Saturday 9 July 2022

Excerpt from - Amazing struggle: Dasalu, global Yoruba networks, and the fight against slavery, 1851–1856

John Baptist Dasalu:

Variously called Dasalu, John Baptist, John Baptist Dasalu or just “D” or “O” by his Egba and Christian allies, the Dahomeans knew him as Ogan or Hougan, while in Cuba he was Nicolas Lucumi, Juan Bautista and Nicolas Baptiste Lucumi. These many names reflect the diversity of Dasalu’s experiences in slavery, shifting identities and the complexities of the Yoruba factor in the Atlantic slave trade. The names captured his identities as Egba (Dasalu), Christian and British (John Baptist), Dahomean/Fon (Ogan/Hougan), and Cuban/Spanish Catholic (Nicolas) and Afro-Cuban (Nicolas Lucumi) and travelling to and residencies in Yorubaland, Dahomey, and Cuba. ...

Born free into an elite family, Dasalu had sold slaves making his story fascinating as we explore him in the shoes of his erstwhile victims. He was like Ayuba Suleiman Diallo of Futa Bundu in Gambia. A renowned slave trader, he was seized during a trade journey, sold to one of his European clients, who shipped him to Maryland in 1731. Ayuba exploited his knowledge of the Atlantic system to secure his freedom and return home in 1734 only to resume his old trade....

In May 1851, news reached Abeokuta of the sightings of Egba captives in Badagry. The report came from Rev. Crowther who met some newly freed Egba men on their way home from Porto Novo after their redemption from Domingo Jose Martinez, a Brazilian slave trader in the town, to whom Gezo had sold them. When news reached Abeokuta about the presence of Egba captives in Badagry, including some thought to have died in battle, relatives of missing soldiers rushed there to verify the story and ransom their lost relatives or redeem those already sold into slavery. 

To his surprise, Crowther learnt that 80–90 other Egba captives including Dasalu were held in Abomey and others in Porto Novo. One of the freed slaves, who returned to Abeokuta in September 1851, said his relatives redeemed him to the tune of a slave and 40,000 cowries or the value of one-and a-half slave. Days later, another seven freed slaves reached Badagry, accompanied by a Dahomean official, sent to collect money for their freedom. Learning that her husband was alive in Abomey, Martha sought assistance to bring him home. She travelled to Badagry to seek help from Charles Gollmer, the resident CMS pastor. We may not know why Martha chose Gollmer over the clergymen in Abeokuta but Crowther might have sent her or she expected her Dasalu could be brought to the Badagry market. Whatever her reason, Gollmer agreed to help and he searched for people in contact with Dahomey leaders. 

He found a Lagos-Egba merchant, Madam Efunporoye Tinubu, who agreed to broker talk with Gezo. In June 1851, Gezo yielded to Tinubu’s plea and sent Dasalu to Ouidah in the custody of a man described as his “countryman”  (i.e. Yoruba – may be an Afro-Brazilian) who would release him upon ransom payment. This arrangement removed Dasalu from the immediate custody of his captors and offered potentials of imminent freedom as he expressed in a message to his wife in July 1851. The message – four cowries – which he sent through newly redeemed Egba slaves, literarily meant four eyes or face to face (reunification). 

When news reached Badagry that Dasalu had left Ouidah, his Christian allies rejoiced, some claiming “he had been sent down […] with the assurance of his being perfectly free.” This was incorrect for his “freedom” depended on the payment of ransom, usually fixed above the market value of the captive if sold into slavery. At the same time, report of the transfer did not reach Gollmer quickly. As late as 4 August 1851, he thought Dasalu remained in Abomey so he wrote to Louis Fraser, the British Vice-Consul in Badagry, seeking help to free Dasalu from Gezo.

Only when Gezo declared that all Egba captives had been sold towards the coast and that none remained in the city did the search shift to coastal towns though his status remained unknown.

* illustration from the Church Missionary Intelligencer 1856


H/T Dr. Lisa Earl Castillo

1 comment:

  1. I love your great blog, This is what I have always been looking for, thanks a lot and keep up the good work.


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