These Africans shamelessly played an active role in the transatlantic slave trade (2)

It has been established that the demand for slaves during the Transatlantic slave trade was fuelled by the availability of a supply chain which involved African rulers and tradesmen who made a fortune out of selling people.

Between 1525 and 1866, 12.5 million Africans were shipped to North America, the Caribbean and South America, according to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database. Only about 10.7 million survived the dreadful journey under bondage in slave ships.

The slave trade contributed to the expansion of the most powerful West African kingdoms such as Mali and Ghana, as the business became one of the main sources of foreign exchange for many years.

Britain banned the slave trade in 1807 and the United States later abolished it in 1865. Brazil was the last to ban it in the Caribbean in 1888 marking the end of the barbarism inflicted on men, women and children of colour and their descendants.

There were recorded protests by West African chiefs and traders after the abolition of slave trade due to the loss of revenue. In West Africa, the slave traders were known as caboceers and they lived on the coast. They were usually appointed by the African rulers to deal directly with the European slave merchants. 

In the second of the two-part article, here are some notorious chiefs and caboceers who were actively involved in the transatlantic slave trade.

Niara Bely (1790 – 1879)

Also known as Elizabeth Bailey Gomez, she was a Luso-African queen who became a prominent businesswoman in nineteenth-century Guinea. She was active in the slave trade in Farenya, Guinea.

She studied in Liverpool where she adopted the name Elizabeth.

Okoro Idozuka

He was a 19th-century leader and warrior in the Arondizuogu area of what is now Nigeria. He was a senior advisor to the founder of Ndiakunwanta Uno Arondizuogu village and also a leader in his own right, expanding Arondizuogu’s boundaries. He was a wealthy slave trader like Izuogu Mgbokpo.

Okoroji Oti

He was a local chief in Ujari, one of the nineteen villages in Arochukwu, Abia State, Nigeria. He was reputable for being a slave merchant who built the Okoroji House Museum, a historic house museum. Oral history has it that four hundred people were sacrificed to Ibini Ukpabi after his death as the head of the oracle.

Oshodi Tapa monument in Lagos

Oshodi Tapa (1800 – 1868)

He was Oba Kosoko’s war captain and one of the most powerful chiefs in the Oba of Lagos’ court. He is reported to have been a slave from the Nupe Kingdom at Bida. Accounts note that when he was a little boy about to be loaded onto a Portuguese ship bound for the Americas, he escaped and sought refuge in Oba Osinlokun’s palace.

He and another slave (Dada Antonio) were sent by Oba Osilokun to Brazil to learn Portuguese, acquire the necessary commercial and cultural knowledge to conduct trade on behalf of the Oba and to collect duties from Portuguese slave traders. After serving Osilokun, Oshodi Tapa became a key adviser and military chief of Oba Kosoko.

He successfully transitioned from human trafficking to expanding into producing palm oil, cotton, and ivory using slave labour.

Antera Duke

He was an 18th-century African slave dealer and Efik chief from Calabar in eastern Nigeria (now in Cross River State). His diary, written in Nigerian Pidgin English, was discovered in Scotland and published. This diary records his interactions with British merchants to whom he sold slaves; he writes about wearing “white man trousers” and entertaining the merchants he traded with.

Emmanuel Gomez, senior

Emmanuel Gomez was a Luso-African from Bissau who founded a Luso-African dynasty in Bakia, Guinea in the eighteenth century. He was the father of Emmanuel Gomez, junior and Niara Bely.

Emmanuel Gomez, senior

Emmanuel Gomez was a Luso-African from Bissau who founded a Luso-African dynasty in Bakia, Guinea in the eighteenth century. He was the father of Emmanuel Gomez, junior and Niara Bely.

Gezo, the Dahomey King in an 1851 publication

He was King of Dahomey, in present-day Benin, from 1818 until 1858. Ghezo replaced his brother Adandozan (who ruled from 1797 to 1818) as king through a coup with the assistance of the Brazilian slave trader Francisco Félix de Sousa.

He suffered a British blockade of the ports of Dahomey in order to stop the Atlantic slave trade. He also dealt with significant domestic dissent and pressure from the British to end the slave trade.

Betsy Heard (1759 – 1812)

She was a Euro‐African slave trader and merchant whose father was an entrepreneur who had travelled from Liverpool, England, to the Los Islands, off the coast of what is now Guinea, in the mid-1700s. Her mother was African.

Heard’s father sent her to England to study and she later returned to West Africa and set up a trading post on the Bereira River. She inherited her father’s slave-trading factory and connections, and by 1794, established a monopoly on the slave trade in the area. She owned the main wharf in Bereira, several trading ships, and a warehouse until her retirement.

Group photo of Seriki Williams Abass and his council members

Seriki Williams Abass

He was a renowned slave merchant during the 19th century and a former paramount ruler of Badagry.

Born Ifaremilekun Fagbemi in Joga-Orile, a town in Ilaro, Ogun State, Abass was captured as a slave by a Dahomean slave merchant called Abassa during one of the Dahomey–Egba clashes. He was later sold to a certain Brazilian slave dealer called Williams who took Abass to Brazil as a domestic servant and taught him how to read and write in Dutch, English, Spanish and Portuguese languages.

He returned to Nigeria on the condition of working with Mr Williams as a slave trade business partner. He first settled at Ofin, Isale-Eko in the Colony of Lagos before he relocated to Badagry in the 1830s.

He succeeded in his slave-trade business while in Badagry and soon became the first person in the Egbado division of Badagry to own a lorry, the “Seriki Ford” he bought in 1919 to ply the Abeokuta–Aiyetoro Road. His wealth brought him respect and made him hold various top political and organizational positions.

This article was first published by Ismail Akwei on

Published by Ismail Akwei

Ismail Akwei is an international journalist, digital media and communications professional, editor, writer, arts, culture and tourism advocate, human rights activist, pan-Africanist, tech enthusiast and history buff. He has worked with multinational media companies across Africa and has over a decade’s experience in journalism.

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