Gorée Island: Senegal’s Island of Slaves

Gorée is a small island located off the coast of Dakar, in Senegal. The island is known as the location of “The House of Slaves”, a slave cell where African slaves were kept captive until they could be sold.

A statue at the Maison des Esclaves (House of Slaves) Memorial

The island of Gorée was one of the first places in Africa to be settled by Europeans, as the Portuguese settled on the island in 1444. It was captured by the United Netherlands in 1588, then the Portuguese again, and again the Dutch. They named it after the Dutch island of Goeree, before the British took it over under Robert Holmes in 1664. In 1817, France took control of the island and held it until Senegal’s independence in 1960.

Between 1536 and 1848, the island was active in the Atlantic slave trade. Slave trading was conducted on the “House of Slaves”, built by the Dutch in 1776 – one of the many slave houses and the last surviving one in Goree. At one point, the island used to have 28 slave houses, according to one tour guide’s version as told to CNN.

According to historians, the island’s tiny size made it easy for merchants to control their captives and the surrounding waters are so deep that any escape attempt would ensure death by drowning. Thousands of slaves are purported to have passed through the island on their way to work on plantation farms in America.

A wall in the Museum: a mural depicting slaves being herded in the African bush by Europeans.

The “House of Slaves” built by an Afro-French Métis family about 1780–1784 is one of the oldest houses on the island. It is now used as a tourist destination to show the horrors of the slave trade throughout the Atlantic world.

The House of Slaves was where African slaves were kept captive until they could be sold. On the ground floor of the house were cells measuring 2.6 meter by 2.6 meter where male slaves were housed, 15-20 slaves in each cell.

Cells for women and children were located in a different part of the house. Young girls were often kept separately for sale or the pleasure of the traders. Seated with their backs against the wall, chained around the neck and arms, the prisoners would usually have to wait in the room for about three months. Once a day, they were fed and allowed to attend to their needs.

After the waiting period, the slaves would be taken out of the cells for trade and gathered in the courtyard in the middle of the house. The buyers and traders would lean over the balcony overlooking the courtyard and observe the slaves while negotiating prices.

Door of No Return at Maison des Esclaves on Gorée Island
Door of No Return at Maison des Esclaves on Gorée Island

Located at the back of the house, facing the Atlantic Ocean, is the “door of no return” through which sold slaves would be taken out and into a waiting ship to be taken across the ocean, never to return to their homes.

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.

Gorée Island: Fort d'Estrées
Photo taken on Nov. 17, 2019 shows a view of the Goree Island near Dakar, capital of Senegal. Goree Island, known for its Atlantic slave trade history, is a popular tour destinations in Senegal. (Photo by Louis Denga/Xinhua)

Goree island was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978. This site is visited by approximately 200,000 visitors each year. Several world leaders including Pope John Paul II, George Bush, Barack Obama and Nelson Mandela have made stops here.

Sources: Wikipedia.org, amusingplanet

Uzonna Anele
Uzonna Anele
Anele is a web developer and a Pan-Africanist who believes bad leadership is the only thing keeping Africa from taking its rightful place in the modern world.


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