Thursday 27 July 2023

150 years on, echoes of slavery keep pulsating

'Architecture: Africa in Brazil', from the exhibition.

WOUNDS from the transatlantic slave trade may have healed, but a photography exhibition revisits the Portuguese-influenced culture of affected Africans as well as the role of Islamic and Yoruba spirituality in post-abolition lives of descendants of former slaves.

Organised by the Embassy of Brazil in Nigeria, and currently showing till next week Friday, among the works on display during the private viewing at Terra Kulture, few days ago, were photographs of different families, which are supposedly of Yoruba descendants and former slave returnees, living in Lagos Island.   

Families linked to the slave trade, five hundred years ago; adherents of Ifa divinity in Bahia, Brazil; old houses of Portuguese architecture in Lagos and Brazil were some of the exhibits.

Discrimination and suspicion of the post- transatlantic slave trade abolition, particularly, between the Saros (former slaves) and the natives in Lagos and Abeokuta, had in the 1850s, threatened the reintegration of the returnees. And sources had it that exclusive residential settlements – with distinct architecture – such as the Brazilian quarters in Lagos Island, parts of Ebute-meta and Yaba emerged from the efforts in the management of the conflict and reintegration exercise.

The photographs of some of the houses of these families, still standing 150 years after the battle for reintegration, formed parts of the exhibition. Recently taken, they are of such families as Cardoso, Faustinho, Hilario, Da-Costa, Da-Silva, De-Souza, Marinho, Antonio Lopez, Machado, Ganzalo, Sheteolu, Vera-Cruz and Marshado. Although from a different background, photographs of families of Dosunmu and Bangbose-Martins were also parts of the exhibition.

Although, the not-too-good presentation of the families section of the exhibition, suggested that these photographs were hurriedly put together and shot by a non-professional, for each of the family however, the show was an opportunity to tell ancestral story. For example, the Cardoso, in their photograph traced the family name to “Joco Antonio Cardoso who was born in Brazil.” Rafiu Cardoso, perhaps, the current olori-ebi (head of the family), according to the information, is “the son of Surajudeen Cardoso and grandson of Lamidi Cardoso who is the son of Joco Antonio.

And to underscore the Islamic influence, the information was also disseminated in Arabic texts.  The Islamic factor, which was very strong among some of the returnees, according to another set of works tagged Timeline, also reflected in what has been regarded as one of the early mosques in Lagos. Built by Joao da Costa in 1894, the mosque has the typical Portuguese-influenced Brazilian architecture.

In contrast with the families section of the exhibits, images shot in Brazil, of Yoruba divinity and Portuguese-architectures, were better presented; bolder and properly labeled.

That resilience, in the last few decades, and more than any other factors, has strengthened the relationship between Nigeria and Brazil. This much, the Deputy Consul-General, Embassy of Brazil, Ceasario Alexandria noted when he said that the show, sponsored by the Foreign Ministry of Brazil, was aimed at keeping the historical linkage between the two countries stronger. He noted that the similarity in assimilation has to do with the fact as most of the descendants of the former slaves here still keep their Portuguese names, also in Brazil, “inter-marriages” have collapsed racial differences and healed the wounds of the past.

-Tajudeen Sowole (First published, Tuesday, 25 January 2011 00:00).

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