Ghoury: The Colored Rock of Groaning

Ghoury: The Colored Rock of Groaning

Among its warm colors, US President Bill Clinton paused, impressed, and apologized. So also did the Pope of the Catholic Church pause and apologize. While we were walking around its colors, we heard a groan agonized with the depth of centuries. So we paused, turning our perplexed gaze to the Atlantic horizon, as our souls called out, O God, how easy it is to apologize.

Allow me to split myself in two in front of you. I made this journey on my own as two people in order to plunge - even a little - into its forgotten, painful depths. The first person was what I am, with my normal name, as an investigator. The second person was a black man whom I called Mamadou - after changing my own name somewhat. This might strengthen my incarnation as a black African - a beautiful color like the beauty of the night - who came from a distance of three centuries to accompany me in this investigation of his story. A journey that requires another journey, a time that pours forth into a distant time, a present that opens onto a past, and a past that I think opens onto some of the riddles of our days, and also of our future. I promise you one thing: I will strive for accuracy, and will only allow the story of Mamadou to imbibe documented historical facts, which I would invoke in an almost literal manner, so perhaps I would make you hear this groan. For this I am breaking the rule. I define the most important sources for the story of Mamadou in the body of the text, not in the footnotes. They are The Encyclopedia of the History of Black Africa by K. Zerbo translated by Yusuf Shalab Al-Sham, Slavery by Maurice Langley translated by Elias Morcos, and Ghoury by Jean-Claude Blachard in English.

Let us begin the journey and let the story be repared to come to the surface.

At eight o clock on a pleasantly warm and slightly humid Dakar morning, we set off on board an old ferry for the island, which emerges like a gray phantom between the waves of the ocean which is not far away. Accompanying us - as volunteers - were two young Senegalese who were fluent in Arabic, as well as French of course. One was Selim Nyang, who was given to us by the Kuwaiti Embassy in Dakar and was an excellent companion for the journey. The other was a journalist, Tijan Kota, who was like a giant in a grambubu, a flowing, bright blue Senegalese robe with infinitely large pockets. Kota said in his constantly loud tone, Ghoury is three kilometres from the shore. In another version, Selim said in his calm voice, Less than two miles. But the minutes which stretched out between the waves of the ocean made the distance seem to us further than two miles and more than three kilometres. After twelve minutes the ferry turned round a raft which marked half the distance as well as the position of a sunken ship, and related the history of the last shots from colonialist artillery in the place. It was a settling of accounts between French parties! The paradox was not in the sunken ship, but in those who were not content with laying their heavy hands on other people s territory in far-away continents. Indeed, they devoted their efforts to settling accounts (white versus white) between themselves in other people s territory. Ghoury was a flagrant example of this Western rudeness. In the heat of the search for Christians and spices as Vasco da Gama put it, with support from the strong caravel sailing ships which hold together on the high seas, using articular rudders and adopting firearms, gunpowder and the compass - the last two were not Western inventions - dozens of Portuguese vessels set off with the blessing of Henry the Nazigator - the illegitimate son of the King of Portugal - to sail round the west coast of Africa in order to find the holy spice route . They were working according to this prince s belief in a plan to cut the Muslims off from the trade route to India and take them from the rear, through co-operation between Christian forces and those of Prester John the Emperor of Abyssinia! In 1444 the Portuguese explorer Denis Diaz arrived at Ghoury, which was then called Per and was inhabited by a few families of fishermen who collected rainwater in holes under the edges of the sloping roofs of their humble huts. It is said that they had converted to Islam since the eleventh century. The Portuguese called it Palm Island (which proves that it was not barren as Westerners allege, to make it seem that they were the first people to plant it with vegetation). The Portuguese continued to occupy the island until 1587. After that, at the height of the voyages of exploration, the Europeans became aware of the advantages of Ghoury as a natural fortress and a harbor to anchor their ships within its arc of calm. Then began the series of the agonies of Ghoury, which became the prize that is obtained by the winner among the combatants coming from afar. The mechanism of conflict continued to repeat itself for a period of two centuries: warships casting anchor outside the harbor, then cannon fire against the island to destroy the fortifications and houses of those who were occupying it. Then it would be invaded, and houses and fortifications would be built for the new occupier, until other ships came to repeat the anchoring, the shelling and the occupation. In this way Ghoury changed hands betweem the Portuguese, the Dutch, the English and the French. Its name changed. The Dutch called it Gude Rede or the Good Road , which it is claimed developed into its present name Ghoury, although the Senegalese insist that ghoury means neck in the language of the Senegalese Wolof tribes. The name of Ghoury stuck even after the colonialists were no longer there. After the Portuguese and the Dutch, the English and the French came. In the eighteenth century alone the island was subjected to the rule of the English four times and the French five times. This century was Ghoury s golden age, a bitter gold. It was the harvest of a dirty trade, in which human beings were turned into human livestock , as described by Maurice Langley in his book Slavery.

