7 Fascinating Things You Did Not Know About Slavery in Badagry, Nigeria
When we talk about slavery in Nigeria, Badagry is the first place that comes to mind. Not many people know that slavery started even before the trans-Atlantic slave route existed. The pre-existing slavery in Nigeria made it relatively easy for the Americans and Europeans to introduce the slave trade to Nigerian empires. Most influential people or nations already had slaves by conquering weaker nations and capturing the able-bodied men and women as workers in their farmlands and homes. Europeans discovered the coast which later became Nigeria in the 15th century and thus began the trans-Atlantic slave route. Some people believe that the Europeans kidnapped Nigerians and exported them as slaves while others believe people were sold into slavery by Nigerians. Here are a few fascinating truths you did not know about slavery in Badagry.
1. Slaves were not kidnapped by European and American soldiers
Most people believe that the slaves were kidnapped by the Europeans and Americans. This is false. Yes they were kidnapped, but by Nigerian Chiefs. Nigerians were the actual slavery facilitators who had their soldiers kidnap people to be sold into slavery. Some other chiefs sold off the slaves they already had either through battles or the ones they had previously bought. I know it can be really disheartening to realize we were the facilitators of this ungodly act, but it is still the unfortunate truth. On average, about 300 slaves were sold every market day at the Vlekete slave market in Badagry by Nigerian rulers to the Europeans and Americans.
2. Slaves were sold for mirrors, alcohol and umbrellas
This is one fact that brings me to tears. It is disheartening to find out how cheap humans were being sold and bought by their fellow human beings. When the foreigners came, Nigerians were using cowries and tobacco as currencies. The Europeans refused to trade with these currencies and introduced a trade-by-barter system. An umbrella was given in exchange for 40 slaves. A big cannon gun traded for a hundred slaves and the smaller guns for 40 slaves. A ceramic bowl traded for 10 slaves. Yes! You read right, 10 slaves for ceramic plates that are now very ordinary. Lastly, mirrors and beads did not have a specific price; some sold for 5 slaves while some other sold for 10 slaves depending on their bargaining power. Also, a bottle of gin sold for 40 slaves. It is appalling seeing how cheaply human beings created by God were being sold.
3. The slaves had to walk a long distance to the slave ship, shackled with heavy chains and cuffs
Imagine walking over a long distance bound in heavy chains to the next person. These slaves had to endure a lot under Lagos’ scorching sun. The chains were about 50 meters long and could easily hold one hundred slaves by the neck. Since the major slave port was on the Badagry Lagoon and the merchant ships could not get to it, the slaves had to take a boat ride to the other side of the Lagoon. On getting there, they had to walk a long distance to the point of no return where the ships were waiting at the shore of the Atlantic. We took this walk and it took us 30 minutes without any chains or shackles, so you can only imagine what the slaves passed through.
4. The slaves drank from a well which tranquilizes them to avoid rebellion aboard the ship
Legend has it that there were slave riots onboard the ships. In order to save their business, the Badagry Chiefs went to the Vlekete Shrine to get a charm which was put in a well. This well is called the Well of Attenuation and it is located close to the point of no return. According to history, any slave who drank from this well lost his/her memory for a while. In addition, the water from the well tranquilized them for some months to avoid an uprising while on sea. Since the slaves outnumbered the crew about 10 to 1, it was necessary to find a way to calm them down.
5. Only about half the slaves who left Badagry got to their destination
The slaves were packed in their hundreds on a ship, but most of them did not make it to America or Europe. Due to the roughness of the sea, the crew members would have had to shed some weight off the ship so they usually ended up throwing a few hundred slaves overboard to save the ship. Also due to the unhygienic conditions in which the slaves were kept, some of them fell ill. The traders did not believe in wasting resources to treat a slave that was bought at such a cheap rate, so they also threw sick slaves overboard. Consequently, only about half the total number of slaves ended up getting to the destination.
6. Slaves had to live in the worst of conditions before boarding the ship
Right from the Brazilian Baraccoon (slave cells in Badagry), the slaves had to get used to living in unsanitary conditions. 40 slaves were packed in a very small cell with little ventilation; they ate, urinated and defecated in this same cell. This continued aboard the ship to America where the slaves were packed on top themselves. Each layer lying above another layer. If a slave on top urinated or defecated, it flowed down to the slaves below him. This was the main cause of a variety of diseases aboard the ship and the victims always ended up thrown overboard.
7. There is an ongoing dispute between the Mobees and Seriki Abass’ families on who was the actual slave facilitator in Badagry
As unflattering as it sounds, Nigerian Chiefs sold Nigerians into slavery and it will forever remain a part of our history. There is an ongoing dispute between two families on who actually facilitated slave trade in Badagry. Seriki Abass’ family says he returned from Brazil after being released by his master, constructed the Brazilian Baracoon and became the biggest slave supplier in Badagry. The Mobee family has a different opinion; they say Seriki Abass did not return to Badagry till after the slave trade had been abolished. They also say the Brazilian Baracoon originally belonged to the Mobee family and Abass deceived the Mobee Children into selling the property to him. Whichever family facilitated slavery in Badagry is for history to decide, we are just glad slavery has been abolished and WE ARE NOT SLAVES.
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