Goree Island, Senegal

Goree Island, Senegal

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What is today a tourist destination that attracts 200,000 visitors annually is really an extraordinary reminder of the slave trade, one of the greatest calamities in the past of human societies.  This “memory” island gives an undeniable account of Goree’s role as the center of West African slave trade by means of its different elements including fortresses, buildings, streets, squares, etc.

Goree is a small island of 28 hectares lying 3.5 km off the coast of Senegal, opposite Dakar. It served as the largest slave trading center on the African coast between the 15th and 19th centuries. It was ruled one after another by the Portuguese, Dutch and English but from 1817 until Senegal’s independence in 1960 it was under the control of France.

It was easy for Goree to have the past it has had because of its location in the middle of the North and South as well as its strategic position. Its waters were deep enough to anchor ships. For these reasons, since the 15th century it has been greatly valued by the various European nations that in turn used it as a break in their journey or slave market.

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The Island of Goree gives evidence of a human experience like no other in the history of humankind. Without a doubt, in the eyes and mind of all and in the sense of what is right and wrong, this island is the mark of the slave trade all the suffering it invoked. Goree was at the heart of the contention between European nations that have successively used it as a stopover or slave market. Up till the time the heart wrenching trade was stopped in the French colonies, the island was a warehouse made up of over a dozen slave houses.

Various elements help tell the story of Goree and the slave trade it represents and also reflect its universal significance. One of these especially is the Castle, which is described as a rocky plateau covered with fortifications that overlooks the island. Originally built by the Dutch in the 17th century, the fort has been razed and reconstructed several times. In the 18th century it housed the residence of the Governor of Senegal and in 1940 it came under attack by a British and French naval alliance.

The Island of Goree has since grown to be a pilgrimage destination for many but largely for Africans in the diaspora. It has also become a hall for getting in touch between the West and Africa, a medium for exchange of ideas and channel of communication between cultures. Most importantly, perhaps, it has become a symbol of the principles of settlement and forgiveness.

Going to Goree Islands is to recreate a movie like 12 years a slave except this is the kind of reality on which the film is based. Although it is now a tourist destination, the island continues to serve as a reminder of human exploitation and as a sanctuary for reconciliation.