Dark Literary Tourism and “Remembrance Education”

Rita Baleiro (ESGHT, University of the Algarve, CiTUR, Portugal)

“Remembrance education” is an umbrella concept for the promotion of critical reflection about “dark” episodes from the past (Nieuwenhuyse & Wils, 2012). This concept is often partnered with difficult heritage tourism, thanatology and memory studies (Stone et al., 2018), which may associate with “dark tourism” and “dark literary tourism”. The first refers to travelling to sites associated with death, suffering or disaster, which have been created and developed globally as touristic landscapes (e.g., prisons, concentration camps, war fields or burial grounds). The second emerges when the narrative about these episodes and places is mediated by literary texts written about and at those places or by the authors’ biographies.

According to Zhu (2022), interpretation of difficult heritage sites can potentially achieve four objectives: (i) knowledge and fact sharing, (ii) understanding and recognition, (iii) imagination and reflection and (iv) peacebuilding and reconciliation. In other words, these four goals promote remembrance education.

Amongst the array of motivations that drive visitors to dark tourism sites, education (i.e., interest in understanding the history behind the site or the event) and remembrance (i.e., interest in respectful action to venerate the past so people and society can prevent past mistakes) are the most common (Yuill, 2003). As such, and following Zhu’s (2022) suggestion, the first aim should be offering factual, objective and unemotional information. However, to offer a deeper interpretation of the events, it is necessary to provide visitors with reasons for why certain historical events took place, as that will help them understand and recognise the voices of people from diverse social groups (Zhu, 2022). Hence, in addition to the display of information boards and museum collections, literary texts about or written on site (e.g., the texts written by incarcerated authors at Chão Bom Concentration Camp, in Cape Verde, cf. Baleiro & Florent, 2023a; 2023b) and these political prisoners’ biographies, together with literary tourism products (e.g., an onsite literary tour, videos with writers’ testimonials) may contribute to a better understanding and recognition, as they offer a literary interpretative voice recorded in texts that have managed to cross time. These strategies meet Zhu’s (2022) second objective.

Fostering remembrance education via the association of literary tourism products at these difficult heritage sites may make these tragic events more “tangible” for adults, children and youth, who are sometimes detached from tragic historical events. Although most dark tourism sites aim at adult visitors, due to the sombre nature of the sites themselves, many children and youth also “consume” these sites (Kerr et al., 2021: 198).

The inclusion of literary tourism products would also serve the third aim of interpreting difficult heritage sites presented by Zhu (2022): encourage imagination and reflection, especially because literary texts, as textual representations of the experience of suffering and death on site, offer a different type of stimulus that encourages imagination and a revelatory and reflective experience about the site and the complex past cultural, historical and political events.

The following paragraphs focus on a specific dark literary tourism site and how its experience may contribute to the visitors’ filling in the gaps about Portugal’s long colonial past and dictatorial regime. This experience, if mediated by the narratives of the writers’ texts and lives (via storytelling), may help visitors connect with the site, encourage imagination, reflection and even accommodate reconciliation and promote “healing”, as Zhu (2022) suggests.

The site is the Chão Bom Museum: the former Tarrafal Concentration Camp in Santiago, Cape Verde, and one of the most impactful Portuguese political prisons. This concentration camp opened in 1936 and closed in 1974, the year the Carnation Revolution ended a nearly fifty-year dictatorship and the longest-reigning colonial power in the world. In Tarrafal, the prisoners lived in deplorable conditions under harsh geographical features: remoteness, harsh climate (extremely hot or heavy pouring rain) and aridity. Additionally, there was no running water, and it was part of the prisoners’ daily activities to collect brackish and impure water in large tin cans at a fountain kilometres away from the camp. Apart from scarce drinking water, mainly in the hotter months, in the rainy season, there were mosquitoes, and malaria increased significantly. Prisoners were tortured with techniques of extreme dehydration in cells where the temperature would rise to 60º Celsius degrees. As stated above, the camp closed in 1974, and after that, the decolonisation process began and sprouted several narratives about the country’s long colonial past.

