‘I only ask to be free. The butterflies are free’.. Charles Dickens
Few days ago, I noticed in a magazine article that August 23 is the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. The article went on to speak of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the Triangular Trade in Haiti, Senegal and the Gambia and the rest of Africa. (The Triangular Trade was the system where slaves, produce and manufactured goods were traded between Africa, Americas and Europe).
My memory took me back to the year 2007 when I had travelled on a business trip to Senegal, W Africa. We had visited Goree Island, a UNESCO Heritage site. The House of Slaves (Maison des Esclaves) and its Door of No Return is a museum and memorial to the Atlantic slave trade on Gorée Island.
Ile de Goree (in French) aka Goree Island (in English) is a small island around 3.5 kms from the coast of Dakar. A short ferry ride takes you to the island for a journey through the ages. The island has no roads or cars but the quaint picturesque town hides a brutal history beneath this serene façade. From the 15th to the 19th century, it was the largest slave-trading centre on the African coast. The entire island was a kind of slave holding warehouse where the slaves were kept shackled and chained before they were shipped, mainly to Europe and the Americas.
The Maison des Esclaves or the House of Slaves, if you please, was where the slaves were held before they were sold. The tiny cell would hold around 30 grown men with just a slit for a window. They were fed and let out of the room once a day to attend to their needs. The men and women were housed in separate cells, children separated from the mothers.
The Door of No Return was from where the slaves were sent out to the slave ships to go and create a new world elsewhere. It was a poignant reminder of not just the slaves who left the island never to return, but the door epitomises generations of people who never saw their land of their forefathers ever again.
The colourful houses that have been since restored were the houses of the slave merchants or traders.
The statue symbolising the liberation of slavery on the island. Free of the shackles and the chains…
There have been a lot of controversies on the authenticity of the island’s history, but the visit nevertheless made me realise the importance of something that I had always taken for granted… Being free…
Most of us were born free, from oppression of all kinds including foreign rule. As a result, we find it difficult to understand what it means to live a life that is not ours in the true sense of the word. It is also important to remember that with freedom comes responsibility, responsibility towards others as well as us.
Freedom is being able to breathe, talk, laugh, smile, shout, cry, eat, drink, sleep without fear. It is being able to walk where your heart leads you. It gives you the power to stand up for what you think is right. It is the strength to say no without giving a reason. It is the chance to be better.
‘Freedom is being you without anyone’s permission’… anon.
On a lighter note, the tickets counter at the harbour in Dakar displays lower fares for locals and higher fares for Europeans/Americans. My husband had a lighthearted argument with the ticket vendor that he should be charged the lower fare because he was brown and not white. I think he was able to get away with his logic…
Do share with me what your idea of freedom is…