The Slave House of Africa


The Slave House of Africa

House of Slaves or Maison des Esclaves is one of the prime attractions on Gorée Island, 3 km off the coast of the city of Dakar, Senegal. This is basically a small house which is set to be one of the main building used during the period of Atlantic Slave Trade. This according to locals was one of the prime locations from where the majority of African slaves were transported. However there were other such houses dotted around the Island which were also used for legal and illegal slave trades.

Some historian believes that slave trade in Western Africa was rampant even before the arrival of the Europeans and the Americans. Usually Arab Merchants and local African Tribe Kings dealt in slave much before to the arrival of the Europeans. Some say that even though slavery is abolished it still continues in some form or the other in present times.

Major slave trading regions of Africa, 15th–19th centuries
Major slave trading regions of Africa, 15th–19th centuries (Inspired by Benjamin, Thomas (2009) The Atlantic World: Europeans, Africans, Indians, and their Shared History, 1400-1900, Cambridge University Press, p. p. 340 – Wikipedia)
King of Congo receiving Dutch Ambassador - 1642
King of Congo receiving Dutch Ambassador – 1642
An African dealer marches Slaves to the coast where they will be sold.
An African dealer marches Slaves to the coast where they will be sold.
Slaves being moved to the coast of Africa destined for St. Domingue, 1786.
Slaves being moved to the coast of Africa destined for St. Domingue, 1786.
Slave Market on the Kambia River, Coast of Africa. A woodcut from an oil painting from 1840.
Slave Market on the Kambia River, Coast of Africa. A woodcut from an oil painting from 1840.
A page from the log book of the Black Prince, a slave ship sailing out of Bristol in 1763.  This page notes that there are 488 slaves on board
A page from the log book of the Black Prince, a slave ship sailing out of Bristol in 1763.
This page notes that there are 488 slaves on board
Merchants and Slaves of Goree
Merchants and Slaves of Goree

House of Slaves has also been recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage site in 1978. This house consists of a museum, quarters where men, women and children were kept and the famous Door of no Returns. The upper floor of the house has been converted into a museum which consists of artifacts from the slave trade era.

Statues and plaque at the Maison des Esclaves Memorial
Statues and plaque at the Maison des Esclaves Memorial.
View of the Atlantic from House of Slaves
View of the Atlantic from House of Slaves
The entrance of the 'House of Slaves'
The entrance of the ‘House of Slaves’
The famous stairs of the 'House of Slaves'
The famous stairs of the ‘House of Slaves’
The weighing room
The weighing room
The cell reserved for men - inside view
The cell reserved for men – inside view
View of the corridors
View of the corridors
View of the corridors
View of the corridors
The cell reserved for young girls
The cell reserved for young girls
Cell reserved for temporary unfit - view from inside
Cell reserved for temporary unfit – view from inside
Cell reserved for infants - view from inside
Cell reserved for infants – view from inside
Upper floor of the building which has been converted into a museum
Upper floor of the building which has been converted into a museum
Upper floor of the building which has been converted into a museum
Upper floor of the building which has been converted into a museum
Various objects used during the slave trade
Various objects used during the slave trade
Various objects used during the slave trade
Various objects used during the slave trade
Various objects used during the slave trade
Various objects used during the slave trade
View of the Atlantic from the upper floor of the building
View of the Atlantic from the upper floor of the building

This house was approximately built around 1770’s and was almost in ruins until its reconstruction in the 1970’s. There has been a debate on the exact use of this house for slave trade and most historians shift the location northwards towards St. Louis. However Goree Island was still used as one of the ports for transportation of slaves to the Americas.

The Door of No Returns in the house was believed to be the last a slave saw of continent of Africa. They were made to walk on a plank of wood which lead them to the slave ships. Thus it’s called The Door of No Returns since once the slave crosses this door there is no turning back. This house also has different rooms specifically built to house different type of slaves like young men, young girls, children, men, women etc. There is also a room built specifically to punish the offenders. Other rooms include the main office where the slaved were measured and divided in groups accordingly.

The Door of no Return as seen from inside the house
The Door of No Return as seen from inside the house
The Door of no Return as seen from inside the house
The Door of No Return as seen from inside the house
Barack and Michelle Obama at the Door of no Return – (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Barack and Michelle Obama at the Door of No Return – (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Pope at the Door of no Return – (CNS photo/Giancarlo Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)
Pope at the Door of No Return – (CNS photo/Giancarlo Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)
France’s President Francois Hollande (L) and his companion Valerie Trierweiler look out from the “Door of no Return” at the former slave trade building on Goree Island, off the coast of Dakar,  in this October 12, 2012 file picture. (Reuters)
France’s President Francois Hollande (L) and his companion Valerie Trierweiler look out from the “Door of no Return” at the former slave trade building on Goree Island, off the coast of Dakar,
in this October 12, 2012 file picture. (Reuters)
Plaques at the entrance
Plaques at the entrance
Plaques at the entrance
Plaques at the entrance
Plaques at the entrance
Plaques at the entrance

I was stunned for few moments once inside the house, I had heard about slave trade but this was my first experience of felling what slave life was really like. The sheer level of how humanity can stoop to a level where it slaves its own kind is beyond imagination. As I went from room to room I had a chill running down my spine just by imagining that the sheer number of families that were torn apart just for fulfilling the requirement of labors by the ruling class. Men, women, children etc. were all segregated and kept under locks in separate rooms. Even infants were separated from their parents and sold as a separate category.

The Door of No Return was an eerie experience altogether, just imagine that it would the last step you would ever take on your soil, your homeland and that you will never return. What was worse was that nearly thirty percent of the slaves never made it alive to the other shores. Either they were dead due to sickness or were flogged to death. And to make it much worse it still continues today somewhere or the other… just think about it.

Goodbye from Goree Island…
Goodbye from Goree Island…
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8 thoughts on “The Slave House of Africa

  1. Hi Shubhadip, great post…incidentally, we are still slaves….earlier, it was bonded slavery in shackles, today, it is economic slavery…the situation more or less remains the same…’Food for Thought’..

    Liked by 1 person

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