Off Senegal's Gorée Island, one of the world's most infamous slave ports, African divers are exploring what researchers believe are the wrecks of slave ships.
According to a story in The Washington Post, the divers are part of a program supported by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. to study sunken slave ships off the coast of Senegal. Many of the divers are either African or of African descent, including a Senegalese police officer, a diver from Benin and the only doctoral student who has studied maritime archaeology in the Ivory Coast.
The less experienced divers are taking measurements off ships in 30 feet of water that were sunk in the early 1800s and are believed to have been slave ships because the area was significant in the slave industry. Ships that are in much deeper water are being documented by students with more advanced diving skills.
“There is a lot of information underwater that is not yet known. If we don’t search, we will not know it," says Grace Grodje, a doctoral student working on the project. Grodje learned to dive just one month before the research project began
Paul Gardullo, the director of the Smithsonian's Center for the Study of Global Slavery at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, believes these wrecks will provide researchers with an abundance of insight on the history of the slave trade. The purpose of the research is to educate, engage communities, grow international partnerships and to perform ethical excavations. It is “not about finding treasures and bringing them back to D.C.,” said Gardullo.
The Smithsonian is supporting the Slave Wrecks Project, which has brought together Africans and those of African descent to study maritime archaeology. This area of study, according to the project, is predominantly researched by White people and continues to have a White narrative. One goal for the Slave Wrecks Project is to decolonize that area of study to allow for more knowledge on the subject. “When the work is done by people touched by the history, it often becomes less about extraction than preservation and memory,” said Miller.