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Providence Island

Date of Submission: 30/03/2017
Criteria: (iv)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism
State, Province or Region:
Liberia, Montserrado County
Coordinates: 6.319349 N 10.800984 W
Ref.: 6247
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Description

Providence Island, formerly known as Dozoa, is located approximately 500 -600 meters away from the bar mouth of the Atlantic Ocean. The Island has both hydrological and geophysical characteristics that define the western fling of the Mesurado or Doo River. The island has sparsely distributed mangrove swamps at its south-eastern end.  Providence Island, from an aerial view present a geophysical shape of a guitar with a land mass of 11.22 acres surrounded by the Mesurado River and Stockton creek

Providence Island is a former trade post and the first arrival point of freed American Slaves. The site is characterized by a cement pillar and concrete floor believed to be the `first Concrete work in the history of the country, an ancient water well and an old landing docking platform for incoming canoes and ships. The rusted heavy steel bar of the dock are partly buried into the Mesurado river today.  In addition to these elements, is the oldest cotton tree, (250) years according to history of the State.

In the context of contemporary history, a metal tree exists at the site symbolizing the need for peace after many years of internal strife in Liberia. At the south –south direction of the Island lies what was once used as a he Island is also over flung by the Gabriel Tucker Bridge which serves as an easy access to the site as well as few newly built brick huts and a palaver hut in replication of the structures built during   the settlers’ period.

The site is of historical and cultural significance in the history of West Africa as the Island was one of the first places freed slaves landed on January 1, 1822. They were the second batch of African slaves who returned to their father’s land from America in 1820 and subsequently created the nation known today as Liberia. As an island it bears testimony to the reversal of the “no point of return” when slaves were forcible taken to the Americas with no prospect of coming back. Providence Island, originally known as Dozoa meaning ‘’ Land in the center of water (Gola`Vernacular) defines Liberia’s origin as a nation, including the cultural diversity that is visible in the country. Before the arrival of first batch of freed slaves from America, Providence Island was a major trade post for both Portuguese and ethnics of the land.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Providence Island is situated between Mesurado River and Stockton creek,  can be described as an interesting period in the history of Liberia and is very symbolic as a testament of how freed slaves forged nationhood out of their forced calamity upon gaining freedom when slavery was abolished. This Island, as one of the global areas of human slave trade on the African continent, served as a station of departure and a point of no return thus providing a grim symbol of inhumanity to mankind. The site demonstrates the reversal of the stark cruelty of a dark civilization in which chiefs, governors and family leaders of that time saw as a quick means of satisfying their craving for material essentials through exchange of human cargo. The less important community members and those captured during tribal warfares were sacrificed and sold as slaves.

Centuries after, the Island served as trade post; it became the only point of entry and the first anchor place for ship conveying freed slaves from the Americas. And secondly, it is the place the indigenous and settlers first met to discuss the establishment of what is today known as Liberia, The 250 years old Cotton Tree which still exist today is a testament to this discussion. The site is the beginning of the integration of free America Slaves into the society known as the State of Liberia. The once captured and oppressed, became masters of their destiny on arrival at Providence island in 1882. The large numbers of freed slaves had a great impact on Liberia in the formation of a national identity that characterise the nation. The island is a testament of hope for humanity after being subjected to great injustices and deprivation of rights. The attributes of the island comprises a landing dock, foundations of original settlements inhabited by liberated slave and an ancient water well that would have served the freed slaves.

Today Providence Island is a place of reconciliation, forgiveness and social cohesion in a country whose origins are anchored in regrettable enslavement of indigenous people of Africa. It is a place for meditation and upholding peace in the face of adversity and internalised conflicts. The metal tree designed out of AK47 machine guns and the amphitheatre is testimonial to this present day celebration about freedom and ability to resolve conflicts as a nation.

Prior to being called Providence Island, Dozoa was first renamed “Perseverance Island”, depicting the resilience of the settlers to find a new home despite the huddles they encountered at Sherbro Island in the Republic of Sierra Leone. The island is among other similar islands around the world that symbolized man inhumanity to man. Providence Island, and in the context of the infamous slavery period in Africa, symbolises:

  • An important node along the slave route of the Atlantic Ocean and of Western Africa.
  • An important element in history of slavery, especially how nationhood was formed by freed slaves
  • An emblem of hope and peace for humanity, especially in how a great injustices can be turned into positive aspect of life;
  • The formation of the Liberia’s national identity and it gave birth to subsequent civilization that characterises the State of Liberia

