Last updated on May 13th, 2020; Published on June 7th, 2017
It’s one thing to read about the (trans-Atlantic) slave trade and a completely different thing to immerse yourself in an experience that takes you back in time, following the not-so-exact footsteps of millions of men, women and children sold into slavery in the 15th century, when the era began.
Over the last few years, I have had the chance to visit some of the cities and towns along the West African coast, where slave trade thrived because of their proximity to the ocean. I’ve visited Badagry in Lagos, Nigeria, Ouidah in Benin Republic and Cape Coast in Ghana so far. This article isn’t necessarily about slave trade itself – I’m sure we have all heard the gory stories. It’s more about the tours and my experience in each place I went to. My starting point was;
This is a town in Lagos located very close to the Seme border. It served as a major port for the export of slaves to the Caribbean and Americas. Apart from its role during the slave trade, Badagry is also notable for a few historical events in Nigeria. Here, Christianity was first preached, the first story building in Nigeria (which still exists till date) was built and the first education system of Nigeria as a British colony was started.
You would think that a town with so much history and cultural heritage would be better preserved but this is not the case. Badagry is almost neglected altogether and there seems to be very little interest in improving the state of things as they are.
One thing I also found oddly disturbing was the fact the a few monuments were named after Nigerian slave trade facilitators. For example, the Brazilian Baracoon was the home of a slave trader named Seriki Abass. This man was captured as a young child and sold into slavery but later became a facilitator himself.
He kept many young men, women and children in inhumane conditions in cells he had them construct. Yet he is ‘honored’ by having this building named after him. I get that it was his home and I agree that he remain in the history books but I simply do not agree that the building be named after him. I also have the same sentiments towards the Mobee family museum.
The tour of the slave trade route in Badagry was at best haphazard. There was a lot to learn but the overall experience still paled in comparison to the tour in Ouidah.
Ouidah, Benin Republic
Ouidah is a city in southern Benin, known as the birthplace of voodoo and also for the role it played during the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Our tour started from the point where hundreds and thousands of people were escorted out of their cells – in chains – to the point where they were loaded like cargo unto a waiting ship. We didn’t get to visit the Portuguese fort (which is now the Ouidah Museum of History). I reckon that’s where these people were kept before being sold.
We walked past several monuments, sculptures and the forgetting tree. A tree where the captives were made to walk around in order to forget about their families and whatever lives they had before. From that point (the forgetting tree), they were led to the Door of No Return.
Naturally, a city in Togo should come next but I visited only Lome and didn’t get around to exploring the slave trade routes there. My next stop was;
Cape Coast, Ghana
Cape Coast is located about 3hours from Ghana’s capital city, Accra. As you might have guessed already, it is also well known for its role in the slave trade. As for the tours of the slave trade route itself, Cape Coast does a far better job then both Badagry and Ouidah.
We took a tour of two castles – Elmina and Cape Coast. Both were very intriguing and our guides were very knowledgeable and passionate about their narratives. I learnt so much about the slave trade on this single trip than I have ever learned in the past.
I particular loved that both tours ended with the reminder of the ugliness of slavery as experienced in the past, a charge not to dwell but rather learn from it and a reminder that even now, slavery exists in many other forms which we must strive to put an end to.