The Guardian reported (Michael Jackson’s brother plans slavery theme park) last week that:
A museum for the Jackson Five is to be built in Nigeria… as part of a $3.4bn (£2.4bn) luxury resort including concert halls, golf courses, casinos – and a memorial for Africa’s former slave trade.
A museum celebrating the achievements of the popular, eccentric singing family and a slavery memorial seem unusual bedfellows, and a combination that might raise eyebrows. Is it possible to treat such a serious and important historical issue with any degree of gravitas if the environment is a luxury entertainment resort? In an opinion piece last week, Lisa Richardson in the LA Times observed, “I usually think of slavery as having been a bad thing. As a descendant of slaves I’m clear on that point.”
The official promotional literature from the investment group behind the plan, The Motherland Group states:
"Visitors will be able to see the route their ancestors walked, shackled together as they were whipped towards the point of no return. Visitors will be able to pay their respects at the site of a mass grave for those who died before boarding ships across the Atlantic ocean. Visitors can then travel a few yards in a buggy to play a round of golf.”
It is easy to be facetious. Marina Hyde in the Guardian suggests that “ [the resort] will be a must-visit destination for all those who feel that remembering slavery needn’t preclude slot machines and 18th green speakers that play “I Want You Back” when you hole out” .
All kinds of questions come up. Does Hyde’s tittering reflect a legitimate concern that the topic of slavery will not be addressed with sufficient dignity (or is it just tittering)? Is it acceptable to incorporate a slavery memorial into the leisure development mix? And if not, why not?
There have been numerous proposals for slavery memorials in the US – one in Richmond, Virginia ran up against a ballpark proposal for the same site, which had been a hub of slave trading in the past. Such proposals inevitably collide with other developers’ plans and raise questions about the appropriate modern uses of the land.
However a report earlier this year in the Metro, about plans for another slavery themed experience/attraction, one which promised a full immersive experience, including visitors being “kidnapped’, chained and forced to march to a slave ship in a mock crossing of the Atlantic” in Haiti elicited an interesting mix of comments – ranging from those who found the proposition offensive and exploitative to others who wished the venture well and spoke of the value of such re-enactments and experiences.
There are of course more mainstream approaches but if these attractions are educating and informing then the operators might well argue that they are providing a valuable public service. And in the case of The Badgary Historical Resort, a round of golf.