About Gorée Island
Some academics have argued that Gorée Island – from the Dutch ‘goede reede’, or ‘good harbour’ – was merely one of hundreds of similar incarceration centres from where relatively few Africans (around 25,000) were transported to the Americas. Others have suggested that upwards of 15 million passed through the Door of No Return on Gorée Island.
Regardless of numbers, it remains one of West Africa’s most important monuments to the centuries-long Atlantic slave trade.
The island lies a little over a mile offshore from Dakar’s main harbour and today, over 200,000 people a year make what can almost be described as an homage to the horrifically brutal slave trade as well as paying respects to unknown and unnamed ancestors who made these fateful journeys.
Inside the Slave House, the conditions were as hopeless and as primitive as you can imagine. Twenty men with backs to the wall and chained around the neck were crammed into cells smaller than 3m x 3m and were allowed out once a day. Hygiene was non-existent and men, women and children were wedged into every available space, sometimes for up to three months before departure. Young girls, highly valued by the slave traders for the obvious albeit grotesque reasons, were kept separate and commanded the highest prices.
As if this type of forced incarceration wasn’t enough, when it was time to go the men went to the southern states of the USA, the women to Cuba or Brazil and the children to the West Indies. The separation was absolute.
Perhaps the most poignant aspect of the tour is the view down the slanting corridor towards the door marked ‘La Porte Du Voyage Sans Retour’ – the trip from which no-one returned. It opened directly onto the sea and once through, you were gone forever.
Thanks to four decades of work by museum curator Boubacar Joseph Ndiaye who sadly died in 2009, the House of Slaves on Gorée Island serves as a memorial to the Atlantic slave trade and today in his memory, visitors can witness the harsh conditions in which thousands, if not millions were incarcerated and then shipped out with no hope of ever coming back.