Background of the People of Badagry.
Traditionally referred to as Gbagle, Badagry is a coastal town and local government area (LGA) in Lagos State, Nigeria. It is situated between the city of Lagos, and the border with Benin at Seme.
The name Badagry was culled from the means of livelihood of the indigenes of the city which include fishing, farming, salt making. Others believe the city got its name from ‘Agbadarigi’—a farm owned by a popular farmer of that time, Agbedeh. The farm was one of the reasons Europeans explored. Agbadarigi would later be rephrased for easy pronunciation by the Europeans to ‘Badagry’.
In the early eighteen century Badagry serve as a route for the Europeans where slaves were transported to new destination of their buyers. It homes the cenotaph –‘Point of No Return’ stream. The well at this place was enchanted to ensure slaves that drink from it forget their source.
At the end of eighteen century, Badagry was one of the routes that benefited from the recurrent battle between Portnovo and Dahomey for the movement of slave. Badagry was noted as the auction point for slaves captured during inter-villages warfare.
Badagry is a monarchy headed by the Wheno Aholuship, a kingship head by the Akran of Badagry and his seven white cap high chiefs. The white cap chiefs administer the eight quarters into which Badagry is divided, they include Ahovikoh, Boekoh, Jegba, Posukoh, Awhanjigo, Asago, Whalako and Ganho. These quarters and the families that ruled them played prominent roles in brokering slave trade with the Europeans and Brazilians.
History of the People of Badagry.
Founded in the early 15th century on a lagoon off the Gulf of Guinea, its protected harbour led to the town becoming a key port in the export of slaves to the Americas, which were mainly to Salvador, Bahia in Brazil. It was also such a big departure point for slaves headed for French Saint-Domingue, today’s Haiti, that a main God of Haiti’s Official Religion of Vodun is called Ogun-Badagri.
The settlement in Ketu, present-day Benin Republic (formerly known as Dahomey), might be an appropriate starting point for a brief history of the Gbe-speaking peoples. In Ketu, the ancestors of the Gbe-speaking peoples separated themselves from other refugees and began to establish their own identity.
They settled in the ancient kingdom of Tado (also Stado or Stádó) on the Mono River (in present-day Togo). The Tado kingdom was an important state in West Africa up to the late fifteenth century.
In the course of the thirteenth or fourteenth century, the Notsie (or Notsé, Notsye, Wancé) kingdom was established by emigrants from the Tado kingdom; Notsie would later (around 1500) become the home of another group of migrants from Tado, the Ewe people.
Around 1550, emigrants from Tado established the Allada (or Alada) kingdom, which became the center of the Fon people in Benin Republic. This was how the Gbe language began to spread; from the Tado Kingdom till it has occupied a reasonable size in the Western Part of Africa.
The Egun people of Badagry are also part of the result of the spread. It is said that they are part of the Yoruba/Popo sub-group who migrated from the ancient Ketu kingdom in the present day Benin Republic formerly referred to as Dahomey Empire.
According to historical accounts, the Eguns (also known as Ogu) moved, first from Ile-Ife in the late 13th century into the Dahomey Empire and from there broke into two waves. A band of them moved westwards into Accra and Lome to form the Gaa and Ewe stocks.
A second group led by Akran Gbafoe, moved eastwards along the Porto Novo and Yewa creeks (now Badagry) settling along the Kweme coastline and creeks to Ologe lagoon. This formed the chain of Egun communities with Badagry as the epicenter as at the 15th century.
Other peoples that speak Gbe languages today are the Gen people (Mina, Ge) around Anexo, who are probably of Gaa and Fante origin, and the Phla and Pherá peoples, some of whom consist of the traditional inhabitants of the area intermingled with early migrants from Tado.
Sociolinguistic Profile of the Egun People
Geographically, the ancient Egun town of Badagry encompasses the island and mainland communities of Kweme, Wesere, Iworo, Ajido, Topo, Ale, Aradagun, Akarakumo, Ibereko, Itoga, Agbalata, Seme, Kankon, Ajara.
