The "Door of No Return", once crossed, removed to the african slaves any hope of staying. After this real farewell to their native land, they got into slave ships. Imagine a moment you can live these events, hard isn't it ? But do you know what you have to go through even before reaching this door ? In this article, Faride and I are taking you on the way there. You'll even be able to see, at the end, the "door of no return" reconstructed in 3D. Here we go!
We are in the kingdom of Dahomey (Benin). The slave route is 200km long and starts from the centre of the country, precisely Savalou, and ends at Ouidah, a coastal city. Seven days' walk, night and day, under the most difficult conditions. From the sale of slaves to their onboarding at sea, everything was well organized with the complicity of the sovereign. Here are the 6 steps leading to this door :
1- “Chacha” Place:
Everything starts from here, the auction place where the slaves are presented chained at the neck and the feet. They are swapped by the king for weapons and junk objects in favour of the representatives of the colonists. Here begins the ordeal of the slaves, and the next step is the tree of oblivion.
2- The tree of oblivion :
According to legend, this tree has mystic properties. This iroko tree was planted by the king AGBAJA and is no longer existing because it has been struck down back in 1945. It had the power to make slaves forget everything; a real brainwash. Men were asked to revolve 9 times around the tree, and women 7 times. At the end, they didn't know who they were, where they came from, and therefore they were more controllable.
3- The “Zomai” hut (where the light doesn't enter) :
By its name, this hut describes an abject and dark despair place. With a surface area of 360m2, the slaves were crammed into it, hands tied in such a way that they can't move. They had to live 2 weeks in the dark, be fed once every 48 hours with dry bread and water. The point is to put them in the same living conditions as in the slave ship's hold. At the end, the weakest got sick, if the road travelled so far hasn't finished them off yet.
4- The “Ahoho-do” common grave
12m deep, this mass grave was for those who were deemed useless: the dead and the dying bodies. To continue the journey, they had to be strong! They had to convince the settler that they were not a heavyweight and that they would hold on the rest of the road. The weakest bodies were dumped in this common grave, dead or alive, shamelessly. (NB: I would point out that we are not inciting any hatred or anger, but simply relating the historical facts, as they've been reported to us.)
5- The spiritual return tree
This tree was rooted back in 1727 by the representative of the king they called "KAKA-NANKOU". The tree has been planted over a man buried alive! Legend has it that this tree is able to recall the spirit of each slave once dead. Even if they leave definitively their land physically, they will come back spiritually once they're dead. The slaves had to revolve 3 times around this tree to activate this spiritual return.
6- Final step: the door of no return
That's it, here we are, the famous door. Depending on the side we are, it's called door of physical no return or door of spiritual return. On the front side, slaves are carved with their back to the sea. The back side, also called door of spiritual return shows slaves facing the sea with their back to the spiritual return tree. The red color used is supposed to represent the blood and the african soil. Now I invite you to see the 3D model (you can even rotate it in all directions).
From 1580 to 1848, over 240 millions of slaves, only 10 millions managed to reach the western coasts alive! There was a total of 7 doors of no return in Africa: Cape Verde, Zanzibar in Tanzania, Ouidah in Benin, Gorée Island in Senegal, Cap Coast in Ghana, Pointe-Noire in Congo-Brazzaville and a last one in Angola. Back in Benin, over the 200km of the slave route, the 4 last kilometers have a tourist line. If ever you're visiting Benin, I invite you to go there!