Mamadou before the Anchoring

I am Mamadou. How did I become a slave? Human livestock sold and bought? It is a matter that causes double bitterness. I was caught in the same way that they catch African jungle animals alive: a camouflaged trap in the middle of the dense vegetation of the forests of Casamance. I fell into a deep well which had been covered with branches and leaves of trees, with two other men from my tribe. Soon we saw sunburned white faces and other black ones at the top of the well. Those were the white Europeans of whom we had heard amazing and also terrifying stories. The blacks were their spies and followers who have betrayed their own people for cheap prices: a few iron bars, a handful of glass and colored beads from which they made belts to wind around their bellies and show off proudly, rags and old clothes, some of them used on the stage or soldiers or police uniforms. And more important was alcohol, which they used to call the water of life . This water of life was another way to catch slaves to finance that accursed trade. Any black man whom they saw wandering around between the sea and their trading centers on the coast of Senegal and West Africa in general they would invite to taste this water of life free of charge. As soon as he lost consciousness they would put him in chains and he would become a slave for sale, exchange or transportation in slave trading vessels. If he woke up and rebelled, firearms would silence him for ever, and curb his fellows who shared the same chain with him which was attached to the circles around their necks. Even this water of life which poured like waves onto the coasts of Africa with the flourishing of the slave trade was adulterated. As I read - subsequently - in the will of a Dutch slave trader conveying his expertise to his white compatriots in that trade: It is better to mix alcohol with Spanish soap, so that it will have foam. This to the negroes is undoubted proof of its excellence. Through traps, ambushes, rifles, betrayals, iron bars, manufactured glass objects, red handkerchiefs, old clothes and alcohol adulterated with water and soap, we used to fall captives of the European slave traders, to be shipped to the other shore of the Atlantic. Before we arrived at the slave trading ports prior to our deportation, we were classified. There were kabur slaves , war slaves who directed the rebellions, bambara who were dull-witted, amiable and strong-bodied, wuydah who were good farmers but they worked until they killed themselves, and the Congolese who were cheerful and good workers.

I was classified with the bambara, and allocated as an Indian piece since I was a strong young man of 18 when I was captured. Indian pieces in the language of the slave trade are blacks aged between 15 and 22 without any physical defect, with all their fingers and teeth, without any film over their eyes and who enjoy good health.

In a collection center near the harbor of the boats going to Ghoury Island I was exchanged and transferred from one consignment of slaves to another. My neck stuck out of a ring in a long chain which pulled a troop of human beings to another ring on another long chain, in accordance with the law of exchange in the slave trade. Three boys aged between 8 and 15 were equal to two Indian pieces . Two boys aged between 3 and 7 were equal to one piece , a mother and her child were equal to one piece , and so forth.

I became an Indian piece on the way to Ghoury in the midst of a similar shipment chained by their necks. We were among the highly-priced shipments which are equal to many units of account in the slave trade, which are the ounce and the rod. These are priced in ghouriyas (the currency of Ghoury Island at the time) and gold dust or plates - so that the traders can avoid fraud in ingots which was widespread at that time.

