Martinique dancers and musicians perform at 5th annual Goree Island Diaspora Festival
Martinique dancers and musicians perform at 5th annual Goree Island Diaspora Festival

Senegal's Goree Island celebrates African art and culture in a festival meant to bring members of the African diaspora closer together.  

Just beyond the heat and haze of Dakar and a few kilometers off its main harbor, lies Goree Island.  This tiny spec of land, with its pastel colored homes and colonial-style buildings, holds an important legacy in the continent's history.

In the 18th century, Goree Island was one of several West African ports from which goods and slaves were shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas.

Nearly 300 years later, the island was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Today, it is home to more than 1,000 people and has hosted guests from around the world, including Pope John Paul II and Nelson Mandela.

This past weekend's 5th annual Goree Island Diaspora Festival attracted more than 3,000 visitors.

Augustin Senghor, the mayor of Goree Island, says this year's theme was peace and reconciliation.

Senghor says that for a long time, Goree Island was a sad page in history.  The festival, he says, is a way to use art and culture to remember this time and to unite the island's diaspora.  Senghor says it is not enough to remember the past, but that it must be used to build a better future in which communities can grow closer to eliminate all forms of discrimination.

Countries invited to the festival this year included Martinique, Cape Verde, Guadeloupe, Brazil and Venezuela.  In Venezuela, some 40 percent of the population is of African descent and many of them are of Senegalese origin.

Venezuela's ambassador to Senegal, Eddy Cordova, says events like the Goree Diaspora Arts Festival are essential to building strong international ties.  Cordova says that since Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez took office 11 years ago, relations between Venezuela and Senegal have grown.  

Cordova says the festival is a way to bring people together and to learn how to work together.  He says Venezuelans need to re-establish links with their ancestors in Senegal.

Other African countries represented at the festival include Mauritania, the Gambia, Benin and Mozambique.  European visitors came from the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Belgium and France.

This year's special guest country was Cape Verde whose President Pedro Pires toured the final day of the festival.

Goree Island's mayor says he wants to make the Island a hub of civilization based on a sense of universality where everyone feels at home.