By Anote Ajeluorou
Friday last week marked the opening of the yearly Badagry Festival. Unlike past editions, a new dimension was added when the usual re-enactment took centre-stage on the first day. This was after atonement prayers had been offered by Muslims, Christians and traditional religious leaders in Badagry to appease the souls of fellow Africans lost during the long years the inhuman Slave Trade trafficking took place.
Six out of the eight quarters in Badagry participated in a contest-like event to signify commencement of the festival. Both Awhanjigoh and Gankoh Quarters re-enacted the meeting points between European powers and Badagry kings, nay African kings, and the one-sided negotiations that saw African kings entering into the evil trade of selling their own fellows for mere trifling like mirrors, bottles of Schnapps, guns and gun-powder and other articles of European trade.
Explicitly shown was how these African kings marveled at these ordinary European articles or commodities and were willing to sell their own people in exchange for them. There were also the baracoon, where the slaves were kept till the slave ships arrived and the unfortunate souls shipped away to journeys of no return. Not least re-enacted were the ill-treatment meted out to these human beings now reduced to mere brutes for the gains of both the local kings and their foreign trading partners. The baracoon can still be found at Beokoh and Seriki Abass compounds at the Marina Road, Badagry.
Equally more dramatically realised was Posukoh Quarter’s presentation that had the making of a fully realised script. Warriors of an unknown community led by an Ogun priest are bathed in ritual essence of fortification so they could go out for slave raids. Having been so fortified, they set out to unleash mayhem in markets, farmlands and wherever they chanced upon vulnerable human beings in their paths. The captured slaves are fed into European slave ships and transported overseas. Posukoh Quarter got a wild ovation for its performance when both warriors and slaves took a bow after the show.
Indeed, the retelling of the Slave Trade story through such graphic re-enactments is what makes Badagry Festival stand out as a sad reminder one of Africa’s sordid, dark past. With the theme ‘Reconnecting with the Root’, organisers of the festival, Africa Renaissance Foundation (AREFO), aims to keep alive a significant historical past and preserve it as a signpost for future generations.
AREFO president, Mr. Babatunde Olaide-Mesewaku, in his address stated, “Slave Trade has become part of Africa’s history, its heritage, our undying memory that must be preserved. What we are doing here today transcends the history of Badagry and the Slave Trade, but a global phenomenon, which plagued the entire African continent for over 400 years.
“And just like the Jewish holocaust which was not in matched proportion with the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, but is uniquely preserved tangibly and intangibly in museums, history books, in memorial celebrations, the history of the Slave Trade must also be preserved not only in books but in memorial celebrations.
“Therefore, Badagry being an important Slave Port, a market and a trajectory for this obnoxious trade between the 16th and 19th centuries is being used a as miniature Africa to remember and atone for the peaceful repose of the souls of Africans who perished either on the land of Africa or during the horrific voyages to Europe and the Americas or in plantations or in the hands of their masters as a result of the evil of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade”.
Olaide-Mesewaku also noted that the festival was not just a memorial for the evil trade on the continent but also a celebration of Africa’s freedom and liberation from it, as it took another 45 years after the trade’s abolition in Europe before Badagry king and his chiefs put a halt to it.
Chairman of Badagry Local Government Council, Mr. Moses Dosu, praised the untiring efforts of Olaide-Mesewaku’s AREFO in organising Badagry Festival, saying Slave Trade had become Badagry’s heritage deserving of being preserved. He charged Badagry people to collaborate and celebrate their heritage and to make it known to the world. He also appealed to all lovers of patrimony to come and invest in Badagry so as to tap its huge tourism potentials. He commended efforts of Lagos State Government in providing infrastructure and building heritage sites in the ancient slave town such as a world-class golf course along Badagry beach, Vlekete Slave Market, and Point-of-no-Return.
“Many years ago, many people suffered greatly and died in agony on this soil,” he said, “The prayers offered today are very well articulated. I appeal to our people in the Diaspora to come and invest in tourism in Badagry. Each quarter has been preserving the relics of the Slave Trade as historical markers of this town.”
Commissioner of Tourism and Inter-Governmental Affairs, Mr. Disun Holloway, who was represented by the Permanent Secretary, Mr. Ashamu Fadipe, praised the organisers for building the festival around the history of Badagry.
He noted, “What AREFO is doing is preserving and promoting our culture, image and heritage. We should jointly work together to have the slave sites listed by UNESCO. Badagry is the cradle of development in Nigeria and Africa. Badagry hosted the first reverend father on September 24, 1842, who preached under a tree. Lagos State Government has committed a lot of funds in developing infrastructure in Badagry. When government has finished with its development plans, Badagry will have more value than Victoria Island and Lekki”.
Giving a brief lecture at the festival was Mr. Yahaya Ndu, who said that although there were no more slave chains on the hands of Africans today, but that chains of the mind still remained to stunt the continent’s growth. He took leaders like Badagry LGA chairman to task for merely touting the tourism potentials of Badagry without doing anything to harness such potential for the benefit of the people. He said time for rhetoric was long over and that leaders should challenge themselves to act to reduce the suffering of the people.
Fashion display also formed part of the opening. Local fashion house, Grace Concept managed by Grace Oladosu, put up a bold and magnificent show as her untutored models strutted the stage with some creative pieces that wowed the audience. Boldly African in her rendition, Oladosu’s clothes made a serious fashion statement to the admiration of all. Some of her designs were from raffia and mats and her colours were also magnificently combined.
Not left out was an exhibition of art works – paintings, sculptures, adire cloths, metal works – by Society of Badagry Artists. The art exhibition has become an integral part of Badagry Festival, with pieces that tourists can take away with them as part of the industry of the people.
Badagry Festival comes to a grand finale on Saturday at the Badagry Grammar School open ground.