By Enuma Chigbo
ONCE upon a time in my very recent past, there was a journey- a journey from good old Calabar the land where I reside, to the bustling city of Lagos, the land of my birth. And by no design of mine, I ended up in Badagry.
It started like this: one fine evening, at my wonderful friend and host’s house Ekuase in Lagos, we watched bits and pieces of the World Cup opening – by we, I mean Ekuase, her four adorable children and me. After that, by divine inspiration, I ‘resurrected’ an animation script I had put on the back burner for a while. It was then I heard The Voice, “Make sure you tour Badagry.”
I wondered what this had to do with what we had just watched or even the script I was writing but that voice was one you don’t question. You just do it! I shivered at first as this was certainly no journey to embark on alone. My host had declined on this one, but companionship did come soon after.
With very minimal effort, I acquired six people –Grace, the producer of my award winning documentary, The Deadwood; I call her small but mighty, her husband Alex, Stanlee my director, his beautiful and peaceful looking wife Daisy, and their three children with the energy of 10. Indeed, I got much more than I asked for, so I guessed that’s a good sign!
So one fine wet Sunday afternoon, my ‘gang’ and I leave for Badagry. Take off point for everyone is Stanlee’s Ikeja office, where we meet our tour guide for the very first time. I’ll call him Papa J as somehow, that name seems apt. He’s seated in the driver’s seat, in the fully air conditioned 15- seater bus which would be our conveyor to Badagry. He has a rare look – a look that combines energy, doggedness, maturity humour and deep knowledge all in one. I introduce myself as the lady he’s been talking to on the phone and we are all aware of who we are.
Stanlee and company meet us not too long after. By this time, the rain gives way to the sun and off we go. “Does the tour start here?” I ask Papa J and he has a good laugh, but somehow that begins the tour. Before then, I heard something about the meaning of Badagry. It was a negative meaning and I guess like Jacob or Mary the mother of Jesus in the bible, I kept the matter in my heart for a very long time. Anyway, it is time to speak or forever hold my peace. “I hear that Badagry was modified from the phrases “Bad Agreement” and “Bad Agree.” Is this true?”
“No, it is not,” Papa J responds. “Badagry comes from the word, “Agbadagiri,” which means “pepper farm”. And in these few words of his, lie yet another story, which most definitely will be told another day…From Ikeja, we drive through Akowonjo. Grace and Alex happily point to a church. “This is where we got married.” Not too long after, we are in Egbeda and again they point out where they had their wedding reception in Eduland School.
“Lagos is the third city in the world to have street lights,” says Papa J and we marvel at it all but somewhere in between, I am taken on yet another tour and this time it is by Stanlee, who tells me about the Ancient Benin Kingdom. His stories are as mysterious and potent as they are humorous and this goes on all the way to Badagry. We drive past the French Village and the thought of coming out here to camp for three months does cross my mind…
We go past the roundabout all the way to Seme Border. It was then I remember that I had been down this route before. It was an official journey, with my friend and sister Obioma. I thought about the little article I had written. “It’s a tiny little border but things happen there.” At this point, the mysterious Benin talks give way and Papa J resumes duty as he shows us the Lagos Lagoon, said to be the West African water way. “All the rivers in South West Africa empty into this water,” he says, even as he points in the direction of Port Novo. “See immigration people o,” one of us says as we approach the border. They are all dressed in grey. “Don’t mind them, they are parasites”, says Papa J.
“See im bele,” Stanlee says in Pidgin English. We all have a good laugh as we catch sight of one of them whose shirt seems to be fighting with the rest of his body. Papa J points towards some very interesting looking cows. “These are the short horn cattle. During the time of regional governments, special cattle were brought in. The whole idea of this was to introduce dairy products to the Badagry area. Now that sounds familiar, I think and it was then I remembered the Obudu Mountain Resort all the way in Northern Cross River. Sometime in the early 50’s the Scottish brought 50 cows for the very same business…interesting!
Like I said earlier, the Seme Border is a little place but things happen there. “There’s a big market here,” says a clearly astonished Stanlee. “More like a big racket,” says Papa J, and the laughter resumes yet again. “Did you see the scooters all lined up?” Alex asks me. I missed that for a second and begin to look out for them quite earnestly. “That’s what they use to smuggle petrol,” says Papa J.
