We took at day trip to Ile de Gorée (a Unesco protected island) from Dakar, by ferry.  The ferry takes just 15 minutes to reach this small volcanic outcrop.  Having visited Robben Island in Capetown, we were both expecting something grim, given its history of slave trading.  However, we were very pleasantly surprised to find a beautifully kept island, with restored colonial buildings, sandy streets and riotious vegetation. 

Goree Harbour Arriving in Ile de Gorée

We took a tour with a local guy for a couple of hours.  Getting a guide is a bit of a gamble, but our guide was excellent.  The island has a long history of colonialism, starting with the Dutch (the red buildings are from that era) and then the French and English (yellow and green buildings).  He showed us the restored slave house, where 200 slaves were kept on the lower floor while the slavemasters lived in luxury above.  The house has the famour ‘door of no return’ which opens out onto the sea and was the last those leaving would see of Africa.  There were several rules for the slaves who were kept there:  Men, women and children were separated.  Slavers could take their pick of slavewomen – in fact pregnancy meant they were freed.  If a slave got sick, he was simply thrown in the sea.  Men were measured by their muscles; and had to weigh 60 kg to travel to America.  If they were too light, they were fed on beans until they attained the right weight.  Before travel, slaves were packed into houses that mimicked the dimensions of a ship (as seen here in one of our pictures), so the masters could be sure they had the right amount of people for a shipment.  Slaving went on until the early 1800s, it is hard to reconcile this beautiful island with such an inhumane history.

Slave House  Ship shaped house – slaves were packed in before transport

Slave houseSlave house

We toured the whole island, including the old forts and guns of the colonial era, and the monument apologising for slavery and uniting all Africans wherever they live.   Many important people have visited the island, including Bill Clinton and Pope John Paul II.  George Soros has quite a presence on the island – he owns several houses and has a retreat/conference centre. 

One of today’s downsides to the island is the very insistent traders and artists, they are around every corner saying ‘you remember me’ and offering good prices. This can really get to you after several weeks and tempers occasionally fray with some of them. Cathal has taken to immediately turn their offers back on them and starts to offer to sell them whatever junk he has in his pocket at that time for an inflated amount. That usually allows all to part amicably, since the Senegalese have a good sense of humour.

Goree View View from highest point

Goree Lady Cheerful street trader

CDB at Gorée Cathal in the Harbour


1 Response to “2 Ile de Gorée 6 Dec”

  1. 1 anonymous familymember December 11, 2007 at 12:46 pm

    is that a beard? Ah here, Cathal. Surely some pickaninny could lend you a bic razor.

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