Goree Island Senegal – giving a last look at the slave trade

The New World of the Americas was built upon the backs of slaves; former warriors from many parts of Africa who were captured, chained, dehumanised to be finally sold as chattels to the plantation owners in the Americas.

One of the departure points for slaves was Goree Island, which is just offshore from Dakar, the capital of the African nation of Senegal.

From the beginning of the sixteenth to the mid-nineteenth century, men, women, and children were gathered on this small piece of land and locked up in cells, before being shipped away to the New World. The island was seized by the Portuguese, the Dutch, the French, and the British all of whom participated in the trade. Forts and cannons attest of the island’s violent past. Most of the buildings were used as warehouses or slaves’ houses, and today many have been turned into museums.

There is no suggestion that Goree was the busiest departure point for slaves, in fact probably no more than a few hundred slaves per year departed from here for transportation to the Americas. They were more often transported as incidental passengers on ships carrying other cargoes rather than as the chief cargo on slave ships. After the decline of the slave trade from Senegal in the 1770s and 1780s, the town became an important port for the shipment of peanuts, peanut oil, gum arabic, ivory, and other products of the “legitimate” trade.    

Perhaps the best known reminder of the slave trade on Goree Island is “La Maison des Esclaves,” or The House of Slaves, in English. This place used to hold up to two hundred captives. Their cells can be visited, as can be the apartment of the slave dealers upstairs. The House of Slaves was built in 1776. Built by the Dutch it is the last of the dedicated slave houses in Goree, the first ones date back to 1536 and were built by Portuguese, the first Europeans to set foot on the Island in 1444.

Each cell within the house measures just 2.60m by 2.60m. They were reserved for men and contained up to 15 to 20 people, seated with their backs against the wall, chained around the neck and arms.

Here you will also see the “Door of no Return” from this portal countless Senegalese and other Africans caught a last glimpse of their homeland before boarding the slave ships.

Goree Island is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it contains other museums as well.  There is a Museum of Women, another about the history of Senegal, and yet another museum dedicated to the sea.

As a relatively small island, it is easy to walk around Goree and enjoy the handicraft markets, cafes and artworks on display.

There is a regular ferry to Goree, but if you want to join an organised tour with guides who speak good English I suggest you try Diallo Tours who are true Senegal specialists.

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