Immersing Myself in Painful History on Ile de Goree

As the door opens to my eyes are immediately drawn to a bright light coming through the hall directly in front of me. But before I can move towards it I hear a beckon from my right ear; a demand for the entry payment. I stumble through my pockets in attempt of finding somewhat exact change, my eyes never leaving the path in front of me.

I hold my hand out of as the old man draped in colourful garb picks away the coins until he is content. I wrap my fingers tightly around what’s left in my hand and dip it back into my pocket. My feet shuffle as I am the first to arrive this morning, and I am cautious not to break the silence or mood of this place. Although not pleasant, I feel the need to drink it all in, even the pain.

I walk towards a narrowing hallway and run my hands along the cold wet stone wall as I enter. The stone is etched with names and dates. I’m not sure if the inscriptions are simple defacements or of significant value; regardless, they add to the mood. Along the walls tiny windows to bordering cells are trapped with rusty steel bars. Dust collects in the corner of the dungeons, and I see a rat scamper out through a hole.

But it’s not the cells that draw me, but that light created through the open door at the end of the hallway. It is that door that has so much meaning, though it does not lead to anywhere. Because, you see, I’m in the slavery house on Ile de Goree, a place where hundreds of captured slaves were held each year before being sent off on ships to America, or to their death on route.

As I step through the door and look out onto the calm ocean horizon, I can’t help but feel a wave of emotion hit me like a cold fever. Although I know the door is but a symbol, since no ship could get this close to the rocky shores of Ile de Goree, it is a powerful emblem. It is a reminder of the terror that greed and ignorance caused man to undertake.

View through the door to nowhere

But still, even as I look out through the door – as my toes stretch across the final step and I can see the pain and misery among a ship leaving in my mind – I don’t close my eyes, nor do I turn away. Because I know that turning away from these parts of our history will do us no good. Should we not learn from the mistakes of our ancestors, we can only leave open the possibility open of it happening again. However, we can’t dwell on the past either, but rather learn from it and hopefully become better from not shying away from the painful sight of our past.

A Boy out on the streets in Ile de Goree

As I leave the building dubbed the “house of slavery”, though pained I can’t help but be given hope in the smiles of the children racing around outside. It only takes one look at the innocent faces of the youth to be reminded that we aren’t born of evil blood. Mankind in innately good, I believe, regardless of the cruelty we have shown in the past.


Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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2 Comments

  1. Really hope your last paragraph is true. Most of the time I agree, but sometimes I wonder. I haven’t been here yet, but I’ve read a lot about it. Your account moved me a lot. Thanks.

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    • Thanks for reading Linda!

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