C19th unSEEN Peek™ – This colourful lithograph entitled NÈGRE & NÉGRESSE DE BAHIA by JOHANN MORITZ RUGENDAS was published within his colossal book Voyage Pittoresque dans le Brésil (Picturesque Voyage to Brazil) between 1827 and 1835.
Featuring over 500 illustrations capturing the lifestyles and peoples of Brazil, it remains one of the nation’s most impressive and important historical documentations.
The days of Holy Week are traditionally observed by the Aguda whether still Catholic or not and Good Friday is a particularly commemorative cultural experience for us as well an important Christian holiday.
The consumption of meat is prohibited and fish such as the catch captured so beautifully by Rugendas is the flesh and feast of the day.
My article UNIQUELY NIGERIAN was published within THE VOICE newspaper over Easter 2013 to introduce readers to an African Diasporean story, culture and customs few would have been aware existed.
This is an uncut version with deeper exploration of my maternal culture, which I publish now on Good Friday 2017 whilst black beans simmer and my taste buds yearn for the piquant fish my mother has waiting atop the stove…
Come Easter time my kitchen operates on a near-industrial scale to meet community demand for the traditional Aguda Good Friday dish Fré John.
The cultural taste for the sweet coconut-infused black bean soup is one shared by certain 21st century Lagosians and their 19th century Brazilian ancestors.
Alongside the Aworis of Isale Eko and the Sierra Leonean Saros, the Aguda were one of the few groups of Lagosians who had “no other home other than Lagos Island.”
For many enslaved and liberated Brazilians and Cubans of African descent it was illogical that they would remain brutalised or marginalised in the nations of their fervent oppressors.
If emancipation in the New World did not extend to social and economic liberty, they would find and embrace it in their ancestral homeland.
In the same vein as Marcus Garvey’s “Back-to-Africa” movement thousands returned to Nigeria between the 1840s and 1890s.
Some saved for years to afford the trans-Atlantic passage and settlement funds for themselves and their relatives. Others commissioned British ships at immense cost to return less than 40 passengers and their financial capital to the shores of Nigeria.
Although many carried rosary beads and prayed to the Madonna for blessings, most sought the protection of their Lady of the Sea Yemoja from sickness, death and recapture during the three month journey back home to West Africa from cities such as Bahia, Rio de Janeiro, Mantazas and Havana and later gave thanks to Olosa, Orisha of the lagoons for their peaceful settlement in the aquatic terrain of Popo Aguda.
After passing through the often humiliating quarantine and political intrigues of the British colonials, the repatriates were christened “Aguda” by indigenous Lagos Islanders due to their Catholic religion.
The ancestors of seventy-four year old Tunde Soares repatriated to Lagos Island from Salvador de Bahía, Brazil in the 1840s.
They discarded their Portuguese surname and became the Alakijas, one of Lagos’ most prominent families.
Soares who grew up on Evans Street and was instilled with his Afro-Iberian heritage by his late father gave voice to the fascinating history of the Aguda community, which remains true to the moniker given by native Lagosians.
“First and foremost the bulk of us are Catholics. The values that we were brought up with in the early Twentieth century are no longer applicable. We had some very high values of integrity, you were taught in your formative years to be truthful, trust your neighbour, be friendly and neat – even in thought. There was so much discipline then. Good values have been eroded by developments around us in the city. “
During my last Easter trip to the Brazilian Quarter, traditional Aguda customs permeated the streets of Lagos Island: from the rich aromas of our delectable soup and its accompanying St. Peter’s fish to the notes of hymns infusing the Archdiocese of Lagos to the hedonistic indulgences of carnival participated in as if it were a Bahian bumba-meu-boi and the delighted praise of the city’s impoverished who are guaranteed to sleep with a full stomach, as it is a tradition of Aguda descendents to fry and distribute acara bean cakes as alms to the poor. The courtyard of my late grandfather’s home comes alive with the sights and scents of dishes prepared within its confines on certain dates each year for well over a century.
Mr. Soares confessed he has not eaten Fré John for many years as his Muslim wife is unable to make it and informed me that the acara alms-giving is not an authentic Aguda custom: “we borrowed it from the Muslims, it’s not our culture.”
Lawyer, P. O Munis, whose grandfather João Tiberius Munis was a second generation Aguda says that “The Brazilians exported carnival to Lagos and the migration of their descendants to other locations has spread carnival celebrations to other areas and cities.”
This vibrant Aguda addition to Nigeria’s national culture raises social morale and state revenues across diverse regions of Africa’s most populous country.
In the Nineteenth century, British colonisers sought to exploit the Aguda’s expert knowledge of tropical agriculture to develop the financial potential of what was soon to be the colony of Nigeria, but couched their agenda as an act of kindness and humane goodwill.
The British also strategised that the Aguda’s Christianity could be used to convert Nigerians who practised indigenous religions.
Mr. Soares recalled the facts related by his father: “Initially we were intermediaries, but in 1903 the Agudas had to set up their own lodge to counter the influence of the British.”
Mr Soares spoke of the British machinations against the Aguda community who had a deep affinity with and allegiance to Yorùbá culture despite their Christianity.
