Friday, 8 December 2017

Goree Island: From Slavery To The Promotion Of Reconciliation

Bloggers from 13 Anglophone and Francophone countries
board a ferry in Dakar en route to Goree island
- Pictures by Bruce Chooma, Paul Shalala and Brigitte Reed
By Paul Shalala on Goree Island, Senegal

It is a famous, or is it infamous, island which is well known for slavery, death, human suffering, sexual exploitation and inhuman behaviour.

Goree Island in Senegal is one of three centres where the African Slave Trade thrived. 

But Goree was the epicenter.

According to historical records, the tiny island, which is off the the coast of Dakar, was responsible for up to 20 million slaves who made their way to the Americas from the 1400s until slavery was abolished in the 1800s. 

Six million of those who passed through the island did not make it to the Americas, they died of starvation, disease and others were through overboard. 

But why was Goree chosen as the headquarters of the trans Atlantic Slave Trade?

"The island is at the western tip of Africa and it is positioned directly with the United States. Also, the island was surrounded by sharks, so slaves could not escape once they were brought to the slave houses," said Mamadou Sall, a tour guide who has spent the last two decades showing tourists the historical areas of the island.

Mr Sall. who shares the same surname with the Senegalese President Macky Sall,took a dozen bloggers from across the Africa on a tour of historical sites across the island.
Bloggers from Africa and KAS Media Africa Director
Christoph Plate pose for a photo at the Goree Institute

The bloggers from 13 Anglophone and Francophone countries were attending their annual two day #AfricaBlogging conference on the island under the auspices of the Johannesburg-based KAS Media Africa, a German non governmental organisation.

The island had 28 slave houses which housed thousands of slaves at any given time.

A visit to the only surviving slave house shows how cruel the treatment of the slaves was.

In a small room with little ventilation, 300 slaves would be held for up to three months as they waited for ships to arrive from America.

The outbreak of diseases and deaths were common on the island.

"There were occasional outbreak of diseases on this island. People used to die. Even on their way to America, some people would throw themselves in the ocean while others would actually be thrown by slave owners," said Alione Kabo, a government conservation curator who is based on Goree island.

In those years, the Slave Trade was conducted through batter system.

Slaved were bought using different kinds of goods depending on their body size and stamina.

According to historians, the most expensive slaves were the Yoruba speaking people of Nigeria who were said to have been very energetic and strong in working in the cotton fields.

In those days, slave owners would buy the whole family including parents and children.

"Sometimes, a whole family would be brought here on the island. They would be separated in the slave houses. When time to be shipped comes, the father would go to America, the mother to Brazil and the child to the Caribbean islands," added Mr Kabo.

However, small girls who were brought here suffered sexual exploitation.
A former slave house

According to Mr Kabo, there was an unwritten rule that slave owners had a right to have sex with small girls and once they got pregnant, they would earn their freedom back to the continent of Africa.

Despite its portrayal as a white man's activity, the African Slave Trade was actually done with the consent of African chiefs.

Some of these chiefs benefited a lot by selling their own subjects. 

And today, every visitor to Goree island does not miss the opportunity to visit what is commonly known as 'The Place of no return.'

Of the 28 slave houses on the island, only one remains in its original design and one famous door remains intact to teach the current generation of the past activities.

One door, which is still open today is believed to have been where millions of slaves passed to board ships to America.

Mr Kabo disclosed that: "In this door, any slave who passed through would never return to Africa. it was a gate way to slavery in America. Behind this door, ships docked to load hundreds of slaves at a go. We had sharks swimming around this area because some slaves used to risk swimming away."
Zambian blogger Bruce Chooma at the 'door of no return'

In 1992, Pope John Paul stood at 'The Door of no Return' and apologized for the role Catholic Missionaries played in the slave trade.

He also worshiped in one of the former slave houses which has now been transformed into a Catholic Church.

And in 2013, then United States President Barack Obama visited the island and gave an emotional speech encouraging the protection of human rights.

Since the 1444, Goree island has been ruled by the Portuguese, the Dutch, the French, the British and finally by the French again,

A huge canon with two huge barrels is a reminder of the battles of control fought by the European powers on the island.

Being an island, Goree depends on fish for its survival.

Many residents are fishermen.

Art is also another big business and a major tourist attraction. 

Wherever you go, you will find artifacts, paintings and all kinds of art.

Senegalese blogger Fanta Diallo (Right)
The abundance of sand makes the work for artists easier as they are able to mould or paint anything and sale to the millions of tourists who visit the island annually.

This industry has been in existence for hundreds of years.

Today, Goree island is a thriving community of 1, 200 residents 80 percent of whom are Muslims and the remainder being Christians.

"In Senegal, Christians and Muslims mingle easily. Here on Goree island, the majority of residents are muslims but interestingly, the Mayor is a christian and he is a prominent lawyer," said Fanta Diallo, a Senegalese blogger who is also an elected ward Councillor in the capital Dakar.

Despite its dark past, Goree has moved on and its residents live normal lives.

To preserve its past and promote reconciliation, stakeholders have formed the Goree Institute Center for Democracy, Development and Culture in Africa.

The institute engages various sectors of society and offers courses on democracy and how communities can co-exist.

"The Goree Institute does a lot of things. One of them is the promotion of democracy and reconciliation on the continent of Africa. Despite the history of slavery, we are using Goree as an example for reconcilition. We want to also promote democratic values," said Goree Institute Executive Director Doudou Dia.

