31st January 2022
The island of St Helena confirms a new burial site for human remains liberated from 19th Century slave ships
The Liberated African Advisory Committee (LAAC) of St Helena, a British Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic Ocean, has announced that following the recent announcement of reallocation of government funds, the reburial of the excavated human remains from the African victims of 19th Century slave ships will progress this year.
In 2008, 325 human remains were exhumed from Rupert’s Valley, an area close to the capital Jamestown, as part of development works for the St Helena Airport. The liberated African people were initially housed within the Rupert’s Valley Liberated African Establishment, which was in operation during final years of Britain’s abolitionist campaign.
In late 2017, the LAAC was formed in order to “provide a peaceful and respectful final resting place for the disturbed Remains currently housed in the former Pipe Store in Jamestown”; and in 2020 the LAAC’s plan for reburial and memorialization was approved.
The Diocese of St Helena has partnered with the LAAC to provide a small plot of St Michael’s Church land, and SHG has re-parceled the plot of land directly behind St Michael’s Church (immediately south); in combination now providing an area ready for imminent and respectful reburial of the human remains.
The LAAC through consultation with the local community is carrying out the reburial in accordance with the funeral customs of St Helena, and therefore each person unearthed will be reburied in a casket/coffin. The coffins will be made by St Helena’s secondary school Vocational Education Programme students, led by instructor Jeffrey George, assisting with this poignant heritage mission. The funding allocated from SHG will purchase the materials required for the coffins.
The coffins will be placed in a collective grave. The Diocese of St Helena has donated the ‘red’ steeple stone from the original steeple on St James Church for the tomb slab (headstone).
Once coffin production is underway and a completion timeline is calculated, the LAAC will announce next steps in preparing for actual reburial.
The LAAC thanks everyone who has helped reburial and memorialization of this globally important site get to this stage.
LAAC Secretary Shelley Magellan-Wade commented: “The respectful reburial of the human remains of the African victims of slavery has been a key priority for the St Helena government for some years. To have been allocated a spot in the grounds of St Michael’s Church means we can finally lay the victims of a tragic time in history to peace. The island of St Helena played an important part in supporting the British government in its attempt to abolish the transatlantic slave trade and was an important and defining time in the islands historical heritage.”
Liberated African Advisory Committee
18 January 2022
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The Rupert’s burial grounds are the only place in the world that contain solely the remains of people taken straight from slaver ships only days or weeks out of Africa – the burial grounds are therefore considered the most significant physical remaining trace of the transatlantic slave trade on Earth.
The Rupert’s Valley Liberated African Establishment was the camp/depot where the majority of Africans brought ashore from slavers were housed during Britain’s attempt to abolish the transatlantic slave trade. In total, more than 25,000 ‘liberated Africans’ were offloaded at St Helena between 1840 and 1872. Most were later shipped back to Africa or on to other countries, however a large number died whilst on-island, being ill and frail from their perilous voyages or from the poor living conditions at Rupert’s Valley.
Today, Rupert’s Valley remains a constant reminder of St Helena’s dark history, with more 8,000 men, women and children buried along the hillsides.
St Helena has had responsibility for respectful reburial of the 325 human remains since they were exhumed in 2008.
The current reburial works are part of the “Trans-Atlantic Slave Memorial – St Helena Project,” led by the Liberated African Advisory Committee, a committee comprised of St Helenians wishing to respectfully lay to rest the excavated remains, to honour their story and their part in St Helena’s story. The LAAC was established under the edict of SHG in 2017, but until this month no funding had been allocated to the project.
The LAAC is tasked with the reburial of the excavated remains of the liberated Africans, including the unearthed grave goods; with creating a memorial at Rupert’s Valley; and with creating an interpretation centre and signage of the site, which commemorates this period of history and provides opportunities for further knowledge transfer.
To contact the LAAC, and to find out how you can contribute to the memorialization of the globally important site, contact LAAC Chairperson Helena Bennett at email@example.com .