Laura Facey - Their Spirits Gone Before Them © Donnette Zacca - provided by Laura Facey, CC BY-SA 4.0

The transatlantic slave trade involved a systematic deportation, and dehumanisation, of tens of millions of Africans. Its objective was to exploit their bodies and minds for economic profit. This subjugation entailed the use of extreme violence and barbaric behaviour, which caused incomparable misery and suffering that reverberates to this day throughout the Americas, Caribbean, Indian Ocean, Europe and Africa. Slavery reduced men, women and children to commodities and denied them their humanity, dignity, histories and cultures.

The immense psychological damage inflicted by the slave trade and slavery continues to haunt contemporary societies, especially through cultural and psychological traumas transmitted from generation to generation among the descendants of enslaved peoples. Common traumas explain some of the attitudes, behaviours and social relations prevailing in post-slavery societies that affect the descendants of slaves, of slave owners and of non-owners who nevertheless benefited from slavery.

In 1994, UNESCO decided to break the silence surrounding the slave trade and slavery and launched the “Slave Route Project: Resistance, Liberty, Heritage”. This project has contributed to a better understanding of the causes, forms of operation, stakes and consequences of slavery in the world. Equally, it endeavours to advance a culture of peace through reflection on cultural pluralism, intercultural dialogue and the construction of new identities and citizenships.

Recent epigenetic research and other grassroots experiences that show that psycho-social wounds transmitted by such historic trauma can be healed and transformed, thus ending cycles of trauma and violence. In light of this, the UNESCO Slave Route Project and the GHFP have come together to co-facilitate the Healing the Wounds of Slavery Initiative. It is believed that effective healing approaches can liberate the denial, suffering, grievances, fear, hatred and prejudices derived from history and facilitate mutual recognition, reciprocal humanisation, healing and transformation.