A Lesson of history along the Bermuda African Diaspora Heritage Trail
Bermuda history is rich and varied, the result of different movements of population that settled in the Island for many reasons: Irish adventurers, Portuguese immigrants, English settlers, African slaves…
The most important of these movements is the African diaspora – ‘diaspora’ is the term used to describe the movement of a group of population from its homeland. Shortly after Bermuda was claimed by the British Empire, black slaves were brought to the island, mostly from Africa, some from American Native tribes. Slavery was, at last, finally ended in 1834 in Bermuda and slaves received the same rights as other Bermudians minus that of voting.
Today, it is estimated that about 60% of Bermudians are of African ancestry and the island is proud of its heritage. The Bermuda African Diaspora Heritage Trail was conceived to celebrate the African traditions of the island and affirm its importance in the modern Bermuda life.
It was created in 2001 by the Bermuda Department of Tourism in collaboration with the international body African Diaspora and as part of the UNESCO Slave Route Project. Bermuda has since lead the movement for the recognition of African heritage in the world and the trail also has an educative purpose for tourists.
Dozens of museums, monuments and sites form the Diaspora Heritage Trail, each featuring a bronze plaque from Bermudian sculptor Carlos Dowling. The trail is a self-guided tour but it can also be walked with the help of guide from the Bermuda Department of Tourism. You can find historical facts, figures and artefacts on the black heritage at the Bermuda Maritime Museum (at the Royal Naval Dockyard) and the Bermudian Heritage Museum (in St George).
Two important churches are part of the trail, for different reasons: an historic slave graveyard kept intact at the oldest Anglican church, Saint Peter’s Church (St George); and Cobbs Hill Methodist Church, the oldest Methodist building of the island, built by night by free slaves and completed in 1827 (Warwick Parish).
Other sites include Barr’s Bay Park (Hamilton) where slaves were offered the choice of a free life in Bermuda when the ship transporting them had to dock here because of bad weather in 1835 – after the abolition of slavery in Bermuda. Jeffrey’s Cave was named after the slave who escaped and stayed hidden there for over a month before he was caught by his owner. Don’t miss Cobbler’s and Gibbet Island where slaves were executed and beheaded, and were artefacts remain.
Bermuda African Heritage is still alive and you will likely meet some Gombey dancers while on the trail. Dressed in colourful costumes inspired by African clothing, similar to those slaves used to try and deceive their masters, they perform during holidays or for some special events.