Slavery is perhaps the worst form of human rights violation and it takes much more than breaking the chains of bondage to actually restore the lost dignity and self-worth of an individual. I realized this a few years ago, when I was visiting
Dakar, capital of . Senegal
On the last day of my stay in
Dakar, I thought I had experienced closely enough. I had wandered through the downtown, I had shopped on the streets, spoken with NGOs fighting against female genital mutilation, gone to the beach and managed to see the sunrise from a tip facing eastwards, had drank the juice extracted from bui fruit of the Boabab tree several times over and had also heard an inspiring speech by His Excellency Abdoulaye Wade - President of the Republic of Senegal about his vision of growth and development. Yet, the visit would not have been complete if I had missed seeing Dakar . So with some ten hours to spare before taking the flight home, I decided to head for the Goree Island . Goree Island
The place is historically significant because the slave trade across the Atlantic is considered to have started from
and it is also recognized as the UNESCO Heritage Site. I had a friend from Goree Island Cuba to give me company and we took a ferry from the port to the . As we approached the Goree Island Island and were waiting to disembark, I came across something I had not seen before. At least fifteen boys, all between the ages of nine and twelve years, were swimming in the waters below and came close to the docked ferry. They shouted out to draw our attention and asked us to throw coins which they could dive under water, fetch and keep for themselves as their prized earnings. Every time a coin was thrown (given the height of the ferry, the denomination and currency would have been barely visible to the children) there was a mad rush towards it. The tourists were getting ‘entertained’ watching the children scramble for the coins. This continued for at least five minutes and at the end of the show, both the tourists and children seemed to feel disappointed. We waited on the shore and watched as the children came back, some wrapped in towels and others still dripping, counting their earnings and waiting for the next ferry to arrive.
On the island, we first headed towards the House of Slaves. Although the island has other museums and buildings of importance, the House of Slaves is clearly the most visited. At the entrance, I roughly recollect the words that were displayed reminding us that even if the entire sky were a sheet of paper and all the water in the oceans were ink, it would still not be sufficient to write down all the sufferings that the slaves underwent in the House of Slaves. This stone building painted in red with a small wooden entrance was built by the Dutch in 1776. As we entered into the building and stood in the courtyard, we could see the two semicircular staircases that led up to the traders’ quarters on the first floor. The traders standing here made decisions about buying and selling of slaves after examining those produced before them in the courtyard. On the ground floor, there were separate cells for men, women, young girls and children. Each cell was very small and dingy having only small windows with bars. All the windows faced inwards and none of them faced outwards towards the Atlantic, depriving the slaves of even a glimpse of the flying birds in the open skies. Men who were underweight and physically unfit were kept in a separate cell until they were fit enough to be sold. There was a weighing room where slaves used to be actually weighed before being put on sale. The chains attached to an iron ball which kept the slaves physically bounded were also on display. At the end of the corridor was a gate which opened into the
Atlantic Ocean referred to as the ‘gate from where no one returned’. Through this gate, the slaves were sent off on their long journey to the New World.
I stood there trying to see beyond the horizon and trying to imagine what it must have been like for those who went through the gate and those who dreadfully waited for their turn. Coming from different time, space and context, it was very difficult for me to fully comprehend and feel the tragedy borne by so many persons on the same premises where I was standing. We walked back to take the ferry to
. Still lost in my thoughts about what I had witnessed at the House of Slaves, I came back to my senses after hearing the children cry out again for coins to be thrown. Slavery, I thought, may have been abolished but can one say the same about exploitation? Dakar