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Journals from ACI Baobab Center - Senegal, Africa

2010-09-28 Excursion to Gorée Island

Written 9/21/2010 

Asalaa Maalekum! Naka nga deff? Ana waa kër ga? Alxamdulilaay!
Hello! How are you? How is your family? Praise God! 

Last Saturday we visited Gorée Island, located a short ferry ride from the southeast tip of the Dakar Peninsula.  Today the island is a tropical escape for locals and tourists to swim and eat well, but the island has a darker past as one of the key areas of traffic during the Atlantic Slave Trade. It was at Gorée that millions of African captives were loaded on ships headed to the New World. Therefore the island is remembered as a place of grave suffering as well as the soul of the African Diaspora.

Before we visited the island we had an interesting lecture at the Baobab Center on the history of the island and the Atlantic Slave Trade—La Traite Négriére. The slave trade began at Gorée during the 15th century when European merchants brought goods to West Africa to trade for slaves who where then taken to plantations in the Americas. For centuries the slave trade was a profitable business where unfortunately human life was equivalent to Western goods, and foreign merchants as well as some Africans perpetuated. It is estimated millions of slaves passed through the “door of no return” to sail to the Americas at Gorée, with a fluctuating count of 200-1500 slaves a year. Today, the building where slaves were housed is now a museum, La Maison des Esclaves, which we had the opportunity to visit while on the island.

Understanding the historical significance of Gorée and the Atlantic Slave Trade, I was struck by how picturesque the island was. The ferry dropped us off at a beautiful cove where many were taking a dip in the crystal blue sea. We might as well have been in the Caribbean, because not only was the coastline fantastic but the houses were painted in array of colorful hues, shaded by large palm trees and freckled with shrubs and succulents.  

Guides from the Baobab Center took us to several museums, including the Slave Museum and a general history museum, but my favorite museum we went to was la Musée des Femmes – a museum exclusively devoted to Senegalese women from pre-colonial to modern times. The museum was housed in a few buildings and in each room there were different themed exhibits. My favorite exhibits were on the role Senegalese women play in the family (a large one!) and how the tools and house ware have changed with the influence of modernity.

We were treated to a delicious lunch at an outdoor restaurant where I had Poulet au Yasa (chicken and rice with sauce) and sipped on the sweet, milky juice from the Baobab tree fruit. Senegal is well known for its array of sweet juices and it’s been a pleasure discovering each new type of drink!  During our lunch we had our first sighting of a Griot (a caste of traditional African artisans and musicians) who serenaded us with beautiful Wolof songs and his korra – an instrument in-between a guitar and harp. After lunch some of the students went swimming, but a friend and I decided to explore more of the little slice of paradise.

For a while we explored the windy streets and neighborhoods of the island until we found a pathway that led us to the summit of the island. During our ascent we passed by many vendors who proudly displayed their beautiful artwork and crafts. To our discovery, at the summit there was a beautiful 360° view of the island and the coastline of the Dakar Peninsula. There was also a large white abstract cone sculpture which was built in remembrance of those who suffered during the Atlantic Slave Trade.

We spent a few hours at Gorée before we boarded the ferry to return to the mainland. On my way back I had the pleasure of talking with a man who works on the island at the main history museum. I told him a little about my reasons for traveling to Senegal and he shared some about his life and Senegalese culture. The conversation flowed naturally and I was proud that my French was strong enough to communicate all my ideas. He let me know I’d fit in well with the Senegalese. Whether or not that becomes true, I’ll have to see, but I thanked him for the big compliment at the time.

More adventures to come,                                                             

Jenna Johnson
 Psychology Major, Art & Francophone Studies Minor 

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