Over the weekend, I went on the Badagry slave museum tour with a few friends. On the way to the slave museum, we passed several signs pointing in different directions also claiming to lead to slave museums. At the museum, we asked the woman at the front desk about all the other signs. She said there were about nine museums in the area (many of them within walking distance of each other).
Badagry used to be a slave corridor and many of the houses there belonged to the local slave traders and were used in the trade. These houses have remained in the families and now belong to the descendants of the slave traders.
What these enterprising residents of Badagry have done is register their homes as national heritage sites. So in front of what appears to be a regular, old house is a sign proclaiming it as a museum. A young man sits under the sign talking to his friends, browsing the web on his phone, until you approach and he stops what he is doing to ask if you’re there for the tour.
He explains that the tour is 200 naira per person and 500 naira per camera if you want to take pictures. Then he gets up and takes you through the house.
The tour went like this:
“The famous slave trader, Williams, was buried in this tomb. He was a slave at first, then he returned to be a slave trader. The tomb was built by the Brazilians when he died.”
“This is my brother’s room. Sorry, excuse the mess. Let us pass through here.”
“This room was used as slave cells. Up to 40 slaves were kept in this roo-”
The tour guide’s phone rings, he picks up in mid-sentence: “Hello? The football match is at 7. Call me later, there are tourists here. Bye.”
“As I was saying, 40 slaves were kept here for up to three months. During the day, they would go to the plantations to work for 18 hours and then come back here at night.”
“Here is my sister Rafia washing her clothes.” To her, “Don’t pour water on us o!”
“After the three months, the ship would arrive to take the slaves. The slaves would get violent when they realised they were going to be taken out of the country. So the slave traders built a well near the beach, and once they gave the slaves water out of that well, they would forget. That is why many captured slaves were not able to come back to Africa after they were freed. They did not remember.”
The first museum curator casually mentioned this fact along with the rest of his speech: 15th century, trans-continental slave trade, 300 years, slave market, 1819, water of forgetfulness, Oba of Badagry, 1847…
At the second museum, the tour guide did the same thing, he didn’t pause like he was saying anything notable.
After the narrator at the third home museum said it, I interrupted him with a loud laugh.
“Excuse me, you said the slave traders dug a well?”
“Yes, and they put charms inside.”
Snickering, “Of course, of course, they did. And you’re saying when they gave the slaves water from this magic well, they would lose their memory?”
His face fell. He didn’t like me challenging him in front of his family.
“That is correct.”
I demanded that he take me to see the well.
The well is not on the Badagry mainland. It is on an island next to The Point of No Return, which is where the ship would be waiting to take the slaves to Europe or the Americas. We got on a boat to the island and walked about ten minutes in to get to the well.
The water in the well was clear with a few pieces of wood floating in it. It was higher than I expected, with long hands you could lean in and touch the surface. I emptied the bottle of water I was carrying, intending to fill it up with water from the well.
My friends, uninterested in my project, stood around and took photos. I leaned over the edge, reaching in with the empty bottle. I asked the guide to hold onto the back of my trousers (just in case).
I held the bottle down as the well water bobbed into it. I had almost filled it up when I felt the tour guide’s hand move. I turned my head up to him, and like in those movies where you’re not yet sure who the villain is, he looked back at me, his face was impassive, his jaw clenched.
Whether I slipped or I was pushed, I do not know.
And whether I bumped my head on the edge of the well as I fell triggering a concussion or I drank some of the water as I struggled, I also do not know.
My memory here is fuzzy so I am going to have to rely on other people for details after this point
My friends heard a short ack! followed by a splash. They turned to see the tour guide reaching in to pull me out. He was very apologetic.
They say I was docile as I climbed out, I didn’t blame the tour guide or complain about my wet clothes. My friends escorted me back to the boat, across the water to the car and drove me home. I slept the entire way.
I woke up the following morning with a hangover headache and a sore throat.
You can speculate if you want about what happened at that well, but I have moved passed that. See, while I might have lost my footing at the well, I did not lose hold of the bottle.
So here on my desk as I type this is a 75cl bottle of authentic Spirit Attenuation water fetched by hand.
Let the bidding start at 1,000 naira.
I ship international.