A look at Afro-Brazilian heritage through the architectural lens of the Brazilian Quarter in Lagos

Ama Nunoo August 04, 2020
Holy Cross Cathedral Church sitting pretty in the Brazilian Quarter in Lagos. Photo: emc3 Nigeria

Lagos is a city with a rich multicultural history as the return of the Afro-Brazilians in the 19th century can still be felt today in the Brazilian Quarter in Lagos. The returning slaves’ presence is seen through the architecture on the Quarter as they designed and built most of the buildings although most of the original structures have deteriorated.

According to a study conducted in the 19th Century, it is estimated that between 3,000 and 8,000 former slaves returned to Africa from Salvador da Bahia, Brazil. Those who took part in the Malé Revolt of 1835, described as the most significant slave rebellion in Brazil, resided in Nigeria, Ghana, Benin, and Togo.

Those who settled in Nigeria were in an area of Lagos Island known as Popo Aguda and the Afro-Brazilian population, known as “Aguda” meaning “Catholic” in Yoruba were the largest group of the returnee slaves in the 1850s.

It was Benjamin Campbell, the consul of Lagos from 1853 to 1859 who persuaded these freed Africans to emigrate from Brazil and offered the protection in exchange for their assistance with the colonial administration.

Their return to West Africa is noticeable through their contributions to the early architectural design of their settlements. Which is one form of cultural exchange that is deemed a part of the larger global black narrative on black Africa’s architectural heritage.

Speaking of cultural exchange, architecture is one of the subtle forms of the exchange that ensued between the Afro-Brazilians who returned to Lagos and other parts of West Africa.

Lagos’ architectural landscape was influenced immensely by the returning Afro-Brazilian slaves and these astonishing buildings are important indicators of a rich history.

Today, these historical landmarks are losing its value as they are threatened mostly by urbanisation and the lack of conversations about preserving the history of the Quarter, thus most of the buildings lie in ruins.

It is best to forget the horrific nature of the transatlantic slave trade but it is also important to educate the new generation on their past and the best way the Brazilian Quarter does so is seen through the integration of cultures. A trip to Lagos Island offers a unique glance into the amazing architecture and the indelible legacy of the transatlantic slave trade.

There is an outcry to save the last remaining Afro-Brazilian buildings in the Quarter because the area is experiencing swift gentrification and pervasive demolition. Local communities, activists and conversation groups have taken up the mantle to rekindle essential discussions on the preservation of the history of Afro -Brazilians in Lagos City.

Oluremi Dacosta, a conservationist, activist and a local resident of Afro-Brazilian descent is a key figure whose role to save the architecture of the Brazilian Quarter has not gone unnoticed.

Some may not understand the need to preserve the Brazilian Quarter and its architectural heritage but Dacosta sees it differently. According to him, people are curious about the Afro-Brazilian influence in Lagos and the tourism in the area has seen a major boost as all his daily tours are constantly sold-out.

He views the conservation of the area as very important to “Nigerian-Brazilian cultural heritage and […] one of the unique architectural histories on the African continent.”

Another means of preserving the heritage is the Tiwa N’ Tiwa’s Street Art Festival. An initiative that celebrates the culture of Afro-Brazilians in a three-day annual street art and community festival.

Past celebrations took place on the streets of the Brazilian Quarter where there was tour to highlight the architectural masterpieces in the Quarter led by Dacosta in collaboration with the festival organisers.

The tour included the exploration of 12 historic sites, mosques, schools, local family homes in the quarter and the churches of which the highlight was the Cathedral Church of Christ. Other activities included a block party and interactive workshop sessions.

A real glimpse of the Brazilian Quarter of Lagos can be experienced in areas around Tinubu Square Upper Campos Square, Campos Street, Igbosere Road, Broad Street Marina Road and Campbell Street.

Last Edited by:Kent Mensah Updated: August 4, 2020


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