Sunday, July 11, 2010

Goree Island and the House of Slaves

The CNN video above describes the Maison des Esclaves and its history.

From the ferry between Dakar and Goree Island, many fishermen and their beautiful boats could be seen at work. As the ferry draws nearer the island, French colonial buildings come into sharper view.
Young boys swim out to meet the ferry.
Along the walking paths, crafts, art, and other wares are for sale. Everything is so very colorful here. Our guide described how, at the end of French rule on the island of Goree, the stationary guns were turned toward the island instead of facing out to sea (guarding against Hitler's advances). No one knows why they were turned toward the island, but they were also destroyed by cutting notches out of the barrel, as you see in the photo below.

If you look really carefully and intently, you will see the Statue of Liberty way out there.

Mame Coumba and Elana look at some sculptures.

The building known as the House of Slaves was built by the Dutch in 1776. It was the last slave house built. The first ones were built by the Portugese, the first Europeans to arrive at the island in 1444. This was the place where Africans were brought after being rounded up for deportation to the New World. Much of the New World was built by and with the economic resource of slaves.
A visitor to the House of Slaves gazes out on the ocean as he looks through the "door of no return" through which slaves walked as they were loaded onto ships.

A hallway down which slaves passed on their way to the slavers' ships.

Holding "houses" held either men or women, who were released once a day to take care of their personal needs. 100 - 150 people were kept in each room, I mean house. The filth created by the waste was the cause of a pest epidemic which devastated the island in 1779.
An opening from a holding room in the House of Slaves looks out onto the Atlantic Ocean, across which around 50 million slaves were sent to the Indies, the Americas, or Europe.

The sign above the door tells us that recalcitrants, or slaves who were misbehaving, were put into this tiny, dark, dank room as punishment. Families were housed separately, and likely never saw each other again. Men had to be at least 60 kilos, and if they weren't, they were set aside to be fattened. Women who were virgins were highly valued. Some slave traders had children with them. In this case, the women could be released and their mixed race daughters were called segnors, which comes from the Portugese noun, "segnora".
These are the famous stairs of the House of Slaves.
This is the line to return to the mainland on the ferry. We stood in line for around an hour and learned a lot in that time. The concept of single file and any personal space does not occur to people here. There is constant pushing and passing in order to get closer to the front of the line. A grandfather sat on an overturned bucket and cared for a young one of about a year old. His patience was impressive. Another young boy "tossed his cookies" nearby.
An elementary-aged group of students (I presume they were students because of the blue vests.) rode the ferry to and from the island with us. These girls thought it was pretty funny that my French stinks. We had a fairly rudamentary conversation with pregnant pauses regularly. They did like my camera and asked to have their picture taken.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating! I can only imagine how eerie it must have been to be inside the House of Slaves - the view of the Atlantic leaves me pretty speechless - just imagining the thoughts of the enslaved Africans as they gazed out over that vast ocean ... knowing their "destiny" lay somewhere across it