I recently returned from a trip to Liverpool in the U.K. where I was a guest of the University. It was part of a longer trip that included time spent with colleagues in Milton Keynes, London and Oxford.
I had not been to Liverpool previously and like most of us knew few things about the city: it is the home of the Beatles; famous Liverpool Football Club and a Scouser accent is almost impossible to understand. On the bleaker side, I also know it as a city that has a troubled past: the Toxteth race riots in 1981, the Hillsborough 1989 football tragedy when 96 fans died, and alcohol problems that have affected sections of the population.
Despite this history (and the weather) it is a city that pleasantly surprises. While there is much I loved about the city, particularly the colleagues who where so welcoming, it was the history of Liverpool and the way it is being acknowledged that gives us much to ponder.
An important symbol of Liverpool has become the Lambanana: a statue that is a cross between a lamb and a banana designed by Manhattan-based Japanese artist Taro Chiezo. For those who have not seen this statue, it is strangely compelling, cute and kitsch all at the same time.
It represents two important commodities of Liverpool’s history: lambs and bananas. Both these commodities where vitally important in Liverpool becoming a wealthy city as its now famous docks became an important access point to and from the emerging power to the so-called New World.
In 2008, as part of Liverpool's appointment as European Capital of Culture, 125 individually designed miniature replicas of the original Lambanana were created and placed throughout Liverpool. These where sponsored by various local businesses and community groups.
A third important commodity that was important for the emergence of Liverpool as an economically powerful port was ‘human cargo’ or slavery.
In 1699 Liverpool was granted status as an independent parish and in that same year, Liverpool’s first slave ship set sail for Africa, returning in 1700 with a commodity of 220 Africans.
This was the beginning of a thriving time for Liverpool: in 1715 the first wet dock in Britain was completed: being the first commercial enclosed wet dock in the world and was constructed with a capacity to build 100 ships. By the end of the century, it is estimate that 40 per cent of the international slave trade was accounted for by ships that left the docks at Liverpool.
The massive profits from the slave trade turned Liverpool into one of Britain's significant cities. According to the history of Liverpool compiled by historian John Belchem, at its peak ships from the city carried over 45,000 slaves from Africa. Liverpool became a financial powerhouse that was only eclipsed by London.
While this aspect of its history is not mirrored in the Lambanana, it is well documented in Liverpool’s ‘International Slavery Museum’.
The museum is situated at Albert Docks and, like all public galleries and museums in the United Kingdom, it is free entry. The museum was opened in August 2007 and looks at both the historical and present-day dimensions of slavery, as well as the contemporary impacts of the trade in both the United Kingdom and throughout the world.
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