Cross Rivers State is one of Nigeria’s prime tourist destinations. Its flora and fauna consist of lush green trees and vegetation, dew-covered hills, and a cool tropical climate. Home to many resorts and tourist attractions, it is located on the southern coast of Nigeria. In the capital city, Calabar, the vitality of the port city is depicted by a bronze statue of a fisherman with his hook in the mouth of a fish. However, the waterways also speak of a dark history. Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott (1930-2017) articulates it well when he wrote that “The sea is History.”
During the Trans-Atlantic Trade that began in the early 15th century, the Calabar River served as a transit point for slave traders. The riverfront is now occupied by a resort, including attractions such as a cinema and a waterside bar. Close to the river, the Slave History Museum is erected in a rectangular building. The museum re-presents the history of about 200,000 Africans that were sold as slaves from Calabar between the 1600s and the 1800s. It was established in 2007 and commissioned on March 17, 2011.
It is directly managed by the NCMM though Cross River State’s initiative.
Although the idea for the establishment of the museum as a tourist center was solely that of the Cross River State’s initiative, the museum is directly managed by the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) to boost the tourism potential in the state. The museum possesses artistic objects, but it is also an ethnographic museum with permanent exhibitions. The museum once served as a holding cell (or barracoon) for captured slaves. According to locals, traders starved slaves for days so they could fit into the slave boat.
The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade involved European merchants who came into the region with gifts, such as gin bottles, guns and wooden mirrors, for the leaders of the local people. In turn, the leaders gave the slave buyers access to their people. Also, powerful and influential people offered slaves for sale at markets like the one in nearby Akpabuyo town called the Esuk Mba Slave Market. People still gather there today every Saturday to barter goods as a symbol of remembrance. Slave trading in the city relied heavily on slave raiding and trading which were carried out mainly in the hinterland. The enslaved were largely war captives or those who have been sold by parents in the hopes that they find greener pastures elsewhere.
One of the museum displays is a slave boat replica.
Museum displays a replica of a slave boat which was used during the Slave Trade. The two lowest levels of the boat contain life-size archetypes of captured slaves lying together as if sandwiched on a shelf with their hands and feet chained. The top deck of a slave boat might have held barrels of palm oil and boxes of garlic and other spices. The items serve as reimbursement for the financial losses from slaves who fell sick and died, or who were cast into the sea when the boat faced rough weather. The merchants took a 30-minute boat ride down the Calabar River to the Atlantic Ocean before they sailed for four to six months to transport their human cargo to the Americas.
An exhibition in the museum features objects of and from the slave trade, which include chains and shackles. Slave traders (both sellers and buyers) used shackles to control their slaves. With the help of chains, the merchants discouraged resistance from the slaves as they carried as many people as possible over very long distances. The artifacts included various restraints used on the slaves. They were also yoked together in shackles so that if one of them tries to run away, the others are affected and pull him back.
Also includes other exhibitions on procurement and abolition.
The exhibition on the Procurement of Slaves depicts the varied currencies of the slave trade: copper bars, manilas, dane guns, brass bells, gongs, flutes and more. The Shipment of Slaves, another exhibition, displays an artistic impression of the arrangement of slaves in a ship. Finally, an exhibition on Abolition traces the efforts of abolitionists such as William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson, and Granville Sharp, who saw slave trade as morally reprehensible and an issue of natural rights. A British Act for the abolition of the slave trade on March 25, 1807 mandated that from and after May 1, 1807, the slave trade should be legally abolished. The museum is opened every day of the week including public holidays.