Last Friday, we visited l'Ile de Gorée (Gorée Island). It is a small island right off the coast of Dakar, about a 20 minute ferry ride. Gorée was the intermediary point for slaves in transit from Africa to the New World. The first slave transport across the Atlantic was in 1562. Between 12 and 15 million slaves passed through Gorée until the mid 1800s when slavery was abolished. In the photo above, you can see a door at sea level on the red building in the middle. That is "the point of no return"--where the slaves boarded ships, parting with their freedom forever. The building is now la Maison des Esclaves (the House of Slaves), open to the public. I felt an overwhelming connection to the past despite being in an atmosphere where so much brutality against humanity took place.
We also visited the Women's museum, which is housed in a gorgeous 1777 mansion (below), and a naval fort that is now a museum of Gorée's history. All of the architecture on Gorée is beautiful. The brilliantly painted buildings made me feel like I was in the Caribbean. I can admit that I have become obsessed with the chaloupe, the small wooden Senegalese boats. Even the engines are adorned with designs. There were hundreds zooming around Gorée all day.
la Musée des Femmes
The entire island was this vibrant:
Des chaloupes (I took at least 60 photos of these boats...)
On Sunday, our group traveled to Mbour, a coastal village about 2 hours from Dakar. We spent a few hours on the beach, then visited a lush, serene hotel for lunch. It was a very relaxing start to the day, but the best part of the day was, by far, participating in, and witnessing the Kankourang tradition in the residential part of the village where the Mendinga people live. The Kankourang is a sacred, animist tradition that occurs every Sunday in September. At the beginning of the month, 3-10 years boys are circumcised by sages, wise elders. Physically and spiritually, these boys are in a vulnerable state. The Kankourang, a spirit (but really a man in a full body costume made of tree bark, with a machete) comes to the village to ward off evil spirits. He was dancing to pounding drum beats, totally in a trance. Literally thousands of people were circled around him, and when the spirit lurched toward the crowd in a certain direction, everyone would run away. It was the craziest experience of my life, no lie. I was scared, yet giddy, with adrenaline rushing through my veins, and I could not wipe the grin off my face. My words cannot even begin to adequately describe this experience. We drove into the village in a bus, and kids began hitting the bus, still moving, with sticks. Some even stared us down and passed their hand across their throat, telling us we were dead meat. There was a Mbour native on the bus with us who explained it was all because they thought we were going to take pictures, which is strictly prohibited. I felt very unwanted and unwelcome, an outsider intruding and invading their space. As soon as we got off the bus and promised to leave our cameras behind, everything was ok. In this day and age when everything is made instantly available on the internet, it was so powerful to be part of something so preserved and still so sacred. It has remained unchanged since the beginning of civilization. The Kankourang has been the best part of my time in Senegal so far.
Here is photo of where we had lunch at the beach in Mbour...not too shabby
And here are some of my friends (Kathleen, Erica, Megan, Kayla, Lauren, Rachel, Simone, and Claire) at the old fort on Gorée.