Due to its geographical location, Badagry became an ancient major slave outpost during the infamous slave trade. It is also the beacon of western civilization and Christianity in Nigeria. It was the first place where Christianity was preached in Nigeria.
As a part of the Lagos socio-cultural region and lying on the Ecowas Trans-African route, the Egun people are highly hospitable and very receptive to new ideas. The prevalence of resources and water swamps resulted in the eating of crabs, fishes, lobsters, and snails.
According to Mesawaku, an historian, the Egun people are majorly located in Lagos and Ogun States in the south-western part of Nigeria and the language has varieties of dialects including Thevi, Whla, Seto and Toli accounting for about 15% of the indigenous population of Lagos State. The Egun people are predominately fishermen, hunters and traders.
To have a nice understanding about the culture of Egun people we should have the knowledge about the religious influences that prevail there. Majorities are Christians and the Muslims are also found in significant numbers.
Despite the fact that Christianity had its inroad into Nigeria through Badagry, this has not taken away the Badagry people from their traditional ways of worshipping the Supreme Being (Jiwheyewhe mawu ose) through lesser gods such as Ogun (God of iron) and Hevioso (god of thunder). There are many temples and shrines that dot the landscape of Badagry where these gods are being worshipped.
Being mainly fishermen, the Egun people also worship Olokuna water deity which is usually appeased for abundant fishes. Elegba which is the accursed Satan is also worshipped by the people around March or April.
Christianity and Islam also flourished extensively and became very important part of the people’s culture.
Badagry had established the institution of divine kingship (De Wheno Aholu). This had its root from its historical migration from ketu kingdom in the 15th century. From the previous De Wheno Aholu Akran Gbafoe down to the present De Wheno Aholu Akran Menu Toyi I the stool had produced 17 Akrans.
De Wheno Aholu Akran Menu Toyi I, the present Akran of Badagry, is the paramount ruler of Egun land and the chairman of the Badagry divisional chieftaincy committee which have over 60 recognised chieftaincies made up of Obas, and Quarter heads or Baales. The traditional administration of Badagry and its environs lies with the Royal Council of the Akran of Badagry which is made up of Wheno Aholu and the high/title chiefs as well as the districts heads called Totagon.
The town is divided into eight quarters. Each quarter is manned by each of the seven white cap chiefs while the eight quarter, from where the De Wheno Aholu comes from, is administered directly by the crown.
The adjoining mainland districts are administered by their respective traditional rulers some of which are of oba status.
- Alapa of Apa,
- Onilogbo of Ilogbo-Eremi,
- Aholu Gbedite
- Ayaton of Ajido,
- Oniworo of Iworo and
- Oba of Ibereko.
Badagry local government council could be regarded as the cradle of western civilization because of the introduction of Christianity to Badagry in 1842, and the subsequent establishment of the first known school for western education in the country in 1843; a primary school established by the Wesleyan mission (Methodist Church) named ‘Nursery of Infant Church’. The school later became St. Thomas’ Anglican Nursery and Primary School founded by Rev. Golmer of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in 1845, inside the first storey building in Badagry.
The Wesleyans in the same year 1843 then went to central Lagos and founded Olowogbowo Methodist School and Ereko Methodist School in 1869. Olowogbowo Methodist School is still waxing strong located just behind Wesley Cathedral Olowogbowo while Ereko Mehodist School was relocated to Berkely Street and is also still waxing strong.
The first secondary school in Badagry was built over one hundred years later called Badagry Grammar School. In 1955 due to misunderstanding between the Missionaries and the natives that made them leave the town unceremoniously.
The first teacher’s training school in Nigeria was also established at Topo-island which lies between the sea and the lagoon. Today the local government council houses a good number of both public and private primary and secondary schools of which St. Michael ranks amongst the best private nursery and primary schools while Badagry grammar school and a state model college established at Kankon are among the best public schools.
The 1st French language training and consultancy tertiary institution in Nigeria, the Nigeria French language village, and the administrative staff college of Nigeria beehive of administrative and management trainings in Nigeria are also located within the jurisdiction of the Badagry local government council.