As a way of putting the past behind, most slave houses have been transformed into different institutions.

For example, the island's only Medical School is a former slave house where thousands of slaves used to be held.

Every year, descendants of freed slaves from the Caribbean islands come to Goree to commemorate their liberation from slavery at this monument.
The Statue of Liberation on Goree Island

A huge statue has been erected where this event is usually held.

However, one would wonder why everywhere you focus your eyes on, everyone is walking.

Senegalese authorities have declared the island a 'No car area' in order to preserve its historical places and due to its small size.

But you can occasionally see donkeys pulling carts.

In the northern part of the island is a female secondary school which wa closed during our visit.

The school hosts some of the best 200 female pupils who are selected across Senegal and most of them proceed to prestigious universities such as Oxford and Havard.

Access to the island is provided by a boat which ferries people from the city of Dakar to Goree and vice versa.

The ferry is run under a Public Private Partnership and it moves between the island and Dakar for over six times a day.

As I left Goree island, I was reminded how fragile human life can be when those in authority do not respect the rights of those they lead.

For centuries to come, Goree island will continue being a symbol of death, sexual exploitation and cruelty against humanity.

But for those who seek peace and progress, Goree will also be a place where forgiveness and reconciliation can be found.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Lake Kashiba: Bodies Of People Who Drown Never Recovered

Lake Kashiba in Mpongwe District - Pictures by Paul Shalala
By Paul Shalala in Mpongwe

From a distance, this body of water looks likes any other, ordinary and simple - but that is as far as the eye can see.

Beyond this is a legend, dipped in a folklore of myths that suggests more.

Though these waters appear normal and natural, there are stories shrouded in mystery about Lake Kashiba in Mpongwe District on the Copperbelt.

This stunning mass of water, holds stories that sound more stranger than fiction.

The lake sits on three point five hectares of land, surrounded by a forest and the area is now a national monument, protected by the National Heritage and Conservation Commission.

The lake is one of the three sunken lakes in Zambia made of limestone.

Government declared it a national monument in a statutory instrument issued in 1964.

The Lima speaking people of Chief Ngubeni inhabit this area.

The people believe that this lake is sacred and once one drowns, their bodies can never be recovered.

This is just one of those weird beliefs.

"People who drown here are never recovered. We have a recent case of a pupil who drowned and the body was never found. But people still risk, they swim often," said Mwewa, a local resident.

He claims that  according to local myths, the lake has no bottom and it is connected to oceans which makes it easy for bodies to swim away. 

This account of dead bodies not being recovered are shared by many.
Rodgers Kafupi, the caretaker
for Lake Kashiba

Rodgers Kafupi was born and raised here.

He is now 30 years old and is currently the caretaker of Lake Kashiba.

Rodgers recalls that in the past 10 years, three people, including a European tourist, have drowned in the lake and their bodies have never been found.

"It is very true that when you drown here your body wont be found. In the past 10 years, i know of a white man, a black man and a pupil who drowned two months ago, non of their bodies were recovered," said Mr Kafupi.

A few months ago, four pupils were swimming in this lake when one of them drowned.

Commandos from the Zambia Army were called in to help retrieve the body.

But the mission was abandoned after five days of searching and the body was not found.

"When i first came to Mpongwe a few years ago, i was told people who drown here are never recovered and i have proved it. Two months ago, a pupil from Mpongwe South Secondary School drowned here, we called in commandos to retrieve the body but they failed. They tried to measure the depth of the lake and it was averaging 100 meters," said Mpongwe District Commissioner Keith Maila.

Even the common man in the area knows the myths surrounding the lake.

It is believed that the water level increases at night and recedes at dawn.

The Lima people also believe that when one throws any object in the water, that object will be found the following morning placed at one of the rocks on the eastern side of the lake.

"People believe that when you throw anything in the lake, you will find it on the rock. But since the Catholics did their prayers a few years ago, the spirits of have run away and those things no longer happen," said Mr Kafupi.

Due to its natural beauty, Lake Kashiba attracts a sizeable number of tourists especially over the weekend.

Evidence of this can be seen by the beer bottles and other drinks left littered around the lake.

The site has potential to be a major tourist attraction for Mpongwe.

A few years ago, the Council Guest House which was here was brought down on account of lack of business.
One of the sign posts at the lake


But what is the local authority doing to improve the site?

"We have plans to make the place more attractive. We want Zambians to appreciate the natural beauty the country has. Lake Kashiba has potential to earn us revenue and we are doing something about it," said Mpongwe Town Council Treasurer Israel Mukalipa.

A grass thatched hut is the only remaining infrastructure at Lake Kashiba.

The structure is what tourists and visitors use when they go there.

But more can be done by authorities.

"We are asking government to build a lodge here so that visitors can be spending nights here. We are also asking for an office for the National Heritage and Conservation Commission to take care of this place," said another resident

Lake Kashiba is located 28 kilometers west of Mpongwe boma in Saint Anthony area.

The road leading to the lake is gravel, but it has been graded to allow good passage for visitors.

People coming from Copperbelt towns for weekend braiis or picnics only need to drive for an hour or two from Luanshya, Ndola or Kitwe to get here.

The lake itself is accessible throughout the year though in the rain season, the nearby stream bursts its banks and floods the road.