The Birth of An Idea:
The day I walked through the green doors of the “House of Slaves”, on Goree Island, Dakar, Senegal in 1994, my life was changed. This house was built by the Dutch in about 1776 and I’m standing there 200 years later feeling the energy and pain of those who had occupied this space.
As I stood facing the pink stucco walls which are embraced with stairways on each side and a corridor which lead to the door of no return standing with an air of hopelessness in the distant middle, my heart began to pound in anger.
There was a little man named, Baubacar Joseph Nalaje standing there holding chains and shackles telling the story of life in this space of many years ago. However, as he spoke it seemed as if it were yesterday. I was there with a young tour guide as a pre trip to the trip the Church had planned to bring 100 people to Africa in July. As Baubacar spoke I looked in her eyes and tears were rolling down her beautiful brown cheeks. It was that moment that I made my personal connection to my ancestors. It was that moment that I truly understood the bond of Africa and African-Americans. The process of divide and conquer worked miracles for the Portuguese, Dutch, French and British because most African American feel no inner connection to their heritage.
What does the Middle Passage mean to me? When I think of the Middle Passage I think of the triangular route that brought salves from Africa to the Americas and rum and sugar cane to Europe. When I think of the route from Europe to Africa to the Americas I think of Goree, Island and the Door of No Return. I think of how after living in unbearable quarters for 3 or 4 months in shackles and chains, waiting for ships, separated from their families, living like animals and being totally abused and used that the slaves were packed like sardines on the ships that sailed the Middle Passage route. I think of how all along the way deep in the ocean there are bones of all the slaves who were thrown overboard, bones that the sharks left behind. It is reported that during the 17th century, approximately 25 – 50 million Africans died at sea. I think of the smell that must have existed because of poor hygiene. I think of the anticipation of the slaves not knowing that they were being transported to slave factories, dehumanized and viewed as property I think of the birth of racism, and the development of “White Supremacy”. I Think of how with all their religious beliefs, the European really belief that Africans had no Soul.
I have been to South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Swaziland, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Mali, Senegal, Tunisia, Timbuktu, Morocco, Sierra Leone, Gambia, Tanzania, Egypt, Senegal, and Kenya. Continuously taking groups because I know that blacks can never identify themselves with what they read in magazines or see in films. You have to be there. You have to feel, smell, see, touch, hear and know that who you are as a black person is so powerful. To be a descendant of those who were a part of a “spiritual disease” stripped of everything and yet somehow survive shows that our Forefathers and Foremothers were apart of the ultimate revolution. They changed the World!
Dr. Robbie Gholson Smith