Heritage Healing: Making Peace with Île de Gorée (Gorée Island)

September 1st marked the day that I saw Gorée Island with my own eyes.

I didn’t realize the history of the island until after I chose Dakar as my study abroad destination about a year ago. After doing some research on the island, I knew it would be a pinnacle landmark for me: a citizen of the African Diaspora and a descendant of the same enslaved Africans who stood, starved, and died on that land.

Fast-forward to the day before the group’s visit, we had a lecture on the history from a history professor of Dakar’s most well-known University. He warned us of the lack of respect held for the sacred site by Senegalese vendors and other tourists –that vendors would be pressing us upon our arrival and around the Slave House and that tourists would be snapping photos everywhere.

An image stuck in my head of everyone having their phones out taking pictures and videos inside the Slave House. My stomach started hurting. I couldn’t wrap my head around how people could enter a sacred space so disrespectfully. No one goes to a funeral or to a cemetery taking pictures of those who’ve past. Thousands of people have been smashed into the rooms there without food or water or security or any clue for what would happen next. In the same house where we would be standing, on the same rooms we would have the privilege of peering into. I felt a mixture of nervous anxiety and anger for what lied ahead.

I didn’t want to enter the already emotional space with so much negative energy already attached to me, so I redirected that energy into a realization. I can’t control or be responsible for what other people do; I can only control my own actions and my own attitude. I can react to others’ actions and I can place preventative measures, but I cannot control anyone. I still felt uneasy, but not on defense mode. I decided to leave my smartphone at my home for the trip, because I knew I wouldn’t be taking any photos.

We made it to the island and it was worse than I imagined in every aspect. I almost felt like I saw more cameras than faces. I even saw one person posing in one of the rooms for her cameo moment. The cognitive dissonance it takes for someone to smile for a photo where thousands of people died fosters the same mindset of the French slave-owners who lived on the second floor of the Slave House. The size of the closet upstairs was the same size of the room downstairs used for infants and children. Read that sentence again.

Enter the balcony and they had the perfect space to host guests overlooking the same ocean where they killed thousands of enslaved Africans who didn’t meet their standard of healthy. It’s the same ocean where people took their owns lives for liberation. The same ocean that separated families and replaced names with “slave.”

“It’s such a nice view up here.” “Beautiful.” “This one is better than the Slave House in Ghana!!”

I was triggered. These were things said by my PEERS, who are in the same academic program as me. To top it all off, they took a group photo!! Can you imagine my disgust at this moment? I wanted to yell, cry, and vomit all at the same time.

I redirected my energy into a question: How can I work towards preventing this disrespect?

Professor Deme, who gave us the lecture, told me that there is no collaboration between the Africans of the Diaspora and the Senegalese government concerning the historical landmark. He and I agreed that our voice is necessary in deciding the rules/ regulations or anything else relating to the Slave House. Being a part of a cultural preservation effort is something I definitely want to do for the ease of my ancestors’ rest and for my own healing.

After visiting the Slave House, it was important for me to realize that Goree Island is more than it’s history. While the Island was a place of death for thousands, it is a place of life for thousands more. I still have a lot of healing to do, but I think having these realizations is a big part of the process.

Thanks for reading ❤

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