Senegal and the Slave Trade

This morning the Braemar docked in Dakar, capital of Senegal. The view from our balcony showed us that Dakar appeared to be more modern than Banjul, as there were several high-rise buildings and more traffic on the roads. It also looked a lot cleaner!

After breakfast we collected the tickets for our tour from the Neptune Lounge, then disembarked the Braemar, thereby setting foot on Senegal soil and our 74th country.

We didn’t need a bus this time, as our visit was to Goree Island, a ferry ride away from the mainland. The ride was only about 20 minutes, then we alighted at the other side, where we would learn all about the slave trade from the 18th century.
We had been allocated Bob Ferris, the retired policeman and one of the ship’s guest speakers, as our escort and our guide was called Hamidou. As we were group 13, we’d been told to join groups 11 and 12. As there are 30 in each group, Bob argued that a party size of 90 was far too big and said we were only supposed to be in groups of 60. Hamidou disagreed and there were a few raised voices while we all stood around waiting. Bob apologised to us and said that, as tourism is still fairly new in Senegal, they weren’t quite used to organising tour parties.

As we were waiting, we were approached by the inevitable hawkers selling jewellery, sarongs and wooden carvings. We were invited to look at their stalls but we explained we were on a guided tour. But they insisted we come and have a look afterwards, so we agreed just to get rid of them.

We walked along the streets until we came to the Maison des Esclaves or the House of Slaves. The official language of Senegal is French, so all the signage around the island was in French. The curator of the house of slaves showed us the depressing cells and explained how men, women and children were separated and given different prices, depending on their age, fitness and working abilities. The most valuable were the virgin girls, who would inevitably be used as breeding stock. The slaves were chained together with leg irons and shackles and the men were placed 20 to a cell. The cells had stone walls, small barred windows and dim lanterns; they were thoroughly depressing places. I found it appalling that a human being could keep another human in chains. The slave trade is a shameful and disgusting history of man’s cruelty to man.

We were shown the long corridor down which the slaves were herded onto the waiting ships, after which it was “goodbye Africa” and off to the unknown. Large numbers of slaves were shipped to America, the Caribbean and Brazil, which explains the many cultures of these countries; most of the black people there can trace their ancestry back to the slave trade in Africa 250 years ago.

Once we came out of the slave house we walked along the path to a sand-painter’s workshop and gallery. There are about 15 different colours and textures of sand in Senegal and the artist first of all draws the outline of his picture, then coats areas with glue, to which the sand then adheres before being smoothed. The pictures were most striking.

When we came out we were once again accosted by the hawkers but we just shrugged them off.

Our next visit took us up a winding path along uneven ground; you really had to look where you were putting your feet or risk stumbling on the stony terrain. When we arrived at the top we had excellent views over to the mainland, but the main attraction was a large gun turret and a pair of big guns with 8” barrels; apparently this was where the film The Guns of Navarone was filmed.

We wandered around a bit, enjoying the sea breeze before gingerly picking our way down the hill again. On the way I saw some ladies selling colourful African sarongs; a purple and yellow one caught my eye so I asked her how much. “20 Euros” she replied (she’s got to be joking!) but we bartered her down to 10 Euros.
Immediately afterwards another seller came over to me and said “You’ve bought something from her, now buy something from me. My name is Betty, you buy something from Betty”. I explained to Betty that I didn’t want another sarong as I already had one, and I didn’t want to buy any beaded jewellery as I make it myself. She carried on asking me and tugging on my arm, but I kept firmly saying “No thank you”.

As we walked around the island and looked at the baobab trees and other things of interest, Betty just latched onto me and kept following me around. “You buy something from Betty; Betty needs to feed her kids” she kept saying, annoyingly referring to herself in the third person all the time. I kept refusing; she was fairly plump and obviously wasn’t starving!

As she followed me around (aaarrgh! Go away!) her demeanour went from cheerful to wheedling to downright belligerent. Even when our guide chased her away she was back again within minutes. I would be listening to the guide and would feel her eyes glaring balefully at me.

When we went along to a Christian church we finally managed to get rid of her. 🙂
Hamidou explained to us that Senegal is 90% Muslim and 10% Christian, but that there was no sectarian animosity and both religions lived together in harmony and peace, respecting each other’s beliefs. I wish it could be like that in Britain!

We had a look in the little wooden church, then went along for a seat in a large courtyard where a guide would give us a summary of our trip before we headed back down to the ferry port. There were complimentary soft drinks and bottled beer on offer, so we enjoyed a cold beer each until it was time to go for our 12.30pm ferry back to Dakar.

Once we were back on board the Braemar we went for our lunch, then made our way back down to the gangway where we’d noticed a bloke selling Senegal postcards and stamps; he explained we could write them out and he would then post them once he was back ashore. There was a box there where people could deposit their stamped cards.

So we bought a couple of cards, wrote them out, stamped and posted them then went back to our cabin for a post-luncheon nap.

Afterwards it was just the usual; sitting around enjoying a couple of drinks, wandering around the ship, socialising and swapping stories with other passengers.
The theme night tonight was red, white and blue or British Night, so as we got dressed for our evening meal I put on a pair of white trousers and a Union Jack t-shirt, as well as sporting a feather boa in red, white and blue. Trevor was extremely smart in his black trousers, white wing-collar shirt, a Union Jack waistcoat and Union Jack bow tie. I told him he had to be the best-dressed person on the ship. 🙂

We were actually the only couple on our table who’d dressed up, but here and there around the ship we could see quite a few others had got into the spirit and were wearing red, white and blue as well.

In the Neptune Lounge tonight we were all given little British flags to wave and the cruise director led a good old singalong, ending with Land of Hope and Glory.
Then the Braemar Show Company put on an all-singing, all-dancing show called “Cool Britannia”, featuring the great British bands and singers such as The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Elton John, Tom Jones, etc. It was a good show as ever and there was a lot of flag waving and arms in the air from the audience.

Then we went along to the Coral Club and joined George and Barbara for the quiz. For the second time we won, and got some of the prize tokens. But during the quiz the deputy cruise director Jamie had been coming round looking at the people who had dressed up. He said “if I tap you on the shoulder you have to stand up at the end so people can get a good look at you, and there will be a bottle of sparkling wine for the person considered the best dressed.”

Not surprisingly Trevor was one of the ones chosen, along with another couple of blokes and a woman. One of the other guys was wearing a Union Jack waistcoat but Trevor’s was nicer. Jamie then pointed to each person and asked the audience to cheer. By far and away Trevor got the loudest cheer so we won the bottle of cava, which we shared with George and Barbara. 🙂

Afterwards we stayed in the Coral Club for the M.I.T. Band and the disco. In fact, it was after 2.00am when we finally returned to our cabin. We had two days at sea to look forward to, so we propped our balcony door open and slept well, lulled by the Braemar’s gentle motion on the waves.

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