Monday, March 10, 2014

THE HISTORY OF SERIKI WILLIAMS ABASS OF BADAGRY AND HIS BRAZILLIAN SLAVE BARRACOON By Anago James Akeem Osho

The Statue of Seriki Williams Abass at Aiyetoro round about near Abeokuta. Seriki Abass ruled Badagry for 24years, founded Aiyetoro and Idogo. PHOTO CREDIT: Anago James Akeem Osho
Seriki Williams Abass was born originally at a town in Yorubaland called Ijoga Orile. The town is in todays Ogun State in South West Nigeria. Ijoga Orile is not far from Ilaro and Abeokuta. His birth name was Faremilekun and his father’s name was Fagbemi. He was captured by the Dahomeans and became a slave at the age of six years old. The country called Benin Republic today used to be known as Dahomey. The name Dahomey was changed to Benin Republic in 1975.
Seriki Williams Abass of Badagry’s journey as a slave began in Dahomey. His first owner in Dahomey was called Abass. His first owner (Abass) in Dahomey was an Islamic scholar and a slave trader. Abass in Dahomey later sold him to a European slave trader by the name of Williams. Faremilekun, the son of Fagbemi became known as William Abass because slaves bear their owners name. The first thing that was taken from a slave was his identity. A slave does not have a name. Slaves bear their owner’s name or the name their owners give to them or called them. Faremilekun took the name of his two masters, namely Abass and Williams. He became known as Williams Abass.

Mr. Williams brought him as a slave from Abass and took him to Brazil. There in Brazil, Mr. Williams realized that there was something unusual about him. So, he refused to resell the boy and took him to his house and made him a domestic slave while he sold his other slaves. Domestic slaves work in their master’s house and plantation slaves work on the farm. Mr. Williams (The European) treated him well and taught him (Faremilekun a.k.a. Williams Abass) how to read and write. Mr. Williams treated him well. The boy himself was so intelligent to the extent that he learnt how to speak English, Dutch, Portuguese, and Spanish through Mr. Williams and the friends of Mr. Williams in Brazil.

When Wiliams Abass became a young man, Mr. Williams called him and said that he will give him his freedom under the condition that he continue to work with him as partners in business. Seriki Williams Abass agreed. What was the business? The business was Slave trading. Seriki Williams Abass was a slave who later became a slave trader. Mr. Williams (The European slave trader who reside in Brazil) sponsored him (Seriki Williams Abass) back to Africa. The first place he settled down at was called the Colony of Lagos. He first settled down at OFIN, around Isale Eko in Lagos Island. Some of Seriki Williams Abass descendants in Lagos Island today bear Abass as their family name, some bear Williams, while some bear Seriki-Abass and others bear Williams-Abass together. The Banire families in Lagos Island are also related to Seriki Williams Abass.

Seriki Williams Abass later left Lagos Island to settle down in Badagry in the 1830’s. Before seriki Williams Abass settled down in Badagry, he was conversant with the territory. He usually visits Porto-Novo, Badagry,  the Egbado corridors etc. He had business relationships as far as Ketu in present Benin Republic and he maintained his business contact with Mr. Williams, his former master in Brazil who continued to send his Slave merchant friends to him. Seriki Williams Abass continued his exploits and because of the prosperous slavery business in Badagry, he decided to settle down there.

In Badagry, through the support of Mr. Williams (His European former master) and his friends, the Brazillian Barracoon was built for him (Seriki Abass) and he also spent his money and the labour was supplied by his slaves.

The Barracoon was first built of Bamboo around 1840, before it was built with burnt bricks, Iron corrugated sheets, nails, hinges and other items that were imported into Badagry for the purpose of building the barracoon of Seriki Williams Abass.

PECULIAR CHARACTERISTICS AND UNIQUENESS OF SERIKI ABASS

AND HIS BRAZILIAN SLAVE BARACOON.

According to A. S. Fadipe (Fadipe, 2000) Chief Williams Seriki Abass was one of the “Badagrians” employed by European Slave Dealers to act as Middlemen and Facilitators of the slave trades.