Together with my brethren on the long heavy chain, I was crammed with others in one of the sheds near the harbor. A mildewed store of tree trunks and planks, hot as hell, humid as the top of a boiling saucepan and stifling with the smell of sweat, blood and the excreta of the enchained. There I saw the incident mentioned by Bruno de Pomigor in his book Description of Slavery, regarding the separation of mothers from their children. This European Bruno, who seems to have been good and whose work for the East India Company on the African coast continued for 20 years, came to the trader who owned our consignment and other consignments which had been released into the square between the sheds in the morning. The trader offered him a number of us. There was a woman aged between 20 and 24, very sad and drowning in a sea of agonies. Her breasts were hanging down somewhat, and full. I think she has lost her child, Bruno said with emotion. She never had a child, the trader replied. The woman did not speak, afraid of the death with which they had threatened us if we caused the trader any inconvenience. But Bruno felt the pressure of her bare breast with a touch, and the milk flowed and her tears flowed copiously. This confirmed that she had a baby which they had snatched away from her. Bruno insisted to the trader, who interrupted him with a blunt reply: In any case, that won t prevent her being sold, because her child in the evening will be food for wolves. Bruno offered the trader a higher price for the woman if her child was with her, and immediately the trader ordered the baby to be brought. No sooner had his mother embraced him than she knelt at Bruno s feet, expressing her gratitude for his kindness by taking dust and sprinkling it on her forehead, murmuring her thanks.

Hot Colors and Burning Pain

The ferry touched the harbor of Ghoury gently. Its captain inevitably knew by heart the features of the route which the ferry follows from six o clock in the morning until midnight on more than seven trips a day from Dakar to Ghoury and back from Ghoury to Dakar.

We felt the wind of the ocean abate inside the small bay of the harbor. The peacefulness and warmth of the colors were the first thing that attracted our notice on the western side of the long island opposite the harbor. Small boats were floating with few passengers, or swaying sleepily, empty near the sandy shore. Graceful children were playing on the sand like colored dots in a huge restful emptiness. A canvas of wonderful colors extending from the blue of the sea, which becomes turquoise around the wet black basalt rocks which are the base of the rocky island, to the blue of the African sky which looks close and pure, making it appear easy to touch its low-lying, light, white clouds. Ghoury with the first view overwhelms the eye and the spirit with the warmth of its colors, clean, harmonious and hiding the bitternesses of the centuries. The round, rose-colored castle at the far southern end, which became a prison in the time of the French, ended up as the History Museum of Senegal. The sugary white Government Palace with its tiled roof in the midst of the greenery and the baobab trees, in spite of the splendor of its name, is no more than a lodging house for teachers and painters who love to be creative on the island, visiting government employees and tourists who choose to spend the night in one of the quietest places in the world, where there are no cars, no motor cycles and even no bicycles.

We look to the left and our eyes alight on the old Traders House , which was built in the nineteenth century. Its units are painted in colors which harmonize, white, brick-red and pistachio green windows. Its ground floors had been turned into clean cafés and canteens and shops which sell handicrafts and the canvases of the many spontaneous artists on the island.

We went forward along the footpath leading to the spacious sandy square. A warm, deep red colored building faced us in front, the house of the Chevalier, the French Governor, which had been turned into a hotel. Behind it was Sudan House , a rusty red color among other white buildings surrounded by greenery. This reminded us of the name Western Sudan by which Senegal used to be known.

We walked, impelled forward by the movement of the wave which the ferry had spewed out. We knew that we were on the way to visit the most famous symbol of slavery in the world, which was called the House of Slaves . I discovered when I arrived for the trip that the word for slave in most European languages is derived from the word Slav, which refers to the Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, from whom Western Europeans used to take slaves. The slave trade was not an extension of an African practice as is alleged by those who evade admitting their guilt, it was an extension in its more modern aspect of a European practice when Europe was at the height of its colonialist arrogance.

