Moving Forward By Looking Backwards

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Caption: Me looking out towards the Ocean at the Door of No Return. 

Identity, agency and affirmation are three of the most important things that we can develop as human beings. Identity is significant because it serves as a fingerprint on the hand that is our culture. It is developed individually but adds to the spectrum of the communities that we belong to. Agency is the pulse of our experiences. The more agency that we have, the richer our experiences are in life. Social stratification has lead to some individuals having more agency than others, but it is agency that serves as our motivation. Those who have it, enjoy the full power of free will and curate the museums of their lives. Affirmation (or lack thereof) powers agency. To be validated. To be seen. To be heard. Affirmation comes from those who serve as our parents and guardians. It comes from our communities. It comes from success.

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Caption: This was the first building constructed on the island. Initially it was a church. Now it is a Police Station for the island. 

Two days ago, I visited Goree Island. Goree is a 20 minute ferry ride off of the Coast of Dakar, Senegal and it serves as a physical reminder of one of the most horrific atrocities in human history.

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Caption: The view of Goree Island from the Ferry as you approach it. 

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Caption: Entrance to Maison Des Esclaves (Slave House) where the “Door of No Return” is located on Goree Island. 

Genetically, I am 94% African. My great great great grandfather Syrus Williams was born into slavery in [insert year]. Had I been born at that time, I would have been a slave. I would have been a person who was stripped of my humanity, who would have been disconnected from my born identity – as a Ghanain, a Congelese, a Senegalese, etc. My agency would have been shackled in the iron balls and chains that I witnessed and my only affirmation would have been my ability to work, to bear children and to collaborate and conspire in the continued destruction of our continued humanity.

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Caption: This room was for “young girls.” Their value was determined by the fullness of their breasts. They weren’t allowed to come out of the room and were expected to relieve themselves inside of the room because if they were seen outside of the room, it would cause a disturbance with their parents who were sometimes only a few yards away in a different holding area. They were often removed by the room and taken upstairs where the slave masters stayed and sexually assaulted. Parents often prayed for their children to become domestic servants so that they could avoid the life of traveling to America and exiting the door of no return. IMG_2042

 Caption: This area was for children. We were told that the value of boys was determined by their teeth. 
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Caption: This area is the view of the door of no return from inside of the slave house. Originally there was no wall and all you’d see is the water. They added the wall for the safety of others. 

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Caption: This is what you see when you step outside of the door of no return and look right. This is the auction block where enslaves persons would be taken two at a time, chained to the floor and the boats would line up to purchase the enslaved persons and take them away. 

“Move on.” “I did not own slaves.” “That was a long time ago.” Are all things that are said. The danger in that is if we do not remember something, we are likely to repeat it. The human experience on earth, outside of these human-caused nightmares has been one of abundance. One of development. Who are we to cut up earth into imaginary boundaries? Who are we to prevent the development of growth of other human beings? Who are we to call anyone an alien. To deny entry. To deny exits.

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Caption: Former President Barack Obama on a visit to the Goree Island. The curator’s area of the museum is filled with photos and notes from some of the celebrities and historical figures that visited. 

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Caption: I used to teach Elie Wiesel’s book “Night” about the Jewish Holocaust. It was exciting to see his name on the wall. 

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Caption: Harry Belafonte is one of the most philanthropic human rights advocates on the planet. It was great to see his photo and letter at the museum. 

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Caption: Mugabe, President of the Republic of Zimbabwe visits Goree. IMG_1941 copy

Caption: Nina Simone visits Goree Island. 

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Caption: Nelson Mandela visits Goree Island. Mandela is an important symbol, not only for South Africa but for many countries. IMG_1932 copy

Caption: What a blessing it was to write the name of my great, great, great grandfather Syrus Williams into the visitor’s registry at Goree Island. 

Many of the buildings on Goree Island are still in shape. The “door of no return” is located in a Museum called the Museo de Esclaves (or slave house). For those Africans who find themselves in South America, the Caribbean and America, it was our collective forced removal from our ancestral home and would lead us to a path of poverty, of second-class citizenship (when our humanity was finally recognized by constitutions) and we’d become a permanent threat – a people to be feared, to be experimented on (often against our will) and to be the worker bees of European and Western Economies. We’d be lucky if our contributions were recognized and our inventions often made our collective burden easier for us all.

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Caption: Barack Obama and Dr. Martin Luther King were two important symbols visible throughout the continent including this mural of Dr. King on the wall of a hotel. 

