Used extensively for the slave trade, Goree Island in Senegal is a symbol of shame and brutality

We do know of atrocities that were and are still being committed against humans, unfortunately, by other humans.

This has even led to certain monuments, labelled as "shame" monuments, being preserved by international organisations such as Unesco. This, so that we are constantly reminded of the atrocities committed against our ancestors, from which we, sadly, refuse to learn and live in peace.

Goree Island in Senegal, which was decalred a Unesco protected cultural site for hosting the house of slaves for more than three centuries, is one of these monuments that tells a horrible story of illtreatment of humanity.

The disgusting trade in human beings that was carried out through Goree and the embarrassment it has caused the white man did not prevent the Nazis from creating concentration camps in Auschwitz, Poland, during the Second World War.

Nor did it deter the army of the most powerful country in the world from doing what it has done in both Abu Ghuraib in Iraq and the Delta Prison in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Travelling on the presidential yacht and receiving a warm welcome by Austun Senghor, elected mayor of Goree, is certainly not the right way to play back the agony of millions of men, women and children who crossed the door of no return in the island on their forced trip to the New World.

Waves of kidnapped people landed in the island from all over the black continent on their way to French, British, Dutch and Portuguese colonies in the New World.

The trade in human beings was motivated by the need for strong and cheap manpower in these countries, but later developed into one of the worst cases of exploitation.

The trade in slaves began to prosper in the island in early 16th century and lasted for 312 years before slavery was banned in the mid-19th century.

Thousands of those kidnapped by slave traders died during their trip to the New World, while those who ended up in the hands of their buyers worked to death for the prosperity of the new land.

Slave kidnappers would dispatch their catch in the house and classify them according to strict specifications adopted by the trade at the time. Slaves were classified into specific categories based on their age, gender and physical fitness.

Families of kidnapped people were also caught. Children were taken from their mothers to be sold separately in markets. While a man could be taken to a farm in North America, his wife would be sold to a colony in the south.

Men weighing more than 60kg were made ready for immediate export by being sold to traders who would load them on a boat after shackling them to metal balls weighing 5kgs. Shackles were used to prevent slaves from running away from their owners, who had paid a price for them.

Fluctuating price
The price of men would depend on the situation in the market and the need for new men in the farming season while the price of slave women would fluctuate according to their physical features.

The price of a good-looking virgin was non-negotiable and equal to two barrels of good wine! The tag price of a non-virgin slave could be as low as a bottle of bad liquor and in some cases women would meet no interested buyers in these slave markets.

The headquarters of human trade business in Goree was designed to cater to the sophistication the trade had attained at the time of its prosperity.

The ground floor of the building was divided into five major rooms, each assigned for specific type of "stock". The largest room was used to keep young and healthy men who weighed over 60 kg.

Those falling below the strict weight category would have to wait for sometime before they grew heavier or met their end thanks to diseases in the house.

The third room was designated mainly for women caught with their children. One room was allocated for young virgin women. And finally, a small room was made for babies in addition to two small cells underneath the staircase for revolting slaves as solitary confinement.

Each ready-to-export consignment consisted of 150 male and female slaves who would legally become slaves after crossing the stage of the last door; best known as the "door of no return".

The second floor hosted the offices of management of the house and meeting rooms for traders to negotiate their business. The traders who came to the island to buy the required slaves would visit the slaves' halls downstairs to select their "goods".

The traders would go up after marking their order to pay their bill and get ready for the trip.

The responsibility of the management of the house would end the moment the human consignment was loaded on the boats that anchored under the door of no return. Thus, traders would buy the required five kg metal balls from the house and attach them to the feet of their slaves to prevent them from jumping into the water.

These accessories and weapons used to control the protesting slaves are currently showcased in the section that belonged to the management of the house in addition to documents of some agreements signed in the house between traders and kidnappers.

It is said that the house was one of the many houses on the island used to keep captive Africans to be sold in the Americas.

Strategic importance
Goree, which means the Good Harbour in French, has very little to do with its name because of the horror linked to it.

The island, which is now a source of shame for the human race, used to have a genuine strategic importance that prompted the colonial powers of the time (the Portuguese, Dutch, British and French) to fight and kill each other to get control over the business of human trade through the island.

Today, Goree symbolises how the white man brutalised the black man and inflicted all kinds of torture in order to make money.

The tour around various sections of the house of slaves leaves one with a gamut of mixed emotions ranging from disgust to anger, sympathy and commiseration for the people who passed through this place. One wishes that the miserable stories told inside were untrue.

The whole experience in Goree raises a question: Will preserving a site where a human mistreated another help us learn and prevent human atrocities in the future? The answer sadly seems to in the negative.

It is likely for one to have the same rush of emotions after a tour to the museum of Auschwitz in Poland where hundreds of thousands of people were gassed because of their religious beliefs during the Second World War.

Auschwitz now stands as a testimony of how human life was so cheap at some stage during the war.

Today, we have documented accounts of atrocities that took place in Abu Ghraib in Iraq and Camp Delta in Guantanamo. This time the feeling of denial will not help soften the impact of horrible things that occur in these two prisons.

It will be good for Unesco to designate these two places as human cultural sites and prevent the occupying power from demolishing them.

Unesco, however, should also conduct a global research about the sites it requires to preserve. Such a project might help in cleaning up the world in future since we seem to have failed to achieve the target in today's world.