One of the darkest, most savage places ever to exist is on Goree Island, a small island at the mouth of Dakar harbor in Senegal. Today it is host to one of the finest girl’s schools in Senegal. Its history is one of unimaginable despair and terror. Goree was one of the hubs where multiple slave houses prospered. Today, only one of those houses of terror remains. There is a door of no return in that building. For me, it represents a still open passageway into the darkness that is greed and envy.
The Portuguese discovered Goree in 1444, while looking for new trade routes. It became a much sought after base of operations as the trade in slaves for Americas blossomed from the mid 1500s through the mid to late 1800s. It is estimated that close to 20 million souls passed through the many slave houses of West Africa, bound for the Americas, fulfilling the demand of the transplanted Europeans. Untold millions died on the way to those ports.
If that estimate of 20 million is roughly accurate, then close to 5500 humans passed through those forts every month, for over 300 years. None returned. It is impossible to know, with any certainty, how many passed through the door of no return in the slave house we visited on Goree Island – one was too many.
History tells us that the people who ultimately passed through that door, and the doors of the other trading houses on Goree, were first brought to Dakar. Later they were taken to the island and held until the slave ships arrived. Once a ship was at anchor, the trading began. The men, women, and children were offered up as merchandise to the highest bidder.
These people, people exactly the same as you and me, except for the pigmentation of their skin, were herded into the chambers in the slave houses to wait for the auctions. While there, any who were not sufficiently subservient to the men with guns and whips were either put in the punishment chambers or thrown off the piers into the deep waters surrounding Goree.
The punishment chamber conditions were more cruel and depraved than can be imagined. I hope you’ll go to our BlindsidedPodcast FB page so you can see what such a place looks like.
It was settled by Portuguese traders in 1534. For 312 years, it fed the insatiable demands of greed and envy in the Americas; providing a never ending supply of human cargo in chains.
Posted by Blindsided on Saturday, January 6, 2018
I cannot know if you will see what I saw. But I want you to imagine 20-30 souls crammed into one of those anterooms to the left or right of the door of no return. Made to wait days, weeks, until the auctions were over and they were transported out to the ships. Try to imagine 20 or so women stuffed into the female holding room. If you can, try to visualize the children who survived being captured and brought to island in the holding room next to their mothers. The mothers peering through the slats in the walls hoping to somehow comfort their terrified children. Then try to picture in your mind 7 or 8 men or women thrown into those tiny punishment cells.
It is possible that as many as 200 humans were held in this slave house at any one time. For me, the images my brain produces are just scrambled visions of too many people in a room. Anything more defined is more terrifying than I’m willing to conjure up.
If you watch the videos from Goree, you’ll recall walking up the grand stairway to the rooms above the cells – spacious, airy, perfect for the entertaining of the day. The traders, buyers and sellers, held parties there after the auctions were over, before their human cargo was hauled out to the ships and they made sail. I can grasp that greed, envy, will drive some to do some pretty nasty things to sate that hunger. I cannot imagine enough of it to keep the blood and screams out of the dreams of the masters of the Goree slave houses.
I cannot, in the darkest corner of my soul, conjure up a mindset that would permit anyone to treat a fellow human with such indifference and depravity. I can’t even imagine doing this to animals. But we, that is, our ancestors, perhaps ones similar to some of the very fine people the current occupant of the White House referred to last year, did this. And they did it for centuries. They did it without thinking, without remorse. It was just business. I read a NYT article several days ago reporting that the self proclaimed tough guy in the White House remarked that all Haitians have AIDS; that Nigerians who had been in America would never return to their huts in Nigeria. Another report chronicled the journey of 92 Somalis being deported. It is reported that ICE agents kept these dark skinned people shackled to their seats on the airplane for over 48 hours. Abuse and deprivation by the ICE people was reported. It seems the indifference, greed, needed to assign those with darker skin tones to the holding chambers on Goree are alive and well.
Where does this leave us today? Should we block out Goree Island? Assign it to a period, a people whose time is long since gone? Or maybe embrace it; acknowledge it as part of our psyche. Learn from it. What was it about the African people that made our ancestors so addicted to their enslavement? Was this a black cocaine for them? The slavers were in fact meeting the demand, an almost unquenchable demand for 300 years. Much of that demand came from the United States. Was that demand simply that very human drive that makes so many of us want more, no matter how much we may already have, or the cost to others of acquiring it?
It seems there is this never ending need to believe we must be better, have more than those around us. My tribe must be better than yours, my intellect sharper, my house more grand. Anything that gives me that comfort is worth the price, even slavery and murder.
Extremists, of every stripe, are certain of their superiority and the righteousness of their cause.They are certain they must have, and are entitled to, more of whatever it is they are seeking. They are certain their need is not just the right need, but the need preordained by some deity. It doesn’t matter whether they are evangelicals or tea partiers seeking to cut services for the less fortunate, the Russian separatists in the Ukraine or ultra orthodox settlers in the West Bank claiming the land is theirs, and only theirs, or the FARQ in Columbia or freedom fighters in East Timor insisting their form of governing is the only right form of governing. They know their enemy is wrong and must be overcome, destroyed if necessary, in their pursuit of fulfilling that need. Our direct ancestors used this mind set as their rationale for enslaving Africans and slaughtering Native Americans. They needed more land, more profit; anyone attempting to limit their ability to get it must be dominated, or eliminated.
The most recent of the boogiemen interfering with our drive for more power over others are the North Koreans. They insist on having nuclear weapons similar to ours. So they must be brutal thugs, a people who must be contained, if needs be, in some modern version of the Goree holding cells, perhaps a Gitmo encompassing all of North Korea. If we can’t contain them, they do not submit to our will, then they will, what was it he said, oh, “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
The great Xhosa poet, Krune Mqhayi, wrote one of his most famous poems in the early 1900s. In it he tries to explain to his fellow South Africans the world outside of their homeland. He apportions the heavens to the powerful nations of the time as his metaphors. He wrote this with no mention of the U.S. We had not yet become a major world player in the universe South Africans would know about.
He gives to the most powerful European nations, Germany, France, England, the Dutch, the Spanish, the largest of the constellations he knew of. He wrote this, “I give you the Milky Way, the largest constellation, for you are a strange people, full of greed and envy, who quarrel over plenty.” Are we too so full of greed and envy, quarreling over excess that we are willing to permit this man of questionable ethics and intellect in the White House to put us in those rooms above the slave quarters, celebrating the destruction of the Korean peninsula? It’s a question we better address before it’s no longer a question.
I wrote this while we were in Senegal. I hope it will pique your interest in the history of our fellow Americans whose ancestors passed through one of the many Goree Islands on their way to America.
As I’ve mentioned before, we are having that contest. It is free. I wish I could be more excited about it, but Goree has left me short of joy for now. Anyway, all you have to do is register, use this link http://votersmatter.org/commoncause/ First prize, $500 VISA Card, 2nd, $300, 3rd, $200. It’s open to all, and it’s free. From now on, all of our prizes will be given in memory of those 20 million souls sold into slavery, a Goree Island Commemorative. And, for all future contests, we will donate a second first prize, in the name of the winner, to the United Negro College Fund.
Nothing can silence the screams from those chambers. And nothing can wash their blood from those walls, those stones, that sand, or our dreams. I hope Goree reminds us that absolute evil does, has existed, and it is up to each of us to undo as much of that evil as we can.