“The British colonial masters who were Anglicans deliberately whittled down the Catholic influence in Lagos and Nigeria. To get land became a tug-of-war. A lot of the rich Aguda: the da Rochas, the da Silvas, gave their own land free of charge to the Catholic church to build schools and hospitals. My own grandparents gave land to build a church at Lafiaji.”
Soares, who still attends a Catholic church in Ikeja with scions of the Anjou, Branco, da Silva and Durego families exclaimed “They even tried to convert some of our parents to the Anglican faith! It was in every policy: for you to get on in the civil service, Lagos society or the good companies that were owned by the British you had to be an Anglican.”
Soares rued the fact that no Aguda sons are Catholic priests in Lagos and that the Ibo community who now make up the bulk of members “don’t even know that some of our great great grandparents brought Catholicism to Nigeria.”
He appraised that the pervasive Muslim influence on Lagos Island is the main factor in the erosion of the Aguda identity, “The Muslims came to the fore around 1975 when Commodore Adekunle Lawal was military governor of Lagos State. He had the support of the Northerners and they began to clamp down on Christians generally and that affected the Catholics. They took away a lot of our schools, even hospitals, the government took them over and sacked a lot of Christians from the civil service. It was terrible; a one-sided thing. We had those two terrible experiences: The colonial masters and then the Muslim people.”
Many Aguda made fortunes trading between Brazil and Nigeria, others got homesick and returned to South America, many travelled back and forth.
Soares spoke fondly of the family’s connection to Brazil and recalled: “The last contact we had was around 1953, some people came from Bahia and took pictures with my Daddy and me at our house in Lagos. I was in primary school then, but I remember it very well.”
Adekemi Adeyemi, grand-daughter of a Rio de Janeiro native and distinguished Saro Dr John Randle says of her Brazilian ancestors: “They were very different in some ways, especially hygiene and cleanliness. You can’t even go to the Brazilian Quarters now and say they are Brazilians.”
Mr Soares agrees, “It’s changed. The island is overpopulated, the houses are like hovels, a lot of us have been forced to move outside of the island. Except for the name we have very little influence on matters of governance; the influence is all gone.”
Soares recalls the bygone eras of Aguda ascendence “We were the centre of civilisation initially, in terms of dressing, architecture and commerce.”
When I visit Lagos’ Brazilian Quarter I marvel at the hallmarks left by my Afro-Iberian ancestors: the masterful Belle Époque masonry of Senhor Lazaro Borges da Silva, the exquisite mosaics of forgotten craftsmen, the odd Paraiba tourmaline-green iris and Amerindian slant of eyes and cheekbones beneath the veneer of ebony skin, the boys in Campos Square who play football with spirit of Pelé resonant within the tips of their toes and the balls of their bare feet, I say Asé-O!
The AGUDA are irrefutably Yorùbá, but also uniquely Nigerian.
© W. O. Adeyemi/ AFRICA: Seen & Heard Ltd and africaseenheard.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to W. O. Adeyemi, AFRICA: Seen & Heard and africaseenheard.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
FURTHER ILLUMINATION OF THE AGUDA PAST AND PRESENT
To be added after we have digested our fish…
STUDY – BRAZILIANS IN NIGERIA https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brazilians_in_Nigeria#:~:text=Brazilians%20in%20Nigeria%2C%20Amaros%20or,first%20generation%20expatriates%20from%20Brazil (Exceptional new video is post-publication review)
VISIT – Ikoyi Cemetary on Lagos Island to meet Aguda ancestors immortalised in bronze and stone including Candido Joao Da Rocha ( 1860 – March 11, 1959) and the avante-garde actor Orlando Martins (8 December 1899 – 25 September 1985). Eminent Saro Lagosian and founding fathers of Nigerian nationalism Henry Carr, Herbert Macauley and Dr John K Randle also rest in peace here: Ikoyi Cemetery, Ikoyi, Lagos, Nigeria.
READ – THE WATER HOUSE by Antônio Olinto https://www.amazon.co.uk/Water-House-Antonio-Olinto/dp/088184229X
LEARN – How Afro-Brazilian Architecture Influenced The Yoruba Homes of Colonial Western Nigeria https://medium.com/@cocoacapital/we-didn-t-eat-much-chocolate-during-my-childhood-in-nigeria-c091d5a4cb2d
APPRECIATE – IN NIGERIA, TOUCHES OF BRAZILIAN STYLE, Published in 1987 http://www.nytimes.com/1987/03/26/garden/in-nigeria-touches-of-brazilian-style.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm
ADDRESS – Cultural Vandalism of Lagos Heritage http://opinion.premiumtimesng.com/2017/01/16/the-casa-do-fernandez-affair-getting-away-with-vandalism-by-femke-van-zeijl/
SEE & HEAR – YEMANJA – (Orixa da Bahia) – Em Português; sottotitoli in Italiano
DISCOVER – Yemọja – Yoruba deity of the Ocean http://www.ifafoundation.org/yemonja and Olosa (oni-osa, owner of the lagoon) The goddess of the Lagos Lagoon and other Minor Orisha of the Yoruba Religious Pantheon http://www.sacred-texts.com/afr/yor/yor04.htm
VIEW – An array of beautiful lithographs from the three volumes of JEAN-BAPTISTE DEBRET’S Voyage Pittoresque et Historique au Brésil, 1834 https://scholarship.rice.edu/handle/1911/70166