The compound of Chief Seriki Abass Williams Faremi is however typical and remarkable for its architecture. It is characterized by “Baracoons” with a number of slave cells. The baracoon of Chief Abass and some forty cells were where men and women were separately kept. Out of four such baracoons (located at Posukoh, Ahovikoh, Awhajigor and Jegba) only that of Chief Abass remains nearly intact to this day.

The cells have been adapted into living rooms for the kinsmen. The exhibition has been adapted to fit into the cells, leaving them as they were originally.
Chief Seriki Abass was quick to adapt to the conditions imposed by the abolition of the nefarious trade in human beings. He became a General Merchant who traded directly with Brazillians, and the German firms of G. L. Gaisei, Witt and Busch. He leased out his houses and landed property for robust profits.

Chief Williams became one of the most remarkable figures in the Badagry District whose administration was effected by twenty salaried chiefs and 30 police Constables (Olaide-Mesewaku 2000).

By 1895, his wealth and influence had became so outstanding to the extent that the Muslim Community elected him as their Seriki (Head). In 1897, he also became Seriki Musulumi of the whole Western Yorubaland around the Egbado corridor.
Under the British Colonial Policy of Indirect Rule, Abass was appointed a Paramount Chief of Badagry District in 1913.

His tastes, paraphernalia and influence are partly reflected in the size of his compound, where his Tomb Stand out. Selected artifacts are on display in the museum. The copious documents left behind (some of which are on display will perhaps tell more of the story and activities of this notable African).

Seriki William Abass co-ordinated the founding of two towns in Yorubaland. He founded Aiyetoro and Idogo, both in today’s Ogun State.

SERIKI WILLIAMS ABASS FROM SLAVERY TO GREATNESS


Seriki Abass himself became a part of the slave trade even though he himself was once a slave. Slave trading was a major business at a point in the history of the human race. Most important people were involved in it. George Washington, the first president of the United States owned slaves. Jaja of Opobo who himself was once a slave owned several slaves.

We must acknowledge that it was not common for a slave to attain the position of greatness. Very few slaves became great. Million of slaves perished without being heard of but Seriki Williams Abass distinguished himself. According to the Badagry Local Historian, T.O. Avoseh, in his book published in 1938, documented that Seriki Williams Abass was involved in the partitioning of the Gberefu Island in 1882. One of Seriki Abass closest friend was Olugbolu Baale of Gberefu Island (Point of No Return) who through Seriki Abass became a Muslim and changed his name to Sanni.


             CONTRIBUTIONS OR VALUE TO STATE/NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

- 1882, Seriki Williams Abass was involved in the partitioning of the Gberefu Island

- 1895, It was in this year that Major J.E. Ewart made Seriki Williams Abass the political ruler of Badagry.

- 1895, the Muslim community made Seriki Abass their head by giving him the chieftaincy title of Seriki Musulumi.

- 1896, he built Badagry Central Mosque at Sango, Badagry.

- 1897, Seriki Abass became the Seriki Musulumi of all the town and villages that were under Badagry District. 
 
- 1898, he founded Egbe Killa.
 
- In 1901, when the Native Council ordinance was promulgated, the ordinance prescribed a central Native council to be filled with paramount Chief from the interior. It was presided over by Governor Mac Gregor at Lagos. District councils were set up in each district under the presidency of the “person who is recognized by the Governor Seriki Williams Abass was appointed by Gov. Mac Gregor to represent the district on the central native council in Lagos (Western Yorubaland under European rule 1889-1945, page 99, Asiwaju).

- April 1899, he led the Badagry Muslims that petitioned Acting Governor Denton to Establish a Muslim School in Badagry.

- 1902, the Badagry Council was created and Seriki Williams Abass was appointed as the president.

- Also in 1902, Seriki Faremi Williams Abass founded a town called Aiyetoro in today’s Ogun State of Nigeria. He was also the first ruler of the town. His statue graces the towns round-about, facing the palace. He also founded another town called Idogo in Ogun State. Aiyetoro that was founded by Seriki Abass was primarily done so that then different Egbado communities that were displaced by the Yoruba Civil wars and slave trade could have a place to called their own.