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Caption: This brother makes wood sculptures that he uses oil to paint into the dark color.We were able to catch him in the middle of a new piece.

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This brother makes “sand tattoos.” He also demonstrated his technique. I purchased four bottles from him.

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Caption: This statue captures a woman clinging to a man who has broken the chains of slavery. It was powerful! They are standing on top of a drum. 

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Caption: Cheikh creates art out of sand. The sand he gets from all over the continent. The orange sand is from Mauritania, the country that was the source of our delegation’s mission. I purchased four pieces from him! He also demonstrated his technique and studied at the Art School in Dakar. 

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Caption: This brother made quilts out of Fabric. I also purchased two pieces from him because his work is so beautiful! He also made his outfit. 

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Caption: Several artists incorporate found objects into their practice, this includes everything from cell phones to trash collected. The art work was absolutely stunning and unique. 

Some of the most beautiful pieces of art and most creative artisans live and work on Goree. I purchased lots of pieces and I was able to get a picture with the artists. I believe that art is therapy and it is one of the ways that our people have processed and coped with the devastation that slavery was for us and it’s horrible remnants that still impact our communities worldwide.

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Caption: This monument was meant to depict a sinking slave ship. 

As our tour guide spoke to us about the history of slavery as he knew it to be on Goree Island I went through many emotions. One was a deep sadness. One was anger. One was disbelief. The men, women and children and the unspeakable horror that they endured made the air thick. I wondered whose fingers had made etches in the stone. I imagined the literally blood, sweat and tears that mixed into the dirt we were walking on. I touched those walls. I walked into those holding cells. I picked up two small rocks to add to my collection. I bore witness, to remember and to keep telling the story. I hope that the language that I speak (English) and my dark skin serve as an advertisement for the strength and the resiliency of the people whose DNA powers my existence today.

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Caption: Restraining devices, chains and weapons that were housed in the museum area of the Slave House. 

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Caption: Me standing at the top of the staircase, directly above the door of no return, facing Mother Africa. 

As we navigate our collective modern day challenges, it is my hope that black people across the globe can learn about what happened in Goree, Ghana, Angola, etc. It is my hope that we can continue to research and learn as much as possible about the many tribes and the many tongues on the continent. It is my prayer that we can all connect to and be proud of our African Heritage. That when we see each other we recognize each other as family members through shared experience. That we take advantage of resources like education and credentials to solve the problems that are really vestiges of the institution of slavery – discrimination, racism, poverty, misrepresentation and oversimplification of our issues in the media, etc. I’m not interested in the people of African Descent inverting the power dynamic, but I am interested in a level playing field, protecting our civil and human rights and ensuring that our culture remains documented, preserved and transferred for future generations.

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Caption: The salt water eats up the iron causing many of the things on the island (including weapons and chains) to stop functioning. Nature always has a way of balancing things out. 

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Caption: Goree Island has a lot of industry. There are restaurants and lots of artists and merchants who also travel to the island on the Ferry with their goods to sell. This photo captures some of the items that were being delivered. 

Video Footage

Below you will find several videos that I captured while in the Slave House on Goree Island. I used both my nice camera and my cell phone to capture video. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate posting them in the comments section below and I will do my best to answer them or find answers to them.

Check Out My Other Pieces About Slavery Here:

The Slave Revolt You’ve Never Heard of: https://donnienicole.com/2011/07/18/the-slave-revolt-youve-never-heard-of/

When The Ancestors Speak: A Tour of Whitney Plantation: https://donnienicole.com/2017/02/26/when-the-ancestors-speak-a-tour-of-the-whitney-plantation/

And the DNA Tests Revealed… Genetics, DNA Testing and Legacy: https://donnienicole.com/2015/08/24/and-the-dna-tests-revealed-genetics-dna-testing-legacy/.

9 Things We Can Do To Combat Racism: https://donnienicole.com/2015/06/18/9-things-we-can-do-to-combat-racism/.

Note: Thank you to the Abolition Institute for making this trip possible. I look forward to continuing to support the mission of eradicating slavery wherever it may be on the globe!

One Comment Add yours

  1. lawrachelle says:

    Thanks for sharing! The holding cell for women was much larger than the men’s holding cell, was their an explanation? Also, there was a punishment cell for women was there one for men? viewing the doorway gave me chills as I watched the endless view of water, what was it like for you standing in the doorway?
    Again, thanks for sharing!

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