Preserving Badagry’s Legacy
Nestled along the Gulf of Guinea in Lagos State, Nigeria, Badagry is a coastal town that carries within its shores a profound historical legacy. From its bustling days as a trade port and commerce to its haunting role in the transatlantic slave trade, Badagry encapsulates a captivating history and rich cultural heritage. TNR sat with Temitope Mobee, a descendant of the Mobee Family and more specifically, Sunbu Mobee, a slave trader, on a remarkable journey through time as we explored the stories of resilience, the echoes of the past, and the vibrant traditions that make Badagry a living testament to the enduring spirit of its people.
We’ve all heard stories about the famous Badagry, and some of us may agree that history has been somewhat forgotten, and a lot of people have added or subtracted from the real story of Badagry. That is why I agreed to sit and have a talk with Temitope Mobee, a descendant of the Mobee Family.
Upon arriving, I met Mr. Temitope outside the entrance of the Mobee Museum, where he came out to greet me. Meeting the descendant of the Mobee Family of Badagry was a captivating and enriching experience. As I sat down with him, the air seemed to carry the weight of history, and I felt a sense of anticipation building within me. The descendant exuded an aura of deep-rooted heritage, seamlessly blending the roles of a family representative and a knowledgeable tour guide.
As we began our conversation, his passion for preserving and sharing the rich legacy of Badagry became evident. With each word he spoke, he wove a tapestry of stories, anecdotes, and historical insights, transporting me back in time to an era long gone. His deep connection to his ancestors and their remarkable contributions to the culture and history of Badagry was palpable, adding a layer of authenticity to our encounter.
TNR: Could you tell me a bit about what really happened during the era of slavery?
Mobee: Well, it’s important to clarify a common misconception. Badagry was just one of the slave corridors on the Nigerian coast. There were two major slave coasts in Nigeria: Badagry and Calabar. Slaves from the eastern part of Nigeria were taken to Calabar, while those from the Oyo empire down to Dahomey were brought to Badagry. In Badagry, our ancestors acted as intermediaries between the Whites and the Black people. They would purchase slaves from their fellow Africans and sell them to the white men. This went on for between 350-400 years.
There’s often a debate about which country came to Badagry first. What can you tell us about this?
Yes, the Portuguese were the first to arrive in Badagry, not the British. The truth is, these European countries came to Africa primarily for raw materials, not people. For example, Liberia became known as the “grain coast” because Europeans obtained grain from there. Côte d’Ivoire was called the “Ivory Coast” because they supplied ivory, and Ghana was known as the “Gold Coast” due to its gold supply. However, Nigeria became known as the “Slave Port” because we supplied slaves. It’s worth noting that the white men initially came to Africa for raw materials, but greed took over, and we decided to sell slaves instead. The British often bear the blame because they colonized us, but it’s important to know that the slave trade was abolished in 1852, and the British left Nigeria. The Portuguese, however, stayed until 1888, marking the end of the slave trade. Furthermore, the Portuguese took more slaves than the British, which is why countries like Brazil have a larger Black population and Yoruba as their second official language.
Some descendants of slaves have been returning to Africa since Black people originated from Africa.
Yes, some descendants of slaves are indeed returning to their motherland. However, it can be challenging for them to trace their exact country or birthplace due to the impact of the slavery era. When slaves were brought to “The Point of No Return” in Badagry, they were forced to drink water from the attenuation well. This water contained a sort of voodoo that made the slaves forget their lives in Nigeria, including their families and last names. They only retained their first names, language, and gods. Centuries later, the effects of this voodoo are still noticeable, as many Black people overseas have limited knowledge about their origins. Although there are now devices to help trace family history, their accuracy is not always reliable. Nonetheless, some do come back for Diaspora festivals held in August to preserve the memory of the slavery era.
You mentioned that the blame for the slave trade often falls more on the British. Could you elaborate on this?
While it’s true that the British played a significant role in the slave trade, they shouldn’t shoulder all the blame. It’s a common tendency to attribute blame to them because they colonized us. However, it’s essential to recognize that about 38.5% of slaves were taken to Brazil, not Britain. This is why Brazil has the highest number of Black people after Africa. Slaves were also taken to Jamaica, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, among other countries, and that’s why we can still see cultural resemblances between Africa, particularly the Yoruba people of Nigeria, and these nations. Personally, I would say the Portuguese are more to blame for the slave trade, as they started it, not the British. Both nations had their faults, along with other European countries, but the Portuguese initiated the whole trade.
What would you say colonization is? What were the British aiming for? And how does colonization differ from slavery?
During the colonization era, one could say it was a modern form of slavery. Although the British officially left in 1852, they returned later with the intention of colonizing us. Colonization meant that we were under their control and had to seek their consent for almost everything. We couldn’t hold elections or important meetings without their approval. In a way, it resembled slavery because they became our masters. They may not have physically chained and tortured us, but they still exerted control. Interestingly, even though we claim to have gained independence from Britain, we still act as if we are colonized. The only difference now is that we beg for acceptance into their country, while those already in Britain are enticed to stay due to economic opportunities.
Are there any accounts or stories of slave resistance or revolts that took place in Badagry during the slave trade?
