Even before arriving Senegal, I had heard so much about Goree Island. Every person I met who had visited Senegal asked me whether I planned to visit the Island. And my answer was always in the affirmative, even though I wasn’t sure how to create the time to make the visit.
The perfect opportunity arrived around 11p.m. on January 29, 2014. We had completed the event that took us to Dakar, and my flight was scheduled to depart at 4:30 pm the same afternoon. But visiting Goree Island turned out a risk worth taken. Four of us, a British-Algerian, a Somali-Canadian and of course two Nigerians, including yours sincerely, hired a taxi and headed to the port in order to take a ferry to Goree Island. As the taxi driver cruises through the city one could clearly see the signs of economic growth in Dakar. Buildings are springing up; the roads are well tarred, but most importantly the smiles on the faces of the people were enchanting.
“Africa looks the same,” said the Canadian. “Yes there are lots of similarities,” my friend from Lagos said. Sometimes you feel you are in Lagos, in some areas it feels like the outskirts of Kano city, and in other areas you see typical Abuja roofs, not necessarily the red ones, also called jinin talaka “the blood of the poor”, implying that the houses were built with resources stolen from government coffers.
Although we knew where we were heading to, the smile and excitement in all of us tells you that we have not yet seen the Goree Island in order to understand the extent of the inhumanity exhibited by fellow humans. As we arrived at the port, we queued up to purchase boat tickets. Here the African spirit was at work again. If you are from Africa you pay half price, while those from other parts of the world, paid the full fare.
After paying for our tickets we headed to the lounge. The ferry arrived every thirty minutes. It was few minutes past 12 p.m. We were booked for 12:30 p.m. ferry with our estimated arrival time put at 1p.m. People sat calmly waiting for the ferry. You will think that everyone is a visitor. But no, some of the people in the lounge own businesses in the Island, so they come to the lounge to woo customers.
A guide was allocated to us. Elhadj Gaye, a young, medium height Senegalese, is most likely in his late twenties. Before we embarked on the journey, Elhadj regaled us with the history of our destination. “We are going to the Goree Island, where over twenty million slaves were transported from Africa to Europe and North America,” he said. “An additional six million also perished on the road”. Elhadj added.
The smiles and the excitement on our faces started fading away. Feelings of remorse, sympathy, agony, disenchantment, began to emerge. It was a touching moment for us all because the so-called slaves treated with so much cruelty were people who committed no crime; their only crime is the colour of their skin.
As Elhadj continued his narration, the ferry arrived, and we immediately started boarding. Just before the boarding, we heard a little voice saying “Assalamu Alaikum”. It was that of a young lady carrying a bag, and is surely from the local community. “My name is Fatimata,” she announced. “I have a shop in Goree Island, I hope you will visit my shop, I have lots of interesting traditional items that will be of interest to you.” We thanked her and promised that if time allowed, we shall visit her shop. This is one of the marketing strategies used by shop owners in the Island. They come to the port and mix with passengers, and trust them, they have a lot of traditional tsaraba for you to take home.
As the ferry sped off, a different kind of feeling welled up in us. Here we are engaged in the kind of journey thousands of Africans went through. The difference though was that they travelled under coercion, subjugation and in chains simply to serve the ego of other mortals, while we are simply traveling as an adventure.
As the ferry meandered through the sea, I remembered the scholarly contribution of the likes of Walter Rodney, whose classic, “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” is a must read for anyone interested in understanding the historical precedence of African underdevelopment.
Walter Rodney told us that “the massive loss to the African labour force was made more critical because it was composed of able-bodied young men and young women. Slave buyers preferred their victims between the ages of 15 and 35, and preferably in the early twenties; the sex ratio being about two men to one woman. Europeans often accepted younger African children, but rarely any older person”.
According to him “the zones most notorious for human exports were, firstly, West Africa from Senegal to Angola along a belt extending about 200 miles inland and, secondly, that part of East Central Africa which today covers, Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi, Northern Zambia and Eastern Congo”.
The journey to Goree Island gave me more understanding regarding why Walter Rodney wrote this important book. I was deep in thought as I meditated over the fate that befell Africans in the hands of the colonialists. But before I finished my meditation, we were in Goree Island. It is now my opportunity to travel through history, history of three hundred years of inhumanity. Yet I have got just one hour to do that, as I had to prepare for the airport in order to catch my flight back home.
To be continued…
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