Badagry played a very important role in the history of West African slave export, established in the early 15oo’s. It was a key slave route to South America, North America, Europe and the Caribbean. I expected the group tour experience would be gut wrenching – on the hour-long boat ride from Lagos city to Badagry town I was preparing myself for a very solemn day of painful stories and reflection. There were some interesting moments, but the reality would better be described as awkward and inappropriate.
They have “preserved” the Seriki Faremi Abass Slave Museum, Badagry (formerly referred to as Brazilian Baracoon) which was a holding facility for slaves. Our guide (I can’t recall his name at the moment, we’ll call him John) lead the group through a small entrance and on the wall to our right was an obviously recent addition of artwork representing artifacts that would have been found around the property at the time – a gin bottle, watering jug, some basic tools, an old fashioned umbrella. Next to each item there was a scribbled in price….the currency was slaves. John turned to one of the men in the group and said “how much do you think your wife would be worth if she were a slave?” ummmmm, what?? Then it got worse, he pointed to another woman and he said, “you are very pretty you might be worth slightly more.” No response from the group as we’re trying to digest what was happening. And then he continued to dig himself in deeper by saying “actually I’d rather you buy me!” SERIOUSLY!!? One interesting relic was a poster for a contest of some sort, and the first prize was a dollar amount, high for that time period I’m sure, second prize was a horse and third prize was 3 slaves. That stuck with me.
We continued inside the compound and immediately noticed that this “museum” was inhabited by local Nigerian families. There were half naked toddlers running towards their parents, a preteen girl at the well collecting water, clothes drying over the side of a short wall. As we gathered I could hear my group mates quietly expressing their surprise to one another in hushed voices. As an animal lover I have to admit I was distracted by a monkey being held in a small cage sitting in direct sunlight, he was climbing around the cage obviously agitated and uncomfortable. After a few minutes of taking in the scenery, I was plucked from my daydream about liberating the poor monkey and how my dogs would react if I brought him home…there was a loud clanging noise, the sound of a heavy chain being lugged in our direction. John asked for a volunteer and when no one offered he selected one of the women (surprised?) and placed a large, rusty, dirty, old, metal chain-cuff around her ankle. Is it terrible that my first thought was “I hope she’s had a tetanus shot”? In fairness, the demonstration was powerful, he passed around the heavy chain to hold, I doubt it dated back 200 years but it was probably similar to the original – the thought of wearing it on my ankle all day was terrifying. Slaves at the time wore the chains while working arduous jobs in the West African heat and humidity for weeks without a day off.
The compound was smaller than expected and we were taken into a room, a cell, that had concrete walls, it couldn’t have been more than 12 ft x 5 ft. They would squeeze as many slaves as possible into each cell and lock the door at night. No windows, toilets, water, air flow. I didn’t last more than 30 seconds standing in there with 8 of my group mates. When I walked out into the communal area I looked over to the cell next door, there was a woman with her two children in the doorway, that was their home now. They keep two cells empty for guided tours, the others are all occupied.
Although the residents weren’t wearing chains, or locked in at night, and they legally cannot be sold anymore – it was disturbing to see these impoverished families, desperate enough to resort to living in an old slave compound where their ancestors were tortured and humiliated. And here we were, a mostly white group of expats, inappropriately walking through their home and gawking at their living quarters, listening to traumatic stories about African slaves from hundreds of years ago, when right in front of us was a harsh reality – not much else has changed.
Our guide “John” holding up his book, available for purchase.
Badagry Heritage Museum
Note the look of disdain on the face of the BU grad (right) as he watches some guy in a Hawaiian shirt taking pictures of the chains on the wall (and not pictured here, the same Hawaiian shirt man put the chains on his wrists for a photo op)
An example of the other buildings around town.
The “Point of No Return” was on the beach, a short boat ride across from Badagry town. The walk was about a half mile from the modern dock to a simple monument on the beach (the two vertical, leaning pillars in photo below), the new stone walkway is in the works but most of the walk was in the sand. Slaves at the time would have been barefoot, not knowing where they were being sent, separated from their families, some already sick or injured, walking through scorching hot sand, chained to one another.
We decided to hitch a ride back to the dock…it was a bumpy ride in lots of deep sand, so not the most efficient form of transportation!
Coconut Market in Badagry Town
A monkey chained to this tree 🙁 snacking on a banana.
Local Nigerian showing off his fresh catch.
Leaving the Badagry boat dock.