which is contemporaneous with the church. The Compagnie Française d'Afrique Occidentale Building, at the water's edge near the wharf, is a two-storey building with an adjacent warehouse. The ground floor served as a shop and store for goods and the top floor as a residence.
Juffureh, a typical Mandingo village, consists of traditional buildings, family compounds surrounded by woven fences, and small public open spaces. The Maurel Frères Building was constructed around 1840 by the British and was later used as a warehouse by a Lebanese trader named Maurel. Now it is a small museum on the Atlantic Slave Trade in the Senegambia.
San Domingo, 1 km east of Albreda, was a colonial settlement first established by the Portuguese in the late 15th century. It used to contain gardens, a church, a cemetery, and a well; today only ruins of a small house remain, built from lateritic stone and lime mortar. Close by there are remains of the former English settlement of Jillifree.
Six-Gun Battery was completed in 1821 in Bathurst, founded in 1816, now Banjul, on Saint Mary Island. The Battery consists of six 24-pounder guns, installed on rails, and protected by a large parapet made from stone and lime mortar. Fort Bullen is at the end of Barra Point, opposite the city of Banjul, on the north bank of the river at the point where it meets the ocean. The fort is protected from the sea by a defensive wall of stone and boulders. The site is close to the Banjul-Barra ferry landing. The fort buildings include the Old Rest House built from mud, the residence of the Travelling Commissioner of the colonial administration at the beginning of the century.
The area of the Gambia River has long been inhabited. The territory was under the rule of the Kingdom of Kaabu, an offshoot of the Mali Empire (c . 1200-1867), and the Jollof Kingdom (c . 1300-1500). Kaabu played an important role in Atlantic-oriented trade before Europeans arrived, being in contact with the Phoenicians and Carthaginians, as well as the Arabs (from 1000 CE). The Portuguese reached the Senegambia between 1446 and 1456, when searching for the sea route to India. In the 16th century, English ships ventured into the Gambia region, and by the end of the century the Dutch also arrived. Slaves became another trading item, especially in the 18th century, until slavery was abolished. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
[in French only]
La région du fleuve Gambie est depuis longtemps habitée, comme en attestent par exemple les anciens cercles de pierre et monticules funéraires (mbanar) connus dans les empires du Ghana, du Mali et de Songhai. Le territoire était sous la férule du royaume de Kaabu, une émanation de l'empire du Mali (vers 1200-1867), et de l'empire Jollof (vers 1300-1500). Kaabu jouait un rôle important dans le commerce vers l'Atlantique avant l'arrivée des Européens, car il était en contact avec les Phéniciens et les Carthaginois, ainsi que les Arabes (à partir de 1000 apr. J.- C.). Les Portugais atteignirent la Sénégambie entre 1446 et 1456, alors qu'ils cherchaient la route maritime vers l'Inde. En 1482, ils construisirent le fort São Jorge da Mina (Elmina) sur la Côte d'Or (aujourd'hui le Ghana). Au XVIe siècle, des navires britanniques s'aventurèrent dans la région de la Gambie, suivis à la fin du siècle par les Hollandais. Les esclaves devinrent un autre objet de négoce, le commerce du « bois d'ébène » battant son plein au XVIIIe siècle, jusqu'à l'abolition de l'esclavage en Grande-Bretagne et aux États-Unis en 1807, puis dans les colonies françaises en 1848.
Avec le fleuve Gambie permettant d'accéder à l'intérieur des terres, les zones côtières devinrent la principale frontière d'acculturation. Kaabu conserva sa religion traditionnelle, barrant la route à l'Islam jusqu'au XIXe siècle. Les Portugais établirent le contact avec la population indigène, les Niuminkas, initiant une période de commerce et de relations interculturelles qui, au fil des cinq siècles suivants, modifièrent considérablement le visage de la Gambie. Le fleuve Gambie étant l'un des fleuves les plus aisément navigables d'Afrique, il présentait aussi l'avantage particulier de permettre d'accéder au vaste arrière-pays. L'île James et les peuplements associés abritent les témoignages physiques des principaux peuplements marchands européens du XVe au XIXe siècle et de la rencontre entre l'Europe et l'Afrique.
L'île James servait de lieu de repos aux pêcheurs longtemps avant l'arrivée des Européens. Ses souverains héréditaires étaient et sont toujours des Niuminkas, auxquels elle fut rachetée par une compagnie du duché de Courlande (aujourd'hui Lettonie), qui commença la construction du premier fort en 1651. Elle fut reprise par les Britanniques, qui la baptisèrent île James, du nom du duc d'York. Le fort fut détruit et reconstruit à plusieurs reprises, passant de mains en mains entre les Britanniques, les Français, les Hollandais, mais aussi des pirates et des mutins. En 1815, l'île James fut abandonnée et est depuis demeurée en ruines.
San Domingo, à l'est du village de Juffureh, est le premier peuplement portugais de la région. Il fournissait l'île James en eau potable ; c'est aussi là que les marchands européens rencontraient leurs homologues africains. Albréda, probablement un autre peuplement portugais, fut loué aux marchands français en 1681. Il devint l'emplacement du comptoir français en Gambie. Albréda et San Domingo étaient les principaux comptoirs marchands du royaume de Niumi et le « destination finale », vers l'ouest, des longues routes marchandes venues de l'intérieur des terres. À la demande des Anglais, les Français abandonnèrent le site en 1857 mais revinrent, comme le montrent les vestiges des bâtiments de deux compagnies marchandes françaises, Maurel Frères et CFAO. Juffureh est le village des marchands mandingues, le lieu où les Britanniques faisaient leurs affaires et depuis lequel ils gouvernaient la région.
La batterie à six canons (1816) et le Fort Bullen (1826), situés des deux côtés de l'embouchure de la Gambie, furent construits dans l'intention d'éliminer le commerce des esclaves une fois celui-ci déclaré illégal dans l'empire britannique, après l'adoption de la loi d'abolition en 1807. Les sites furent abandonnés en 1870. Pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale, l'armée britannique réutilisa le fort Bullen comme observatoire et base d'artillerie pour se protéger contre une éventuelle attaque des Français, qui contrôlaient le Sénégal. Après la Seconde Guerre mondiale, le fort fut à nouveau abandonné. Source: Advisory Body Evaluation