Photo Essay: Île de Gorée, Senegal
The island, a barren volcanic rock of just 88 acres, lies near the entrance to Dakar harbor; during the three centuries in which the slave trade flourished, the Portuguese, Dutch, French and British killed each other to gain control of it. It is now listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site and a number of historic buildings have been restored.
Most visitors come for the day, and a few lucky ones stay longer, but every first-time visitor goes to the Museum of Slavery. Here, of course the mood changes, as we are told about the thousands, if not millions, of slaves who were kept in these slave houses before being loaded onto boats heading for the Americas or Europe.
Men, women and children were separated into different parts of the building and chained at the neck and wrists. They were held in terribly cramped conditions and were only allowed outside once a day, carrying the heavy iron balls attached to their chains. They were kept here for up to three months. The dead and ill were thrown to the sharks that swam in the waters surrounding the island. When buyers arrived the slaves were stripped naked and paraded in a courtyard as the buyers literally looked down on them from the surrounding balconies. Young women, who were kept separately from the older women, had one means of escape; if they became pregnant by the slave masters, they were released. Many remained on the island.
Back outside, the sunshine, colours and smiles soon lift my spirits. There’s a wonderful feeling of calm on the island and I wish I was spending more than just a few short hours here. Mind you, my visit to Senegal is only fleeting, just three days on a photography assignment for The Senegal Experience but the country has made a lasting impression on me. Memories of the welcoming people, the vibrant culture and the dramatic landscapes will stay with my forever and as will Gorée Island and the Museum of Slavery.