13 Dec 2009 The Giche
The Giche. The words African and American have never carried so much weight as they did while I was on Goree Island. When I was in Dakar, I went to Goree alone because I knew that it would be a special experience for me and I knew that the fellows would respect that. I took a ferry to the island and when I was sitting on the boat I couldn’t stop thinking about my family and our history.
My father’s side of family has knowledge of our origins in America. A lot was retained orally. I know the slave port where my family comes from. It’s called Paris Island. Paris Island is a tiny port outside the Carolinas. The slaves on Paris Island were annexed to the mainland in the 20’s and it’s now a US Marines base. Paris Island like most slave ports carried over a lot of African culture despite enslavement. The culture and language that comes from Paris Island is called Giche. Almost all of my family down south is Giche and can some of the language. I take pride in being a fifth generation Giche and in knowing the history of not only my family but my people in general. Earlier this year I did some research on Paris Island and found that the slaves from that port originated from Mali, Senegal, Guinea and possibly Benin. Once I heard that GCY was sending me to Senegal I knew that it was going to be much more significant than just another “cross cultural” experience.
When the ferry was approaching the island I kept staring at it as a means for mediation trying to clear my head of all pre-conceived notions and expectations. The ferry docked and I got off and completely stunned by the beauty of the Goree. I found a guide and who was a friend of a friend. His name was Babacar he took me on a tour around the island. I learned many facts about Goree on the island. We had lunch and we talked about the challenges in Senegal and in Africa in general. After lunch we went to the “Maison des Esclaves” (house of slaves). I had read so many books about the conditions and treatment slaves but to actually be at one of the main ports where my ancestors were held was surreal. While I was there I walked through the holding cells and the “Door of No Return”.
That visit was huge for me it was the first time I ever felt African and American at the same time. Usually since I’m Black and live in America, I have to constantly be aware of race and, contrary to popular belief, racism isn’t over. We won’t eradicate racism until we deal with the realities that slavery is not far removed and the practices have taken on different forms in today’s world. Goree for me represents the birthplace of the duality of Black America that’s why the visit was so impactful for me. Every question and every answer was right there.
The rest of the day I walked around the island and talked to the locals (not the tourists) and was taken back by all positive energy on the island. I was humble in many way on Goree. But more than anything I was humbled by our human capacity to come to peace with reality and find ways to heal.