Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley today announced the creation of the Barbados Heritage District, including a memorial, a major global research institute, and a museum located in Newton Plantation outside of the country’s capital, dedicated to accurately recounting the historic and contemporary impact of slavery on Barbados and on the lives of individuals, cultures, and nations of the Western hemisphere.
The District’s research institute will document Barbados’ pivotal role as the harrowing portal through which millions of enslaved Africans were forced to the Americas.
In the wake of Barbados’ transition to a Parliamentary Republic, the Barbados Heritage District will also serve as a cornerstone and catalyst for the ongoing development of Barbados’ independent identity, culture, and place on the world stage.
Prime Minister Mottley also announced that David Adjaye has been commissioned to design the Barbados Heritage District. The first phase of the project will be the Newton Enslaved Burial Ground Memorial, a monument to the nation’s enslaved ancestors that will serve as a place of remembrance, honouring those individuals impacted by the effects of forced migration.
Located at the Newton Burial Ground, the memorial will provide the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual framework for the scholarly research and public programs that the future centre will generate.
Upon completion, it will be the first research institute and resource centre of global stature based in the Caribbean dedicated to exploring the history and enduring impact of slavery and forced migration on the world. The groundbreaking is slated for November 30, 2022, on the first anniversary of Barbados’ status as a Parliamentary Republic.
The development of the Barbados Heritage District will support significant job growth in new industries, technologies, and construction sectors. The District is being developed in partnership with the Prime Minister’s Office, the Barbados Archives Department, and the Barbados Museum and Historical Society, who are working in collaboration with a team of Barbadian scholars, spearheaded by Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies.
Stated Prime Minister Mottley, “Barbados is authentically enshrining our history and preserving the past as we reimagine our world and continue to contribute to global humanity. It is a moral imperative but equally an economic necessity.”
Design of the Newton Enslaved Burial Ground Memorial
Situated adjacent to the Newton Enslaved Burial Ground, where the remains of 570 West African slaves were uncovered through a LIDAR study, the memorial will demarcate a site of tragedy and trauma and transform it into a charged place of commemoration, remembrance, and connection.
Aligning the sacred landscape with notions of renewal and rebirth, the memorial addresses a traumatic past whilst celebrating the potential for new futures through an inherently African design in which the cycle of birth to death, born from the Earth and returning, becomes manifest and mediated through architecture.
Stated David Adjaye,“Drawing upon the technique and philosophy of traditional African tombs, prayer sites and pyramids, the memorial is conceived as a space that contemporaneously honours the dead, edifies the living, and manifests a new diasporic future for Black civilization that is both of the African continent and distinct from it.”
From the roadside entry point to the site, the visitor’s journey will begin within a monolithic dome pavilion where historical information about the burial ground and slave trade will be presented. Encapsulating three Earthly elements, the dome is composed of the red laterite earth and is punctuated by an oculus that frames views of the cosmos, and an aquifer that connects to the water underneath the site.
Flanked by a field of sugarcane, the southern entry point to the memorial is defined by a gently ascending ramp that floats above the earth and guides visitors towards the memorial structure. A nod to the descendant forest region of West Africa, the memorial is composed predominantly of red mineral earth and timber.
At the highest point of the sloped site, the memorial culminates in a circular mound composed of Barbadian rammed earth which frames a square field of vertical timber poles. As a means of physicalizing and commemorating the enslaved buried below this sacred earth, the field is punctuated by 570 individual timber beams each capped with circular brass plates oriented towards the sun to catch the Barbadian light.
The juxtaposition of a square field within a primary circular form, and the orientation of each timber beam creates a tapestry of interconnected mutations. Both metaphorically and physically, there is an unlocking of connections—a triadic view of the Caribbean waters, extending out to the African continent and up towards the cosmos.
Along the perimeter of the memorial, a floating bench provides a moment for individual reflection, observation, and respite. In contrast, a void defines the centre of the timber colonnade, providing opportunity for libations, ceremonies, and secular events. The duality embedded within this ethereal landscape is heightened as the architecture balances earth and sky, water and land, the ancestors and the living, this world and the next.