Selim had arranged meetings for us with the Governor of the island and with the Curator of the House of Slaves Museum. But in the crowd of people surging along the narrow paths of the island, we forgot to look for Yusuf Ndiay, and went into the House of the Slaves without asking his permission. The man appeared at the front of the house into whose courtyard we thronged. He was an old man of about 80, but he was alert and extremely lively, with a great sense of dignity. He rebuked us disapprovingly because he had been waiting for us, and warned Sulaiman Haidar not to photograph before he gave us permission. When we expressed our apology sincerely in a way appropriate to the man s age and the importance of his position, he became friendly and showed great kindness to us to the exclusion of the other visitors who were Westerners, mainly French. He did not stop condemning their forebears with an intensity that was very harsh. I thought at first sight that he was protecting himself behind the shield of his old age, but I realize now that a black Senegalese man, who has spent decades of his life researching the history of the trade in African slaves and is the guardian of its harshest symbol and in charge of acquainting the world with its crimes, is a man who finds it had to forgive even the ancestors of the original criminals, because he is immersed to the depths of his bones in a lake of biting, burning anguish for his people.

The red painted House of Slaves, into whose courtyard and on the two curves of its stairway going up to the second floor we crowded, was the most notable surviving remaining example of houses, or warehouses, for slaves on the island. These multiplied and prospered with the prosperity of the transatlantic slave trade. It is astonishing that these houses used to be controlled by women, in what is recorded in history as the age of the Senhoras in the life of Ghoury. They were women of mixed African and European blood who enjoyed the protection of their English or French husbands or lovers to control the houses of slaves. They profited a lot from that murky trade, and won prestige and status on the island, which at that time was surging with more European adventurers, sailors and imprisoned slaves than it could support.

Some of the houses of slaves, or houses of the Senhoras, are still standing to this day, including the house of Cathy Loty, which has now become the clinic of the island and which was built in 1767-68, and that of Victoria Elpice, which was built between 1776 and 1778 and is now the French West Africa Museum (NAFI). The house of Annie Bieben is the most prominent and the largest. She was the Senhora of the French Governor, the Chevalier du Pavaleau. She used to move around on the island amidst a convoy of black slave women, a group of whom had the special task of carrying the edges of her jewel-laden hat!

The House of Slaves where we stopped to listen to the voice of Yusuf Ndiay was not far from the shadows of the houses of the Senhoras. It was established in 1780 by Annie Bieben s brother. It is a flagrant example of how the whites regarded African human beings as their property. The dark, gloomy first floor was set aside as enclosures for slaves, while the clean, well-lit second floor was for the residence and negotiations of the white traders.

We walked around the lower cells or enclosures, with Yusuf Ndiay s commentaries: To the left is a storeroom for men. Its area is 260 by 260 centimetres, and 15 to 20 slaves were crammed into it. They would sleep squatting on the ground, without the chains being taken off their necks. They would eat one wretched meal a day. There was no health care or concern with cleanliness. Not only their necks were bound with chains. There were also iron balls each weighing 10 kilograms which were chained to their legs, and the slaves would drag along. There are still some of these balls here as well as in Bordeaux Museum, which date back to the eighteenth century.

Yusuf Ndiay showed us leg balls and pieces of collars and neck chains. He showed us drawings which show one of the forms of punishment meted out to any slaves who rebelled. They would be impaled on a giant savage hook which would penetrate their skin and flesh by their kidneys and suspended on high until they died. As the elderly Senegalese was holding up the picture of the torture of his ancestors at the hands of the whites, his voice rose up in French, blasting the criminal ancestors: You fill the world with the cries of the crimes of torture that happened in the Nazi camps, but you are silent about the ugliest crimes that the slave trade caused in Africa for three centuries. You claim to respect human rights. Perhaps human beings to you are only white Europeans. The Pope came here in 1992 and asked the Africans for forgiveness because missionary groups had supported the slave trade. All Europe should ask for forgiveness and present an apology.

With the echoes of the deep, ringing voice of the guardian of the House of Slaves, we went on to look for some traces of the crime in the rooms or cells of the lower floor. There was a room for women no larger than a cell in which 50 women were crammed with their children, and a fornication room from which illegitimate children were produced, particularly of white and black blood, who would be sent to St. Louis and would emerge from slavery. Also converts to Christianity would be released. There were tiny rooms whose roofs our heads would touch after we bowed them. There was a room or cell allocated for feeding slaves whose weight was less than 60 kilograms so that they would reach the required weight. And there was a weighing scale in the room next to the entrance.

