Taking a trip down memory lane to when I lead a guided tour through Jamestown and Otublohum with a few international friends who took me up on the offer to learn more about what remains of the Tabom community (descendants of Afro-Brazilian returnees) in Accra, Ghana.
The Year of Return was perhaps Ghana’s biggest PR campaign to signal the country opening its arms wide open to its black diaspora. As beautifully symbolic as it sounds, I didn’t miss the one-side undertone; ‘Come all ye African Americans – and bring your dollars with you!‘
During my trip to Ghana over the Christmas and New Year, I took it upon myself to share with a handful of international friends (representing Kenya, Brazil/Italy, and fellow Ghanaian-British of Ewe heritage) a piece of my Afro-Brazilian-Ghanaian heritage which goes back five generations – from Salvador to Accra!
I took to Instagram to to share my thoughts…
I have returned…
This is what my Year of Return looks like… I’m not here for the marketed hype or turn-up (though the parties have been good!)… My return is on a more spiritual level. An acknowledgement of those who returned almost two centuries before the 2019 Year of Return was coined, yet their legacy is near forgotten. I’m here to celebrate the Afro-Brazilian returnees who arrived in Otublohum Accra after the Malé revolt of 1835 in Salvador and other areas of Bahia… I’m here to acknowledge and celebrate my badass female ancestor who gave oppression the middle finger and took the unknown voyage to West Africa with her young children (Peregrino) and relative Mama Nassau. I’m here to celebrate a story of second chances and finding love when my ancestor married from the Royal court (Tawiah/Addy)… I’m here to celebrate the emancipation of (mental) slavery and stigmas – my ancestors descendants (Peregrinos and Planges/Manyo-Planges) became very prominent (in law, journalism, education, tailoring and merchandising by the early 1900s) – testimony that your circumstances do not define you!
My Year of Return naturally meant a visit to the Tabom ancestral home, the ‘Brazil House’ in Accra… Had to let the ancestors know their girl is in town! I choose to celebrate my ancestors even if others choose to forget. Axé 🙌🏾🇧🇷🇬🇭💕✨🎉 (for MarLutt and Gma – never forgotten 🙏🏾💕✨)
“Until the lion learns to write, every story will glorify the hunter”…
FYI, We’ve been returning before 2019 ‘Year of Return’… 1836 was the year of Afro-Brazilian returnees to Ghana, known as “Tabom”. As a journalist and proud descendant, I’ve been lucky (make that #blessed!) enough to research and trace my ancestry 5 generations up to Salvador Bahia, Brazil. On a spiritual level, the more I discover about my heritage the more empowered (and outright fearless) I become! Like the meaning of the Ghanaian symbol Sankofa, we have to learn from the past to know who we are… We have a wealth of undocumented history and resources (our elders being key!) – let’s utilise it!
My Tabom story is one which I refuse to let a hunter tell. In fact no hunter can tell what’s mine like I can. I’m a lioness ready to create her own narrative which doesn’t start or end with slavery. How that story is told (written, film/documentary/visual, or a festival) I’m yet to decide (real talk, funding 💲💲💲is what’s holding me back)… But it will be told! #ProudlyTabom #YearOfReturn .
The Brazil House
(extract from A.R. Gomda’s A Slice Of Brazil In Accra)
On arrival aboard the British ship SS Salisbury, some of the freed men who thought Lagos was where their ancestors were before they were taken away to Brazil, disembarked while others continued to Accra and other places along the coast. Varied factors informed their decision to settle in these parts. While some of them might have feared the kind of reception that awaited them in the hinterland which they could not locate anyway, others found out that their villages had been wiped out through slave raids. Those who settled in Lagos are called Agudas, descendants of Yorubas and their Accra counterparts, the Taboms, descended from Hausas, Yorubas and other neighbouring countries like Burkina Faso and Mali.
Some of the names attest to the foregone – Mamman Nassau and Mamman Sokoto, Aruna or Adjuma or Juma. Some of the families forming part of the Accra landscape today, who originated from the returnees, are Souzas, Silvas, Vieras and Peregrinos. According to Ayesu and Amos, the wave of return to West Africa took place some 170 years ago, with British ship SS Salisbury playing a key role in the movement. While some academics point at 8th August 1836 as the date of the first arrival of the first group making up of the Nelsons, some put it a little later. The family which provides the Tabom chief, the Nelsons, was led by Kangidi Asuman. The surname could be a bastardised form of Osuman or Asuman. Many of the returnees migrated from Bahaia, Brazil.
Visiting The Brazil House
In 2005 the Tabom House was restored as a UNESCO heritage site. Taking my friends down Brazil Lane, walking on the path the my ancestors (Adjuma my great-great-great-grandmother, mentioned above, a close relative of Mamman Nassau who built the original Brazil House building) I felt a sense of pride. I am often frustrated however, about the lack of resources available to make this area of Accra a sustainable tourist destination. I feel so much more can be done to support the local community create an income stream – even selling some ‘Tabom’ souvenirs or running a cafe in the Brazil House to name a few ideas.
If you’re brave enough to venture down here or the wider Jamestown area without a local person (be it a paid guide or someone who speaks the language), it’s bound to feel daunting despite being rich in history and a most-visit in Accra. That said, the locals are used to seeing foreigners, particularly with the popularity of the Chale Wote festival which covers Jamestown and neighbouring districts. Being able to speak Ga, the local language of Greater Accra (the Tabom people quickly assimilated though marriages. Portuguese is not spoken) is an advantage I used to ward off any potential opportunists smelling naive foreigners approaching a mile off.
I don’t think I noticed just now neglected the Brazil House looked, perhaps due to lack of funds it once had in my former visits in 2010. It’s once vibrant yellow coat looked ashy from layers of red dust. Even the sign proudly honouring the building as the Cradle of the Tabom people was gone. Despite this, there’s no denying the sense of belonging and pride brewing inside me as we approached the building.
The door to the house was closed. There are not official opening or closing times. Just as there is no official fee to pay to enter. An aunty usually sits outside. Depending on her quick ‘size-you-up’ is whether they’ll be a price at the door and a small token you can offer when you leave. On this occasion, the aunty remembered me from my former visits (though technically I have a right to visit my ancestral home). If a lack of memory was to intervene I would just have to mention my late Aunty Marian, aka Naa Merya, and – sorted!
Once inside there isn’t much to do or see as there’s no longer a museum on the lower ground floor. The courtyard however is a great space to sit and chill particularly if you’re with a group, and that’s exactly what we did for a few hours just soaking in the vibe – and the colourful murals on the wall.
The only thing missing was to offer a libation to the ancestors… But that can be for next time when I lead another group of visitors home again!
“You can know a place your whole life and not fully know it… Thanks Kai for the tour in Jamestown about your ancestors the Tabom people from Brazil.” – @barbarantumy
This lockdown has inspired (and provided the much needed time) to start writing my Tabom story. A Tabom Girl will address by journey exploring multifaceted identity, my ancestry and culture in Brazil and Ghana.
Is Accra is on you ‘to visit’ list? Don’t miss the opportunity to visit and discover more about the Tabom community in Otublohum (a short stroll from Ussher Fort and Jamestown)!
Find out more about my research tracing my Tabom heritage CLICK HERE
As always I’d love to hear your thoughts or suggestions in the comment box below!