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Reflection on Gorée Island Visit in Senegal

December 27, 2018

 I am standing in front of “The Statue of Liberation of Slavery” in Gorée Island  on Wednesday, August 5, 2015 while visiting the historic place.

 

During my visit to Senegal in the summer of 2015, my family and I went to Gorée Island, a world heritage site.The island was vibrant with Goreans welcoming tourists from around the world. The restaurants were packed and the beach full. My family and I ate at La Retrouvaille, a restaurant operating for years located close to entrance of the island. My family members enjoyed the island’s beach --  finding sea shells and diving into water. I was more interested in speaking with Goreans about the Island, walking around the streets, and visiting “The House of Slaves.” Gorée Island was full of colors and life. As I strolled, Goreans displayed their artworks and sold them across the island. People chatted and laughed. Goreans were hospitable, whether offering a tour or sampling pointing me to the right direction.

 Gorean artists display their artworks for sale. (Photo credit Aminata Sy)

 

Yet Gorée is also a place with a history of pain and suffering. Europeans rounded Africans in many parts the continent, forceful brought them to the island, and then shipped them to the Americas as slaves. “The House of Slaves” in Gorée Island is a chilling reminder this horrific past. When I stood inside one of the tiny cells in “The House Slaves,” the space was dark, the air thick with no window. After about five minutes, I couldn’t breathe, but Europeans used to sandwich dozens of Africans in that cell for months. Many Africans died in agony.

 Chains that Europeans put around Africans necks and feet displayed in Gorée Island's "House Slave." (photo credit Aminata Sy)

 

I imagined Africans tightly sitting with their chained legs upright and shackled arms on their knees. I imagined their moan of pain and their desire to return to their homes. Goosebumps covered my skin, my eyes watered. I wondered, how can a human being inflict such pain onto another human being? Still Gorée Island’s “House of Slave” was just one stop among many others for Africans. Europeans loaded Africans onto boats to cross the Atlantic Ocean and head to the Americas. Many Africans died in the boats, and Europeans tossed them in the Atlantic Ocean. Other Africans threw themselves in the water. Death was better than living in bondage.

Gorée Island from a distance as the ferry heads there. (photo credit Aminata Sy)

 

“La Statue de la Liberation the L’Esclavage” or “The Statue of Liberation of Slavery” captured my attention. This statue depicts an African woman and man standing on a wide-top drum.The topless African woman closely faces the man holding his waste. The shirtless African man holds his hands up with dangling broken chains around his wrists, looking toward the sky.This statue symbolizes freedom while showing the scars of slavery. Gorée Island itself felt like a combination of pain and joy, a place in the past, the present, and the future.

 I am standing at the "door of no return" in "The House of Slaves" in Gorée. This is the final door Europeans took  Africans out to fill them up in boats to head to the Americas as slaves and never return in the African continent.

 

Aminata Sy is the founder and president of African Community Learning Program, a 2019 Rangle International Graduate Fellow, a multimedia journalist, and a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, where she studies international relations and English. She is also the founder, editor, and publisher of the #500EmpoweringAfricanStories Project.

 

To support African Community Learning Program visit: africancommunitylearningprogram.org

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Twitter @aminata2016

Email Aminata Sy at aminata@sas.upenn.edu

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