Portrait of an Island: The Architecture and Material Culture of Gorée, Sénégal, 1758-1837

Portrait of an Island: The Architecture and Material Culture of Gorée, Sénégal, 1758-1837

Portrait of an Island: The Architecture and Material Culture of Gorée, Sénégal, 1758-1837

Portrait of an Island: The Architecture and Material Culture of Gorée, Sénégal, 1758-1837

Synopsis

The once-famous trading center of Goree, Senegal, today lies in the busy harbor of the modern city of Dakar. From its beginnings as a modest outpost, Goree became one of the intersections linking African trading routes to the European Atlantic trade. Then as now, people of many nationalities poured into the island: Dutch, English, French, Portuguese, Tukulor, and Wolof. Trading parties brought with them gold, firewood, mirrors, books, and more. They built houses of various forms, using American lumber, French roof tiles, freshly cut straw, and pulverized seashells, and furnished them in a fashion as cosmopolitan as the city itself.

A work of architectural history, Portrait of an Island explores the material culture and social relations of West Africa in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Multiple features of eighteenth-century Goree--its demographic diversity; the prominence of women leaders; the phenomenon of identities in flux; and the importance of fashion and international trade--articulate its place in the construction of an early global modernity. An examination of the built and natural landscape, Portrait of an Island deciphers the material culture involved in the ever-changing relationships among male, female, rich, poor, free, and slave.

Excerpt

In 1818, notaries recorded a series of eyewitness accounts given by a group of export slaves in Saint-Louis du Sénégal. This is one of them:

The woman named Barka, a Bambara fourteenn she was
taken by some Moors with whom she stayed for an extended period
of time, and that these same Moors re-sold her in Saint-Louis to Mr.
[ ] with whom she also stayed for an extended period of time, after
which she was re-sold by him to a white man staying in the home of
Madame Rosalie Aussenac where she was locked up at night and free
during the day, and that a small white man who spoke a little Wolof
informed her that they were going to take her to France.

Barka’s story confirms that export slaves were sometimes held in private West African houses prior to being shipped overseas. It also makes clear that members of the mixed-race nobility, such as Rosalie Aussenac, had a role in the slave trade. the final lines that concern the conversation, in a language foreign to them both, between Barka and the “small white man” are equally intriguing. This document, the situation it records, and my interpretation of it are exemplary of what I seek to do in this book.

Barka’s deposition is a document that, at first, does not seem to address architecture. But under pressure, it is revealing about architecture, identity, mobility, and colonial space. It concerns a kind of person, a female African . . .

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