Some of these narratives aimed to come to terms with the heritage of colonial violence and reflect upon the Portuguese postcolonial identity. Others understood Portugal as a benign, friendly, and less authoritarian coloniser (a narrative conveyed by the Estado Novo that perpetuates in the imagination of some) (Santos, 2003). This view of Lusotropical inspiration sustained Portugal and its former colonies as a peaceful multicultural space, where miscegenation of peoples, cultures and even language overcame the past colonial hurdles (Bethencourt, 1999). Others continued to consider Portugal a “specific” genre of coloniser when compared to other colonisers: almost a subject as devoid of sovereignty as the colonised because its peripheral position in the modern capitalist world system transformed Portugal into an “informal colony” of England (Santos, 2003: 24-25). Others disputed that narrative, acknowledging Portugal as an authoritarian, aggressive and racist coloniser (Coutinho & Baptista, 2014).

Regardless of each perspective, it is essential to keep the discussion on and not forget the injustices and violence of this dictatorial political regime. As such, the tourist experience at the former Tarrafal Concentration Camp may keep these issues in the debate, namely by offering knowledge and fact-sharing enhanced by literary references that would convey a different and complementary interpretation of the site and a recognition of the violence and oppression of Portugal’s Estado Novo regime. Because social narratives about the past are not static, literature, as an artistic expression of human existence, can contribute to reformulating or updating, consciously or unconsciously, the interpretation of past events regarding the complex analysis of colonial Portugal. Literature can inspire imagination and influence the construction of collective memory (of Portugal and its former colonies) by appealing to memory and its questioning through critical reflection, which constitutes a challenge to forgetfulness. The literary representation of the past can be a medium to bring something absent and, thus, potentiate remembrance education (Baleiro & Coelho-Florent, 2023a, 2023b).

In short, including literary tourism products in the experience of a dark tourism site can generate a new layer of knowledge about the place, which may create different stimuli and interpretations that, in turn, may contribute to reflection on the violence and oppression of the past to prepare for a more peaceful future.

How to cite this dictionary entry: Baleiro, R. (2023). Dark literary tourism and “Remembrance Education”. In R. Baleiro, G. Capecchi & J. Arcos-Pumarola (Orgs.). E-Dictionary of Literary Tourism. University for Foreigners of Perugia.

  • Baleiro, R. & Coelho-Florent, A. (2023a). Dark literary tourism in difficult heritage: Exploring the potential of the Chão Bom Resistance Museum. In S. C. Pascoal, L. Tallone & M. Furtado (Eds.), Dark Heritage Tourism in the Iberian Peninsula: Memories of Tragedy and Death, 32-56. Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
  • Baleiro, R. & Coelho-Florent, A. (2023b). ‘I have my eyes fixed ahead’: A contribution to the African literary landscape. Journal of Tourism & Development, 42, 211-223.
  • Bethencourt, F. (1999). A memória da expansão. In F. Bethencourt & K. N. Chaudhuri (Eds), História da expansão portuguesa: Último império e recentramento (1930-1998), Vol. V, 444-480. Círculo de Leitores.
  • Coutinho, B. & Baptista, M. M. (2014). De Belém ao Tarrafal: O turismo negro como veículo de narrativas múltiplas (pós-)coloniais. In M. M. Baptista & S. V. Maia (Eds.), Colonialismos, Pós-colonialismos e Lusofonias - Atas do IV Congresso Internacional em Estudos Culturais, 579-588. University of Aveiro.
  • Kerr, M. M., Stone, P. R., & Price, R. H. (2021). Young tourists’ experiences at dark tourism sites: Towards a conceptual framework. Tourist Studies, 21(2), 198–218. https://doi.org/10.1177/1468797620959048
  • Nieuwenhuyse, K. V. & Wils, K. (2012). Remembrance education between history teaching and citizenship education. Citizenship Teaching & Learning, 7(2), 157-171. https://doi.org/10.1386/ctl.7.2.157_1
  • Santos, B. S. (2003). Entre Próspero e Caliban: Colonialismo, pós-colonialismo e interidentidade. Novos Estudos CEBRAP, 66, 23-52.
  • Stone, P.R., Hartman, R., Seaton, T., Sharpley, R. & White, L. (Eds.) (2018). The Palgrave handbook of dark tourism studies. Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Yuill, S. M. (2004). Dark tourism: Understanding visitor motivation at sites of death and disaster. PhD dissertation. Texas A&M University.
  • Zhu, Y. (2022). Hot interpretations of difficult heritage: The Memorial Hall of the Nanjing Massacre in China. Journal of Cultural Heritage Management and Sustainable Development, 12(1), 32-44. https://doi.org/10.1108/JCHMSD-05-2021-0085