A tour of Goree Island, Senegal

Although the necklaces were beautiful, every shop owner wanted you to buy from her. But here is the challenge, I didn’t know the actual price of the necklaces, I selected some, but we couldn’t agree on the price. At one point, they said 5,000 CFA (N1,733) then 3,000 CFA (N1,029). At the end, I purchased about three.

The most important thing for me is the memory of the Island and supporting the businesses there was a form of solidarity towards the people who contribute daily on preserving this important historical edifice.

Goree Island looks like a small town at the moment. Inside the Island, there are several businesses and even some people reside there. Some facilities have been provided like schools, a police station etc. As we passed the House of No Return, our next destination was a small shop selling various items including books. Whenever you travel, never miss the opportunity to buy books written by the locals. This will give you the opportunity to understand how the local people view the historical events in their land rather than what an outsider writes about them.

As we spoke to the shop attendant she confirmed to us that they sold some books. She brought out two copies of a book called Facts About Slavery by Guy Thilmans. It is an interesting treatise about slavery which looks at the history of European slavery, the capture of slaves, the different methods used in capturing the slaves whether through violent or peaceful means, as well as the living condition of the slaves up to the period of abolishment of slavery.

“How much is this book?” I asked the shop attendant. “It is 7000 CFA.” As I prepared to pay, our tour guide, Elhadj Gaye, insisted that I should not buy the book because it was too expensive. My friend, a banker from Lagos was also interested, yet Elhadj insisted that we should not buy it. He promised to take us to a bookshop at the end of the tour where we could get it at a cheaper price.
Reluctantly, we left but deep in my heart I was hoping I would not regret listening to Elhadj. Never underestimate the value of books, the information they contain is always more precious than their cost. Beyond that you wouldn’t know when you will desperately need them in the future.

We had less than fifteen minutes left to catch the ferry back to Dakar. Elhadj was getting faster, yet the tour was becoming more interesting. We passed through a hostel built for visitors who would like to spend some days on the Island. In fact, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend that universities teaching African history, especially in neighboring West African states should organise an excursion to Goree Island so that students may see the mark of the real horror Africans went through.

As we moved further, there was school in the heart of the Island. Elhadj stopped briefly, and said, “This is the school of the Island.” Several African leaders including Leopold Senghor of Senegal, Modbo Keita of Mali, and Felix Houphouët-Boigny of Cote d’Ivoire were once students there.

As we prepared to finish the tour, Elhadj took us to a small house beneath one of the buildings on the Island. There was a local artist who mixed sand with glue to produce traditional painting. It was creative and beautiful. His little hideout was decorated with various paintings that showcased the artistic heritage of Africa.

As we finished with the artist, spending two or three minutes at each stop, we managed to visit the mosque, the memorial built specifically to remember the victims of slavery and the few areas inhabited by some people on the Island. In fact, as we were about to cross over to the ferry, we came across the Imam of the mosque. We quickly posed for a picture, and said goodbye to him.
I reminded Elhadj about the bookshop. We ran quickly and got a copy of the book Facts about Slavery for 5, 000 CFA, then headed for the ferry which was filled with passengers from different parts of the world. But unlike the smiling faces on our way to the Island, the tourists now looked sober. They had just walked through the land where Africans experienced the worst form of terror from fellow human beings. Thank you Senegal for preserving this historical edifice, the Goree Island.