The 15th Akwaaba African Travel Market which held earlier this week, was innovative in more ways than one. Perhaps, the most innovative thing about this year’s edition of the influential travel and tourism show, was the incorporation of the African Diaspora Conference, more than 200 years after the Transatlantic Slave Trade ended in Nigeria. The conference provided guests from the Caribbean the opportunity to ‘look around’ and even attempt to trace or retrace their roots. And there was no better way to kick start this re-connection than with a visit to Badagry from where more than 500,000 Africans were sold into slavery. I was on the team, and it was a journey embarked on with a boat ride.
Setting Sail On The Lagoon
Our takeoff point was the Tarzan Jetty in the Victoria Island area of Lagos. After securely wearing our life jackets and observing other departure formalities, the engine of the Yamaha-powered boat roared to life at about 1:30 pm, and off we went on the Lagos Lagoon.
The boat ride offered us a rare opportunity to discover the most expensive coastal neighborhoods of Lagos dotted with some of the most beautiful houses in the commercial capital of Nigeria. You could say it’s the sprawling highbrow area of Lagos.
From the popular Apapa Wharf stretching on the right to the left side where the ‘big boys’ pack their luxury yachts, the Lagos Lagoon’s coastal lines are a beauty to behold. And so, with the beautiful scenery under view we rode, we laughed, we ate. Although, there were occasional moments of water splashes and a few heart-skipping moments, especially for the water-phobic folks, it was mostly a fun ride. And after close to three hours of boat ride, and contending with the subtle ocean waves, we arrived at the O2 jetty in Badagry, and with that began our little exploration.
A Thing Or Two About Badagry
Badagry is a coastal ancient town located in Lagos State in the western part of Nigeria. Said to have been founded in the 15th century by a famous farmer called Agbedeh, Badagry is situated between the bustling city of Lagos and the popular Seme border with Benin Republic. It is a town with rich history and numerous firsts.
According to history, the name ‘Badagry’ is a corruption of ‘Agbedegreme’ and ‘Agbedagari’ (meaning Agbedeh’s farm in Ogu and Yoruba language respectively) by the European slave traders. Badagry was cut out of Nigeria in 1863 and was eventually made part of Lagos State by the British colonial masters in 1901.
Because of it’s close proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, Badagry naturally became very important in the transatlantic slave trade. It was the final point of departure for Nigerians and other Africans who were sold into slavery from the 16th Century till the abolition of slave trade in 1886.
Warm Welcome by Warm People
Our arrival at the O2 jetty was heralded by a rousing welcome by Badagry indigenes and our tour Guide, Anago Osho, who had been waiting for us. The Gbenopo Royal Cultural group was on hand to entertain us with great beats and dance steps. We (including the Caribbeans) couldn’t resist the sweetness, so we showed them a few of our own dance steps. And then came the obligatory coconut ritual which the people of Badagry have come to be known for.
From the O2 jetty, we drove straight in a convoy, to the headquarters of Badagry Local Government Area where we were warmly welcomed by the Executive Chairman of the Local Government Council represented by the Secretary to the local government. After presenting us with kola nuts as a sign of peace and hospitality, we were individually decorated with wrappers in the signature Badagry style. And we turned out colourful ‘Badagrians’.
After taking a lesson or two on the history of slave trade and the role Badagry played, we left for the Oba’s Palace. Oh, part of the welcome goodies was their famous snack – Ajogun – made from cassava flour, which we munched in the bus on the remaining legs of the trip. It tasted really nice. If you like Pringles, then you would love Ajogun.
At the palace of the Oba Akran of Badagry His Majesty De Aholu Menu-Toyi I, there was an exchange of cultures, of souvenirs, of awards and of certificates. Incidentally, the Monarch who has been on the throne since 1977, marked his 83rd birthday just two days before our visit.
Point of No Return
With the courtesy calls over, we headed back to the O2 jetty, made for the boat and headed to Gberefu Island, and in 10 minutes or so, we were offshore again, ready to explore the Original Badagry Slave Routes. Perhaps, the single most important element of the entire slave trade history and the Slave Routes, is the popular Point of No Return.
Founded in the 15th Century and geographically a part of Badagry, the Gberefu Island is strategically located between the hinterland and the Atlantic Ocean. It therefore was very important to the slave merchants and slavemasters as it served as a natural path to the Point of No Return. Gberefu Island was dreaded by the slaves because their fates were sealed here. Those who got here never returned, at least not alive.
Our own journey to the Point of No Return began with a walk on the very sandy slave routes on the Gberefu Island. But don’t get it twisted, we definitely RETURNED, otherwise you would have been reading one of those stories that touch the heart, and not this one.
After about 10 minutes of contemplative walk on the sandy slave routes, we finally got to the Point of no Return where we reminisced, meditated and even prayed. We had to, because that was the exact point on which our ancestors permanently lost tie with home. That was the point on which our forefathers lost their freedom and human dignity. That was the point on which the ultimate sacrifice was made.
