Art & Culture

Published on October 19th, 2018 | by Alioune Badara Mbengue


Gorée, An Island Full of Stories

The Island of Gorée or just Gorée is both an island in the North Atlantic Ocean located in the bay of Dakar (Senegal) and also one of the 19 district municipalities of the capital.
It’s a symbolic place in memoriam of the slave trade in Africa, officially recognized by the United Nations (UN) in 1978.  The Island of Gorée, or “île-mémoire” recalls this tragedy, and was thus one of the first places to be placed on the World Heritage List managed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Stroll in the streets of Gorée, Senegal. Photo by


Located 4 km (2.5 mi.) from Dakar, the site has long suffered repeated attacks by its occupants “of another kind” because of its geopolitical position.

The convocation of this story calls forth the Portuguese navigator Dinis Dias as being the first foreigner to have dropped anchor on its gorean coasts in 1444. He will rename it “Palma” in place of the former name “Beer” used by the local population.

Then come the Dutch in 1617, who renamed the site “Goede Reede” (the good road) before the arrival of the French in 1677. They will be attacked in turn by the English who will occupy it for thirteen years (1804-1817). ) before returning it to them.

The island was indeed the hub of the slave trade. And its successive foreign occupiers fought a merciless battle to gain control of this “juicy” market.
What must be noted, however, is that this trade was designed and conducted in tandem with the “slave kings” of the time under the tutelage of the kings of France and England.

Therefore, in four centuries 16 million slaves were sold to join the plantation fields across the Atlantic. Coming from the slave markets of Nigeria, Benin, Angola and/or Gambia, many of them have passed through this small island off Dakar, which will become the largest transit center in the entire AOF.

It should be noted that slavery has always existed in Africa. It was already taking place by the 7th century. The slave trade was ran by Arabs who supplied men from Mauritius, Zanzibar, and Madagascar to Asia. It was common for tribal leaders to sell their enemies or even their own men.
However, with the discovery of America, and of all the great colonies, coupled with the power of Europe, this phenomenon was amplified from the sixteenth century and onward. It was during this time that the triangular trade began and that the Island of Gorée became of great historical importance.


Photo by

It’s hard to accurately count the number of visitors to the island, as tourists from around the world are added each year to the number of natives who regularly gather on the scene.

The island, with its symbolism, has brought in many well known visitors. Among them, noteworthy mentions would be Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II, the emblematic Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Ivorian President Houphouet-Boigny, US Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama also stopped there…

Nevertheless, we emphasize that visiting the Island of Gorée without stopping by the famous “slave house” would render the trip pointless!

Exploring this “mythical” house is something “obligatory” for any new visitor.

“La Maison des Esclaves,” Gorée island, Senegal. Photo by

This ancient dwelling place of the famous signare known as Anna Colas Périn was housed in these narrow rooms (2.60m by 2.60m) (8.5ft by 8.5ft) where the slaves were readied for the trip to America.

The sorting of people was orchestrated perfectly to specifically put them into three different categories; men, women, and children.

The slaves were kept shackled continuously and could only go out once a day to satisfy their needs.

Once the agreement between the slave traders and the buyers had been made, the slaves took the trip down the famous corridor leading to the “Door without return.” for a voyage without return.

This article was translated in English by John Wilmot.


About the Author

was born in Diourbel, Senegal. He did all his school studies in his native country. After obtaining his bachelor's degree in 2005, he had to do a two-year training at the Ecole Supérieure Polytechnique (ESP) in Dakar where he earned his DUT in Finance-Accounting in 2007. Passionate about writing and of literature, he published his first novel "Les flots en sanglots" in February 2016.

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