We went around the House of the Slaves until we were filled with bitterness. There was a dark, narrow passageway which led to light close by. It is the Door of the End , through which slaves passed to emerge onto the rocky shore, where the ships were awaiting them to cross the Atlantic, and bid farewell to the land of their fathers and grandfathers for ever. We crossed the dark passageway and emerged from the Door of the End onto the shore of black rocks which were drenched ceaselessly by the waves of the ocean. We dived through the voice of the sea into the memories of torture of those who were transported forcibly from Africa.

Mamadou Affirms: Dingila, Dingila

They piled us up after two days in the bellies of iron ships which transported us from the shore to the nearby island of Ghoury. Ghoury was a camp for assembling slaves, before shipping them to the shores of America. They imprisoned us in dark cellars in houses of slaves at night, and in the day they let us out chained by the neck and with our legs fettered to work breaking basalt rocks to obtain stones for building, and grinding up oysters to obtain calcium with which they build the houses of the island and pave their roads. We work in extreme hardship, using the heavy old iron cannonballs instead of hammers and chisels. That used to crush the bones of our hands and break our spirits. We used to eat only a little, and would be piled up at night in narrow holes without our chains being unfastened. On this prison island several hundred of us who had become slaves agreed to revolt. But a twelve-year-old child informed on the rebels, among whom he slept on the bare earth with his hands fettered. When we returned from our arduous work around sunset, we were surrounded by the guns of the whites. They set up an amazing court, which condemned three leaders of the rebellion who were originally chiefs of tribes from the West African coast. These great leaders never denied the charge, indeed they added that they had intended to take the lives of all the whites on the island because of the crimes they had committed against the blacks. When the other enchained slaves heard this heroic answer, they called out in one voice, Dingila! Dingila!. (This is true! This is true!) The decision of the kangaroo court was to condemn the leaders of the rebellion to death the following day in front of all the black prisoners and the other inhabitants of the island. The following day there were two cannons loaded with their usual ammunition, and in sight of hundreds of astonished and horrified eyes the three leaders were blown up. Then their remains were gathered together and thrown, at a distance of 15 paces from the place where they had been blown up, into the midst of a circle of black people who were confused amidst their chains, and in a state of severe panic.

We returned to the hardship of the slaves in Ghoury, on the morning following the massacre. The cargo ships were waiting to transport us. We were given a painstaking body search which left no limb of our bodies unchecked, as if we were animals without feeling and shame. Then those suitable for sale were stamped with heated branding irons bearing the emblems of the traders who owned them. Screams rose up, slaughtered and suppressed, as the burnt skin smoked under the heat of the branding irons on chests, buttocks, breasts and arms, bearing until death symbols that would not disappear except in the tombs of the faraway black dispersion in the American continent beyond the waves and storms of the Atlantic Ocean.

We emerged from the Doors of the End in the houses of the slaves in Ghoury. These are the doors that lead from the back of the houses to the sea, where the ships are anchored waiting.

The ocean was vast, and the rocks on which we walked were black and harsh, wetted by the waves. Our souls filled with sorrow as we were aware that they were the last steps on our land. Then the mouths and the dark bellies seized us, and there was a further separation between slaves and their families. There were wives and relatives who were not sold and who remained in Ghoury. There were exchanges between traders which separated son from father, brother from brother, daughter from mother. Everyone was in a ship, and each ship had a different destination. This meant that it was good-bye for ever. A son would be on a ship to North America, while his father would be on a ship heading for Brazil. The basalt rocks caught the rain of tears from our eyes, and the winds of the Atlantic scattered the groans and sobs.

Then the bellies of the ships were silent as they set sail towards the unknown. There were some slaves who would take advantage of moments when the traders and sailors were busy to throw themselves into the sea and drown or be devoured quickly by sharks, instead of enduring the expected long agony of the souls. There were others who strangled themselves with their own hands or the chains with which they were bound.

