UNESCO launches Forgotten Slaves programmeForgotten Slaves is the name of a new research and information programme launched at UNESCO Headquarters today. The programme, implemented by the French Marine Archaeology Group (GRAN) with UNESCO support, was inspired by the wreck of the slave ship l’Utile off the shores of the Tromelin Island in the Indian Ocean in 1761. The programme is part of the International Year for the Commemoration of the Struggle Against Slavery and its Abolition (2004), and of UNESCO’s Slave Route Programme.
L’Utile, a store ship of the French East India Company, left Bayonne in France for the Mascarene Islands on November 17, 1760. It was wrecked on July 31, 1761, on the Ile de Sable, today known as Tromelin, while it was carrying slaves from Madagascar to the Ile de France, present day Mauritius.
The crew then built a makeshift vessel and left 60 slaves on the island promising to come back for them. Their promise was not kept and 15 years later, on November 29, 1776, the Chevalier de Tromelin, captain of the corvette La Dauphine, recovered eight survivors from the island: seven women and one eight-month-old child.
The aims of this programme are to:
- conduct historical and archaeological research into every aspect of this terrible event, which is representative of the treatment meted out to slaves in general and in the Indian Ocean area in particular.
- serve as a tool in an information campaign targeting the media, the general public and schools to raise awareness of both the history of slavery and its consequences, as well as modern forms of slavery.
The project will be carried out by the GRAN, which works with UNESCO on the "Slave Route" Programme.
Teams of researchers in France, Reunion and Madagascar, will attempt to retrace the journey of the slaves on board l'Utile and understand the extraordinary survival of a handful of them for 15 years on a small desert island cut off from the rest world. Genealogical research is also underway to attempt to trace the descendants of the protagonists of this story, both slaves and sailors.
Underwater and land archaeological exploration will begin this year with the support of the French ministry of defence and the French meteorological service (Météo-France), which operates a manned weather station on Tromelin and will be able to provide assistance to those undertaking the exploration during their stay on the island.
The third part of the project foresees the linking of schools to the project through the GRAN website (www.archeonavale.org). Special software will allow illustrated texts to be created and posted on the Internet. GRAN will also publish a daily bilingual online journal in French and English during the operations on the ground.
Apart from UNESCO, which has already paid for historical research, the local authorities of Reunion have expressed interest in the programme and agreed in principle to contribute to its financing.
Other partners in the programme are: L'Unité Mixte de Service (Sorbonne - CNRS – Musée de la Marine) Histoire et archéologie maritime, Météo-France, the University of Reunion, the Museum of the French East India Company, the Nantes-based association "Les anneaux de la Mémoire" and the Reunion-based association "La Confrérie des gens de la mer".
For more information about the Gran: www.archeonavale.org
The page devoted to the project will be available at www.archeonavale.org/Tromelin