Coordinates: 14°40′01″N 17°23′54″W / 14.66694°N
17.39833°W / 14.66694; -17.39833
0.5 km2 (0.2 sq mi)
3,400/km2 (8,700/sq mi)
UNESCO World Heritage Site
1978 (2nd Session)
[edit on Wikidata]
Gorée (French pronunciation: [ildəɡoʁe]; "Gorée
Island") is one of the 19 communes d'arrondissement (i.e. districts)
of the city of Dakar, Senegal. It is an 18.2-hectare (45-acre) island
located 2 kilometres (1.1 nmi; 1.2 mi) at sea from the main
Dakar (14°40′0″N 17°24′0″W / 14.66667°N
17.40000°W / 14.66667; -17.40000), famous as a destination for
people interested in the Atlantic slave trade.
Its population as of the 2013 census was 1,680 inhabitants, giving a
density of 5,802 inhabitants per square kilometre (15,030/sq mi),
which is only half the average density of the city of Dakar.
both the smallest and the least populated of the 19 communes
d'arrondissement of Dakar.
Other important centres for the slave trade from
Senegal were further
north, at Saint-Louis, Senegal, or to the south in the Gambia, at the
mouths of major rivers for trade. It is a
UNESCO World Heritage
The name is a corruption of its original Dutch name Goedereede,
meaning "good roadstead".
1 History and slave trade
1.1 French invasion and colonialisation
3 Archaeology of
Gorée Archaeological Project
3.3 Pre-European settlement
3.4 European settlement
3.4.1 Maison des Esclaves
3.4.2 Bambara Quartier
4 Notable residents
5 In popular culture
8 Further reading
9 External links
History and slave trade
Orange and Nassau Fort at
Gorée island. Coloured engraving, Holland,
Gorée is a small island 900 metres (3,000 ft) in length and 350
metres (1,150 ft) in width sheltered by the
Now part of the city of Dakar, it was a minor port and site of
European settlement along the coast. Being almost devoid of drinking
water, the island was not settled before the arrival of Europeans. The
Portuguese were the first to establish a presence on
Gorée c. 1450,
where they built a small stone chapel and used land as a cemetery.
Gorée is known as the location of the
House of Slaves
House of Slaves (French: Maison
des esclaves), built by an Afro-French
Métis family about
House of Slaves
House of Slaves is one of the oldest houses on the
island. It is now used as a tourist destination to show the horrors of
the slave trade throughout the Atlantic world.
After the decline of the slave trade from
Senegal in the 1770s and
1780s, the town became an important port for the shipment of peanuts,
peanut oil, gum arabic, ivory, and other products of the "legitimate"
trade. It was probably in relation to this trade that the so-called
Maison des Esclaves was built. As discussed by historian Ana Lucia
Araujo, the building started gaining reputation as a slave depot
mainly because of the work of its curator Boubacar Joseph Ndiaye, who
was able to move the audiences who visited the house with his
performance Many public personalities visit the House of Slaves,
which plays the role of a site of memory of slavery. In June 2013,
President of the United States Barack Obama visited the House of
The island of
Gorée was one of the first places in
Africa to be
settled by Europeans, as the Portuguese settled on the island in 1444.
It was captured by the United Netherlands in 1588, then the Portuguese
again, and again the Dutch. They named it after the Dutch island of
Goeree, before the British took it over under Robert Holmes in 1664.
French invasion and colonialisation
After the French invasion in 1677, the island remained continuously
French until 1960. There were brief periods of British occupation
during the various wars fought by France and Britain. In 1960 Senegal
was granted independence. The island was notably taken and occupied by
the British between 1758 and 1763 following the
Capture of Gorée
Capture of Gorée and
wider Capture of
Senegal during the
Seven Years' War
Seven Years' War before being
returned to France at the Treaty of
Paris (1763). For a brief time
between 1779 and 1783,
Gorée was again under British control, until
ceded again to France in 1783 at the Treaty of
Paris (1783). During
that time, the infamous Joseph Wall was Lieutenant Governor there, who
had a man unlawfully flogged to death in 1782.
