Friday, January 19, 2007

Guest Blog: Morning Sounds on Gorée

Looking toward the mainland of Africa and a slave trade cell
Ile de Gorée sits off of Senagal about two miles from Dakar. It has an extraordinarily rich history, but its greatest claim to fame is a most unhappy one as the center of the Atlantic slave trade.

Stephen Grant is an acquaintance who was a career U.S. Foreign Service officer with assignments all over the world. He has just published the first biography of Peter Strickland, a 19th century shipmaster, merchant and first U.S. consul in French West Africa who lived on Gorée for 20 years. (See the post below for more on Steve's book.)

A favorite son of the good people of
Gorée, Grant writes here about the noises you are likely to hear on the island in the hours before sunrise:
Mouride or Tidjane (Muslim brotherhood factions) chanting, generally recordings, as the faithful stay up late in prayer to welcome in the holy day of Friday;

Somewhat but not always hushed conversations among groups of people who like to stay up late and banter; they may be lying on the ground, or sprawled on a bench. They live in huts with very small window apertures, and sometimes stay out so as not to suffocate;

The lapping of the surf against the basaltic rocks surrounding the island;

Sirens from departing or arriving container vessels that pass by Goree on their way to or from the main port of Dakar;

Very loud dance music recorded or by a live band whenever there are late Saturday nights parties organized by the municipality on the island;

Wake-up calls by roosters, sheep, guinea fowl, and a turkey or two;

A neighborhood cat or two in heat, with the resulting male cat fights;

Call to prayers to the island mosque over a loud-speaker system;

Sweeping of the courtyard as a diligent mother rises early and uses a hand-made broom about 18 inches long; she bends down from the waist and cleans the dirt surface of leaves, faded bougainvillea blossoms, papers, fowl dung, plastic; vegetable peels, and wood chips from cutting firewood;

The creaking open of a wooden door on its hinges, the door could be a couple of hundred years old, and the hinges almost as old;

Ubiquitous crickets.

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