By Sehba Imtiaz
International Scientific Committee (ISC) of the Slave Route Project (SRP) was established in September 1994 by UNESCO. The role of this advisory committee was to guide UNESCO on implementing the project, focusing specifically on the development of educational materials and programs, research into various aspects of slavery and the slave trade, and to form new partnerships to promote its objectives. In 2005, the Committee was restructured from 40 members, with new statutes drafted. The Committee now has 20 members, appointed by the UNESCO Director-General. These members represent various disciplines, including history, anthropology, archaeology, sociology, and law, as well as various regions of the world.
From October 26-27, 2015, the ISC met in Cidade Velha (declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009), Cape Verde to present the activities of the project and to consider its future activities within the frame of the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). The meeting was organized in partnership with the National Commission of Cape Verde, and was on an island that was considered a laboratory for the construction of the systems of enslavement that integrated a global and organized mode of exploitation. The members recommended the recognition of the outstanding universal value of the sites related to slavery and the history of the slave trade, and called for the commitments of the states in a spirit of recognition and justice.
Among the actions taken at the October meeting was the confirmation of the new United States member of the ISC, Jane Landers, Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of History at Vanderbilt University.
Cape Verde was a highly important stop on the Slave Route, and spread an enormous amount of intangible heritage throughout the world in terms of food, drink, music, and handicrafts. A simple case of culture transfer are the different names for same drink, grogue, cachaça, and rum, in Cape Verde, Brazil, and Latin America. The focus here is not just on the different types of architecture present at Cidade Velha, but on the anonymous slaves coming together from various cultures and countries, with valuable knowledge, and mixing in a huge social cauldron, where this knowledge and cultures then crossed the Atlantic and left a mark. The aim of the SRP is to reconcile the historical truth with the duty of memory by celebrating reencounters, by making the local community aware of “memory tourism,” and by educating young people to be guardians of that heritage.
US/ICOMOS is currently exploring supporting a UNESCO Slave Route Project meeting in the United States in 2017.