Bimbia – rescued from oblivion by the arrival of Afro-descendants in a quest for their ancestral roots
It was almost by accident that Bimbia was rediscovered, this old slave-trading port situated far away from the economic capital Douala.
Four years ago, almost nobody in Cameroon had heard about it, no tour guide ever mentioned it and historical research about this site was embryonic. Only a few historians had identified Bimbia after some earthmoving works released it from the lianas and bamboos in the late 1970s.
Yet Bimbia was probably one of the hubs dedicated to triangular trade in Central Africa. This was evidenced by the remaining old prison buildings that can be seen overgrown with bamboo.
We know for a fact that at the height of the slave trade, the African coast had dozens of slave ports. But few of them, such as Gorée in Senegal, have been preserved. Most of them are currently threatened, likely to be forever buried by nature and memories.
Without a recent development, it would have been the case at Bimbia. It has presented an opportunity for the United States to conduct DNA tests to investigate ethnic origins. Thus, the first African-Americans whose tests indicated Cameroonian roots, arrived in Cameroon in December 2010.
Accompanied by fellow historians, these early descendants of slaves naturally went to visit Bimbia. They were dismayed to discover that this site was not only abandoned, but also obscured by Cameroon’s history. This is how the international media seized on this forgotten history and brought to light the existence of Bimbia. The international spotlight immediately triggered an interest in the United States. The US embassy soon financed a project that aimed to stabilize the foundations of the structures and the development of tourism on the site. American researchers have engaged in projects to determine which slave ships had actually passed through Bimbia.
In Cameroon, however, interest is mixed, but Bimbia still gives reasons for the historians to hope that their research may be soon recognized or encouraged.
Text and photos Laure Poinsot