Days and Nights of Freetown – Last view of Africa

Some higher class houses were placed on the hillocks at the headland.  I’d noticed a few places along this coastline where villas either existed or were in various stages of construction.  But when I thought of the glory of the views and the beaches, I compared it with the Caribbean of course.  If this were Barbados or St Thomas the whole beach front would have been built up with large white houses, and many of the hillsides around – anything which had a sea view.  In some ways I hope that the Freetown peninsula stays like this with so much open and public space, but I do hope in other ways it is allowed to develop and becomes a little less of a secret.  Unfortunately I had seen up at the city end of the peninsula how developments were starting to use up the empty spaces beyond Lumley.  I was not over impressed by the quality of some of the residences; they seemed to be built on South East Asian concepts of the need for space and not African (or for that matter Caribbean).  Tightly packed apartment blocks and villas with tiny gardens seemed to be the order of the day.  For me I would love a small house with a large garden so not only would I be undisturbed by neighbours but also I would not inflict my own noises and antisocial behaviour on them.

We clambered back up to the centre of Kent where we were met by an old man with grizzly salt and pepper beard.  He introduced himself as a guide.  He had once been a teacher in Kent and both his English and history was good.  He explained how the large red building in front of us played an important part in Sierra Leone’s history.  At face value it was just an ordinary, if quite well built, brick structure.  It was raised up above the ground like many buildings to cool the interior and keep off snakes.  Inside was one large room which was now used as the school, but at one end there were a set of steps that led down under the floor.  We were told that people from the interior were brought down to Kent and stored away under the floor here before they were shipped over to the nearby Banana Islands from where they would be picked up by slave ships and exported to the Americas.  The little harbour where those fishing boats were moored up was the last piece of African mainland that they ever stopped on.

I’ve always wondered at these gateways to the ships that exist around Africa, the most famous being the Goree in Senegal or the forts on the Gold Coast.  This was the first one I had seen in the flesh, and it made me look at the rocks again and wonder at the hundreds of feet of people who must have traversed them , possibly in chains, and bewildered, been put afloat on an ocean (which many may also never had seen before), never to set foot in their homeland again.

The space under this building was barely 3 feet high.  It was no bigger than a one car garage.  How many people would have been packed away in here?

The old man told us many tales in an erudite fashion but one detail caused me some surprise. He said that Isaac Newton’s family was involved in the slave trade in Kent.  I found this curious as my limited knowledge of Isaac Newton was that he came from fairly humble origins in Lincolnshire and was unlikely to have connections with a global trade in people and commodities.  I did a bit of Googling later and came across a reference to a character called “Isaac Walton” who had taught in the school at Kent for some years.

This minor detail does not detract from the story of this little peaceful corner of Sierra Leone being a cog in the machinery of the horrendous slave trade.

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