The House of Slaves (Maison des Esclaves) and its Door of No Return is a museum and memorial to the Atlantic slave trade on Gorée Island, 3 km off the coast of the city of Dakar, Senegal. Its museum, which was opened in 1962 and curated until Boubacar Joseph Ndiaye’s death in 2009, is said to memorialize the final exit point of the slaves from Africa. While historians differ on how many African slaves were actually held in this building, as well as the relative importance of Gorée Island as a point on the Atlantic Slave Trade, visitors from Africa, Europe, and the Americas continue to make it an important place to remember the human toll of African slavery
The Portuguese were the first to arrive in 1444, followed by the Dutch, English, and French. All traded in slaves, the majority of the victims of slavery were free born citizens of their lands who were captured and made into slaves.
There used to be about a dozen slave houses on the island, which acted collectively as a warehouse where slaves would be kept and sorted before getting shipped across the Atlantic. The last of these buildings were built by the Dutch in 1776 and is known today as the House of Slaves. Historians believe that the slaves were kept on the ground floor in cells, while the wealthy white slave masters lived in comfortable quarters on the second floor.
The most haunting thing about this place is the “door of no return.” It’s been visited by Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama, and represents the moment of farewell – a final goodbye to the continent many called home. There is plenty of mystery and speculation about this door. Some historians say it was merely used to throw garbage into the sea, while others believe that slaves would exit through the door to board a ship bound for the Caribbean.
JACQUES SAVARY QUOTED“From the moment that the slaves are embarked, one must put the sails up. The reason is that these slaves have so great a love for their country that they despair when they see that they are leaving it forever; that makes them die of grief, and I have heard merchants…say that they died more often before leaving the port than during the voyage.
Some throw themselves into the sea, others hit their heads against the ship, others hold their breath to try and smother themselves, others still try to die of hunger from not eating.” Jacques Savary,a businessman, writing at the end of the 18thcentury.
In any case, today the door has become a symbol for the Diaspora, a place that urges us all to pause and remember the suffering that millions of slaves endured during the TransAtlantic slave trade.
prosper_jones “The House of Slaves is one of the oldest houses on Goree Island. It is now used as a tourist destination to show the horrors of the slave trade throughout the Atlantic world. I believe this is the port my forefathers were shipped from. The fact that I came back as a free man with my wife and stood in front of the “door of no return” is a little more than ironic. .”
To so many visitors, This historical site is more of a place of pilgrimage than a tourist site, with so many emotions attached as they walk through the doors to visualize what their ancestors passed through, their pains and sorrows as they departed the country they loved so much.