Day 8 Kunta Kinteh Island
Updated: Aug 15
We had a really early start from Gunjur today. We went in two minibuses with our Gambian partners. On our bus there was a huge sing-song. Everyone had so much energy. Yet Maisie managed to sleep through it all! We arrived an hour later at the shore of the Gambia River.
We’d been wondering what the boats would be like that were to take us out to Kunta Kinteh island, and then to the north shore of the river. But when we actually saw the boats they were more like a load of wood that had been put together and painted. They looked very old, and had to take all 35 of us.
I’d been scared of the thought of hippos and crocodiles, but once I was on the boat it was fine. Really pretty, and very peaceful. At first.
It got rough in the middle of the river. Waves were coming over the edges and there were holes in the boat! The drivers had to use buckets to start bailing out the water as we were going along but we had lifejackets and we knew it was safe. Everyone was high spirited and we sang the whole way!
After two hours we got to this tiny island in the middle of the river. This had been the centre of the slave trade in West Africa. I expected it to be bigger, having heard about the numbers of slaves that had been kept there, but it’s so small. The ruined fort was collapsed but had obviously been very well built. It was sort of like an English building, built of bricks and stone.
It was shocking to think we were in this place where slaves were gathered and crammed together in tiny spaces. It was so sad. I still find it hard to understand how it could have happened. If you hear something in a classroom or read something in a textbook you might understand the facts, but to see it, and to be standing there in the place it happened – it felt so real. Incredibly shocking.
And having our Gambian partners with us made me feel guilty; I know it wasn’t us personally responsible, but nonetheless it made me feel uncomfortable. So, it was just amazing to be there – together – and to look around and see everyone – British and Gambian – getting along and enjoying each other’s company. It was very moving.
Later, in the museum on the north shore, it was seeing the way the slaves were held that was so upsetting, how they were packed – adults and children – into such small spaces. Trying to put yourself in that position, with your family: I don’t know what I’d do. I still can’t believe humans actually did this to each other.
It was brutal – the inhumane devices they used to keep the slaves: chains and shackles and whips.
On the way back, at the roughest point in the middle of the river, Maisie really needed to pee. The Gambian drivers lifted one of the planks in the middle of the boat. Inside was a bucket. Poor Maisie! Dr Nick sang to her to help her relax under the pressure! Everyone was laughing.
(Love to my family!)
Libby Yeoman, 17 St Mary’s Calne