FEA­TURES Seriki Wil­liams Abass: 19th cen­tury slave mer­chant who mar­ried 128 wives

A slave rose to be­come a founder of towns as well as a mas­ter of lan­guages, and he soon emerged as a ma­jor fac­tor in 19th cen­tury Bada­gry.

Daily Trust - - FEATURES - By Tadaferua Ujorha who was in Bada­gry

He was one of the many slaves of Abass of Da­homey, and since a slave will al­ways bear the name of his mas­ter, he be­came known as Abass. When he was bought by Wil­liams, an­other slave owner who took him to Brazil where he learnt four lan­guages, he now bore the name Wil­liams, mak­ing him Wil­liams Abass, an in­ter­est­ing com­bi­na­tion of names which seem to unite two world views. Abass, a Mus­lim, had great in­flu­ence on the young Abass which man­i­fested even in far off Brazil, and so very soon Wil­liams Abass con­verted to Is­lam. He was made leader of the Mus­lim com­mu­nity in Bada­gry by the time he re­turned to La­gos as a slave mer­chant, which was a ma­jor de­par­ture from his slave be­gin­nings. Abass was born at Ijoga Orile town in Ogun State, and his name at birth was Famer­ilekun.

An ac­count writ­ten by Anago Osho, the multi tal­ented and ar­tic­u­late guide at the Seriki Wil­liams Abass Mu­seum at Bada­gary, states “Mr. Wil­liams bought him as a slave from Abass and took him to Brazil. There, in Brazil, Mr. Wil­liams re­alised there was some­thing un­usual about him. So, he re­fused to sell the boy, and took him to his house as a do­mes­tic slave. The boy him­self was so in­tel­li­gent that he learnt how to speak English, Dutch, Por­tuguese, and Span­ish through Mr. Wil­liams and the friends of Mr. Wil­liams in Brazil.” Later on Mr. Wil­liams in­vited Abass to be a part­ner in his slave busi­ness. Osho writes “Mr. Wil­liams spon­sored him back to Africa. The first place he set­tled at was the colony of La­gos. He first set­tled at Ofin near Isale Eko on La­gos Is­land.” The for­mer slave had all of a sud­den, now be­come a part­ner in the slave busi­ness.

Very soon Abass left La­gos and went and set­tled in the Bada­gry area where the slave trade busi­ness was flour­ish­ing at that time, but he still main­tained ties with Wil­liams who was in Brazil. Osho states “In Bada­gry, through the sup­port of Mr. Wil­liams and his friends, the Brazil­ian Bar­ra­coon was built for him, and he also spent his money and the labour was sup­plied by his slaves.” The Bar­ra­coon was first built of bam­boo around 1840. But later on it was re­built with bricks, iron cor­ru­gated sheets and hinges, which were im­ported into Bada­gry for its con­struc­ton. Abass now be­came a mid­dle­man and fa­cil­i­ta­tor of the slave trade. In keep­ing with this po­si­tion his Bar­ra­coon in Bada­gry was made up of 40 slave cells where men and women were kept separately, that is 40 of them in a small room, un­til they were ready to be shipped to Europe and Amer­ica through the point of no re­turn on nearby Gberefu Is­land. When the trade in slaves was abol­ished, Abass quickly ad­justed his in­ter­ests, and he be­came a gen­eral mer­chant who traded di­rectly with the Brazil­ians and Ger­man mer­chants such as G.L. Gai­sei, Witt and Busch. In Osho’s words “He leased out his houses and landed prop­erty for ro­bust prof­its.” Af­ter a while Abass sta­tus rose.

Again Osho writes “By 1895 his wealth and sta­tus had be­come so out­stand­ing to the ex­tent that the Mus­lim com­mu­nity elected him as their Seriki (Head). In 1897 he also be­came Seriki Musulmi of the whole west­ern Yoruba­land around the Eg­bado cor­ri­dor.”

There are many firsts as­so­ci­ated with him: In 1895 Ma­jor J.E Ewart made him the po­lit­i­cal ruler of Bada­gry. Abass built the Bada­gry Cen­tral Mosque, at Sango, Bada­gry in 1896, and in 1898 he founded Egbe Killa. In 1902 the Bada­gry Coun­cil was es­tab­lished and Seriki Abass be­came its pres­i­dent. In 1902 he also founded Aiyetoro in present day Ogun State, and he be­came its first ruler. He had 128 wives and 144 children, and many of his de­scen­dants can be found on La­gos Is­land and also in Kano, says Osho. But there doesn’t seem to be much in­for­ma­tion on his wives, or how he man­aged to have a very full house­hold. Seriki Abass died on 11

Pho­tos: Tadaferua Ujorha

Abass’ res­i­dence in Bada­gry is now a mu­seum.

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