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Fort Bullen

My Magazine 2022/09
4 min
Fort Bullen is the only fort in the region built with the purpose to put an end to the slave trade from The Gambia, which the British Empire enforced after the passing of the Abolition Act in 1807.

With the peak in the 18th century, a rough estimate of the total number of enslaved people during the transatlantic slave trade between the 17th and 19th centuries is 12.5 million, out of which only 85% survived. The Gambia was one of the main points of the slave trade in West Africa. It is believed that every sixth enslaved West African came from this area. Together with Senegal, The Gambia was one of the two central regions of the slave trade. A small island in Senegal territory, Gorée Island, was the largest slave-trading centre on the West African Coast between the 15th and 19th centuries.

In The Gambia, the main point of the slave trade was Kinta Kunteh island, where enslaved people brought from the inland would be kept until they grew weak and unable to resist during their suffocating journey to the new world. Because of its depth, The River Gambia was a perfect, now unfortunate, trading waterway for human cargo. The shape of The Gambia corresponds to the river, and it is believed that it was determined by the reach of the British naval canon from the river's canal. The strategic position and the river were the main reason why the Gambian territory was desired in colonial times. However, the Senegambia area was once one – populated by ethnic groups who shared a common language tradition and no border.

On the north bank of the river Gambia estuary, in the community of Barra in the Lower Niumi District, is where you'll find Fort Bullen. In 1826, the British constructed it. It is located across Banjul, formerly known as Bathurst, the capital of The Gambia. Forts joined the attempt to obstruct the river passage of the slave trade ships, but they were unable to cover the entire distance since they reached both sides of the river estuary. 

The fort was abandoned after the termination of the slave trade by the British in 1870. It was not used until World War II, when it was purposed as a defence site against any potential threat from Senegal, leaving an anti-aircraft gun on one of the bastions up to date. In 2003, Fort Bullen was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site under Kunta Kinteh Island and Related Sites. Today it hosts a small museum showcasing the history of the slave trade in the region together with a smaller ethnographic and historical exhibition. The fort is a walled squared courtyard with rounded defences on each corner, hosting a gun battery, surrounded by magnificent baobabs. Some rusty gun battery still lies outside the fort, pointing across the river.

Fort Bullen is open daily from 8 am to 6 pm, although we advise contacting the local guides in advance to ensure you will be led through. The entrance fee is 100 dalasis and an additional 100 for taking photos.

To reach Barra from the coastal areas of Kombo, we recommend boarding the ferry from Banjul to Barra. There is, however, another option to cross the river by local boat. The crossing is an experience by itself. You might be crossing with goats, chickens, rams, and many people, cars, motorbikes, etc. If you decide to travel with a local boat, you will be carried onto it as there are no boat docks in Banjul. 

Apart from Fort Bullen, Barra offers many other opportunities for curious visitors. Interested in visiting? Contact us, and we will organise everything for you. 

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