I have seen the beginning, standing in the Door of No Return at Goree Island in Dakar, Senegal. I was almost afraid to walk through the entrance of what many call a slave castle. There was nothing majestic or regal about the building. Had history not recorded the reason the building stood, many would walk by it and think nothing of the structure, never knowing the horror that took place beyond the entrance. Still, I knew the ground that we stood on was sacred.
I walked into the small, dark stone rooms with just a sliver of space for a window, running my hands along the walls. Rooms separated for men, women, girls, and infants. I tried to imagine what it would have felt like being captured, confused, not knowing what was happening. Being separated from my daughter, who according to the museum curator, would have been raped and/or sold to White slave traders. I imagined the screaming, the cries, the moans, the suffering, the stench of urine and feces all intertwined with agony.
I listened to my daughter as she sat in the room for young girls, and it was the first time as a mother that I heard my daughter’s soul scream. Her cries were piercing, echoing throughout the castle as she crouched on the floor and wailed for her ancestors absorbing the pain that we imagined took place in the room.
I stood at the room located underneath the stairs, a room for those that dared to resist. It is a room similar to a crawlspace, and the museum curator said they are unsure how many people could fit in that space, the only goal was to close the door. I imagined the broken bones of Black bodies being shoved into the space, legs entangled in arms, feet atop of heads, bodies broken and bruised merely for resisting.
Just above the holding cells was the space for the slave traders. Just. Above. Right on top of the horror was the space where the slave traders dwelled. I wonder what type of monsters could reside in a space just above unspeakable pain, terror, and suffering? Upstairs was pristine with artifacts of the slave trade. One thing that always remained with me the museum curator shared with us is that five cowrie shells were equal to the price of one Black man. Five. Cowrie. Shells. I could not wrap my mind around something I wear as jewelry was the going price for a slave. I made a mental note to always respect this shell when I wore it from now on. It was sacred. This shell cost a Black person their humanity.
Then it was time. I had to go to the door. I walked down the dark hallway slowly, staring into a sea of nothing. Water going on for miles looking as if you would drop off the edge of the earth if you went too far. I stood in The Door of Return and looked out at the Atlantic Ocean, tears streaming down my face wondering what my ancestors must have been thinking. “Where am I going?” “Will I see my family again?” “Will I be allowed to come home?” “What have I done to deserve this?” This was truly the door of no return as many would never return to their home. While it may sound foolish to the reader I must say as I stared at the ocean, I reminded myself this was before the age of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This was before the age of the common knowledge that on the other side of this vast ocean is more land. My ancestors were entering the space of the unknown not knowing the horror that awaited them on slave ships and in America…