A significant number of slaves attempted to resist the white men, but it often led to severe consequences for them. Some would pretend to fall or genuinely fall, hoping to evade punishment, but the white men would whip them and make them pay for their perceived disobedience. Additionally, as I mentioned earlier, all slaves were forced to drink water from the attenuation well, which not only erased their memories of their Nigerian lives, but also made them less aggressive. This made it difficult for them to fight back against their captors.
The recent coronation of King Charles sparked arguments that many of the artefacts used were stolen from Nigeria, especially from Badagry and the Benin kingdom. How true is this? Did the slave trade impact other forms of trade, or were these relics indeed stolen?
The truth is, the white men deceived our ancestors, and they continue to deceive our leaders even today. In Badagry, they didn’t take anything physical except the people themselves. When they arrived, they exchanged various items for each batch of slaves they took. So, they didn’t steal from Badagry, although they did in the Benin kingdom. We willingly gave them mirrors, bottles of gin, cannons, and other goods in exchange for human lives. It’s essential to understand that before the arrival of the white men, our societies were already flourishing. Ancient Egyptians had already made advancements in medicine, and the area known as “The Point of No Return” in Badagry was originally a salt factory. We were already civilized in our own way. However, the white men convinced us to abandon our own practices and adopt theirs. What they took from us was not physical items but our culture and heritage, which they continue to do even today by introducing their own culture while eroding ours.
There have been discussions about Seriki Abass-Williams being a betrayer to his own people by selling slaves to the white men. What can you say about this?
Well, it’s important to set the record straight regarding Seriki Abass-Williams. Firstly, Seriki Abass originally came from the northern part of Nigeria, hence his name “Seriki.” He was bought by Abass and later sold to a white man named Williams. This means Seriki himself was sold twice as a slave. After Williams bought him, he sent Seriki back to Badagry to purchase slaves. It’s crucial to note that at this time, slavery had already been abolished. While the white men were somewhat friendly with Seriki due to his proficiency in both English and Yoruba, he primarily served as an intermediary. Seriki Abass was never directly involved in the slave trade, which had already been abolished when Williams sent Seriki back to Badagry to continue purchasing slaves. It’s important to clarify this misconception about Seriki Abass. There have been rumors and misinformation circulating about him, and I’m glad this interview provides an opportunity to shed light on the truth. Additionally, it’s worth mentioning that Seriki didn’t own any land in this part of Nigeria until my family, the Mobee Family, sold a compound to his family. That’s where his descendants currently reside. While the barracoon held slaves, Seriki himself did not own any slaves in the barracoon. He lived in that compound until his death in 1919, and his descendants continue to live there to this day.
Are there any long-lasting economic effects or commercial practices that can be traced back to the era of the slave trade?
Well, I can’t speak specifically about long-lasting economic effects, but it’s worth noting that before the arrival of the white men, we recognized cowries as a form of currency. Life was simple, and we had our own established traditions. However, when the white men came, they imposed new currencies on us, and we abandoned the use of cowries. Even today, we can see the influence of their commercial practices, as we have adopted many aspects of their economic system.
Do you have any advice for Nigerians and tourists planning to visit this historic town?
Badagry will always hold a special place in the heart of Nigeria, especially Lagos State. A lot of significant events took place here, including the establishment of the first museum, school, church, and more. It’s crucial for both locals and tourists to come and experience what our ancestors endured from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. We have various festivals in Badagry, with the most prominent being the Diaspora festival held annually in August. However, there are challenges we face when receiving visitors. Many complain about the poor road conditions, which can be discouraging and tiring. If the government could prioritize fixing the roads, we would undoubtedly see an increase in daily visitors. This would not only enhance the town’s appearance but also contribute to the country’s economy.
Thank you for sharing these insightful details about Badagry’s history and the enduring impact of the slavery era. Your knowledge and perspective are truly valuable.
It was my pleasure to contribute to a deeper understanding of our heritage. Thank you for having me.
In conclusion, it is imperative to recognize the profound historical significance of Badagry in the context of the slave trade era. By delving into this dark chapter of Nigeria’s past, we gain a deeper understanding of its lasting impact on our society and collective memory. It is incumbent upon us to preserve the memory of those who endured immense suffering and to honor their resilience in the face of unimaginable hardships.
Through continued education, cultural exchange, and responsible tourism, we can ensure that the lessons of Badagry resonate with current and future generations. By confronting the painful legacy of the slave trade, we foster an environment of healing, reconciliation, and progress. It is our collective responsibility to promote human rights, equality, and justice, and to work toward a world where such atrocities are never repeated.
As we explore the historic town of Badagry, let us not forget the invaluable lessons it imparts. By engaging with its museums, monuments, and festivals, we pay homage to the individuals who suffered and sacrificed. Moreover, by fostering an environment that encourages open dialogue and understanding, we pave the way for a brighter future.
In this pursuit, it is crucial that the necessary infrastructure, such as well-maintained roads, be provided to facilitate accessibility for both locals and tourists. By investing in the development and preservation of Badagry’s historical sites, we not only enhance its cultural significance but also contribute to the overall economic growth of the region.
Ultimately, our collective efforts in commemorating the history of the slave trade in Badagry serve as a testament to our commitment to justice, reconciliation, and the preservation of our shared heritage. May this enduring legacy inspire us to create a world where the dignity and rights of every individual are upheld, and where the wounds of the past are transformed into opportunities for growth, unity, and progress.