Gorée was principally a trading post, administratively attached to
Saint-Louis, capital of the Colony of Senegal. Apart from slaves,
beeswax, hides and grain were also traded. The population of the
island fluctuated according to circumstances, from a few hundred free
Africans and Creoles to about 1,500. There would have been few
European residents at any one time.
In the 18th and 19th century,
Gorée was home to a Franco-African
Creole, or Métis, community of merchants with links to similar
communities in Saint-Louis and the Gambia, and across the Atlantic to
France's colonies in the Americas.
Métis women, called signares from
the Portuguese senhora descendants of African women and European
traders, were especially important to the city’s business life. The
signares owned ships and property and commanded male clerks. They were
also famous for cultivating fashion and entertainment. One such
signare, Anne Rossignol, lived in
Saint-Domingue (the modern Haiti) in
the 1780s before the Haitian Revolution.
Schley, Jacobus van der, 1715–1779. Island of
Gorée and its
In February 1794 during the French Revolution, France was the first
nation in the world to abolish slavery. The slave trade from Senegal
stopped. In April 1801, however,
Gorée was captured by the British
In March 1815, during his political comeback known as the Hundred
Days, Napoleon definitively abolished the slave trade to build
relations with Great Britain. (Scotland had never recognized slavery
and England finally abolished the slave trade in 1807.) This time,
As the trade in slaves declined in the late eighteenth century, Gorée
converted to legitimate commerce. The tiny city and port were ill
situated for the shipment of industrial quantities of peanuts, which
began arriving in bulk from the mainland. Consequently, its merchants
established a presence directly on the mainland, first in Rufisque
(1840) and then in
Dakar (1857). Many of the established families
started to leave the island.
Civic franchise for the citizens of
Gorée was institutionalized in
1872, when it became a French “commune” with an elected mayor and
a municipal council. Blaise Diagne, the first African deputy elected
to the French National Assembly (served 1914 to 1934), was born on
Gorée. From a peak of about 4,500 in 1845, the population fell to
1,500 in 1904. In 1940
Gorée was annexed to the municipality of
From 1913 to 1938,
Gorée was home to the École normale supérieure
William Ponty, a government teachers' college run by the French
Colonial Government. Many of the school's graduates would one day lead
the struggle for independence from France.
Gorée is connected to the mainland by regular 30-minute ferry
service, for pedestrians only; there are no cars on the island.
Senegal’s premier tourist site, the island was listed as a UNESCO
World Heritage Site
World Heritage Site in 1978. It now serves mostly as a memorial to the
slave trade. Many of the historic commercial and residential buildings
have been turned into restaurants and hotels to support the tourist
Map of Gorée
With the foundation of
Dakar in 1857,
Gorée gradually lost its
importance. In 1872, the French colonial authorities created the two
communes of Saint-Louis and Gorée, the first western-style
municipalities in West Africa, with the same status as any commune in
France. Dakar, on the mainland, was part of the commune of Gorée,
whose administration was located on the island. However, as early as
Dakar was detached from the commune of
Gorée and was turned
into a commune in its own right. Thus, the commune of
limited to its tiny island.
Gorée still had 2,100 inhabitants, while
Dakar only had
8,737 inhabitants. However, by 1926 the population of
declined to only 700 inhabitants, while the population of
increased to 33,679 inhabitants. Thus, in 1929 the commune of Gorée
was merged with Dakar. The commune of
Gorée disappeared, and Gorée
was now only a small island of the commune of Dakar.
In 1996, a massive reform of the administrative and political
Senegal was voted by the Parliament of Senegal. The
commune of Dakar, deemed too large and too populated to be properly
managed by a central municipality, was divided into 19 communes
d'arrondissement to which extensive powers were given. The commune of
Dakar was maintained above these 19 communes d'arrondissement. It
coordinates the activities of the communes d'arrondissement, much as
Greater London coordinates the activities of the London boroughs.
