Reflections on Goree Island

Going to Goree Island allowed us to really see Dakar.  The beautiful, colorful city was interesting to visit but going to the island gave us a connection to the history of this place.  It helped us understand what made Senegal, including the negative side of the slave trade.  It was so stark to see the lavish lifestyle of the slave owners.  It felt like they weren’t even thinking about what was happening to the humans below.  They were enjoying a lifestyle – a place to party, enjoy the weather while people were downstairs suffering.  -Phil

Back in the States, we don’t have many physical representations of what slavery was – we try to forget the past.  It was really powerful to get the images in my head and to see first-hand the physical representations of that part of history.  – Flannery

As I was wandering around, I was following Kecouta.  He was reading the stuff that was new and the stuff that was old.  One particular note was written in red – it looked like blood – and I couldn’t stop reading it.  I couldn’t picture myself in the situation but I kept thinking back to the village and imagining those people in the slave house.  I pictured the little kids in the little cells and that community being ripped apart.  I found myself wanting to be silent, to pay my respects to the people who sacrificed to let us all be where we are.  I’m not really the emotional type but when I walked up to the masters quarters and looked out at the beautiful view, where people were fed to sharks, I felt a deep sadness.  It hit me somewhere where something has never hit me.  I felt it immediately – a vibe, a connection.  It was scary in a sense.  I also thought it was interesting that there were things to read about the slave trade in the comfortable masters quarters but nothing downstairs in the slave quarters. It really felt like two different places in one.  Everything in my life came back in a circle.  I blinked and I saw whips, lashes, handcuffs, the shackles.  It was all so real.  Society tries to shield us from the reality of what happened and the bad past.  But all of that is real.  There was no shielding on Goree Island.  – Connor

The slave house reminded me of prisons in Vietnam.  They reminded me of Vietnamese people who were imprisoned during wartime.  I saw it as something in common between our two countries – a period of struggle and sadness.  Everything was emotional to me.  I was really surprised by what I read and saw.  I had just imagined that the masters were just cruel, evil men.  But I learned that women were responsible too – they were involved and just as evil.  That changed my understanding of history.  -Charlene

I thought it was interesting – Mr. Alter pointed it out – that 40 million people are still enslaved today and how that’s already so high (more than at any other point in history).  It was interesting to see them using this physical representation of history – of the slave trade – as a platform to raise awareness about what’s happening today.  Slave-trading is still happening.  How can we solve that?  How do we feel about it?  I felt like I was processing this for the first time.  It was interesting to be up on the balcony looking at the waves.  I thought about the whole process.  Something of this scale can never happen again, I hope, because of how the world is set up.  It’s interesting to think about human nature and what led people to think it was alright to enslave other humans.  I felt like I was looking out to Europe and imagining what those people could possibly have been thinking back then.  Some people understood that the slaves were the same but there was so little support.  Why? How did that shift occur?  -Olivier

It reminded me a lot of what I was told growing up about appreciating what my ancestors had done to make me who I am.  My great-great-grandfather was a freed slaved.  I was reminded of everything he did and his life.  I thought it was interesting that you could look up from the slave quarters and see down but from upstairs you couldn’t see back. Assuming it was the same back then, the slaves were shackled and packed like sardines looking up at the comfortable life of the owners but the white people could go up and completely forget about what was happening below.  The numbers were startling when we were there in person.  Imagining millions of people going through that experience – all that history, heritage and culture disappearing from where it originated. All that death changed so much for America and for Africa.  The millions who died on the voyage was like the death of a culture in my mind. -Colette

When the tour guide specifically talked about how the younger ladies were kept in a separate part of they were virgins and how there was a hole for them to keep themselves clean during their periods – it brought back clear and powerful feelings.  Why would a person separate girls just for this purpose? Just to pleasure themselves.  How can you make someone else suffer for your own pleasure?  After I saw everything, I went up and looked over the balcony.  It was clear that there weren’t divisions in the building back then.  I could picture what the door of no return really looked and felt like back then – the feeling of never coming back.  I just kept thinking “God, forgive us.”  -Joy

This whole trip, everything felt like it was about me.  About what I was learning and feeling.  But when I was in the slave house, I forced myself to stop thinking about myself.  If I had kept revolving everything around me, I wouldn’t have learned that much.  But when I stopped thinking about myself, everything changed.  I understood that place.  I don’t think I could have handled really imagining myself as one of those slaves.  I had to separate myself to comprehend what I was seeing.  -Danielle

3 thoughts on “Reflections on Goree Island

  1. “God forgive us” indeed. Your stirring words all collected together are truly transmitting the feelings that this place produces. “What were they thinking”, “how could it happen”, and “how can slavery still be happening”. As newly informed students of this history, I am sure you will see all history with more skepticism than ever. How can mankind do these things and conveniently explain away, modify or ignore the horror and pain, or forget. Like the glorification of senseless wars and gruesome deaths in war. Read Wilfred Owen’s poem “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.” At the end he says that the latin phrase in the title (it is glorious and sweet to die for your country) is “The Old Lie.”

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  2. Wow. Thank you all for taking the time to tell your stories and help us pause, if even for a few moments, from our safe and comfortable Thanksgiving holidays to reflect on a past that we must never forget.

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