A Decolonial Diary

Traversing the Colonial Pasts and Presents of the Cape of Good Hope


  • Christian Ernsten Heritage Studies (FASoS), Maastricht University
  • Nick Shepherd Aarhus University / Pretoria University




decoloniality, heritage, landscape, restitution, walking


In this essay, we examine poignant moments that arose while walking the approximately 80 km Hoerikwaggo Trail linking the Cape of Good Hope to the city of Cape Town, South Africa. Our walks, styled as walking seminars, started in 2013. Two local and global events have resonated strongly with the walking seminar project, and have lent a sense of urgency to the debates and experiences on the trail: the events of #RhodesMustFall in 2014, and those of #DayZero 2018. The narrative arc of this essay is plotted along moments described as in a diary: each day explores a set of ideas. As such, we think through the landscape’s history as a breathing, material presence that both burdens the present and acts as a kind of birthright. Finally, we posit that walking the Hoerikwaggo Trail can be understood as one way of navigating what Ann Laura Stoler refers to as the “imperial debris” of the mountain.


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Author Biographies

Christian Ernsten, Heritage Studies (FASoS), Maastricht University

Christian Ernsten is an assistant professor in Heritage Studies in the Department of History of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Maastricht University, and with Nick Shepherd is co-convenor of the Walking Seminar. He is affiliated with the Maastricht Centre for Arts and Culture, Conservation, and Heritage (MACCH). Address for correspondence: Maastricht Centre for Arts and Culture, Conservation and Heritage, Grote Gracht 76 - Achterbouw 6211 SZ Maastricht, The Netherlands.

Nick Shepherd, Aarhus University / Pretoria University

Nick Shepherd is an associate professor of Archaeology and Heritage Studies at Aarhus University in Denmark and an extraordinary professor at the University of Pretoria. He has been artist in residence at the Reinwardt Academy of the Amsterdam University of Art, Mandela Fellow at Harvard University, and visiting professor at Brown University and the University of Basel. He was founding editor of the journal Archaeologies: Journal of the World Archaeological Congress. Address for correspondence: School of Culture and Society – Department of Archeology and Heritage Studies, Aarhus University, Moesgård Allé 20, Building 4211, 8270 Højbjerg, Denmark.


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How to Cite

Ernsten, C., & Shepherd, N. (2021). A Decolonial Diary: Traversing the Colonial Pasts and Presents of the Cape of Good Hope. Journal of Contemporary Archaeology, 7(2), 258–275. https://doi.org/10.1558/jca.40432