Thus, in 1996 the commune of
Gorée was resurrected, although it is
now only a commune d'arrondissement (but in fact with powers quite
similar to a commune). The new commune d'arrondissement of Gorée,
which is officially known in French as the Commune d'Arrondissement de
l'île de Gorée, took possession of the old mairie (town hall) in the
center of the island. This had been used as the mairie of the former
Gorée between 1872 and 1929.
The commune d'arrondissement of
Gorée is ruled by a municipal council
(conseil municipal) democratically elected every 5 years, and by a
mayor elected by members of the municipal council.
The current mayor of
Gorée is Augustin Senghor, elected in 2002.
The island is a
UNESCO World Heritage Site, since September 1978.
Most of the main buildings in
Gorée were constructed during the
second half of the eighteenth century. The main buildings are the
Slave house, 1786; William Ponty School, 1770; Musée de la mer
(Maritime museum), 1835; Fort d'Estrées, originally called the
northern battery, which now contains the Historical Museum of Senegal,
built between 1852–65; palais du Government (Government Palace),
1864, occupied by the first governor general of
Gorée Castle and the seventeenth-century Gorée
Police Station, formerly a dispensary, believed to be the site of the
first chapel built by the Portuguese in the fifteenth century, and the
beach are also of interest to tourists.
François d'Orléans – Tam-tam à
This historical site is a rare example of a European colony where we
see free and enslaved Africans (making up half of Gorée's
population), Europeans and Afro-Europeans living alongside each other,
even as the island was a prominent center in the Atlantic slave trade.
Gorée Island leads to many contradictory and
contrasting conclusions. On one end of the spectrum, enslaved peoples
Gorée were treated poorly, like animals, on the other there is
evidence for enslaved peoples being welcomed as part of families. The
signares (free African or Afro-European women) were recorded
preferring to eat on the floor with a spoon and communal bowl, as
their domestic slaves, but European men kept tradition and used a
Archaeological research on
Gorée has been undertaken by Dr. Ibrahima
Thiaw (Associate Professor of Archaeology at the Institut Fondamental
d'Afrique Noire (IFAN); and the
University Cheikh Anta Diop
University Cheikh Anta Diop of Dakar,
Senegal); Dr. Susan Keech McIntosh (Professor of Archaeology, Rice
University, Houston, Texas); and Raina Croff (PhD candidate at Yale
University, New Haven, Connecticut). Dr. Shawn Murray (University of
Wisconsin–Madison) also contributed to archaeological research at
Gorée through a study of local and introduced trees and shrubs, which
aids in identifying the ancient plant remains found in the
excavations. Excavations at
Gorée have also uncovered numerous
European imports: bricks, nails, bottles from alcoholic beverages such
as wine, beer and other liquor, beads, ceramics and gunflints.
Gorée Archaeological Project
Gorée Archaeological Project, or GAP, started its undertakings
(survey, testing, mapping, and excavations) in 2001. The project,
extending over a period of several years, aimed to collect artifacts
pertaining to the historical time periods of the pre- and post-
European settlement, as well as identify the use of the different
quarters on the island using the material culture excavated from those
areas. In his preliminary results, Ibrahima Thiaw also discusses the
difficulties of excavation on a primarily tourist island.
Gorée avec ses esclaves (The signare of
Gorée with her
slaves) -Musée de la Compagnie des Indes
Portuguese Major Captain Lançarote and his crew were the first to
make Afro-European relations with
Gorée Island in 1445. After
Gorée approximately three kilometres (1.9 miles) off the
shore from modern day Dakar, Senegal, Lançarote and his officers sent
ashore a few officers to leave peace offerings to the natives of the
island. They deposited on
Gorée soil a cake, a mirror and a piece
of paper with a cross drawn on it, all of which were intended to be
symbols for peaceful actions. However, the Africans did not respond in
the desired way and tore up the paper and smashed the cake and the
mirror, thus setting the tone for future relations between the
Portuguese and Africans of
As of the early 18th century,
Gorée settlements were segregated into
quarters: the Bambara quarter (slaves), "gourmettes" (Christianized
Africans), and a quarter for the residents of Gorée, including free
Africans. By the later half of the 18th century, the segregation was
between signares and their families and the rest of the island as well
as the previous instated quarters.
