Listen online: what slave graves mean for St Helena

Photo montage showing map extract, drawing of slave camp, and surviving slaves, overlaid with excavation earth

The liberated African depot, and survivors who stayed on the island. Montage by Simon Pipe

If you missed Saint FM’s broacasts on the excavation of 300 human skeletons on St Helena, don’t worry: the programmes are still available as two podcasts on St Helena Online. 

The discoveries in Rupert’s Valley in 2008 brought new insight into the horrors aboard slave-running “pirate” ships in the 19th Century.

An archaeologist works on one of only five coffin burials found

The skeletons were those of Africans who were liberated on St Helena when captured slave vessels were brought to the island. Over more than two decades, 26,000 people arrived, many dead or dying. It is thought 5,000 were buried in the desolation of Rupert’s Valley.

Some 500 of the survivors stayed on the island, but lived apart, speaking their own languages. Traces of them vanish in the records.

The lead archaeologist, Dr Andy Pearson – who is returning to the island to catalogue its archives – says he has spoken to older St Helenians whose grandparents were alive at the time of the slave liberations, and who remember the tales they told. “We are within historical touching distance,” he says in the second podcast.

The first podcast, Human Traffic, the story behind the discoveries, and the effects on the team of “coming face to face with victims of slavery.”

The second, Saints and Slaves, examines what the finds mean for the island and its people. As former governor Andrew Gurr says, the history of slavery remains an international story, “and St Helena is right at the heart of it.”

They are based on interviews recorded by former BBC journalist Simon Pipe, editor of St Helena Online. They feature Pamela Ward Pearce and Colin Fox of the Friends of St Helena, as well as members of the archaeology team.

Read more here.

Click here to listen live to Saint FM.

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