Point Of No Return at Badagry
Beyond the agony and age long historic myth associated with badagry, lies a natural work of art hidden across the shores - the badagry beach. crossing a lake, jumping a bike and wading through thick sand barefoot are part of the rigours of getting across from the mainland. but treasures such as the popular ‘point of no return’, serene environs and whispering waves await the adventurous-at-heart.
Ada Igboanugo writes
When I was initially asked to work on this piece, I hesitated thanks to my age-long fear of having to witness first-hand the agony of slavery. But for the sake of those who haven’t been down that road before, let me take you on a journey.
Badagry is known to be at a distant location on the outskirts of Lagos. Some even doubt its association with the largest city in terms of origin. It started like every other day, the sun remained as bright and hot as well as the traffic we encountered. But there’s no greater joy than having to explore a road trip to a historic city like Badagry.
The mid-morning traffic turned what could have been an hour journey into two hours. It was quite fun as well watching the many activity taking place en-route by the roadside sellers and marketers alike as well as the serene ambience the presence of the palm trees created, so much that we didn’t need to be told we had arrived at the historic city the moment we got there.
This ancient town of Badagry was founded around l425 A.D. Before its existence, people lived along the Coast of Gberefu and this area later gave birth to the town of Badagry. It is the second largest commercial town in Lagos State, located an hour from Lagos and half-hour from the Republic of Benin. The town of Badagry is bordered on the south by the Gulf of Guinea and surrounded by creeks, islands and a lake. The ancient town served mainly the Oyo Empire, which was comprised of Yoruba and Ogu people. Today, the Aworis and Egun are mainly the people who reside in the town of Badagry as well as in Ogun State in Nigeria and in the neighbouring Republic of Benin.
The name originated from the fact that the people of Badagry’s means of livelihood are farming, fishing and salt making due to the availability of trees and presence of ocean water respectively. The natives believed that Badagry was founded by a famous farmer called Agbedeh who maintained a farm which became popular it was named after him. The word Greme meant farm in Ogu language and a visit to Agbedeh’s farm brought about the word and Agbedegreme and its usage meaning Agbedeh’s farm. It was then coined to Agbadagari by the Yoruba inhabitants and later corrupted to Badagry by the European slave merchants before the end of the seventeenth century.
POINT OF NO RETURN
Opportunity comes but once they say so I gleefully took a hold of it when I was asked if I wanted to explore the path named the ‘Point of No Return’ by my guide and soon enough, I was headed for the harbour where we would board a canoe to get to the other side of the lagoon opposite the historic residence of Lord Lugard. Getting across is no small feat as I came to realise. Crossing the lake on a canoe during high tide will faze even the most intrepid adventurer. But I guess the desire to see beyond the ‘point of no return’ squashed any fear I had in me.
As I alighted from the canoe, I jumped on the next available means of transportation, okada (commercial motorcycles) to the beach side. At N50 per trip, I was surprised at the distance considering what is charged in other cities in Lagos.
We arrived at the point and performed the same ritual (wading through thick sand) slaves did for years even before either of us was born. A few more miles later we approached two magnificent pillars, which stood each beside a block painted with the Nigerian colours. These pillars served as a gateway to the most beautiful thing nature has ever presented. We walked further towards this beauty, our expression in full awe at what our eyes were being fed with.
It was the most beautiful sight with a perfect line-up of palm trees. I’m not sure what mesmerised me more, the pristine white sands of the beach or relics of slave trade from inscriptions of past slaves on the double-pole landmark to handcuffs. It wasn’t as big as the popular Badagry beach, which drew tourists from far and wide in thousands during weekends and public holidays, but it was a sight to behold with its breezy coconut trees and peninsula that went in tune with the whispering waves that washed and splashed across the shore.
I started to wade barefoot through the thick sand to get to the water and I wondered why such beautiful beach was wasting away. Why can’t there be a four-star beach resort here, this is the cleanest beach I have ever seen. You could also decide to create your personal resort or picnic with family or you could just choose to savour the feeling of serenity the ambience created just by watching the ocean flow.
Badagry is majorly recognised for its slave trade by the foreigners. So you can imagine when we arrived the scenery our expectations were just as it was supposed to be. We were given an all round tour by a so-called curator who gave us the tits and bits of what made history today. Apparently the slave trade involved the arraignment of about 30 slaves- male and female, they would be caged in an almost tiny hole for a period of three months, which is approximately the time it takes for a ship of slaves to reach its harbour.
The trade began in 1440 with Prince Henry, the navigator of Portugal. By 1593, 12,000 slaves had been sold to labour markets in Italy and Spain. One horse was traded for 25-30 slaves in the 1440s and the value of African slaves rose from six to eight slaves per horse. By the 16th century, there were over 32,000 slaves in Portugal.
Along the line, Seriki Faremi Williams, an African slave appealed a bargain with his buyers. He agreed to supply slaves to the foreigners in exchange for his freedom. The Nigerian specifically of the Yoruba tribe to be exact got his wish and was immediately set free to begin business. He returned to Badagry and built the Brazillian Baracoon with the mission to transport as much slaves as possible. He raided villages and captured their natives and sold them to the middlemen who eventually re-sold them as slaves to European slave merchants.
The baracoons were small rooms where up to 40 slaves were kept, all in upright position for days before they were shipped across the lagoon via the point of no return into the waiting ships. The group of houses, now mostly residential, were all at one point or the other used to keep slaves waiting to be transported. Vlekete square, founded in 1510, was known to be the slave market in Badagry. The slave merchants began to work on his intelligence and that of African Leaders involved and enticed them with material gifts. Slaves were then exchanged for merchandises as little as whisky, tobacco, rum, cuppino glass, canons, iron bars, brass, woollen, cotton, linen, silk, beads, guns, gun powder amongst others. Because they knew it was of paramount importance to these natives.
Historically speaking, Badagry was the first and last port of call. When the ships arrive to pick these slaves, they would be brought out from the hole in which they were put and taken to a place called ‘The Point of No Return’. This process involved the crossing of slaves through the ocean that links the Badagry port to this point. When the slaves have been crossed over, they would walk about 20miles to the point.
In between, they would each approach a coven where they would drink from a well that contained a silver shiny liquid claimed to be water and recite a verse. This initiation would wipe out there memory so as to avoid foreknowledge of their whereabouts. The curator further explained that these slaves immediately loose their memory and do not regain it until they reach their final destination. Only the strong ones make it to the New World and maybe luckily, back.
But that isn’t all this little town bags to its credit. The town is said to have housed the first ever storey building in Nigeria as well as the fact that the first Bible translation into Yoruba language was done in Badagry by Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther. We had the opportunity to see all these and were led room to room of this house by an old gentleman who spoke non-stop in the most perfect English and diction as if he was reading from a screen placed in front of him. I almost had difficulty keeping up with the pace. Apparently he had been doing this for years now so this wasn’t new to him.
A white one-storey building, it was the house in which the now legendary returnee slave boy, Bishop Ajayi Crowther, an Anglican Bishop, first translated the Bible from the English Language into Yoruba in 1846 so that the indigenes could understand the Book better due to the mistranslation by the teachers. The house was built between 1842 and 1845. Through the window of the first floor that housed this ancient artefact, the house of Frederick Lord Luggard, which faced the lagoon, could be seen. It is where the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Protectorate that eventually became Nigeria was signed.
Frederick Lugard was the first Governor General of the entity now called Nigeria, and his wife was said to have coined the name ‘Nigeria’ from the River Niger. He lived in the house while he administered the country.