According to preliminary results by Ibrahim Thiaw, the levels between
the pre and post European contact deposits were characterized by an
obvious infestation of termite nests. One interpretation of this fact
is the possibility that these termite nests were cause of the
Gorée before Dutch arrival.
Deposits of the pre-European time period are dense with pottery
decorated with twine and fish vertebrae motifs and could be found in
the domestic settlement context, under or at the same levels of floors
and fireplaces. The pottery near the settlements suggests that these
settlements were semi-permanent or permanent. Fishing tools and
equipment were rare although deposits were dense with fish remains.
There was also no sign of iron or its usage before the eighteenth
Due to a plethora of features containing ritual pots found in the core
of the pre European settlement, Thiaw has concluded that the island
may have been primarily used for ritual activity and practices.
Nevertheless, abandonment is archaeologically evident by the middle of
the fifteenth century, possibly due to a mighty termite invasion.
There is no archaeological or physical evidence of a struggle or
conflict between the eventual Europeans or any other cultural group.
Thiaw's hypothesis suggest the possibility that when the Portuguese
used the island to bury their dead, the island, in the eyes of the
natives, became haunted or was negatively impacted by the mysterious
powers of the spirits of the sea.
There is some speculation of how
Gorée came to be under European or
Dutch control. There is some textual evidence that states that the
Dutch purchased the island from the chief of
Dakar or from local
fisherman on the island. While there is little archaeological evidence
of this transaction, all European deposits are relatively
Gorée there are four distinct deposits found through
excavation and testing.The first kinds of deposition are located on
the northwestern and western part of the island, and were typically
three meters of domestic debris and shell midden. Surrounding the
area that was once Fort Nassau, these depositions were determined in
correlation with Fort Nassau activity, which was seen to be relatively
A rare deposition was found near the Castel at G18, the sole site
excavated in the area. Depositions in this area were typically shallow
and right on top of a limestone bedrock. However, this one site
produced three burials, all of which were dug into the limestone
G13, a site located on the eastern side of the island has produced
cultural debris from one of its trash pits. This debris includes
nails, European late pearlware/ early whiteware with similar patterns
dating from 1810 to 1849, sardine cans, and window glass, among other
artifacts. Located near the military barracks from a military
occupation in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the
analysis of these ceramics suggests that many of them were
replacements coinciding with the occupation. Deposits like this
were not common around the island.
Artist representation of dock at
Gorée in 1892
As with many archaeological sites around the globe, modern influences
and activities affect the sites and lead to disturbances in the
archaeological record or unintentional site destruction. The
European government imposed strict rules regarding the use of space
and overall settlement development on the island. Archaeology shows
this development in the soil; the constructions, levelling,
reconstructions, some of which can be linked to a change in the
European ruler at the time. However, this evidence of development
too show results of the consequences from contemporary activity, thus
it is an intricate puzzle to determine complex social identities and
groups, such as slave or free or African or Afro-European. An
overall deduction can be made however: Atlantic trade significantly
impacts the lives of those on Gorée, seen in the influx of ideas,
complex identities and settlement structure.
Atlantic trade also influenced the physiological aspects of Gorean
society. Archaeology has uncovered a plethora of evidence for massive
imports of alcoholic beverages on the island. The massive import of
alcoholic beverages naturally suggests a high level of consumption
which its effects have been recorded as drunken conflicts, commonly
between the military inhabitants. The previously mentioned Dr.
Ibrahima Thiaw is also the author of Digging on Contested Grounds:
Archaeology and the Commemoration of Slavery on
Gorée Island. In
this article, Thiaw discusses the difference between the historical
accounts full of slavery and shackles and the lack of archaeological
evidence to support those accounts. Raina Croff, one of Thiaw's
colleagues, states that she personally has never found any evidence of
Gorée Island, however she also includes that
archaeological evidence such as shackles and chains would not be found
on an island, because there is no need.
