Gorée Island is one of the 19 districts of the city of Dakar in Senegal. Gorée is a small island with an incredibly important history. We visited this incredible island back in 2019 and were deeply moved by all that we saw there. Gorée is home to the "House of Slaves" which was built around 1780–1784. The House of Slaves is one of the oldest houses on the island and is used today to show the horrors of the slave trade throughout the Atlantic world. The island was one of the first places in Africa to be colonised by the Europeans, first by the Portuguese, then the Dutch, the British and the French. The island was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. It now serves mostly as a memorial to the slave trade.
Gorée is believed to have been at the centre of the Atlantic slave trade, with more than a million African slaves being traded upon it's shores. The House of Slaves was used as a holding centre for enslaved African people to be exported. Entering the building is harrowing, there you can see where many of the imprisoned people perished before they even reached the ships. Captured enslaved people were imprisoned in dark, airless cells, and spent days shackled to the floor, their backs against the walls, unable to move. Men, women and children were all separated in the house and families were torn apart by the slave trade. One of the information boards we saw at the memorial really stayed with us, it read;
"Slavery is the act of owning another human being. To be enslaved is to be seen as property. Almost every society has practised some form of enslavement but the chattel slavery fed by the Transatlantic slave trade meant that Africans' bodies, labor, families, children, faith and every aspect of life were controlled by another person for the entirety of their lives and all of their descendants' lives."
Within the House of Slaves is the infamous Door of no Return, a tiny gap in the pink walls of the House where the light comes pouring through. This door is said to be the last place where enslaved people touched African soil for the rest of their lives. This is the point where people's homes and identity were finally and absolutely ripped away from them for good. Standing at the door is an incredibly harrowing experience, and the museum at Gorée island reminds us that for many people, slavery has not ended. In 2017, the Global Estimates of Modern Slavery stated that more than 40 million people were currently victims of modern forms of slavery such as forced labor, child labor, human trafficking and sexual exploitation. We must all do what we can to end modern slavery, in the words of Nelson Mandela: "to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others."
For more information on modern slavery and to donate to help end it, visit Anti-Slavery International.