In the ships they shaved our hair and left us naked except for a small piece of cloth to cover the women s private parts. We slept with our bodies next to each other, and bent our legs so that the cramped, hard floor would have room for us. We were literally swimming in a sludge of blood, vomit, sweat, urine and excrement. None of the whites could stay in this atmosphere more than a few minutes without the heat exhausting them and the stench of the air choking them, and they would almost faint. They would flee holding their breaths to the deck of the ship, to escape from disease or death.

Our journey across the Atlantic Ocean stretched on for more than two months, and many of us died. Their bodies would be dragged to the side of the ship and thrown into the waves. When the number of deaths increased greatly, they later decided to take us out every day onto the deck for fresh air for short periods, one group after another tied together by their necks with one chain. Indeed, when we came near the American coast, they began to arrange dancing parties for us, so that our bodies would recover and we would be easy to sell. Dancing in chains under the lashing of whips. There were those who rebelled as soon as they reached the deck, and they were executed immediately with gunfire or thrown alive into the sea. There were others who were beaten with whips until their blood flowed, in view of everybody. On one painful occasion, an angry black man dared to hit a white trader s assistant in the face with the end of the chain with which he was bound. They cut open his posterior with kitchen knives after tightening his fetters, and put a mixture of hot pepper, vinegar and gunpowder into the wound. This made the poor man scream until blood poured from his eyes, and he died the following day. They warned us that this was not the most extreme form of fate for slaves who rebelled on board ship. They told us about an event of which we had heard when we were in Ghoury about a slave who had rebelled on a ship heading for America. His fate was that his body was cut up into small pieces, which were given to the rest of his fellow slaves to eat, under threat. Nevertheless there were many who rebelled in order to gain the death penalty, which they welcomed with intense joy on their faces. They only postponed their deaths in order to embrace their relatives, looking at their executioner with contempt, refusing to let him lay a hand on them, and then throwing themselves into the waves of the ocean, in whose depths they found a quick medicine for their agonies. This was evidenced by the Frenchman Froissart in his book The Cause of the Negro Slaves.

No sooner had the seagulls appeared on the horizon and the dolphins followed the ship than it was confirmed that the shore was coming closer. Then they started throwing into the sea all the sick for whom they feared that they would not find buyers, and that duties would have to be paid for them to enter America. Most of those thrown into the sea to drown were children who were less able to endure the hardship of the long journey. At the same time the slaves were given more food and treated with drugs to make them appear to be in the best of health.

In America the same scenes were repeated which had occurred on departure from Africa: inspection of teeth, genital system, hands and feet, indeed there were strange new inspections. There was a test by biting, to measure the slave s resistance, and tasting his skin to make sure that the freshness of his complexion was not the result of external beautification.

When a slave is bought by a white master, a Cuban, Brazilian or North American, a new chapter the journey of his black exile and his hardship begins. I myself was bought by a Cuban master to begin with, then he sold me on the second day to a North American master. The law permitted that, on the basis that a slave is movable property like livestock.

Sailing with a Sail Upside Down

Several metres after we had left the House of the Slaves we stopped at the house of the Senhora Victoria Elpice, which had been built in the shape of a ship. Like the other houses of Senhoras, it was a house to store slaves, but after the abolition of the slave trade it was turned into the French West Africa Museum (NAFI). Consciously or unconsciously, it was like taking the questions back to their bare roots.

There were several intersections at the pointed prow of this ship house, and we were uncertain in choosing the course among the paths of this small but confusing island. Then a thin young man in a vivid, shining yellow grambubu came forward. He had grown his hair in thin plaits spread round his head like thorny spikes. He was called Sheikh Fal, and he belonged to the Rasta youth, who form an amazing movement with a philosophy of vagabond artists, pseudo-artists and intellectuals with a touch of Sufism and a respect for rank that maintains differences in status.

Sheikh Fal said that he was one of the people of the island, knew its history and its paths by heart, and wanted to be our guide on it. I told him that we were in fact accompanied by two guides. There s no reason why they shouldn t be three, he answered. A person learns even from his small son. We went along, five people under the leadership of the amazing Sheikh Fal, who was staggering and alert at the same time. He did in fact know the history and landmarks of the island by heart. He told us that the greatest width of the island was 300 metres and its greatest length 900 metres. It had 1,200 inhabitants, of whom 800 were Muslims and 400 were Christians, who all lived in peace. The island had no cars, bicycles or dead people. If any of the inhabitants died they would be conveyed by boat for burial in Dakar.

