The urban history of Afro- Brazillians in Ghana

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The Brazil house which is located on the Brazil lane in Jamestown was built in 1836 bearing the beautiful footprints of Accra’s urban history.

It housed the Tabom or Agudas people, who were the Afro-Brazilian community mostly of Yoruba descent. The Tabom people are an Afro-Brazilian community of former slaves returnees about 3,000 and 8,000.

According to historical reports of Ghana, they came back on a ship called SS Salisbury, offered by the British government. Those who arrived in South Ghana and Accra, were numbered about seventy Afro- Brazillians of seven different families.

The reception by the then Mantse, Nii Ankrah of the Otublohum area was so warm that they decided to settle down in Accra. The leader of the Tabom group at the time of their arrival was a certain Nii Azumah Nelson. The eldest son of Azumah Nelson, Nii Alasha, was his successor and a very close friend to the Ga King Nii Tackie Tawiah. Together they helped in the development of the whole community in commerce.

The name Tabom was established, when they arrived in Jamestown, Accra and could speak only Portuguese, so they greeted each other with “Como está?” (How are you?) to which the reply was “Tá bom”, so the Ga-Adangbes who primarily inhabited the Jamestown neighborhood  started to call them the Tabom People.

Because they were welcomed by the Ga-Adangbe people and received by their kings as personal guests, the Taboms received lands in privileged locations, in places that are very well known estates these days, such as, Asylum Down and around the Accra Brewery Company.

One can say that, in those areas, the mango trees planted by them bear silent witnesses to their presence. In the estate of North Ridge there is a street called “Tabom Street”, which is a reminder of the huge plantations that they formerly had. Some of the Taboms live nowadays in James Town, where the first house built and used by them as they arrived in South Ghana is located.

It is called the “Brazil House” and can be found in a short street with the name “Brazil Lane”. Due to their agricultural skills, they started plantations of mango, cassava, beans and other vegetables. They brought along from slavery, skills such as irrigation techniques, architecture, carpentry, blacksmithing, gold smithing, tailoring, amongst others, which certainly improved the quality of life of the whole community.

In Ghana, the de Souza family who were part of the seven Afro Brazillian families to have settled in Accra Ghana after their return, can be found around Osu, Kokomele and other parts of the Greater Accra region and South Ghana. Sekondi-Takoradi and Cape Coast are also other bases. Almost all of them remained along the coastal regions of South Ghana.

However, it is very common to see a De Souza, a Wellington, a Benson, a Josiah, a Pereria, a Palmares, a Nelson, an Azumah, Amorin, Da Costa, Santos, De Medeiros, Nunoo, Olympio, Maslieno, Maselino (a changed version of ‘Maslieno’ by the late Rev. Canon Seth Nii Adulai Maselino ((1919 – 1994)) whose parents originated from Maslieno House in Adabraka, Accra) and other Afro-Brazilians in Ghana speaking perfect Ga-Adangbe language. This is because most of the Afro-Brazilian people married the Ga-Adangbes.

Till today, it is not very clear, if the Tabom really bought their freedom and decided to immediately come back or if they were at that time free workers in Brazil, they came after the Malê Revolt of 1835 in Bahia. A lot of Afro-Brazilians when persecuted found their way back to Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria especially those who organised the Malê Revolt.

The Malê Revolt was a Muslim slave rebellion in Brazil which was scheduled for a Sunday during Ramadan in January 1835, in the city of Salvador da Bahia. A group of enslaved African Muslims and freedmen, inspired by Muslim teachers, rose up against the government.

The revolt was forced to occur on Saturday January 24, a day before the scheduled date as rumours had hit the Portuguese leaders on their plan.

Slaves began to hear rumors of an upcoming rebellion. While there are multiple accounts of freed slaves telling their previous masters about the revolts, only one was reported to the proper authorities. Sabina da Cruz, an ex-slave, had a fight with her husband, Vitório Sule the day before and went looking for him. She found him in a house with many of the other revolt organizers and after they told her tomorrow they would be masters of the land she reportedly said, “on the following day they would be masters of the whiplash, but not of the land.”.[5] After leaving this house, she went to her friend Guilhermina, a freedwoman, who Sabina knew had access to whites. Guilhermina then proceeded to tell her white neighbor, André Pinto da Silveira.

Several of Pinto de Silveira’s friends were present, including Antônio de Souza Guimarães and Francisco Antônio Malheiros, who took it upon themselves to relay the information to the local authorities.

The then President, His excellency, Francisco de Souza Martins informed the Chief of Police of the situation, reinforced the palace guard, alerted the barracks, doubled the night patrol, and ordered boats to watch the bay. On Sunday, justices of the peace searched the home of Domingos Marinho de Sá. Domingos reported to the patrol that the only Africans in his house were his tenants. However, sensing Domingos’ fear, the justices asked to see for themselves. They went down into his basement and found the ringleaders, discussing last minute details. The Africans were able to turn the officers out into the streets and then started the revolt.

Fearful that the whole state of Bahia would follow the example of Saint-Domingue (Haiti) and rise up and revolt, the authorities quickly sentenced four of the rebels to death, sixteen to prison, eight to forced labour, and forty-five to flogging. Two hundred of the remainder of the surviving leaders of the revolt were then deported by municipal authorities back to Africa; they employed the slaver Francisco Félix de Sousa for the Atlantic journey. The deportees, who consisted of freed and enslaved Africans, were sent in stages to the Bight of Benin.

It is believed that some members of the Brazilian community in Lagos, Nigeria, Tabom People of Ghana are descended from this deportation, although descendants of these Afro-Brazilian repatriates are reputed to be widespread throughout West Africa (such as Sylvanus Olympio, the first president of Togo).
In present times, the Tabom Mantse is Nii Azumah V, a descendant of the Nelsons. The Taboms are also known as the founders of the First Scissors House in 1854, the first tailoring shop in the country, which had amongst other activities, the task to provide the Ghanaian Army with uniforms. Proof of these skills is without any doubt Dan Morton, another Tabom and one of the most famous tailors nowadays in Accra.

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