Book: Slave Trade and Western Civilisation in Badagry: A Brief History of Human Enslavement in West Africa and the New World
Author: Ashamu Sewanu Fazila
Critic: Glenville Ashby, PhD
Aftershocks of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and slavery reverberate today. Sociologists, historians and psychologists have argued that the scars of these traumatic events continue to shape our social, economic and political structures. Of the Maafa (Black Holocaust), much as been written. How then does Ashamu Sewanu Fazila, the author of Slave Trade and Western Civilisation in Badagry, add to this narrative?
Fazila’s work is written and complied as a single document in French and English. No doubt, an interesting presentation. What is more impressive is his focus on the slave trade in Badagry and his ability to concisely articulate a surfeit of information on this subject. He utilizes the concept of Sankofa, a word in the Twi language meaning, ‘Go back and get it.’
Fazila offers a comprehensive overview of Badagry’s history, its people and their religio-cultural and political landscape.Located in the Southwestern part of Nigeria, Badagry is border town between Nigeria and the Republic of Benin. There, “Ogu, Yoruba and Awori-Yoruba languages are spoken,” and “fishing, farming, pottery making and mat weaving are the mainstay of the economy.”
Prominent are traditional African religious practices. Orisa (gods) are revered among the Awori-Yoruba people while Voodoo (gods) are central to the cosmology of Ogu culture.
“In spite of various religious manifestations in the community,” writes Fazila, “Christianity is the dominant religion, followed by Islam… but like other parts of Nigeria, the majority of people consult the traditional priests for their future and life expectancy more than other religious faiths.”
We learn that Badagry’s political culture is “decentralized and is divided into eight quarters with eight different rulers,” and that slavery began with Prince Henry, Navigator of Portugal who in 1440 commissioned captains, map makers, astronomers and geographers to exploit the resources of West Africa.
“Present day Nigeria was the most affected nation in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade followed by Angola,” the author argues. “The most affected linguistic group was the Yoruba of Southwestern Nigeria followed by the Bantu/Bakongo speaking groups of the Central African region that includes Angola, Congo and Mozambique.”
Cultural reclamation for Africa’s Diaspora, according to Fazila, is essential on multiple levels.
He writes, “Tracing one’s roots serves as an identification of the origins of a people in a way that will continue to promote peace and understanding around the world.”
Of the perennial and emotionally charged discourse on African complicity in the slave trade, he posits, “European slave masters tricked, cajoled and kidnapped our people.” Yet, he concedes, “that questions remained unanswered.” His enquiry is detailed. “Who were the middlemen? Were they Europeans or Africans? What was the proportion of the Europeans who had gone to the hinterland to catch slaves? How many of them had direct contact with the tribal chiefs in the hinterland other than those along the Coast?”
Europe’s dominant role was incontrovertible. He mentions treaties issued by Spain’s Diego Perez Negron and Juan Harnandaz de Espionosa in the mid-16th century to capture slaves.
Still, Africans, Fazila avers, are also culpable. He calls for collective responsibility, citing Jao Oliviera, a freeborn slave in Bahia who was enticed into the business of slavery. “He traded in human enslavement for over 50 years and founded the slave ports of Porto Novo and Lagos in 1752.”
Badagry, argues Fazila, is still reeling from centuries of discord, exploitation and neglect. Colonialism drained the spirit of a once verdant place.
“Western Civilisation,” he states, “has little or no influence on the growth and development of the people.”
He recalls the 1861 Treaty of Commerce between Badagry and England, “which would have placed the former as the economic nerve centre of Nigeria but failed to deliver, leaving the locality rural and poor.”
Likewise, “the Treaty of Cession of 1863 which ceded Badagry to England before the partitioning of Africa in 1888, failed to create political awareness among the people.”
To the people of Badagry, Fazila pleads for unity amid ethnic distrust. “It is my belief,” he pens, “that Badagry can still regain its lost glories if only the indigenes can forget their prejudices. They must unite; they must form relevant development associations, lobby, and contest for political offices at state and national levels.”
Fazila is invested in present day Africa. Therein lies the key to reconciliation and economic growth. “For instance,” he writes, “the government of Lagos state of Nigeria established Black Heritage Festival aimed at facilitating the cultural integration of blacks throughout the Americas.”
From an economic perspective, he is optimistic that Africa is well positioned and fertile for prospective investors. “Such [potential] investments [must] include the establishment of private educational institutions, hospitals, hospitality industries and agriculture.”
Slave Trade and Western Civilisation in Badagry is a boon for the student of West African History and Diaspora studies. Meticulously tracing the nexus between Africa’s ethnicities and blacks in the Americas, Fazila work is foundational to any discourse on identity and culture.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
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Slave Trade and Western Civilisation in Badagry: A Brief History of Human Enslavement in West Africa and the New World by Ashamu Sewanu Fazila
Publisher: Sir T Production, Shomolu, Lagos
Available at Ouidah Museum of History Address: Rte des Esclaves, Ouidah, Benin
Ratings: Highly recommended