We passed by the dwelling of the first French Governor of the island. Its broad courtyard had been turned into a hall for weddings and other occasions. There was a telenglor tree which had fastened onto a trellis, climbed up the wall and penetrated it with its amazing branches. Sheikh Fal commented, We don t know if it is the tree that holds the building or the building that holds the tree. My eyes opened wide to Sheikh Fal, and my hearing sharpened to his murmurings. He spoke about something that I had read about, that the English had occupied Ghoury after the Versailles Conference but France, which used to occupy the state of Gambia, bartered with England and gave it Gambia in exchange for Ghoury!

We went up by a road along one side of which was a line of amazing baobab trees with their barrel-like trunks and their branches with few leaves. The spontaneous artists who lived on the island used to hold their exhibitions in the shade of these trees: canvases with repeated black themes and glaring colors. We arrived at the summit, on the roof of the castle which had been built in 1856. there were several cannons around it, whose secret Sheikh Fal revealed to us: The cannon has a diameter of 240 mm., it is 16 metres long and weighs 1,600 tons of iron, made in the foundry of Angouleme in France. It has only been used once, in the Second World War. It was used by the Vichy in its conflict with de Gaulle, as the Vichy was in control of the island. It saw an English ship called the Tacoma approaching the coast at Dakar, and believed de Gaulle was on board, so it hit it and sank it on 23 September 1940. Because of this, ships and ferries heading fo Ghoury or departing from it do a detour round a buoy floating half way.

I remembered this detour which the ferry had made as we were on our way to the island, and again was astonished at the brazenness of the West in using other people s territory to settle accounts between whites. In one of the periods of French domination, Ghoury was the capital of all West Africa. There is a building called the William Ponti Institute, which was devoted to the establishment, teaching and graduation of African cadres , including the former President of the Ivory Coast and the former President of Mali. Everything was planned on the Western agenda, beginning with the slave trade, up to the graduation of cadres, and the emotional apology, without compensation, if necessary! At a time when Israel has blackmailed, and is still blackmailing, Europe and the West in general, and has obtained everything from American Apache helicopters to the French nuclear bomb, as compensation for crimes which the Nazis committed, and about which the precise details are in doubt, against the Jews, and as compensation for their dispersion which they brought about themselves, the greatest and most atrocious dispersion in human history was the black dispersion which, researchers estimate, removed sixty million Africans, most of whom died en route. This blatant transatlantic crime caused by the slave trade with European hands, for the sake of the prosperity of the sugar and cotton plantations in America, gives rise to no more than a faint apology.

Sheikh Fal pointed to a dazzling white edifice the shape of an inverted sail punctured by regular circles, in a spacious corner of the castle heights. The clear, strong wind cast its words: The Ghoury Monument, whose construction was called for by President Clinton. He came here in 1998 and offered an apology to the Africans in America. The Monument was set up on 31 December 1999. it represents an overturned ship which symbolizes the end of slavery.

And has slavery ended?

A question that might have been asked inside me by Mamadou. He asked it as he was preparing to leave me and depart, as I intended to depart from Ghoury. There was the harmony of its colors in its farewell as there had been when I arrived. Other colors were added to them this time: the bright yellow of the grambubu robes around Sheikh Fal s lean black physique, another dark color made up of the red of blood, the black of basalt splinters which the slaves smashed with the cannonballs, the brown of rust on the chains around their necks and on their feet, the darkness of the interior of the houses of the slaves and the bellies of the ships which crossed the sea of darkness, and the blackness of the hearts of the criminals who still have not stopped trading in slaves, even if in other modern and post-modern forms. The essence of these is to treat other people as one s property on the pretext that they are inferior, and with the aim of giving them the least possible in return for exploiting them in order to obtain a great deal.

Has slavery ended?!


Muhammad Al-Makhzanji


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