Maison des Esclaves
Door of No Return at Maison des Esclaves on
Maison des Esclaves, or the Slave House, was built in 1780–1784 by
Nicolas Pépin. Although it is the home of the infamous “Door of No
Return”, which is said to be the last place exported slaves touched
African soil for the rest of their lives, there is little evidence at
Maison des Esclaves to suggest a “large-scale trans-Atlantic slave
trade” economy. According to census records obtained from the
18th century, the majority of enslaved population fell under the
category of domestic slaves, rather than slaves to be exported.
Pépin and his heiress may have had domestic slaves, but again there
is little archaeological evidence that they were involved in any slave
exportation business. Despite this lack of evidence, Maison des
Esclaves has become a pilgrimage site to commemorate forcible removal
of Africans from their homeland, also known as the African diaspora.
This contrasts with the role of the site of Rue des Dongeons on
Gorée. At Rue des Dongeons, as the name suggests, there is a presence
of dungeons, which can clearly be associated with the confinement of
the slaves to be exported. However, many historians claim neither the
island nor the house played a significant role in the slave trade.
Ralph Austen of the University of Chicago stated that "There are
literally no historians who believe the Slave House is what they're
claiming it to be, or that believe Goree was statistically significant
in terms of the slave trade." Historian
Ana Lucia Araujo
Ana Lucia Araujo has said
"it’s not a real place from where real people left in the numbers
they say.” Conversely,
UNESCO claims that "from the 15th to 19th
century, Goree was the largest slave trading centre on the African
On the southcentral end of Gorée, in the Bambara quarter, although
less abundant in artifacts, the deposits from this area differ in
sediment inclusions from the rest of the island. Inclusions such as
limestone, red bricks, shell, or stones in these two to three meter
depositions are no older than the eighteenth century and shows
frequent building up and tearing down processes. This could be
correlated to the extensive settlement of this area maybe by domestic
slaves beginning in the eighteenth century. Quartier Bambara
was a segregated settlement, which suggests domestic slavery rather
than exportation. The maps of this settlement has segregated boundary
lines that eventually, by the mid-eighteenth century, were shown to be
reduced. Found in the center of the island, Bambara was inhabited
by the Bambara people. The
Bambara people had an unfavorable
stereotype; found in the mainland of
Senegal and Mali, the Bambara
were known for being excellent slaves. Brought to
Gorée by the
Bambara people were set to build roads, forts and houses.
These buildings (Maison des Esclaves, Quartier Bambara, and Rue des
Dungeons), made of stone or brick, contrasted with the structures
built by the Africans made of straw and mud. This contrast aided in
the segregation and status separation between the Africans and the
European inhabitants and followed the common association that masonry
was a European influence. However, the construction of these
architectural buildings were most likely built by the slaves, and
without floor plans, as indicated by the haphazard city layout and
irregular angles in the rooms. Settlement analysis demonstrates the
possibility that with time, the masters' and the enslaved peoples'
statuses evened out enough to work and live side by side on the island
by the second half of the eighteenth century.
Latyr Sy, djembe musician
France Gall, the French singer, owned a home there
In popular culture
Gorée Island was the Pit Stop for Leg 4 of The Amazing Race 6, and
the Slave House itself was visited during Leg 5.
Gorée Island has been featured in many songs, due to its history
related to the slave trade.
The following songs have significant references to
Steel Pulse – "Door Of No Return"
Doug E. Fresh – "Africa"
Akon – "Senegal"
Burning Spear – "One Africa"
Alpha Blondy – "Goree (Senegal)"
Nuru Kane – "Goree"
Gilberto Gil – "La Lune de Goree", composed by
Gilberto Gil and
José Carlos Capinam
The father of French rapper
Booba (born Elie Yaffa) is from Gorée. In
his song "Garde la pêche" he mentions the island, saying "Gorée
c'est ma terre" (
Gorée is my land/hometown). Also, in his song "0.9,"
he says "A dix ans j'ai vu Gorée, depuis mes larmes sont eternelles"
(When I was 10 I saw Gorée, since then my tears have been eternal."
