The tiny but immensely important Museu Nacional da Escravatura or National Museum of Slavery marks the impressive Luanda beach. Located inside a chapel built in the seventeenth century, the Chapel of Casa Grande, it is also the same place where slaves were baptized before being loaded onto the slave ships that brought them to the colonies.
The small chapel gleams in the bright sunshine and s to the dramatic beauty of the Angolan Atlantic Ocean beach.
The Museum consists of the Chapel and adjacent rooms; it is a tiny two-story building that sits on a beautiful cliff facing the ocean and Mussulo Island.
The Museum itself is relatively modest, but in spite of its size and simplicity, the message is big: “it is a testament and a reminder of the history of the Angolan people who lived in the day of slavery and it stands as a monument to those who suffered and were affected by slavery.”
Over a period of two centuries, through its doors, millions of slaves entered it to be baptized before being sent off on their arduous journey to the colonies in the Americas.
The bulk of the slaves exported to the new world departed the shores of Luanda and were sent to Bahia, Brazil, with a good number sent directly to the North America and the Caribbean islands. It was at the very beach below the Chapel, where the Navios Negreiros (Slave ships) awaited the innocent to be shipped to their doom. It is estimated that over five million Angolan slaves were sent to the new world.
The Chapel sits on the former property of Don Alvaro de Carvalho Matoso, Admiral of the Lusitanian Navy to the Indies. The direct male descendants of Carvalho Matoso were the inveterate dealers of slaves on the West African coast, and even after the death of Carvalho Matoso in 1798, his descendants continued to trade slaves, until 1836, when the exportation of slaves to the Portuguese colonies was prohibited.
In spite of the prohibition, it is said that slaves continued to be exported, until 1878, when Portugal declared that “all those people who were enslaved were free,” and were to receive small wages for their services.
To this day, descendants of this Portuguese family can be found in the city of Luanda, angola’s capital. Upon entering the tiny chapel, one sees a baptismal font in the shape of a scallop sitting in the middle on the chapel’s floor, as it is no longer attached to the wall. In the altar, there is an ancient wooden crucifix, carved in the European manner, its age unknown.
On the walls are some photographs depicting other forts in Angola that were created for the purpose of processing slaves. The chapel is well-ventilated, as there are various windows, affording a gorgeous view of Mussulo Island.
On the small courtyard there are various large artifacts such as huge steel kettles and water urns, which are showing their age and have started to corrode. There is also a ship’s anchor on display. The view of the bay and Mussulo Island is quite impressive from this angle.
The museum is dedicated to documenting and preserving the history of the Angolans who were victimized, exploited, enslaved and forced to migrate to strange lands. It’s vicinity to Luanda make it a pleasant day-excursion as it is only 18 kilometers south of the capital city, in a village called Morro da Cruz, on the Estrada do Sul towards Barra do Kwanza.