Badagry - The Slave Trade Route And Village

A glimpse into the ancient city famous for the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

For over a millennium, African indigenes south of the Sahara have been hunted, battered, and sold into slavery by European and Arab slavers, often with the active connivance and participation of their fellow African counterparts. Millions perished even before reaching their destination along the Trans-Atlantic route, Trans-Saharan route, and the Indian Ocean route to Iraq and Persia, now known as Iran. For centuries and even till today, many could neither recall nor manifest the slightest interest in their antecedents; by contrast, especially since the latter half of the 20th century, hundreds of thousands of the victims of this execrable commerce have embarked on the return journey- some in search of their true origins and others in the spirit of a symbolic pilgrimage to reclaim and resettle in their ancestral roots.

The first storey building in Nigeria (1842)

Badagry, the cradle of Christianity, gateway to education and civilization, the first city to easily boast of the first-ever storey in the history of Nigeria, and the first to be urbanized corridor of human livestock during the obnoxious slave trade was founded by a farmer who had his farm on its Pennisular named Agbede. Agbede’s farm was referred to as Agbedegreme, which was later coined into Agbadarigi by the Yoruba aliens of the southwestern part of Nigeria and later into Badagry by the European slave merchants when the West African coast was discovered, thereby opening it to a new world around the 15th century.

Vlekete slave market was established in 1502 and served as the meeting point for European slave merchants, African middlemen, and slaves brought from the hinterlands for auctioning. The market used to be open for business every two days, and nothing less than 900 slaves were sold per week. Slaves were auctioned for mere commodities such as iron bars, cotton, dry gin, whisky, assorted spirits, cannons, chinaware, gramophone records, and other assorted goods. It was recorded that a cannon was exchanged for 100 slaves while a bottle of dry gin was exchanged for two able-bodied slaves; no doubt, it was a profitable business for the European merchants. The trans-Atlantic slave trade provided a boom for the European manufacturers and companies during that period because 18 million people were sold from this market during the 400 years that the slave trade lasted. The slave market also houses a shrine where some of the Europeans were tried after the abolition of the slave trade.

The Brazilian barracoon is a 40-room building used to house the slaves being auctioned at the slave market; simply referred to as a cubic room 9 feet by 9 from the ground to the roof with a small window providing little or no access to ventilation. Slaves auctioned at the Vlekete slave market by different slave merchants were marched to various cells where they remained for three months, chained from head to toe under terrible conditions. They defecate and urinate in the cells until they are released for shipment. A minimum of 40 slaves were kept in each cell.

Another humiliating experience the slaves suffered while being kept in the barracoon was their being branded with a very hot iron used in writing the names of their owners on their backs, after which they were marched down the slave route. The Brazilian barracoon remains the only existing cell built by the foreign slave merchants.

The Badagry slave route was known as the “point of no return” because before, the slaves set on this journey. They are marched from their various cells to the slave route port lying along the river, after which they are bundled into canoes that ferry them across the river to the slave route, a piece of land lying in between the river and the Atlantic Ocean or simply referred to as a Pennisula. Slaves were made to walk through this Pennisula to the Atlantic Ocean, and it usually lasted for 45 minutes.

The point of no return was so-called because of a particular well that was situated along the slave route - The Slaves’ Spirits’ Attenuation Well. Inside this well, the African middlemen, in collaboration with the European merchants, prepared a charm or magical spiritual stuff inside it to be given to any slave plying the slave route to the Atlantic Ocean. This was done to make the slaves lose memories of their homeland, less aggressive, and finally become submissive to the instructions of the European merchants. On the wall of the well was a poem that the captured slaves recited after drinking the charmed water. It read thus:

I am living this land,
My spirit leaves with me
I shall not come back now
My shackles do not break
It is the shackles that hold the ship down
My ancestors bear me witness
I shall not return
This land shall not depart
My soul do not revolt
My spirit goes along with me
I depart to that land unknown
I shall not return

After this, the slaves begin the long trek to the point of no return- two slanting iron pillars representing the final pathway into the slave ship on the Atlantic Ocean, where thousands of slaves were taken against their will to unknown destinations.

The journey to the unknown usually lasts between 8 to 12 weeks, depending on the destination. The slaves were jam-packed at the lower deck of the slave ship, heads facing upwards and chained from head to toe to make sure all spaces were filled up. They urinated as well as defecated on the lower deck and were subjected to all forms of torture. The merchants will be at the upper deck, wining and dining while the slaves are fed with two slices of bread on board each day. The cruelest expedition is when the slave ship is on the verge of sinking. Some of the slaves will be thrown overboard to make life continue for the merchants, along with those who were fortunate not to be given to the sharks to feast on. It was believed that no matter how many slaves the merchants were going to lose during their journey back home, much profit was still going to be realized because a slave was resold almost a thousand percent of what they were exchanged for in Africa.

The treaty of the abolition of the slave trade was signed in March 1852 between England and Badagry chiefs to end black human trafficking with some cannons of war donated and placed in the coastal area to fight other European countries that were still coming to get slaves. The trade continued illegally, and the export of slaves steadily increased. However, in 1888, the last ship left Badagry for Brazil, marking the end of the slave trade in Badagry, Brazil, and around the world.

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