Saturday, September 1, 2007

House of Slaves

Two Saturdays ago, me and my journalist friend Cheikh and his roommate Alioune took the ferry to the island of Goree, just about 20 minutes from Dakar's port, considered a borough of the capital. It's a beautiful island where about 1,000 people now live. It has its own schools, police station, medical centre, etc. And many of the people there are artists - who paint and make statues to sell to foreigners who come to visit, or to take to other parts of Senegal to sell.

But the main attraction to Goree for many foreigners is the fact that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site - why? Because it was a main point of shipment for the slave trade, and still has a "House of Slaves" which now serves to document what took place on this island. It's a small home, where slaves used to live on the bottom dingy floor and the Europeans on the top floor. There were separate rooms for men, women and children - certain jobs in the fields and mines children could do well. Plus if your parents were strong, they assumed the children would be too, so they would take them early. Finally, young girls were often used for sex. And if a young girl got pregnant by a European, she would be set free, so often girls would have sex with them, in the hopes of getting pregnant to get out. There was also a room for the temporarily weak slaves - where they would be fed and fattened before being sent back with the others. If slaves got sick, they were thrown into the ocean. If they tried to escape, they were shot and thrown into the ocean, so sharks started getting attracted to the blood and the area became full of shark. I divert. Anywyas, the rooms are as you would imagine them - well you dont' have to imagine, look at the pic. Dark, dingy, 2.6 x. 2.6 metres, (with a narrow slit in the wall of about 2 inches by 2 feet) where about 15 grown men would live while waiting to be sent to America - chained to the wall, allowed out once a day to take care of their needs. When they ae allowed out, they are chained to a heavy ball so that they can't get away. Obviously, slaves were chosen for their strength, and the guide joked that that's why all the best basketball and sports figures in the States are black. They were traded for as little as a gun or tabacco... A child could be traded for a mirror.

This is the door through which they were loaded into the boats. Up to 15 million slaves left to America through this port alone. Six million of them are estimated to have died in the journey. If felt so real being here, on the exact soil that there were on, in the same rooms. All you can do is feel pity and disgust for humanity that we are capable of such things. Lots of the visitors are foreigners, but I would say the majoriy were Senegalese people who never want to forget what happened here. (FYI - Slavery continues to this day in West Africa. Here's an article I wrote recently about the situation in Mauritania: So that was pretty heavy and hard-hitting, but the rest of the island is beautiful. Here are some pics.


Natasha said...

hey honey.
wow it looks so incredible there. i bet the pictures don't do it justice. when are you coming home? if it's after november i'll look into routing my flight home through senegal.
take care.

Erin and Kristina said...

finally i figure this shit out. i only hope my experiences can be as interesting as yours!!! i love you


Ghadeer said...

Salam ya Habhoob,

First of all, you look so great in the pictures, MashaAllah cutie = )

I really felt bad when I red this post and the article as well. I can't believe that there is such a human being still do that. It's soooo disgusting and disturbing. I don't think we need laws to respect others dignities. May Allah help! The words just do not help me here. It's soooo sad really = (

Take care ya batta and May Allah give you the strength and the patience!

Asif said...

Hi Heba,
Both your posts and articles continue to teach me so much about an area I knew so little about. When I hear about that stuff it just makes all the small problems over here seem insignificant. And more importantly I feel motivated to try and make a difference. I am glad you are learning so much over there even if much of it is of such a tragic nature. I hope you keep posting these blogs every so often with links to your articles. Take care,


Heba Aly said...

Tash, yes I'll be here in November... I'll be here till end of December, so definately come by! I miss you!