I ask if there is a place we can eat. “You want to eat?” He sounds surprised. I say yes, as we have not eaten all day. By the time I have this conversation with him, it is about 3pm. “Maybe you should all fast.” He responds. This Papa J na wa! Somehow, by the mercy of Papa J, we do not fast. He points in the direction of fresh baguettes sold on the road and we buy immediately. The people in these parts look a tad different and I wonder what language they speak. In a few minutes as if reading my mind, my answer comes in the most shocking manner. “O ju oyi,” said this woman. Which is simply Igbo for, “It is cold.”
Oh my brethren! I lament but then why am I surprised? Like I said in my travelogue The Gambia Diaries, I draw similarities between my Igbo brethren and oyibos. They are found in every nook and cranny of the world as long as there is something in it for them.
Not too long after, we see a sign – Welcome to Chief Aivoji Beach Estate. In this very dirty beach you get to see the Atlantic Ocean. I guess you can over look the dirt and have a good time if you abide by the rules, which are: No littering, no bathing naked, no breaking of pots…” Chei…there’s God o! For reasons best known to the Almighty God, that phrase has become more popular than our national anthem. I recall Stanlee shouted this in appreciation of His goodness when we saw the Atlantic Ocean from afar. Of course he had to add another clause. “All dis water they are sharing…”
But it was not only Stanlee; somehow we all echoed the same phrase even though we would change some of the words every now and then. I recall stopping at one of the hungry customs check points. “Wetin una get?” They ask us in Pidgin English. “There’s bread o!” we all echo. And…there are no further questions!
Voices of mockery
On a more serious note, it’s quite mind boggling how the heart cry of a woman could result in voices of mockery from all over the world…anyway there is a God indeed and He hears the deep cries of women in anguish.
Okay now, back to the tours…we leave the beach after taking photos by the abandoned canoe, which Stanlee’s son describes as a shipwreck and head for the museum. On the way, Papa J points out the Hotel St James. “It was one of the funkiest hotels back in the day.”
“Now it’s been turned into Christ Embassy,” says Stanlee’s wife. We head towards the Old Badagry, and Papa J points out the Ancient Wawu Kingdom Townhall, and Christian Missionary Cemetery. Then we get to the museum. We don’t like the fact that there is overgrown grass all around but inside is a completely different story.
“Everything you see here is from the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade,” said our tour guide. “In 1472 when Europeans arrived in Badagry, they engaged in trade. Raw materials such as tobacco, sugar cane, rice, and cotton were taken away, transformed into finished products and exchanged for human beings.”
“The Europeans did not introduce the slave trade. They simply brought in the Trans Atlantic factor. Slavery has always been part our culture. During the Trans Saharan Trade the going rate then was one horse to eight human beings.” Badagry he said was the second largest port in West Africa.
30% of all the slaves in West Africa passed through Badagry.” We see a picture of four generations of slaves born on one plantation hanging on the wall of the museum. “In slave auctions back in the day, they had horses as star prizes and a mullato girl as the second prize. If you bought 10 slaves you get about two or three children free. About 300 slaves were sold every market day, higher than 100 slaves in Enyong market in Calabar.”
A section on the wall has slave dealers such as Captain Dawk Hawkins and Seriki Abass – the latter grew up in a slave camp and later became a dealer. He also points to a place opposite the museum across the Atlantic called Gberefu Island.
“This island is 20 times larger than Victoria Island in Lagos. There was a well that slaves were forced to drink from and special potions were put in the well for the slaves to lose their memory after drinking.” The tour continues to Seriki Abass’s compound the slave who became a slave dealer, where we are greeted by two horrible looking monkeys and his great granddaughter, who becomes our tour guide.
Tiny little window
She takes us through the very busy compound reminiscent of the activities at the Seme Border, to the rooms where our fellow human beings were ‘accommodated’ before they were shipped off to the land of no return.
One room is between 10 to 20 square meters and ‘lodged’ about 80 people. And for the lucky ones who want to go sightseeing, there is a tiny little window, where they can crawl up to get a glimpse of their future. In this house, you also get to see some relics, one of them being a very heavy umbrella worth about 40 slaves, ceramic plates where you could get one in exchange for eight slaves back in the day…
We all head back shortly after with mixed feelings and definitely more learned than we were when we arrived and that got me thinking… if I were to describe this tour in one word, what would it be? Satisfaction became my immediate answer. I didn’t see why not after all I felt a strong sense of that as I got back to my cozy room at Ekuase’s place.
Perhaps it was the same feeling of satisfaction I had when I went from The Marina Resort to Creek Town by boat about five years ago. The satisfaction was great but somehow in my quiet time on my way back to the land in which I reside, more words – words way beyond me seamlessly weave their way into my heart – words that say how much He would perfect all that concerns me.