The Gorée Commercial

Miniya Ali - Senegal


March 15, 2018

“The Door of no Return” stepping foot on the infamous Gorée island is dream many of us who are descendants of slaves. We ponder the action of going back and defying the notion that the spirit of those who where taken and tortured on Gorée could never find their way back. Gorée as well as other slave ports serve as important corner stones in the identity of the diaspora, reminder of the most critical parts of black history. Luckily I had the chance to see and experience this place with my mother and sister who came to visit me for a week. None of us knew what to expect but my mother raised us for moments like this one. My sister and I knew and experienced many sacred black spaces in our childhood. We snaked through the Carolinas; where most  slaves were taken and compared the tighly cramped slave quarters to the lavish antebellum home of the master. We ate fried fish with the Gullah people of the Carolina Islands; a group of black Americans who had managed to keep their original Afro-english dialect and even kept some of their folklore and culture from Africa. We spoke to Queen Quet, the leader and spokesperson for the Gullah people, she talked to us about the importance of not only preserving but respecting sacred ancestral places. We ran down the dirt roads of the deep South of Georgia and stumbled on the massive cotton fields that our sharecropping great grand parents used to pick for next to nothing. Birmingham Alabama was the place of my birth and the epicenter of the Civil rights movement so it was no surprise that our house was down the street from previous house of the revolutionary activist  Angela Davis. My sister and I would often sneak on the porch of the house despite the no trespassing sign and read the thick silver historical plaque on the door. We peeked through the windows because our childhood imagination had tricked us into believing that she might come back for a visit. We felt our throats close up as we passed by the infamous 16th Street Baptist Church in which four little girls around our ages were bombed and pondered the motivation for such an act. Needless to say being in the prescence of greatness and tragedy was  nothing new to us. And now we were at the beginning. Where the journey of the transatlantic all began. However what we saw was much different than we expected.

We stood in the line to purchase our tickets for the ferry that would take us from Dakar to Gorée. There was no sign indicating the pricing so we asked the man behind the booth. Routinely he said “The price for Senegalese to enter is 1,500, the price for other  Africans is 2,000, and the price for Americans is 5,000 and you must show identification” My friend and I looked at each other in confusion my mother and my sister didn’t understand French so they waited for us to translate the confusion. My friend who was Nigerian American would only pay  2,000 but we were still both very confused   that the pricing didn’t take African Americans into account. The fact we were unthoughtfully lumped into the category of “American” rather than descendants of those who were captured and held at Gorée was astonishing to us. My friend used the French she knew to argue that the people of the diaspora shouldn’t have to pay anything at all much less 5,000. Despite our efforts the man didn’t budge and we reluctantly coughed up the money.
After the cold and brisk ferry ride we finally made it to the island. My Wolof teacher as well as friends who had went to Gorée had warned me about the men claiming to be professional tour guides and charging ridiculous prices. Sure enough we were bombarded with them. Some were polite but others were extremely aggressive and were upset when we respectfully declined them. When we finally made it past the swarm I took some time to take in my surroundings. Loud club like pop music played out of speakers and colorful hotels and restaurants were squished together. Eager shop owners yelled at us to come look at their merchandise. I was disappointed at how commercialized this island had become. There was no quiet and no respect for what happened there. The aura of respect I had seen in other historical black spaces was non-exsisent. Instead it seemed as if the aspect  of it being a money making tourist attraction was the only thing important. While I understand that tourism is a huge boost for the local economy, the fact that Gorée is a place in which thousands of people suffered shouldn’t be ignored. I didn’t feel as if I could truly pay my respects. I thought about the air of honor and respect shown in Holocaust museums and concentration camps and juxtaposed it to the loud up beat music that played on the island. Instead of capitalizing off of the mysticism behind the Trans-atlantic Holocaust, I believe  that Senegalese officials should insure that the dignity and pride of those lives lost is preserved. This is one of the highest forms of self respect  and the only way to demonstrate our love to those who came before us.

Miniya Ali