For a record 8th time, I’ve had the pleasure of joining my This Week in Travel co-host Chris Christensen on the Amateur Traveler podcast. Similar to my past appearances, the topic dealt with very small places. This time we talked about my recent trip to the island of St. Helena, located 1,500 miles off the coast of Africa in the Atlantic Ocean.
Amateur Traveler Episode 417 – Travel to Saint Helena
The Island of Gorée testifies to an unprecedented human experience in the history of humanity. Indeed, for the universal conscience, this “memory island” is the symbol of the slave trade with its cortege of suffering, tears and death.
The painful memories of the Atlantic slave trade are crystallized in this small island of 28 hectares lying 3.5 km off the coast from Dakar. Gorée owes its singular destiny to the extreme centrality of its geographical position between the North and the South, and to its excellent strategic position offering a safe haven for anchoring ships, hence the name “Good Rade”. Thus, since the 15th century it has been prized by various European nations that have successively used it as a stopover or slave market. First terminus of the “homeoducs” who drained the slaves from the hinterland, Gorée was at the centre of the rivalry between European nations for control of the slave trade. Until the abolition of the trade in the French colonies, the Island was a warehouse consisting of over a dozen slave houses. Amongst the tangible elements that reflect Gorée’s universal value are, notably, the Castle, a rocky plateau covered with fortifications which dominate the Island; the Relais de l’Espadon, former residence of the French governor; etc…
The Island of Gorée is now a pilgrimage destination for the African diaspora, a foyer for contact between the West and Africa, and a space for exchange and dialogue between cultures through the confrontation of ideals of reconciliation and forgiveness.
Gorée Island was one of the original 12 world heritage sites which were inscribed at the inaugural convention in 1978. It is probably the most important historical monument in the world with respect to the slave trade and the most visited attraction in all of Senegal.
Unlike most historical monuments, it is also a living community. There people who work, live and go to school on the island. This means you have many vendors selling art and other products to tourists everywhere on the island.
Getting to Goree is pretty easy. There is a ferry which takes you there from the port of Dakar. It is about a 15-20 minute ride. The above photo was taken from the deck of the ferry.
I think there needs to be a little work done to Goree to clean it up and help preserve some of the buildings. I don’t think a lot of money is necessary, but it does need work.
Many of the other travelers who were on the West Africa cruise with me listed Goree as one of the highlights of the entire month long trip, which should give you an idea of the importance of the site. It should be a must see for anyone visiting Dakar.
The Island of Gorée is a cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site in Senegal. It was inscribed in 1978 as it provides an insight into the slave trade activity in the region from the 15th to the 19th centuries. The UNESCO site is located about 3 kilometers off-shore and within close proximity to Dakar, which is the capital city of Senegal.
The Island of Gorée went through various colonizers such as the Portuguese, British, Dutch, and French. It is believed that over many centuries under the hands of the said colonizers, roughly 500,000 African slaves were traded through the island. Today, it is recognized as a harsh reminder of this dark side of history pertaining to the slaves in Africa.
About the Island of Gorée
Island of Gorée was the witness to have slaves were traded via this island to the Western countries, wherein mostly were shipped by boat. The history of slave trade started in 1536 nd was initiated by the Portuguese. It ended 312 years later by the time of the French rule in the Island of Gorée.
The slave trade saw an ugly battle among the Portuguese, French, Dutch, and British. The isolation of the island also contributed to the proliferation of the slave trade activity on the island. The island is surrounded by deep waters, which made it impossible for the slaves to escape. Otherwise, death is guaranteed by drowning if they attempted to do so. After all, each slave had a 5 kg metal ball attached to them, which would highly discourage the thought of swimming out into the deep sea.
Today, there are several structures in the Island of Gorée that had remained standing. These included colonial-style buildings, slave houses, and small harbours. The Maison des Esclaves, or the House of Slaves, was built in 1776. This was the most prominent structure that was built on the Island of Gorée during the time of the African slave trade activity. The House of Slaves consisted of a dark dungeon wherein the slaves were kept before they were dispatched onto a doorway that opened up into the sea. From there, they will be transported to any destination that they would be taken to.
Since the Island of Gorée was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it has drawn public attention. It has become a center of study for African slave trades and other dark history associated with it. Over the years, it has had several notable visitors including Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II, and US Presidents George W Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama.
These fortified trading posts, founded between 1482 and 1786, and spanning a distance of approximately 500 km along the coast of Ghana between Keta in the east and Beyin in the west, were links in the trading routes established by the Portuguese in many areas of the world during their era of great maritime exploration. The castles and forts were built and occupied at different times by traders from Portugal, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Holland, Germany and Britain. They served the gold trade of European chartered companies. Latterly they played a significant part in the developing slave trade, and therefore in the history of the Americas, and, subsequently, in the 19th century, in the suppression of that trade.
They can be seen as a unique “collective historical monument”: a monument not only to the evils of the slave trade, but also to nearly four centuries of pre-colonial Afro-European commerce on the basis of equality rather than on that of the colonial basis of inequality. They represent, significantly and emotively, the continuing history of European-African encounter over five centuries and the starting point of the African Diaspora.
I visited both the Cape Coast Castle and the Elmina Castle as part of my 2014 West Africa Cruise on G Adventures. The image shown is on the Elimina Castle.
The slave trade is one of the most significant and common historical themes which can be seen along the coast of West Africa. Millions of people were captures, almost always by other Africans, and traded to Europeans before being shipped off to work in New World plantations. The slave trade was so large that the area just to the east of Ghana was known as the Slave Coast.