Marcus Miller – "
In 2007 the Swiss director
Pierre-Yves Borgeaud made a documentary
called Retour à
Gorée (Return to Gorée).
View of the island
Dakar's skyline as seen from Gorée
Dakar's skyline as seen from Gorée
Senegalese boy on
Street in Gorée
^ a b c ""Goree and the Atlantic Slave Trade", Philip Curtin, History
Net, accessed 9 July 2008". Retrieved 1 October 2017.
^ Les Guides Bleus: Afrique de l'Ouest (1958 ed.), p. 123
^ "21 World Heritage Sites you have probably never heard of". Daily
^ .Araujo, Ana Lucia. Public Memory of Slavery: Victims and
Perpetrators in the South Atlantic (Amherst, NY: Cambria Press, 2010);
Araujo, Ana Lucia. Shadows of the Slave Past: Memory, Heritage, and
Slavery (New York: Routledge, 2014), 57–65.
^ For last period, see for example, Guthrie, William (1798). A New
Geographical, Historical and Commercial Grammar and Present State of
the Several Kingdoms of the World, 2. London: Charles Dilly ... and
G.G. and J. Robinson. pp. 819–820.
^ " Taylor, William". Royal Naval Biography. Wikisource.
^ Cheikh Anta Diop (1994). The Island and the Historical Museum.
Publication of the Historical Museum. pp. 22–23.
^ Cheikh Anta Diop (1994). The Island and the Historical Museum.
Publication of the Historical Museum. p. 68.
^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Thiaw, Ibrahima. Slaves without Shackles: An
Archaeology of Everyday Life on
Gorée Island, Senegal.
pp. 147–165. doi:10.5871/bacad/9780197264782.003.0008.
^ "Goree Archaeology", Rice University, accessed 8 July 2009
^ a b c d e Thiaw, I. 2003. The
Gorée Archaeological Project (GAP):
Preliminary results. Nyame Akuma 60: 27-35
^ a b Thiaw, Ibrahima (2003). "The
Gorée Archaeological Project
(GAP): Preliminary results". NYAME AKUMA. No. 60: 27–35.
^ a b c d e Thiaw, Ibrahima (2011-01-01). Okamura, Katsuyuki; Matsuda,
Akira, eds. New Perspectives in Global Public Archaeology. Springer
New York. pp. 127–138. doi:10.1007/978-1-4614-0341-8_10.
^ "New Perspectives in Global Public Archaeology – Springer".
^ Curtin, Philip D. (1969). The Atlantic slave trade : a census /
by Philip D. Curtin. Madison, Wisconsin: Madison: University of
^ "Historians claim Obama's 'Door of No Return' which he visited to
highlight the evils of slavery is a 'scam' and was actually used as a
garbage dump". Retrieved 1 October 2017.
^ Fisher, Max (28 June 2013). "What Obama really saw at the 'Door of
No Return,' a disputed memorial to the slave trade". Retrieved 1
October 2017 – via www.washingtonpost.com.
UNESCO World Heritage. "Island of Gorée". whc.unesco.org.
Retrieved 1 October 2017.
Camara, Abdoulaye & Joseph Roger de Benoïst. Histoire de Gorée,
Paris: Maisonneuve & Larose, 2003
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Gorée.
Photos of Goree on Flickr
Archaeological Research on Gorée, Rice University
Gorée and the Slave Trade, Philip Curtin, African Threads, History
George W. Bush's visit
Communes d'arrondissement of Dakar
World Heritage Sites in Senegal
Bassari Country: Bassari, Fula and Bedik Cultural Landscapes
Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary
Island of Gorée
Island of Saint-Louis
Niokolo-Koba National Park
Stone Circles of Senegambia (with Gambia)
Islands of Senegal
Îles des Madelein