Despite the fact that the western style of dressing is everywhere in the urban areas of the community, the Egun traditional attires are still precious to them. They wear their clothing on important occasions.
Just like the Yoruba, clothing materials traditionally come from processed cotton by traditional weavers. They believe that the type of clothes worn by a man depicts his personality and social status, and that different occasions require different clothing outfits.
They also have a very wide range of materials used to make clothes, the most basic being the hand woven ones, which is a hand loomed cloth of different patterns and colors sewn in various styles and which comes in very many different colors and patterns. Other clothing materials include but are not limited to Raffia, Ankara, lace, tie and dye.
Due to the location of the Badagry people in the zone of coastal lagoons and creeks, fishing remains their main occupation. This contributes significantly to the economy and nutrition of the Egun people, with buyers coming from Lagos metropolis and Yoruba hinterland. The main catch for which Badagry became famous as a fishing settlement are sawfish, tarpon shark etc.
In view of the economic importance of fishing, the state government has established fish farms in the area. The 1.6 acre Alaktomeji fish complex is provided with fishing inputs and infrastructures. A fishermen training school is also established at Yovogan Badagry.
As a result of the existence of abundant palm trees, basket and mat weaving are principal crafts among Egun women and children. More widespread is mat weaving using sedge grass. The finished product: mats, broad-brimmed hats, rain proof covers, brooms etc. are produced for sale to neighboring settlements and international markets.
Pottery making is equally an important craft with clay quarries, potting factories and pot pyramids dotting the landscape. The clay is artistically designed in different shapes and motifs and serves variety of purpose such as water pot, vase, earthenware etc.
Some common native food to the Egun includes pap and stew, azin bokun. Basically, Egun have similar kinds of food with the Yoruba. These items of food also include some of the Yoruba native dishes like eba, semo, amala, fufu, tuwo etc. Native soups in Egun include Benin Red Sauce, Peanut Sauce, and also vegetable soup.
Some dishes are prepared specially for festivities and ceremonies. Jollof rice and fried rice are also very common.
The traditional religions of Badagry people are closely associated with various festivals. Celebration of festivals and dances such as Avohumide, Zangbeto, Olokun-Hunga, Kabito (Egungun), Oro, Igunnuko, Ggangbe, Agbaja, Akogun, and others, where the use of traditional Sato drums and variety of raffia based costumes are prominent means by which people rekindle their traditional heritage.
The Badagry Festival (an annual event) is the most prominent of all there fests. The festival is organised by African Renaissance Foundation (AREFO). The event reflects the significance of the ancient town during the slave trade era. It is a convergence of culture and display of African heritage. The organizer brings the indegine and culture loving fans from four corners of the world to celebrate the festival.
One of the major highlights of the annual festival is the artistic display by Masquerades, dancers and fire eaters. It also features football competition, beating of Sato drum, Liberation Day.
The festival started in 1999 to commemorate end of slave trade era and the significance of the ancient city during the period of slavery.  In 1983, Chief Mobee was among the African Chief that partook in the slave trade.
The first two-storey building was built in Marina, Badagry in 1845. Presently, the site is facing massive environmental degradation due to lack of maintenance by the government and activities of commercial tree fellers. The government of Babatunde Fashola in their effort to reignite the glory of the city has started the construction of Badagry Express way project, commissioning of Badagry Marina project.
The Ambode administration is also adding up to the novel developments with attempts to complete all ongoing tourism development projects in the Badagry division of the State including the reconstruction and a facelift of the 154-year-old Heritage Museum and other slave trade monuments.
According to a report on the State official page, the State Acting Commissioner for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Mrs. Adebimpe Akinsola, disclosed this during an assessment visit to all tourism project sites in Badagry town to monitor the progress of rehabilitation work at the museum and other similar projects that symbolise memories of the slave trade activities in the area.
“The reconstruction of the heritage museum, according to her, will not affect the contents and historical value of the museum, but it will be equipped and made more functional to serve all categories of tourists, including children and the elderly upon completion.”
Researched and written by Ola-lawal Muzzamil.
Edited and Published on Muzzammilwrites.