A lot has been made of the historic trans-Atlantic slave trade from the 15th to early 20th century. Movies such as “12 years a slave“, “Amistad“, “Roots sequels (Kunta Kinte)” amongst others have tried to depict the horrors and inhumane treatment of the blacks in the hands of the trade masters. However, it’s highly debatable if these depictions are played down, exaggerated or truly represented the slavery of those times.
Slave trade and general African history have always been a topic of interest to me, so, my visit to the coastal town of Badagry, in Lagos Nigeria, wouldn’t have been complete without visiting some of its historic slave sites. Badagry is a relatively small town but extremely rich in history. It was a major hub for the trans-Atlantic slave trade between Nigeria and the rest of the world.
My curiosity led me to places like Seriki Abass Slave Museum, the first-story building in Nigeria amongst other sites. Of serious concern to me was the Museum and the dark history behind its walls. I arrived there at about 2 pm in the company of a local resident- a pleasant and friendly chap turned brother.
At the entrance, we (tourists) all gathered around a lanky tour guide with massive dreadlocks (a Rastafarian I presume). He patiently gave a brief history of the man called Seriki Faremi Williams Abass and the thriving role he played as a slave merchant. Yes! A slave merchant selling his fellow blacks as slaves out of the continent, never to see their homeland again. And the irony? He was a former slave himself.
Captured as a slave, he was initially shipped to Brazil where he was privileged to learn how to speak and write in English, Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch. His education elevated his circumstance from merely slaving away in cotton fields into more intellectual engagements like representing and managing his master’s business. After many years, he became one of the very few who saw their return to the continent. After many years, he resettled on home soil and grew into a strong leader and founder of many communities, a socialite, an astute businessman and worryingly a prominent slave merchant. Much has been hailed about him as a strong politician and Muslim leader whose empire and kingdom spanned Badagry- to Ilaje – to the kingdom of Dahomey (Present day Republic of Benin). He is indeed a true example of the resilience of the human soul to rise above his seemingly insurmountable circumstances.
However, a spade should be called a spade. As a former slave himself, how would a man who had experienced the horrors of slavery and managed to find his way back home as a freeman become a channel through which thousands of others were led into slavery?Logically, you will expect him to be a vocal advocate for the emancipation of Africans from slavery. Right?We couldn’t hide our disgust as we were led through tiny cells too small for an individual by all standards but considered ideal for 40 slaves. We were told each cell housed 40 slaves, where they would languish in intensely poor ventilation in their own excrement for several days before being led to the point of no-return- Never to see their homeland again. Most of us couldn’t hide our disgust and disappointment at how Africans could be delivering fellow Africans into lifetimes of torture in exchange for what?
We (tourists) couldn’t hide our disgust as we were led through tiny cells too small for an individual by all standards but considered ideal for 40 slaves. These cells were referred to as the barracoon of 40 slaves. We were told each cell housed 40 slaves, where they would languish in intensely poor ventilation in their own excrement for several days before being led to the point of no-return– Never to see their homeland again. Most of us couldn’t hide our disgust and disappointment at how Africans could be delivering fellow Africans into lifetimes of torture in exchange for what?
The narrative took an interesting twist when the tour guide gave a breakdown of what the slave trade transaction was like;
A bottle of Gin = 10 slaves
A mirror = 40 slaves
An enameled pot = 30 slaves
A huge umbrella = 40 slaves
A Dane gun = 40 slaves… and other ridiculous barter exchange values
Brass Dish, Gun, bowls, mirrors traded in exchange for Slaves
To put that in perspective, the value of one bottle of Aromatic Shinaps was 10 able-bodied souls like you and I. And, when next you stand before a 10” by 12” mirror to apply your makeup (for ladies), remember that you are standing before the something exchanged for 40 human beings with sound mind and health whose freedom where forcefully taken.
Can it get any more embarrassing?
I couldn’t help but laugh at the large glasslike gramophone, which was probably the best technology could offer at the time. In fact, the tour guide said the gramophone was probably the only one in the whole of West Africa for many years at the time. What else could spell influence than having several women at his call and beckon? The great man himself was said to have had 128 wives and 144 children in his lifetime.
Fast-forward to our current contemporary times, I see this oppression-syndrome play out in the form of neo-colonialism. Politicians who have traveled all over the world and seen it all and should know better will come back home and still treat their people with disgust and disregard. Schools, hospitals, and all basic amenities are in disarray… they do not seem to care. After all, the luxury and financial security of their children and children’s children are safely tucked away in foreign havens far from the reach of the prying eyes of the helpless masses… They equally act in ways that suggest the lives of the masses is worth nothing more than a useless mirror. Bad roads, poor governance, inadequate health facilities, poverty and hunger, lack of justice just to mention a few still plagues the society in no small measure.
There was ample time for visits to other historical monuments such as the first-storey building in Nigeria (1845), miracle well built in 1842 (175 years ago) and a few other non-historical places in town.
By the way, as I write the first draft of this post, I’m currently en-route Lagos-Ibadan highway- a major road currently undergoing an upgrade. Construction activities on this road have stopped at least twice due to issues Nigerians are familiar with.
On a lighter note, the driver seems to care less about the numerous potholes and bad portions of the road as he keeps running straight into them. I believe he will be a huge asset as a stunt crewmember of the Fast and Furious movie series… Reading this post is a sure proof I got home safely though.
In the rant for selfless, effective and revolutionary leadership… Let love and kindness rule the world
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