Tuesday, 11 February 2014

(91): Tsaraba from an adventurous journalist (III)

Even before arriving in Senegal, I heard so much about Goree Island. Every person I met who has visited Senegal, the first question he asked me was whether I have a plan to visit the Island, and my answer was always in the affirmative, even though I wasn’t sure how to create the time to make the visit. 

The perfect opportunity arrived around 11am on January 29th 2014. We have completed the event that took us to Dakar, though my flight will be departing at 4:30 pm the same afternoon. But it is worth the risk. Four of us, a British-Algerian, a Somali-Canadian and of course two Nigerians, including yours sincerely; we took a taxi and headed to the port in order to take a ferry to Goree Island. As the taxi driver cruises through the city one can clearly see the signs of economic growth in Dakar. Buildings are springing up, the roads well tarred, but most importantly the smile on the faces of the people.

“Africa looks the same” said the Canadian, “yes there are lots of similarities” my friend from Lagos said. Sometimes you feel you are in Lagos, in other areas it feels like the outskirts of Kano city, and in other areas you see typical Abuja roofs, not necessarily the red ones, also called jinin talaka “the blood of the poor”,  sarcastically implying that the houses were built with resources stolen from government coffers.

Although we knew where we were heading to, the smile and excitement in all of us tells you that we have not yet seen the Goree Island in order to understand the extent of the inhumanity exhibited by fellow humans. As we arrived at the port, we queued up to purchase the tickets. Here the African spirit was at work again. If you are from Africa you pay half price, while those from other parts of the world, will pay the full fare.

After paying our tickets we headed to the lounge. The ferry arrived every thirty minutes. It was few minutes past 12pm. So we intend to take the one at 12:30 so that we can be there by 1pm. People sat calmly waiting for the ferry. You will think that everyone is a visitor. No some of the people in the lounge have business in the Island, so they come to the lounge to woo customers.  

A guide was allocated to us. His name is Elhadj Gaye. A young, medium height Senegalese, most likely in his late twenties. Before we embark on the journey, Elhadj started the tour through history. “We are going to the Goree Island, where over twenty million slaves were transported from Africa to Europe and North America”. He said. “An additional six million also perished on the road”. Elhadj added. 
Passengers at the lounge waiting for the Ferry

The smiles and the excitement on our faces started fading away. Feelings of remorse, sympathy, agony, disenchantment, begin to emerge. These are people who have committed no crime; their only crime is the colour of their skin.

As Elhadj continued to narrate the story to us, the ferry arrived, and we immediately started boarding.  Just before the boarding, we heard a little voice saying “Assalamu Alaikum”, it was a young lady carrying a bag, and is surely from the local community. “My name is Fatimata, I have a shop in Goree Island, I hope you will visit my shop, I have lots of interesting traditional items that will be of interest to you”, we thanked her and promised if time is available we shall visit her shop. This is one of the marketing strategies used by shop owners in the Island. They come to the port and mix with passengers, and trust them; they have a lot of traditional tsaraba for you to take home.  

As the ferry started sailing, a different kind of feeling welled up in us. Here we are engaged in a journey that thousands of Africans went through. The difference though was that they traveled under coercion, subjugation and in chains simply to serve the ego of other mortals, while we are simply traveling as an adventure.

As the ferry meandered through the sea, I remembered the scholarly contribution of the likes of Walter Rodney, whose classic, “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” is a must read for anyone interested in understanding the historical precedence of African underdevelopment.

Walter Rodney told us that “the massive loss to the African labour force was made more critical because it was composed of able-bodied young men and young women. Slave buyers preferred their victims between the ages of 15 and 35, and preferably in the early twenties; the sex ratio being about two men to one woman. Europeans often accepted younger African children, but rarely any older person”.

Inside the ferry as we headed towards Goree Island
According to him “the zones most notorious for human exports were, firstly, West Africa from Senegal to Angola along a belt extending about 200 miles inland and, secondly, that part of East Central Africa which today covers, Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi, Northern Zambia and Eastern Congo”.

Through this journey I began to understand why Walter Rodney had to write this book but before I finished my meditation we were in Goree Island. It is now my opportunity to travel through history, history of three hundred years of inhumanity. Yet I have got just one hour to do that, as I had to prepare for the airport in order to catch my flight back home.

To be continued


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