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Isle de Gorée

Gorée is a small island just three kilometres to the east of Dakar.  It attracts lots of visitors due to its history of occupation by the Europeans and its connection to the slave trade.  In the mid-fifteenth century, the island was occupied by the Portuguese who named it "Ila de Palma" - Palm Island.  The Dutch bought the island from the Portuguese in 1627, renaming it "Goe-ree," meaning "Good Harbour," and it was during this period that the trade of slaves from Gorée Island commenced.  The French took possession of the island for trading purposes in the eighteenth century, and then the British and French fought over the island till the early nineteenth century when the British abolished slavery.

Whilst great effort has been made to safeguard the island's history, Gorée has now also cultivated a reputation as a centre of historical preservation and education.  The famous IFAN (Institut Fondamental d'Afrique Noire) historical museum is one of the first sights you see on approaching Gorée by boat.  The island also boasts a women's museum, a maritime museum, a teacher training college, the Mariama Bâ school for exceptional students, and an international conference centre. 

For more information about Gorée or the museums there, click on the links above.

 

Crossing by ferry from Dakar to the island of Gorée takes just twenty minutes.  In order to preserve the buildings and the island's history, Gorée has been on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1978. Crossing by ferry from Dakar to the island of Gorée takes just twenty minutes.  In order to preserve the buildings and the island's history, Gorée has been on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1978. 
Approaching Gorée you can see the IFAN historical museum.  This was originally a fort (called the North Battery or Fort d'Estrées) built in the mid-nineteenth century to protect Gorée and defend Dakar harbour.
 
Approaching Gorée you can see the IFAN historical museum.  This was originally a fort (called the North Battery or Fort d'Estrées) built in the mid-nineteenth century to protect Gorée and defend Dakar harbour. 
The fort became a civilian prison in 1950 until 1977 when it was allocated to the Ministry for Higher Education for use by IFAN as a museum. The fort became a civilian prison in 1950 until 1977 when it was allocated to the Ministry for Higher Education for use by IFAN as a museum. 
The entrance to the IFAN museum. The museum not only tells the story of Gorée, but also the history of mankind in Africa.  IFAN has preserved ancient artefacts such as tools or jewellery, and skeletal remains dating back millions of years.

The entrance to the IFAN museum. The museum not only tells the story of Gorée, but also the history of mankind in Africa.  IFAN has preserved ancient artefacts such as tools or jewellery, and skeletal remains dating back millions of years.

 
The canons are a reminder of the building's history as a fort, which last played an active role in 1940 when when British and Free French forces unsuccessfully attempted to take Dakar for fear that it would be used as a German base.
The canons are a reminder of the building's history as a fort, which last played an active role in 1940 when when British and Free French forces unsuccessfully attempted to take Dakar for fear that it would be used as a German base.
The beauty of the island contrasts sharply with Gorée's horrifying history. The sandy beaches are peaceful and unspoilt, with fresh, colourful flowers and foliage, quaint little houses, restaurants and boutiques.
The beauty of the island contrasts sharply with Gorée's horrifying history. The sandy beaches are peaceful and unspoilt, with fresh, colourful flowers and foliage, quaint little houses, restaurants and boutiques. 
Visiting one of the former slave houses is indescribably shocking and upsetting.  The small, dark, brick, cold, filthy cells, labelled detachedly according to prisoner classifications only give you a small indication of the horrors that happened within the building's walls.
Visiting one of the former slave houses is indescribably shocking and upsetting.  The small, dark, brick, cold, filthy cells, labelled detachedly according to prisoner classifications only give you a small indication of the horrors that happened within the building's walls.  
It is believed that this house was built in 1786 and used for the domestic slaves of the family who lived there, as well as slaves to be shipped to the West.
It is believed that this house was built in 1786 and used for the domestic slaves of the family who lived there, as well as slaves to be shipped to the West.
The "door of no return" opens directly onto the sea.  It is believed the slave traders may have used the door to dispose of dead bodies.
The "door of no return" opens directly onto the sea.  It is believed the slave traders may have used the door to dispose of dead bodies.  Since the house was opened to members of the public, people have left hundreds of messages of remembrance upon its walls for all victims of the slave trade. Since the house was opened to members of the public, people have left hundreds of messages of remembrance upon its walls for all victims of the slave trade. 

 

Notes: 

  • UNESCO - United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
  • IFAN - Institut Fondamental d'Afrique Noire
  • All historical facts on this page were taken from the following book:  Camara Abdoulaye and Joseph Roger de Benoist. Gorée: The Island and the Historical Museum. Dakar: Saint-Paul, 1993.

 

 

 Gorée

“A European reader of African literature has a responsibility to recognize the tension that exists between his or her own cultural codes and those of the texts and their authors” (Hitchcott 3)