When I decided on the move back to Nigeria, one thing I was determined to do was to explore more of the country. Nigeria has extensive cultural wealth and history so it seemed appropriate for me to delve deeper and learn more about my country of birth. Where to begin though? Well, an unavoidable stop and stain on Nigeria’s history is Badagry. Badagry is a beautiful coastal town on the outskirts of Lagos which borders Benin Republic and harbors a horrific history. Here was where kidnapped villagers were taken and sold to slave traders to be taken to the Americas (principally Brazil) to work as slaves. I had wanted to visit this town for so long that when a volunteering opportunity came up at a local school, I jumped at it. Given my knowledge of the history of Badagry, perhaps I could have better prepared myself for what I would witness when I got there. I’ll say this – I was not ready. We all know the history of the slave trade but it is still heartbreaking when you see the realities of it, even centuries later. We were shown the various sized chains and my heart broke at the sight of the chains for the children taken as slaves. Graphic demonstrations were given by our tour guides showing how the slaves were made to walk chained to each other, with padlocked mouths in order to prevent them from eating the sugar cane on the plantations on which they worked. It’s extraordinary to see the extent of cruelty human beings could inflict on each other. To get a picture of the trades done and the cost of items, we were given some examples – umbrellas and guns cost 40 slaves each; ceramic crockery and alcohol cost 10 slaves each. Payment with human lives. The mind boggles to think that a mere umbrella was worth 40 slaves. 40 human lives for an umbrella! For context, did you know that the idea of the local chiefs walking in the street with servants carrying umbrellas over them started with the slave trade? The umbrella was a status symbol hence its high value. Still…it was a heart-breaking sight to see the origins of this tradition; I would never have known. Doing a visit like this with children was really interesting for me. The two kids assigned to me were aged 10 and I wondered how the visit would affect them. Certain sights were especially disturbing to me and I was not sure whether the children would grasp the gravity of what we were being shown. By the time we got to the Badagry Heritage Museum, I felt a bit emotionally exhausted. Thank goodness for a few light-hearted diversions along the way in the form of a visit to a local pottery training centre, where we were given a demonstration of how to make a clay flower pot, where the kids were more than happy to get involved. Next up was a visit to the first storey building in Nigeria. Built in 1845, it held 6 rooms, 4 stores and cost about £325. There was no kitchen or bathrooms inside the building; these were housed outside of the building. The house was home to early missionaries in Nigeria and houses the first Yoruba bible as translated by Bishop Ajayi Crowther. Outside the house was a well built in 1842 by the missionaries, the only non-saltwater well in the area and reportedly named “the water of life” for its purported miraculous powers.That night when we got back to our rooms, during our nightly prayers, one of my girls offered the following prayer: “Thank you God that I was not born during the period of the slave trade and for not allowing any of us to be born during that time.” Eyes welling up, I said a silent prayer too – “What she said, Lord”.
Travel to Badagry – by car only (although a railway is being built which will connect to the rest of Lagos!). For hotel options, the Whispering Palms resort is a good bet.