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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 May 2006, 21:13 GMT 22:13 UK
Confronting France's slave legacy
By Clive Myrie
BBC News, Paris

Two hundred years ago, the only ships that docked off Goree Island in Senegal, West Africa, were slave ships. Now tourist boats come every day.

Children wearing t-shirts about the abolition of slavery on Goree Island
Tourists now visit Goree Island to find out about their ancestors

Many visit Goree Island because of its legacy, the port from which an estimated 20 million Africans sailed across the Atlantic as slaves.

Guides showing visitors around the old fort that housed the captives before passing through the so called "door of no return", say many tourists often break down and cry as they are told about the last heartbreaking moments when families were torn apart, never to be reunited.

A few thousand miles away, Senegal's former colonial master, France, is commemorating the victims of slavery in towns and cities across the country.

French ships transported one and a quarter million Africans to plantations in its Caribbean colonies.

It was Europe's fourth largest slave trader.

"Justice"

This is a dark chapter in French history that President Jacques Chirac says his country should never forget.

So after years of pressure from the black community he has designated 10 May as an annual day of remembrance for the victims of slavery.

Some people believe this is a one-sided view of history

Inaugurating the first day of remembrance in Paris, he said slavery was an odious trade, an indelible stain on the nation's conscience.

He said justice was owed to these people, the millions and millions of victims of such cruelty.

In French schools it is now a requirement that children be taught the horrors of colonialism.

But some people believe this is a one-sided view of history.

A number of historians argue that colonialism was not all bad, that there were positive aspects, too.

Legacy

French Minister for cooperation Brigitte Girardin meets Senegalese citizens
French politician Brigitte Girardin says her country did profit from the slave trade

But that is not the view of Catherine Lothaire, a town councillor from Goree Island who visited Paris for the day of remembrance.

She says that now every year this day will be a special day, like Bastille day, ensuring our ancestors who perished will not ever be forgotten.

For the black community here in France, the struggle to get official recognition for the victims of slavery has been a long one.

While some here might wish the past is left alone, for the foreseeable future this country will have to confront its terrible colonial legacy.


SEE ALSO:
Colonial abuses haunt France
16 May 05 |  Europe
Goree: The slave island
08 Jul 03 |  Africa
Country profile: France
18 Apr 06 |  Country profiles


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