The Superlative Conspiracy
Another major thing we saw on the Gberefu Island slave route was the Spirit Attenuation Well. Apparently, spirituality was a factor and played a major role during the slave trade days, the attenuation well is a tangible evidence. Located along the original slave route in Gberefu Island, the attenuation well was a decoy employed by the slavemasters to perpetrate their dehumanizing crimes against the African people.
According to history, slave traders conspired with local Badagry chiefs and shamans who charmed the water in the well in exchange for money and other favours. The local people were very much complicit in this unethical inhumanity, and that’s why I call it the ‘Superlative Conspiracy’.
Slaves on their way to the ships were made to drink water from the well (even if they were not thirsty) which caused them memory loss and ultimately made them forget their homes and roots. The charming effect of the water is said to last for as long as three months, long enough to complete their journey to the unknown destination. The water from the attenuation well literally brain washed the slaves.
Now reconstructed with red bricks, the Attenuation Well sits well under a small thatch house with a low fence to discourage access to it. According to the locals, no one has drunk from the well in over a century. Who would?
The Nostalgic Walk
After exploring the point of no return and stirring up our emotions, we walked back to the jetty dejectedly and boarded our boat, yet again. Yes, dejectedly, because we had seen and even experienced first hand, how our ancestors suffered terribly in the hands of their oyibo slavemasters. We had seen the point of no return at which our forefathers lost their identities and bid their final goodbyes to their motherland knowing that they were never going to return to it. We had been told and shown how the slavemasters tortured, dehumanized and debased our ancestors before shipping them off to Europe and America on the journey of no return.
Not even our guests from the Caribbean could hold back their dry tears. How could they? They had just found out how their forefathers were humiliated. The Director of Tourism Development in the Barbados Ministry of Tourism and International Transport, Dr. Kerry Hall, described the African slave history as painful and tragic. We had seen all the action spots on the slave routes, we had cried the cry, and even worked up a good dose of anger against the oyibo man, but it was time to leave. As we stepped into the boat for the last time for the return journey to Victoria Island (or so we thought), we stepped into deep thoughts and nostalgia, but the boat had a different plan for us.
Blessing in Disguise
At about 7:30pm, just 5 minutes into the return journey, our boat suddenly developed a mind of it’s own and went tech on us. Yes, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean tributary, our boat developed fault and almost put us in a dilemma. Did we offend mammy water and the other water gods? Anyway, the boat crew didn’t seem to know what the problem was or just couldn’t fix it, and so going back to Victoria Island wasn’t an option.
In a minute or two, I witnessed what is probably the swiftest logistics plans I’ve experienced throughout my entire fam trips and city tour. Calls were exchanged between the Akwaaba team and our hosts in Badagry and accommodation was arranged for us at the Whispering Palms Hotel and Resort Badagry. So, what was supposed to be disappointment, was actually a blessing in disguise.
Whispering Palms Resort Badagry, Lagos is one of the oldest resorts in Nigeria, it maintain its lead as the best resort in Nigeria. It is situated in an environment that provides stunning views and surrounded by beautiful green scenery that enhances the aesthetic feel of the resort. Staying at this beautiful resort offered us the opportunity to reconnect with nature while staying away from the Lagos city noise.
The Barracoon The Last Lap
After a restful night followed by a well curated breakfast at the Whispering Palms Hotel and Resort the next morning, we headed to the boat again. This time, it was a different kind of boat and in fact, a speed boat. Since we didn’t have enough time to visit the Seriki Abass Museum, the new day offered us an opportunity to do that. So, instead of heading to Victoria Island as we had expected, our boat headed back to Badagry. The ride was shorter than the previous ones on our itinerary, but it was by far the most thrilling.
Arriving at the Pathfinder Marina Jetty gave us more time to discover the busy side of Badagry. We watched in admiration as locally made boats ‘took off’ and ‘landed’ with reckless abandon, carrying full loads of passengers across the Lagoon.
The tour of the Seriki Abass Slave Museum interrupted the boat spotting. Also known as the Brazilian Barracoon Museum, the Seriki Abass Slave Museum is on the Marina Road, and faces the Lagos Lagoon. The museum was established in honour of Seriki Williams, a slave which later became a slave trader.
At the museum, a lot of items and photos reminded us of how slave trade was conducted as well as how the slaves suffered in the hand of their masters. Some of the items including a box containing slaving instruments, original hand writing of Seriki Williams Abass, a portrait of Seriki Abass negotiating with Brazilian Slave merchants in Badagry. To fully understand the story behind the slave story, you should make out time and visit Badagry and the Seriki Abass Museum.
The tour of the Museum was quick and rewarding, but sadly, brought to an end our trip to Badagry. It was exciting, it was educating, and it was fun. Our Caribbean guests probably didn’t find their ROOTS, but they definitely found the ROUTES.
So, with that in mind, we hopped into the bus and off we drove to Victoria Island from where we had taken off the day before. Yes, we went on water and returned by road. That sounds exciting, isn’t it? Well, the details of how the road trip went is a story for another day.
By Chidozie Uzoezie