The name Kunta Kinteh became popular through Alex Haley’s “Roots” and the subsequent TV series spawned by the bestseller.
Roots tells the story of Kinteh, one of 98 slaves brought to Annapolis, Maryland aboard the ship Lord Ligonier in 1767, and traces his roots to a tiny little village along the coast of West Africa called Juffureh in The Gambia.
Although slavery has long been abolished, the haunting imprints of the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade, one of the worst crimes committed by mankind against his fellow mankind, has been left behind on the African continent, scattered especially along its West Coast marked by various historical sites and monuments.
While some of these sites like the castles and forts in Cape Coast and Elmina in Ghana have been elevated to the status of world heritage sites, others have also become national landmarks and tourist attraction, yet Kunta Kinteh Island and Related Sites stand out among the various slavery sites.
Known as James Island until recent times when The Gambian government decided to give local names to various places and parts of the country. Bond Road became Kankujeri Road, Georgetown was renamed Janjanbureh, among others.
The site is significant for it relations to the beginning of the slave trade and its abolition. Kunta Kinteh Island and Related Sites comprise of seven sites located along the River Gambia, which represent the first African-European route into mainland Africa.
The Portuguese were the first Europeans to make contact with the island and upon ‘discovering’ it in 1456, they named it ilha de Santo André – St. Andrews Island.
Afterwards, other European settlers came to the island and built a fort which was used as a trade base. The Dutch took control of the fort, but it was captured in 1661 by the British. The Dutch eventually ceded the island to Britain in 1664 and they renamed it James Island, after the heir to the throne who eventually became King James II.
While James Island became the first permanent British settlement, it was the subject of a tug-of-war between the British and the French for the next two centuries.
In 2003, James Island with Related Sites was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It was renamed Kunta Kinteh Island on February 6, 2011, at the request of New York artist Chaz Guest to Alhaji Yahya Jammeh, who was president of The Gambia at the time. Kunta Kinteh and Related Sites are made up of:
- Kunta Kinteh Island, the entire island.
- Six-Gun Battery in Banjul at the mouth of the river
- Fort Bullen is on the north bank in Barra.
- Maurel Frères Building was built in 1840 by the British and was last occupied by a Lebanese merchant whose name it bears, but the building now serves as a museum.
- CFAO Building built in 1847 on the coast of Albreida
- Remains of a Portuguese chapel which was built in the 15th century and was one of the oldest Portuguese churches in the region.
- San Domingo was established also in the 15th century by the Portuguese as trade post, but it now lays in ruins.