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House of Slave
A visit to this pastel-colored museum on Ile Gorée, an island 3km (1.86mi) off Dakar’s southern tip, is almost a rite of passage for dignitaries and tourists alike. This is due to the fact that la Maison des Esclaves is the last remaining slave house (out of approximately 30) on an island that UNESCO claims was “the largest slave trading centre on the African coast” between the 15th and 19th centuries. It was built in the 1700s and has been preserved to demonstrate the brutal barbarism of the slave trade. The squalid conditions in which its forced inmates were housed. The chains that bound people’s necks, ankles, and feet, the agonizing tools that meted out punishment, and the infamous Door of No Return from which an estimated 20 million Africans said goodbye to their homeland. Quite simply, the museum is a blunt, uncensored look into one of mankind’s greatest tragedies.
IFAN Museum of African Arts
The Théodore-Monod, also known as the Dakar Museum or the Musée de l’IFAN (Institut Fondamental d’Afrique de Noire), is a Dakar institution. Built in 1931, it houses Senegal’s largest collection of West African artifacts (and arguably all of West Africa). From musical instruments to ancient weapons, sprawling tapestries to tiny carvings, its collection celebrates the region’s and tribes’ diverse history and culture. Celebrations of death, such as funeral masks and drums, coexist with celebrations of life, such as maternity clothes and woven baby carriers. There are hammocks, baskets, and rugs from Bassari country, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sculptures and headwear from Mali’s Dogon tribe. Scarecrows and penis sheaths make an appearance as well.
Musée Léopold Sedar Senghor
Léopold Sedar Senghor, one of the most influential Africans of the twentieth century, needs no introduction. But, just in case, he is the first African to receive a French government scholarship. The first African to receive a doctorate in French grammar. The first African to be elected to the French National Assembly. The first African minister to serve in a French cabinet. Senegal’s first president after independence. Despite leading Senegal for two decades, Senghor is best known for his life outside of politics. He co-founded the negritude movement as a poet, which used literature to celebrate the African continent and champion black identity – some of the first works to do so. This museum sheds light on his extraordinary life and legacy.
Musée des Forces Armées Sénégalaises
An armed forces museum may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the conflict has long been a prominent figure in history, and Senegal’s Armed Forces Museum offers an enthralling glimpse into the country’s – and region’s – turbulent past. The museum, which opened in 1997, focuses on Senegal’s traditional, colonial, and current national armies. We see Senegal through the eyes of its soldiers from before European powers arrived on its shores to the present day, using an illuminating combination of photos, artifacts, and documents from military archives. The museum, in particular, tells the story of the tirailleurs sénégalais, a French colonial infantry unit made up of African soldiers that served France in multiple wars, including World War I and II.
Henriette-Bathily Women’s Museum
The Henriette Bathily Women’s Museum, billed as “A TRIBUTE TO ALL WOMEN,” was founded in 1994 on the small Senegalese island of Gorée. It was there for two decades before moving to Dakar, where it now houses exhibitions and educational programs about female Senegalese life.