The forts in Ghana are far easier to visit, and are better preserved, than the slave forts in other neighboring countries. Ghana has a better tourism infrastructure and has more resources to devote to cultural preservation. That isn’t to say they are perfect, but far better than their neighbors.
In addition to the forts themselves, the nearby fishing towns and villages provided an amazing opportunity for images of boats and fishermen.
I would consider the forts and the slave trade history to be a highlight of any visit to Ghana.
The Forts and Castles, Volta, Greater Accra, Central and Western Regions is a cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site in Ghana. It was inscribed in 1979 and is a collective site that includes outposts and Western-style fortifications. Most of these structures were built by the British, Portuguese, and Dutch rulers in the region. These structures were also constructed along the Gold Coast during colonial period in Ghana.
Hence, the Forts and Castles, Volta, Greater Accra, Central and Western Regions is an important cultural emblem as it is a testament to the colonial influence in the region. In addition, it provides an important glimpse into the trade of gold and slaves.
About the Forts and Castles, Volta, Greater Accra, Central and Western Regions
The Forts and Castles, Volta, Greater Accra, Central and Western Regions is listed by UNESCO as a secular structure or military fortification. There are 11 sites that were added into the list by UNESCO. You can learn more about each of the component sites in Forts and Castles, Volta, Greater Accra, Central and Western Regions below:
The Elmina Castle is a 15th century castle that was erected by the Portuguese colonizers in the Elmina region of Ghana. This was an important monument because it marked the first trading post that was constructed along the Gulf of Guinea. Therefore, it earns the recognition as the oldest European building that existed south of Sahara. In 1637, the Dutch seized control of the fort from the Portuguese.
Fort Saint Antony
This is another component to the UNESCO site Forts and Castles, Volta, Greater Accra, Central and Western Regions. It is a fort that was built by the Portuguese colonizers in early 16th century at the town of Axim. Due to its location, this fort was the first one that Dutch traders would encounter.
This Dutch fort is located along the Gold Coast and was built in the late 17th century. After the Dutch, this fort was occupied by the British from 1781 to 1785. Eventually, this fort was ceded to the British colonizers along with the rest of the Dutch Gold Coast.
Fort San Sebastian
Fort San Sebastian is another monument that is part of the UNESCO site Forts and Castles, Volta, Greater Accra, Central and Western Regions. It is located in Shama and was built in the 1520s by the Portuguese. It served as a trading post until it was captured by the Dutch in 1642.
This structure is a trading post and fort that was established in 1656 by the Dutch colonizers in the Gold Coast. The British eventually took control of this fort in 1872. This fort was historically important since this is where the Treaty of Butre was signed.
Fort St. Jago (Fort Conraadsburg)
The Fort Conraadsburg is another fort that was built along the Gold Coast in the mid-17th century. This fort was built for by the Dutch in order to protect Fort Elmina from any attacks coming from the sea.
Fort Amsterdam was built by the English in Kormantin, which is located in Ghana’s central region. The construction of this fort took place in the mid-17th century. It eventually became part of the Dutch Gold Coast and remained that way until the 1665 when it was captured and became part of the Dutch West India Company.
Fort Patience (Fort Leysaemhyt)
This is another component site to the UNESCO protected area Forts and Castles, Volta, Greater Accra, Central and Western Regions. It was built by the Dutch during the 17th century. It is located in the town of Apam.
Cape Coast Castle, Cape Coast
The Cape Coast Castle is one of the most important components to the Forts and Castles, Volta, Greater Accra, Central and Western Regions. It is also the most recognizable landmark within this protected area. It is one of about 40 slave castles that were constructed on the coast of West Africa that were built for the European traders. This is where the slaves were loaded before they were carried onto ships. It is also known as the “gate of no return” since the castle served as the last stop for these slaves before crossing the Atlantic Ocean.
Fort Good Hope (Fort Goedehoop)
This fort served as the first military building that was constructed in Cape Town. It was built for by the Dutch East India Company in 1652. It served its purpose until 1674 until it was superseded by the Castle of Good Hope.
Today marked an important milestone in the trip. Today we rounded the southwest corner of the Guinea region of Africa and started heading north.
For the last 2-weeks, since we left the cold Benguela current, the water temperature has been hovering around 30°C. Regardless of air temperature, when the ship is in a bath of hot water, it becomes difficult to cool down the vessel. This is especially true for a ship that is designed for the polar regions.
From Angola to Sierra Leone, you could notice the increased temperatures in all the public areas of the ship. Once we rounded Guinea-Bissau, however, the water temperature dropped dramatically. The sea temperature went from 30°C to 25°C. Everyone on board could tell when the water temperature dropped. It was a great feeling.
In addition to sailing in cooler waters, we are now also entering a very different part of Africa. The stretch from Angola to Sierra Leone was very green, more densely populated, with a Christian/Animist population. Now we are entering a drier region: the Sahel. Beyond that is the even drier Sahara Desert.
This is also the beginning of the last leg of the trip. We’ve now traveled about 3/4 of the total distance we will be sailing. From here we also only have 4 more stops before we arrive in Morocco: Gambia, Senegal, Western Sahara and the Canary Islands.
We’ve done so much, it seems like I’ve been on the ship much longer than 3 weeks. I’ve been trying to upload a few images from each country, but I have several hundred to upload once I get on land. I’m really proud of some of the photos I’ve taken the last 3-weeks. It is some of my best work ever, especially my photos of people.
Tomorrow we arrive in the Gambia, the smallest country on the physical continent of Africa.