I arrived in Salvador da Bahia, the land my Tabom ancestors left close to 200 years ago for their freedom in West Africa, more specifically Accra Ghana (then the Gold Coast). I almost didn’t include Salvador in this Brazil trip after flight prices sky rocketed due to the holidays, and my credit card suddenly not working. However, as fate would have it, I found myself on a flight heading there before I leave (or not) for London next week…
The Year of Return
2019 marks 400 years since the first documented Trans-Atlantic slave ship left the shores of West Africa for the Americas with captured Africans as human cargo. 2019 has been dubbed the ‘Year of Return‘ – a calling for those from the African diaspora to return ‘home’ for a visit or to live. This year I’m practising my own personal year of return; “Tabom No Brasil” exploring blackness in São Paulo, and returning back to my ancestral Salvador since my last visit in 2013; a month long stay which had a profound impact in my connection with my Tabom roots and ancestors.
I’m not sure if anyone else in my family knows as much about our Tabom roots as I’ve been able to research, much of it thanks to my late Aunty Marian, and a research study I discovered which included my great-grandfather as a case study. In recent reflection of my ‘Tabom no Brasil – Tabom in Brazil‘ experience, I feel like ‘the chosen one‘ my ancestors picked to find them. It’s almost an obsession I have, to know ‘who I am‘ through understanding who my AfroBrazilian ancestors and their descendants were.
I understand the ‘privilege’ I have as a British-born Ghanaian, and the accessibility having a red passport (British passport) affords me. However I don’t contribute privilege alone to be the reason I have taken this research so far. Privileged isn’t something that’s new to my family heritage. The early Taboms were given prominent positions by the the British Government of the time, as they came with advance skills from Brazil; architecture, agriculture, tailoring and other skills, and generally seen as ‘better than the locals’ (perhaps because they spoke a European Latin-based language, Portuguese). My great-grandfather for example was a merchant who died in the UK and is buried in Kensal Green cemetery. His brothers, my great granduncles, were lawyers and studied at the renowned Lincoln’s Inn (The Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn), London. And if it’s due to passport restrictions as to why no one from my family ‘returned’, my father was born in the UK. I recently extended an invitation for us to collaborate on a project together in Brazil as an excuse for him to visit whilst I’m here (how cool would a father-daughter Tabom project be?!)… I’m still awaiting his response!
So even if I didn’t grow up in the Tabom community of Accra per say, I’ve held-onto my roots which is evident in the vast research I’ve dedicated 8 years into conducting, including self-funded flights to Ghana and Brazil on numerous occasions. This year the plan is to document all my findings and personal experiences into a documentary film. I’m awaiting news of a British Council grant I applied for which will greatly help this project. I’ll keep you updated on the outcome. Also feel free to reach out if you’d be interested in collaborating in some way with your skills set, or supporting by giving a donation.
So here I am, for the third time in a decade, I’ve arrived once again to pay homage to my ancestors. I’m quietly excited, overtly humbled and somewhere in between – at peace…
Prior to arriving in Salvador, I’d been experiencing high levels of anxiety, which is irritating because it’s taken me ages – close to 3 months, to finally be in a ‘good space’ – free from anxiety and depression (thank you Brazil, self-care and my amazing new friends)… This recent anxiousness is an all too familiar feeling I have when a trip is drawing to an end my body (and mind) is on edge about how I’m going to maintain this ‘good vibe’ when I get back home in London… I’ve been thinking up coping strategies; see family, friends – well, those who’ll bother making time for me (everyone is so ‘busy’ these days), seek new work clients and commissions etc… But then one morning this week I woke up realising I’d slept in my answer – thanks to staying over at my Cintia’s after a night out in São Paulo. The sweat-shirt I’d borrowed for the night read;
“Be Bright. Don’t look for the light, become it“
I’m still not any closer to deciding if I will or won’t take my flight home next week – but whatever I decision I make, I’ll aim to trust in my light.
Lavagem do Bonfim
Getting into town from Salvador airport was a rather straight-ward and affordable ride thanks to the new metro system that’s in place (the biggest change I’ve spotted so far since my last visit 6 years ago). We arrived in the aftermath of the Lavagem do Bonfim festivities; one of the biggest religious festivals in Bahia which synchronises Condomblé with Catholicism. When Cintia told me about the significance of this day “a day for receiving guidance and healing” – I suddenly thought it couldn’t just be a coincidence that I’d woken up on the same morning feeling a sense of enlightenment (thanks to the Be Bright t-shirt scenario) the previous morning. So despite the festivities being over, I still made it a priority to make Igreja do Bonfirm my first stop in Salvador. I tied a ‘fitinha do bonfim’ – ‘Bonfim ribbon’, and sat by the gate full of flying colourful ribbons, not asking for anything in particular – just being thankful. I’ll share more about Lavagem do Bonfim in another post.
Before leaving for Brazil, my dad gave me a massive bag of my grandmother’s clothing and other items he’d salvaged from her house in Ghana (ironically he put everything in a ‘Ghana must go’ style-bag which I had to carry to into central London, and I was thinking ‘dad, you’re really not helping the stereotype’ lol) Amongst those items were a pair of my Gma’s sunglasses… All I can say is she was one stylish lady. My Gma isn’t alive to see her granddaughter visit her Tabom ancestral land and trace the names of our ancestors back to Salvador, but at least I know a part of her made it here…
A taste of acarajé!
You can’t come to Salvador without trying it’s most popular street food – acarajé! Made by Baianas (I’m reminded so much of my Aunty Marian), this snack isn’t just delicious and filling, it’s one of the many well preserved African traditions (acarajé is derived from akara, deep-fried bean dumplings in palm oil, typically prepared by the Hausa people of Northern Nigeria and Ghana). My first bite of it in this trip came from Baiana Tanea who’s stall was by the roadside of the bus stop myself and Cintia waited at to head to Igreja do Bonfirm… I couldn’t resist the sight and smell of her freshly prepared arcajé dumplings frying in palm oil, and the choice of fillings (I opted for the fried shrimp, pepper and okra sauce). Cintia rightfully warned against buying acarjé just anywhere, however on this occasion my instincts were right – it was delicious!
The hustle is real – Selling Wrapstar Accessories in Pelourinho
Yesterday was #MarketDay for me in Salvador’s cultural centre, Pelourinho (you can still check out my instastories for more)! And I don’t just mean for a photo-shoot! I still have a few pieces left from my Wrapstar accessories range; African accessories I’ve purchased from artisans during my trips to Kenya and Ghana, which I sell as my ‘side hustle‘ to help fund trips. Special thanks to Cintia for being my hype crew (I couldn’t do this alone hence why it’s so important women, especially black women, support each other). I’ll be sharing more from the intense, yet rewarding day we went out to sell!
I’ll be updating you with interviews I’ll be conducting with inspiration badass women, creatives, and furthering my spiritual Tabom journey connecting with my Tabom ancestors!
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