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James Island Gambia's first world heritage site

afrol News, 3 July - The famous World Heritage List for the first time in its history will include a Gambian cultural site; "James Island and Related Sites." The location plaid a great role in the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and is a favourite among Afro-American tourists to Africa.

'James Island and Related Sites' have been included into World Heritage List, according to a release by the UN cultural agency, UNESCO, which edits the list and each year decides whether to include new sites of global cultural or natural interest.

According to UNESCO, Gambia's James Island presents "a testimony to the main periods and facets of the encounter between Africa and Europe along the River Gambia, a continuum that stretched from pre-colonial and pre-slavery times to independence."

The site, located in the lower parts of River Gambia, was particularly significant for "its relation to the beginning and the abolition of the slave trade," the UN agency noted. It further documented early access to the interior of Africa.

Gambian authorities had solicited the acceptance of James Island to the World Heritage List. According to UNESCO, the site had met several of its criteria for inclusion on the list, which often can generate substantial tourism flow.

James Island and its related sites on the River Gambia were said to provide "an exceptional testimony to the different facets of the African-European encounter, from the 15th to 20th centuries." The river had formed the first trade route to the inland of Africa, being also related with the slave trade.

Further, James Island, the villages and the batteries, were "directly and tangibly associated with the beginning and the conclusion of the slave trade, retaining its memory related to the African Diaspora," UNESCO had found.

Although receiving somewhat fewer tourists than the famous Goré Island off Dakar (Senegal), James Island remains one of the most visited slave trade-related cultural sites in Africa. Naturally, it is of special importance to Americans of African descent.

The former slave shipping point won particular fame by the famous American TV series 'Roots', which traced the ancestors of an Afro-American family back to a man believed to carry the name Kunta Kinte and assumed to have been shipped to America from James Island. The site thus became a symbol of African origin to many Afro-Americans.

About 600 slaves a year were shipped from The Gambian Fort James on the island. After the British unilaterally abolished the slave trade in 1807, they mounted troops at James Island in order to intercept the slavers. This was the first concrete action to force other countries to stop the trade.

Twenty-four sites were inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List of "of outstanding universal value", including, for the first time, sites in The Gambia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Sudan. The World Heritage List now numbers 754 sites, including 149 natural, and 582 cultural and 23 mixed sites "of outstanding universal value". James Island was included as one of 19 new cultural sites to the list.

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