Review: Goree Island: Island of No Return, Saga of the Signares by Richard Harrison Goree. Gold Leaf Press, Mt. Clemens, MI. 1996.
Often times a search for family history can lead to confusing twists and turns or shocking revelations. In the case of Richard Goree, the search for his family’s past led to a novel with much important knowledge for the rest of the world. Goree Island is a story revealing the importance of signares in economic success during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and colonial period in Africa. Elevating themselves to respected and revered statuses, these mulatto women were considered the grease that kept the European (particularly French) economic machines moving.
During the colonial period in Africa, mulatto (half white/half African) women came to power as the go-betweens for traders by utilizing their lighter complexion to initially gain a level of inherent trust. When an incoming trading ship ported at Goree Island, the French stationed there would send these women, signares, to the important shipmen on board in hopes that the gift of the company of these women would put them in a better mood to trade. Throughout the years these women became vital to the success of the French at Goree Island.
In a course about the history of African women the signares are bound to come as up as an essential part of the slave trade era. However, one of the main points of this book was primarily on everyday life and interactions between signares and other individuals; including their effects on the island’s economy, social and diplomatic relationships and ceremony. When Goree Island was a high traffic port for trading, the most important activities surrounding a ship’s arrival would be centered around the signares. When word of an incoming English ship came in to Monsieur de Drouin, he was extremely concerned about the incoming shipmen’s impressions of their signares. Without the involvement of these signares it is unknown how the transactions would...
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