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Angola: Museum of Slavery

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Museum of Slavery | Angola | Africa

[Visited: July 2012]

Just before I was to drive out of Luanda in a rental car with driver (to brave the traffic in the city and to be sure not to get lost in the sometimes chaotic flow of cars where there are not many street signs), I found out that the Museum of Slavery is closed during the week. It was a Friday, so I decided to postpone my visit until the next morning; the driver even showed up early, and we drove through the empty streets of Luanda, when the driver stopped at the Fortaleza de São Miguel; for some reason, he assumed this was the place I was heading. I had visited a few days before; moreover, the fortress is closed for reconstruction works, so I repeated my destination: the Slave Museum at Morro da Cruz. Now, the face of my Angolan driver lightens up: he knows where to go, and off we go.

Picture of Museum of Slavery (Angola): Stairs leading up to the Museum of Slavery

Before planning this day, I was told that there might be a lot of traffic leaving the city on Saturday morning, so a very early departure was planned, even though the museum does not open until 9am, according to my guidebook. At first, I wonder why we left so early: there is no traffic to speak of, and we enter the outskirts of Luanda within half an hour. But then, surprisingly, we still get stuck in traffic jams, partly caused by an endless row of pickup trucks with posters of one of the candidates for the presidential elections. We still arrive way too early at the museum; to find out that it opens at 10am. We decide to go for breakfast somewhere, and when we return, we find lots of young women waiting. This is not only the Museum of Slavery, but also a departure point for small boats taking passengers to Mussulo island just across the waters in front. With nothing else to do, I decide to walk around the museum once more. One baobab stands to the left of the stairs leading up to the small building, on the backside, old rusty Spanish cannons lie on the floor, there are views around, and at one of the small beaches below, the amount of plastic washing ashore is shocking. Such a nice place, such mess...

Picture of Museum of Slavery (Angola): Chained slave depicted in a statue in the slavery museum

My friendly driver and me wait for someone to open the museum, at 10.15, it is still closed, but a group of young Angolans now also gather, taking pictures of each other. Nearly half an hour late, a guy shows up who opens the door, and asks us to wait: he will first open all the windows and shutters to let in light. Knowing that my driver has never been here before makes the visit special: after seeing the drawings in which slaves are being tortured, hung, baptized before boarding a ship taking them to a miserable life in the Americas has a noticeable effect both on him and me. We talk about it as far as possible: his Portuguese and my Spanish are good enough for a talk about the history we see here. He says it is very hard for him to see how his forefather countrymen were taken away from their homeland; I assure him that it is hard for me as well, knowing that my forefather countrymen were involved in organizing the trade. It is a difficult chapter of history, and it is precisely the small, attractive old Capela da Casa Grande, where slaves were kept just before embarking the ships that would take them to a life in slavery, that underlines the harsh brutality of the trade. Below, people are getting ready to board one of the small boats to take them across for the weekend: Angolans boarding boats here for fun. They will come back, later today - their forefathers, who left this place by ship, never did.

Picture of Museum of Slavery (Angola): White building of the museum of slavery
Picture of Museum of Slavery (Angola): Looking up at the slavery museum with the chapel where slaves were baptized
Picture of Museum of Slavery (Angola): One of the gripping drawings on display in the museum of slavery
Picture of Museum of Slavery (Angola): Slave hung alive depicted on a drawing in the museum of slave
Picture of Museum of Slavery (Angola): Spanish cannon in close-up just outside the museum of slavery
Picture of Museum of Slavery (Angola): Coat of arms on the wall of the museum of slavery
Picture of Museum of Slavery (Angola): Rusty anchor lying outside the museum of slavery
Picture of Museum of Slavery (Angola): Map in the museum showing how slaves were taken from Africa to South America
Picture of Museum of Slavery (Angola): Drawing of ship showing how space was maximized for the transportation of slaves
Picture of Museum of Slavery (Angola): Baptizing slaves before they were taken away from Africa
Picture of Museum of Slavery (Angola): Baobab tree outside the museum of slavery with Mussulo island in the background

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