- 1913, under the British Colonial Policy of Indirect Rule, Seriki Abass was appointed a Paramount Chief of Badagry District.
- 1914, he was appointed paramount chief over the whole Western District, which was transformed into Ilaro Division of Abeokuta province. The former district head men “were appointed” district head chief “and brought together into a council of chief presided over by Seriki Abass as the “Senior Chief Ilaro Division”. In addition, he became the paramount chief of the whole Western Yorubaland under the British (A.I. Asiwaju, Western Yorubaland under European rule 1889-1945, page 79, 1975).
 
- 1918, Seriki Abass became the president of the native court of Ilaro, Addo, Idogo, Igbeda, Oke Odan, Eggua Ipokia, Leke etc.

-1919 “Seriki Abass of Aiyetoro is widely reported to have been the first to possess a lorry in Egbado Division. The Seriki ford lorry was bought early in 1919; and plied the Abeokuta-Aiyetoro road (A.I. Asiwaju, Western Yorubaland under European rule 1889-1945, page 163, 1975).

Seriki Abass as the president of Ilaro Divisional native Authority, crowned the Alase of Ilase and Oniboro of Iboro as Oba. They received their crowns from him. (A.I. Asiwaju, Western Yorubaland under European rule 1889-1945, page 103, 1975).

He is usually referred to as Seriki Abass of Badagry and Seriki Abass of Aiyetoro because of his immense contributions and leadership role in these towns.
-         11th June 1919, Seriki Abass died in Badagry and was buried in his compound called the Brazilian Barracoon of Seriki Abass or Seriki’s compound.


CONCLUSION

It is pertinent at this point to draw the attention of our leaders who are in Government most especially in Lagos State and Ogun State specifically to invert their intellectual wherewithal into transforming the Seriki Faremi Abass Williams Compound into a place of great historical and political relevance. This is to cater for curious minds, who want to view Brazilian Barracoon compound, where one can view the cells where slaves were kept before being transported into slavery in Europe and America and other slavery instruments paraphernalia copious documents that he left behind and selected artifacts on display.

The slave port where boats were boarded by slaves when been taking across the Lagoon to the point of No Return could be found by the Marina in front of Chief Faremi Seriki Williams Abass compound at Boekoh Quarters.

The Government should try to refocus their thoughts on this compound. The present government should encourage tourism.

Geographic and location bearing of site

The Brazilian Barracoon/Slave Museum of Seriki Abass is located in Badagry, Lagos, Nigeria, Africa.
Geographical coordinates: 60  25.0” North, 20  53.0” East
The Brazilian Barracoon/Salve Museum of Seriki Abass is on 125, Marina Road, beside Badagry Post Office, Badagry, Lagos.
The building is facing the Lagoon.
Badagry is situated between metropolitan Lagos and the border with Benin at Seme. As of the preliminary 2006 census results, the population of Badagry was about 241,093.

REFERENCES

1.       W.C. Wormall, 1934, A Report on the Egun-Speaking people of Badagry District of the Colony, page 19, 22, 24.
2.       Ashamu Sewanu Fadipe, Slave Trade and Western Civilization in Badagry, 2002 
3.       A.I. Aswiaju, Western Yoruba land under European rule 1889-1945, Page 79.
4.       A.I. Aswiaju, Western Yoruba land under European rule 1889-1945, Page 163.
5.       A.I. Aswiaju, Western Yoruba land under European rule 1889-1945, Page 103.
6.       Sunday Times, March 3, 1974 page 11
7.       Badagry: A study in History, Culture and Tradition of an Ancient City, Page 360.
8.       Journey from Epe, Page 24, 31.
9.    Anago James Akeem Osho, the slave System in Africa and the repercussion of the new and rigid stratum. www.anagoadventures.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-slave-system-in-africa-and.htm/?m=1

10.    Olaide Mesewaku (2002) Badagry District 1863-1999, John West Pub. Ltd, Ikeja-Lagos.
11.   Oral History, Chief (Alh) Sanni, Baale of Gberefu Island-Badagry, 1-2-2014, 10.31a.m., Geberfu Island-Lagos. Interview by Anago James Akeem Osho,
12.    www.en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/badagry.

 


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