Travelogue: Echoes from Eko ~ Habeeb Adam



Only a few feelings can rival the joy of having your Special One by your side as you go on a cruise into the past, teleporting from one century to the other. In our own case, it wasn’t a joyous journey entirely. It was rather a mixed feeling of exoticness, intense pity and rage to varying degrees.

The trip to the coastal town of Badagry commenced on a somewhat disappointing note. What shouldn’t take more than 2 hours at most lasted more than 5, all thanks to the omnipresent traffic jams and the potholes-ridden Lagos-Badagry Expressway. And as we set out, sardine-packed with a few dozen other passengers in a rickety Molue, we couldn’t help but note the irony of visiting the slave museum 14 decades after the abolishment of slavery, yet in a pitiable condition not too different from the way the slaves were shipped to the Americas – stacked like a pack of frozen fish underneath the ships.
Rejoicing with the freed slaves
The tour kicked off from the Badagry Slave Museum, at the foreground of which stood two giant statues of freed slaves still basking in the euphoria of their liberty as suggested by the remnants of the broken manacles and fetters around their wrists and ankles. The sight of the incredibly-built male slave – bulging biceps, six packs and all, makes one wonder how they ended up being captives in the first place. But then, it’s all about brain not brawn.

Having registered at the reception, we were assigned with a guide who took us through the different sections containing dozens of artifacts and relics of the slave trade era. The guide started by explaining the Triangular Trade which involved the movement of goods from Europe to Africa, where these goods (umbrellas, gin, cannon, gun powder, mirrors, etc) were traded for slaves. I was beyond shocked to learn that an umbrella went for 40 able men then! These slaves were then shipped from Africa (in the most inhuman condition) to the Americas wherein some were castrated and domesticated while others were gagged and made to work on the sugar plantations. The final leg of the Triangular Trade involved the shipping of sugar from the plantations to Europe.
Free at last
At the museum, we were shown different types of chains and weapons used to ‘discipline’ slaves. There were neck chains for adult male and female slaves. There were also chains for babies -- yes, you heard that right – to keep them from distracting their mothers from work. There were different kinds of shackles, manacles and fetters. There were all sorts of gags, slave-branding objects, etc. There were portraits of slave dealers, merchants and abolishers. The guide gave a harrowing account of the working condition of the slaves. They toil for 18 hours a day with 15 minutes’ break, during which they all rushed, with their hands tied at the back, to a rusty, central drinking bowl, locking heads to drink from it as animals would.
The large bowl from which slaves slurped water like animals
With a heart heavy with pity for the victims, anger at the white slave masters and disappointment at the black slave merchants, we proceeded to the first storey building in Nigeria. First, apparently, because it was the first to be documented; for history has it that the famous Gobarau Minaret in Katsina was built almost 5 centuries earlier.

The six-bedroom, one storey building whose foundation was laid by the Reverend Henry Townsend of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in 1842 and completed 3 years later served as the Mission House as well as the first primary school in Nigeria (Nursery of Infant Church). It housed the renowned Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther who translated the Bible into Yoruba and who, as we were told by the guide, spoke more than a dozen languages! We had the privilege of seeing both Bibles – the first Yoruba Bible and the first English Bible in Nigeria. The building also housed the first teacher in Nigeria, Mr. Claudius Philips, who was said to have tutored the first 40 primary school students, the youngest of whom was 45 years old at the time of admission and all of whom spent 12 years before they graduated from the school and became church interpreters!

One cannot help but marvel at the durability of the materials used in building the house. Virtually all of these, we were told, were imported from England. Stored in a show glass were the original hinges and nails arranged close to what we have today for comparison. The originals are by far thicker and heavier. The original roofing sheet, for instance, was by my own estimates, 15 times heavier than the one available now. I doubt if it can be nailed with the nails available at the market. A sample of the original baked bricks was also available for comparison with what is obtainable today. And, like 7Up, the difference was clear. We also saw a safe said to be installed in the house in 1856 which is still in good shape.

A few steps away from the building is a well also dug in 1842. The well, which still serves as a source of water to the neighbouring buildings, was said to have being the major source of water to the community at that time because its water is cleaner and less salty when compared to others. This could be as a result of the fact that it was situated farther away from the lagoon.

As we climbed down from the amazingly strong, original, wooden staircase of the “first” storey building, we headed to the Mobee Royal Family Slave Relics Museum which is equally a trekkable distance from the building. This museum, named after the influential slave merchant, Chief Mobee, who was said to have seized the original chains from some white slave traders after the abolition of the trade, houses similar artifacts as those in the Badagry Slave Museum.
Crossing the river to the "Point of no return"
From the Mobee Royal Family Museum, we were taken on a boat ride across the river which separated the town from the “Point of No Return.” The short ride on the boat was exhilarating for both of us as it is our first time on an open-air boat. At the other end of the river, we were greeted with a sign that triggered an eerie feeling: This is the route of the journey to an unknown destination. This, we were told, is the slaves’ last contact with the African soil after a three to four months wait at the ‘baracoons’ (tiny slave cells) for the slave masters’ ship to arrive. From the baracoons, they march in single file to the mouth of the Atlantic Ocean where ‘Suna’ boats convey them to the ships. But before then, the slaves were made to drink from a well whose water is believed to contain some magical power that is capable of attenuating their spirits and impairing their memories.
Leaning on a sign indicating the position of the magical well 
As we walked the length of the path which leads to the ocean in company of our guide, a wonderful, outspoken fellow whose pride in the culture and history of his people instantly endeared him to me, the same nagging questions kept resurfacing in my mind: How did this whole thing happened? How could man be this callous to his fellows? Would this have been possible without the active participation of the black slave merchants? How could black man, in particular, do this to his kindred?

These questions, and more, I hope to find an answer for someday.

Habeeb Adamu is a young Accountant based in Lagos. he sees himself as someone who enjoys breaking barriers, seizing every opportunity to learn and improve. he aspires to be a writer someday. 
His love for bikes can only be matched by his love for books. He tweets @HabeebAdamu1.