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__________________________________________________________ Lazy editor's note: Mel Page chewed me out for sending out an unedited version. I herewith post his, much nicer, version. HGM ---------------------------------------------------------- Date: Thu, 26 Mar 1998 From: Mel Page <pagem@MTB.und.ac.za> From: Mark Kornbluh, H-Net Executive Director <hnet3@HS1.HST.MSU.EDU> H-Africa's subscribers might be interested to note that the following CNN article on their website is entirely derived from a 1996 discussion on Goree Island from H-Africa. http://cnn.com/SPECIALS/1998/africa/senegal/ Tiny island weathers storm of controversy by CNN Interactive Writer Andy Walton (CNN) -- Goree Island, in the harbor of the Senegalese capital of Dakar, is Barely 80 acres. But it has become the battleground in a war of ideas, an emotional conflict surrounding the study of history and the business of tourism. The island's Maison des Esclaves, or House of Slaves, has become a popular tourist destination, especially for African Americans. The island was designated by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, as a World Heritage Site. Pope John Paul II visited the island in 1992, and Hillary and Chelsea Clinton took a tour of the slave house last year. U.S. President Bill Clinton is scheduled to visit during his trip to Africa. But some historians say the island was a minor slave center at most -- and that the history of the slave house is being intentionally distorted in a drive for tourist dollars. Quiet controversy heats up A December 1996 article in the French newspaper "Le Monde" brought the issue to the surface. The article quoted Abdoulaye Camara, the curator of the History the house of slaves "a myth." Camara has since denied making the statement. The article prompted angry reaction in Senegal, particularly from Joseph N'Diaye, the European and Lebanese curator of the slave house. N'Diaye says that 40 million slaves passed through the house's "door of no return." He calls Emmanuel de Roux, the author of the "Le Monde" article, a accuses him of having a hidden agenda. But the story only alerted more people to an issue that had been simmering among historians for decades. In August 1995, Johns Hopkins University historian Philip Curtin called the slave house a "sham" in an Internet mailing list. Curtin said that "The 'house of slaves' has become an emotional shrine to the slave trade, rather than a serious museum." He said that no more than a few hundred slaves a year were transported through Goree island, and that "30,000 total exports through Goree would be an outside estimate." Curtin said the claim that the slave house was a major shipping point was refuted as early as 1958. Do numbers tell the story? Some historians on the mailing list responded angrily to Curtin's comments: "It is almost like those who deny Nazi death camps," one said. Curtin and other historians who question N'Diaye's numbers stress that they are not belittling the horror or the enormity of the slave trade -- only the island's role in it. Other coastal sites, at the mouths of major rivers, were much better suited for large-scale exportation of slaves, they say; Goree, a small island where the slave traders' homes still stand, is ill-suited for the kind of traffic N'Diaye describes. Others said that even if Curtin's numbers are correct, they are beside the point, and Goree retains its symbolic and emotional importance. "It isn't possible to comprehend the significance of Goree for African-Americans if one considers it only a matter of numbers," one historian said. "The Maison des Esclaves on Goree has a potent symbolic effect," one historian said. "But much of that potency derives from the enormity of the slave trade, from the fact that it was not an event that occurred at one time or place, but was instead a process that evolved over hundreds of years and along thousands of miles of coastline." But the debate is more than academic for Senegal's growing tourist industry, which some fear may be threatened by the controversy. The country's tourism department reports that Senegal hosted 321,000 tourists in 1995, up from 282,000 in 1994. Goree Island has been profiled in several articles, including one featured on CNN Interactive's Black History Month page, and a $15 million hotel and conference center is in the works. However the debate among academics, entrepreneurs, and officials is resolved -- if it can ever be resolved -- the island still attracts pilgrims, and still invokes awe. The walls of the slave house remain imposing. And silent.