Gorée Island, Senegal, and its terrible reputation

The island of Gorée has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978. It has this status not for any intrinsic beauty it may have or the quality of its buildings, or even because of its association with a famous person from history, but to remind the world of one of the worst crimes ever committed by one section of mankind against another.

Gorée is a small island no more than 900 metres in length and 350 metres across. It lies about a mile off the coast of Senegal at Dakar, the capital, and is served by a ferry that takes about 30 minutes to make the crossing.

It was believed for many years that this was the main departure point for African slaves on their way to the West Indies and North America, and that some 20 million people spent time on the island in transit to the colonies during the height of the slave trade between the 16thand 19th centuries.

However, this claim has been disputed in recent years, and it is now generally accepted that Gorée was only one of many such points of departure in West Africa. Only a few thousand slaves may have been imprisoned in the “House of Slaves”, and some researchers dispute whether any were held here at all. However, this is the nearest point of the African continent to the West Indies, so it is symbolically significant in the history of the slave trade and therefore appropriate as a place to site a memorial and museum, which is what Gorée Island offers the visitor.

The House of Slaves has been preserved to show the conditions under which slaves would have been held prior to being packed like sardines into the slave ships, where the object of the exercise was to cram as many pieces of cargo (which was what slaves were) into the available space as possible. The same principle applied in the slave houses (wherever they were), where the slaves would be chained to the walls of tiny airless rooms, remaining there for weeks or months before the slave ship arrived to collect them.

<a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Source</a>

A particularly poignant feature of the Gorée House of Slaves is the “Door of No Return” (see photo) through which the slaves were reputed to pass on their way to the ships. It has acquired a similar significance in the story of the slave trade to that of the entrance to Auschwitz, with its slogan “Arbeit Mach Frei”, in the story of the Holocaust.

However, even if the building on Gorée Island, together with its displays of manacles and murals depicting slaves in chains, has been hyped in ways that stretch the truth to breaking point, the symbolic value of this site is undoubted. People now visit the island in their tens of thousands, including many descendants of slaves who make pilgrimages here from their homes on the other side of the Atlantic. It is good that there is a place where due respect can be shown to those millions who suffered to satisfy the greed of their oppressors, and Gorée Island is a fitting location for such a memorial.


What do you think?

13 Points

Written by Indexer


  1. Very nicely written. For some reason I can’t see a any photo, but I visited Gorée in the 1990s and remember it clearly since it made such a strong impression.

    • You can put the photo omission down to ignorance on my part as to how this platform works – I am still a newbie here! I had assumed that loading a photo in the box on the right-hand side of the editing screen meant that it showed up in the article, but apparently not. Presumably you need to embed photos in the text for this to happen? I shall try some judicious editing to put this right!