La Maison des Esclaves
La Maison des Esclaves: A House of Memories and African Art
La Maison des Esclaves, or the House of Slaves, with its symbolic Door of No Return, stands as a significant museum and memorial to the Atlantic slave trade. Located on Gorée Island, just 3 km off the coast of Dakar, Senegal, it is a poignant reminder of the human toll of African slavery. Its African Art museum, inaugurated in 1962 and curated by Boubacar Joseph Ndiaye until his death in 2009, is believed to mark the final exit point of slaves from Africa.
While historians continue to debate the number of African slaves who were actually confined within these walls and the relative significance of Gorée Island in the Atlantic slave trade, the site continues to draw visitors from across the globe, who regard it as an important place to remember and reflect on the history of human slavery.
The House of Slaves was reconstructed and converted into a museum in 1962, largely through the efforts of Boubacar Joseph Ndiaye (1922 – 2009). As a staunch advocate of the memorial, Ndiaye asserted that a vast number of slaves were held in this building and were directly transported to the Americas from here. He claimed that over a million slaves had passed through the doors of the house. This belief has transformed the house into a major tourist attraction and a venue for state visits by world leaders to Senegal.
Despite the controversy surrounding its history, the Maison des Esclaves is a fundamental part of the Gorée Island UNESCO World Heritage site, designated in 1978, and a significant draw for international tourists visiting Senegal. Located just 20 minutes by ferry from Dakar's city center, the museum sees around 200,000 visitors annually. Many visitors, particularly those of African descent, report experiencing powerful emotional reactions to the site, influenced by Ndiaye's interpretation of its historical significance, especially the Door of No Return, which, according to Ndiaye, witnessed the departure of millions of enslaved Africans from the continent for the last time. Before his death in 2008, Ndiaye used to personally guide tours through the basement cells, leading out through the Door of No Return, and present to tourists the iron shackles that were used to bind enslaved Africans.
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