Recently, the Senegalese people have learned to speak more openly of their history. But, as late as the 1980s—the years of my youth and early schooling—the wounds of colonialism were still fresh. I contend that slavery had been so powerful a blow to the Senegalese ethos that we—my family, friends, and schoolmates—did not speak about it. The collective trauma and shame of slavery was apparently so powerful that we sought to repress it, keeping it hidden from ourselves. We were surrounded by its evidence, but chose not to see it. Such was my childhood experience. As an adult, I understand that repression never heals wounds. The trauma remains as a haunting presence. But one can discover its “living presence,” should one choose to look
. Just 5.2 km off the west African coast of Senegal lies Gorée Island, where millions of Africans were held captive while awaiting transport into slavery. Much of the four-century history of the African slave trade passed through Senegal, where I grew up. In this essay, I explore the history of the island and its role in the slave trade. I describe my own coming to terms with this history—how it has haunted me since my youth. And I argue for the role of visual rhetorics in the formation (and affirmation) of Senegalese ethos. As Baumlin and Meyer (2018) remind us, we need to speak, in order to be heard, in order to be seen: Such is an assumption of rhetorical ethos. And the reverse, as I shall argue, may be true, too: Sometimes we need to see
(or be seen), in order to know what
to speak and how
to be heard. It is for this reason that we need more films written, directed, produced, and performed by Africans (Senegalese especially).
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