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Piecing Together the Relics of Africa’s Past

According to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, around 35,000 ships were used to bring over 12 million enslaved Africans across the Atlantic between the 15th and 19th centuries. Some wouldn’t survive the journey, and an estimated 500 to 1,000 of the ships wrecked before reaching their destination. This includes the Sao Jos-Paquete de Africa, which sank off Cape Town while transporting over 500 enslaved Africans from Mozambique to Brazil in 1794. However, only five have been found in the many years since then, and just two have been adequately documented. This ultimately means that the remains, along with the stories, of many of the captives who perished lie buried at the bottom of the sea. Kamau Sadiki, lead diving instructor for Diving With a Purpose (DWP), a non-profit organization focused on the protection, documentation and interpretation of African slave trade shipwrecks, is among those attempting to bring this painful history to the surface. DWP was founded in 2003 by Ken Stewart, a member of the National Association of Black Scuba Divers (NABS), and Brenda Lanzendorf, a maritime archeologist for Biscayne National Park, after both participated in the 2004 documentary, “The Guerrero Project.” The film told the story of the Spanish pirate ship believed to have crashed while carrying 561 kidnapped Africans in the Biscayne National Park off the coast of Florida.