Gorée’s Gripping Tale: Inside Senegal’s House of Slaves

Tracing the Last Walk of Enslaved People Toward Ships Bound for the Americas Through the Door of No Return – House of Slaves in Dakar, Senegal – Photo by Robin Elaine on Flickr

For hundreds of years, Gorée Island, situated three kilometers from the Senegalese coast, functioned as the leading slave-trading hub along the African shoreline. Today, it’s home to the House of Slaves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and museum dedicated to educating visitors about the effects of the transatlantic slave trade on African people.

The House of Slaves, also known as Maison des Esclaves, was constructed in the late 18th century and initially served as a holding center for Africans waiting to be transported across the ocean. It was converted into a museum and memorial in the 1960s, following Senegal’s independence from France. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.

The House of Slaves is home to various murals and art pieces that showcase traditional African techniques. The art also doesn’t shy away from depicting the horrors of slavery. The museum features numerous objects like chains, cages, and manacles to show the brutality so many people endured.

Despite its bleak subject matter, the House of Slaves is a popular tourist destination. It’s known for centering the voices of the enslaved and provides visitors with a clearer understanding of what enslaved Africans experienced. One of the most significant elements of the museum is the “Door of No Return,” which is described as the area where enslaved people were boarded onto ships.

A visit to the House of Slaves is, understandably, not an easy experience. Former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard said after visiting Gorée in 1981, “It is not easy for a white man… to visit this Slave House without feeling ill at ease.”

Although it may be an unsettling experience, it’s also highly educational to tour the house and other parts of the island. For those who are considering a visit, a video posted on the UNESCO website highlights some of what visitors will experience when they travel to the House of Slaves.