Photo Essay: Île de Gorée, Senegal

Posted July 1, 2013 by Kathryn Burrington in Photography
Just 3km off the coast of Dakar, the capital of Senegal, lies the pretty little island of Gorée. Boats regularly come and go ferrying passengers who flock here every day, many simply to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, while others come here to learn about the poignant history of the island. The memory of my visit will stay with me forever.
As the ferry approaches, pastel European-style buildings come into view and it reminds me of an island in the Mediterranean rather than one in Africa. In the square where we disembark, ladies are selling jewelry much of which I find hard to resist. The nearby beach fills with laughter as a swarm of children run into the waves, giggling and joyfully shouting. They arrived on another boat from me and are obviously enjoying a rare treat! Everyone I pass is smiling or laughing as I leave the square and wonder through the colorful backstreets while the hot African sun streams down.

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.

The only remaining ‘slave house’ on the island is now the Museum of Slavery

The statue outside the Museum of Slavery, a symbol of freedom.

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.

About the Author

Kathryn Burrington

Kathryn has worked in the travel industry for over 16 years where she has specialized in the fields of photography, design, social media and writing. In her blog, Travel With Kat, she shares her joy of discovering new countries, cultures and cuisines. Connect with Kathryn on Google+

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