Ibrahima Thiaw (Laboratoire d’Archéologie, IFAN-UCAD, Dakar, Senegal):
Excavating a difficult Past: Atlantic Slavery at a UNESCO World heritage Site (Gorée Island, Senegal)
Gorée Island is one of the most controversial sites on Atlantic West Africa. Over the past decades, it has become a forum where historical productions on the Atlantic slave trade were produced, appropriated and/or contested. However, there are profound differences of opinion on the basis of racial identity, power, and gender that are, too often, essentialist and static. In the same time, ideas of ‘Universal Heritage’ à la UNESCO with cosmopolitan sensibility are prone to deafness about difference, race, and inequality. The shared traumatic experience of Atlantic slavery with its subjective memories and collective identity forged at the crossroads of the Atlantic Ocean coalesces with the commodification of culture, new technologies of corporate marketing and global consumerism. Through the historicities of the individuals and of the collective memories of the various groups of belonging who claim or contest the Island today, either for its imagined Atlantic heritage or, the new economic opportunities it offers, it is argued that, Gorée Island is a fertile ground for utopian and dystopian interventions.
Ibrahima Thiaw is a senior Senegalese archaeologist. He directs the Archaeology Laboratory at Institut Fondamental d’Afrique Noire (IFAN) /University Cheikh Anta Anta Diop. His current research interests include the Atlantic slave trade, colonial archaeology, culture heritage management, the politics of identity and memory. He was involved in several archaeology research programs and heritage management programs in Senegal and in western and central Africa. He has written extensively on the Atlantic impact, colonial archaeology and on culture heritage management challenges in Senegal and Africa.