Transformative Travel Experiences: Visiting Badagry, Nigeria
I have been fortunate enough to backpack across the world for over five years. My travels have been filled with beautiful scenery, culturally immersive experiences, drunken nights out, adventurous activities, and more. In the past 5 years, I have lived a lifetime of experiences, which have caused my memories to blend together. Still, certain travel moments leave a lasting effect. For me, one of the most transformative travel experiences was when I visited a former slave port in Badagry, Nigeria, because I felt a powerful connection to my ancestors.
One of the most common questions I receive while traveling is, “Where are you from?” When I reply I’m American, the person clarifies, “no – where are you really from? Like from from?”
Well, that question is a lot harder to answer. As a Black American, I assume I have roots in West Africa, but because of slavery, my ancestry is unknown. I would love to discover my Black roots and better understand where I am from from.
When I visited a friend in Lagos, Nigeria, I found out about a nearby town, Badagry, a former slave port. I knew right away that I wanted to see this town. There was not much information online about tours there, but I still hired a driver and drove 3 hours to spend the day in Badagry.
When I arrived in Badagry, I met a local guide who could walk me through the different museums and sites. The first stop was the Barracks Museum, home to Sereki William Abass, a former enslaved African who became a slave merchant for his owner, once he was freed. We visited the tiny rooms, where enslaved Africans were stored for months before they were shipped off to the Americas. It was clear that enslaved Africans were seen as animals and not humans because these rooms were unlivable cells. Abass facilitated bringing enslaved Africans from Badagry to Brazil. I did not realize the role that Africans played in supporting slavery. It was alarming to hear about people like Sereki William Abass, an African man, who went against his own people and aided White men in the slave trade. I questioned what other options Sereki Abass had. Was he working out of greed? Did he think he was superior since he was freed? Or was he somehow forced into his role as a slave merchant? In the middle of the museum, there was a vast grave for Sereki Abass, which surprised me. Why should there be a massive memorial for a man that profited off of slavery?
The next two stops were one-room museums, which were both eye-opening. In one museum, I learned about all the different types of chains used. It was a frightful experience to imagine the chains in use, like the one chain used to keep slaves mouth shuts, which was pierced through the lips. Also, the chains were way heavier than expected. This experience was uncomfortable, but it provided more reality of the awful treatment of my ancestors.
The last stop was the most powerful moment. We took a boat and walked down the “Path of No Return,” where enslaved Africans would march to board the ship to go across the Atlantic. Walking down this path, they had to leave behind their home and venture into the unknown – with no idea where they would end up. I can’t fully describe the feeling I had walking down this same path. It was powerful to be where many enslaved Africans walked prior. It was emotional because I felt connected to this experience and wondered what it would feel like if it were me? I was confused about how the world could be so cruel and treat people as inhumane. We walked down the entire path until we reached the ocean. Usually, being out on the water brings me joy. Yet, in this case, the vast ocean represented the unjust punishment and lost souls of my ancestors.
Although challenging, I am happy I visited Badagry because it is important history. There’s a difference between reading a history book on slavery and visiting a former slave port. I felt a special connection visiting Badagry since this might be what my ancestors experienced. Unfortunately, since there is little tourism, Badagry lacks funding to reserve the sites and create informative memorials. I was lucky to find a guide on the random day I visited. This place has so much history and deserves to be conserved. This made me wonder where all the well-maintained slave sites across the world are? I researched and wrote a guide to slave sites worldwide so that travelers interested in confronting the past and learning more about the dark truths of the African Slave trade could now have a resource. If these slave sites gain more traction, then there can be more funding to preserve them. It’s essential to recognize and remember dark history because it plays a part in modern society.
By: Kesi Irvin, Kesi To and Fro
Bio: Kesi Irvin left her job on Wall Street to travel the world. She's been nomadic for 5 years and blogs about how to sustain long term travel, visiting less popular destinations, and how to connect with locals abroad. She writes about her travels on Kesitoandfro.com.
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