Criteria (iv): Providence Island serves as a testimony to the slavery period, more precisely an event associated with the abolition of slavery, where freed slaves contributed to the formation a nation now known as Liberia.  On this Island, the freed slaves or  ‘pioneers’ as they are now referred to as,  persevered over attacks from inland natives, malaria infection  and many other  tropical diseases that led to the death of several other members of their population  thus giving rise to the first name  of the area ‘’perseverance Island’’. Despite these odds, the nation of Liberia was established through the brokering of peace among them and the inland natives thus creating a conducive atmosphere for the crafting of agreeable principles that led to the creation of the state of Liberia. It serves as reference to the history of slavery in West Africa, and Africa at large, by giving an insight as to how the slaves negotiated with natives and become masters of their destiny in the abolition phase of the regrettable slave trade. On a distinctive note, the Island is the primary foundation of today Liberia; the first country on the Dark Continent to gained her independent in 1847 and recognized globally as the first African Black Republic. The freed slaves will continue contributing to defining the culture (music, dances, economic activities and languages) as well as beliefs of the people that were once enslaved now interwoven into the lives of natives in areas where they placed after being freed.

Criteria (vi): Providence Island is directly associated with the slavery period, especially the social memory and intangible aspects relating to the abolition of slave trade. Freed slaves landing on the Island symbolised the beginning of a new culture, largely infused with that of inland natives to the area after a period of confrontation. The site symbolizes the beginning of an interwoven culture expressed through music, dances, artistic work, poetry, education and set of beliefs binding people of different backgrounds and experiences under the nationhood of Liberia.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Providence Island has an area of 11.22 acres situated within the South – South portion of the Mesurado River and border by the Stockton Creek and remains relatively serve for the bridge, the new houses and amphitheatre constructed at the site in the recent years. The Gabriel Tucker Bridge connects both Bushrod Island and Providence Island to Crown and Coleman Hills on the other side of the city. The vegetation of the site has remained relatively intact and is dominated by indigenous tree species and a towering cotton tree that has survived over 250 years.

The physical remains testimonial to the significance of the island, land dock, ancient well, original foundations and the cotton tree, remain stable and with minimum intervention, though vulnerable to the irreversible impact of climate change and development at the site.  Additional elements include few circular huts and a palaver hall which are built in form and style replicating the original structures earlier built by the free slaves for lodging. Another important aspect of the site, and at an intangible level, is the existence of the descendents of the freed slaves, who are now interwoven with the then natives of the area, in the state of Liberia. The music, language, dances and beliefs emerging from this process continue to exist in Liberia.

While the authenticity of the sites remains relatively intact, the site has been made vulnerable due to developments and its proximity to a fast developing city, where more land is needed remains a threat to its survival. Also the river bank erosion may gradual reduce the original size of the island, hence affect some of the attributes, in particular the landing place for boats. While no interventions have made to serve original attributes, the survival of these remains cannot be left to chance.

Comparison with other similar properties

Providence Island, like many other sites associated with slavery on the coastline of both the Atlantic and Indian oceans on the African continent, demonstrates the inhuman, injustice and violation of personal rights resulting from slavery. The Island represents an event in the longer history of slavery on the African, and in this case a positive one associated with the return of freed slaves and formation of a nationhood that survives to this present day. This process is well documented and remains etched in the memories of the descendents of freed slaves.

Compared to other slave related sites on the African continent, Providence Island is similar to Le Morne (Mauritius), Bagamoyo (Tanzania), Goree Island (Senegal), Free Town and Bunce Island (Sierra Leone), St Elmina Castle and Cape Coast (Ghana), Venn Town (Seychelles). While most of these sites relate to the departure of slaves to the Americas, Providence Island, like Free Town and Bunce (Sierra Leone) and Venn’s Town (Seychelles) demonstrates the origin of Liberia as a negotiated process between freed slaves and natives. This process re-shaped the festinate of the land referred to as the Green Coast in the 18th century. Compared to Le Morne, where freed slaves took the decision to commit suicide as they did not trust the word of their masters, freed slaves at Providence Island decided to fight for a new life and integration into the nationhood of Liberia. The site symbolizes the beginning of an interwoven culture expressed through music, dances, artistic work, poetry, education and set of beliefs binding people of different backgrounds and experiences under the nationhood of Liberia. Providence Island, when compared to Free Town and Bunce Island, it is one of the few distinctive event that is a primary foundation of what Liberia is today. Providence Island remains a focal point for national reconciliation and peace building in Liberia.