“A ni ominira!” is Yoruba for “We are free!” On 4th May, 1838, one thousand and forty three (1,043) Yoruba and Egbar African slaves were rescued by two British Man of War, H.M. ‘Pearl’ and ‘Sappho.’
They were all brought to Nassau.
“Ope fun oye”
“Praise god for life”
Snatched, by the hundreds, from Africa, and bound for slavery in the sugar fields of Cuba, the plantations of South America, and the cotton fields of the United States, the Yoruba and the Egbar natives were brought to the Bahamas. By law, rescued slaves were to be taken to the nearest friendly British port.
May 4th, 1838, would be the first time any of them had stepped foot on dry land in months. For some, it would be the first time they had seen daylight or breathed fresh air in weeks.
They were sick. Beaten. Starving. Some of them, especially the young, had very serious eye infections. Some would never see again. Many were covered in weeping sores and suffered from atrophy of the limbs from lack of movement. They wanted for water, food, freedom and home.
Down in the dark hole of the ship they probably could hear the battle going on above when the British seized their floating prison. And when the door to the hold finally opened, as streams of bright sunlight beamed in, undoubtedly they rejoiced and cried out “ran wa lowo” “help us.”
As one thousand and forty three of them, finally stood for the first time on Bahamian shores, undoubtedly they were told that this new, unfamiliar island would be their new home… forever. They were told that none of them would see Africa ever again. The journey would be impossible. Then the group were probably marched over the hill towards Grant’s Town, and left to fend for themselves.
They had to make their own shelters.
Build their own huts.
Find their own food.
Learn the new language, the new rules, the new religion and pledge new allegiances to the British king.
As the first generation of Yorubas and Egbars passed away, and a new generation were born in Grant’s Town, the memory of the terrible journey through the Middle Passage faded.
They were no longer African, but now British subjects.
They were no longer Muslim, or whatever their native religion may have been. They were now Christian.
The old language soon faded also. English was now spoken. Demanded even.
Their names changed as well.
Every tradition of Africa was slowly being forgotten. Except for one. The tradition of remembrance had not been forgotten.
Some 46 years later, on May 4th , 1884, as they probably had in years past, the Yorubas and the Egbars remembered the day of their ancestors landing in the new world, and a desperately difficult beginning to their new life, in the Bahamas. They remembered it in a Christian church, pledging allegiance to the new English monarch, Queen Victoria. God Save the Queen.
MEMORY IS IDENTITY
REMEMBRANCE SERVICES TO COMMEMORATE THE RESCUE OF THE YORUBA AND EGBAR AFRICANS
Nassau, Bahamas, May, 1884
By 1884, the Grant’s Town Friendly Societies were firmly established. The Yoruba Friendly Society, the Egbar Friendly Society, and the Congo Friendly Society were mostly burial societies. Friendly societies were encouraged as a way of forcing a measure of financial independence of the various African tribes. While the Bahamas may have taken a few thousand liberated Africans, there was simply no way that the Assembly at that time, was prepared to underwrite all of their financial needs. This is why Grant’s Town sat mired in the most extreme poverty the new British-Bahamians had ever known. In Africa, there was space. In Grant’s Town, they were forced to live in a swamp area. There was no real space for the agricultural Africans to farm. The land was dry and hard. There was no wild meat to hunt. They were forced to take to the sea for food.
Monies collected by the Societies were mostly used as burial funds, and if possible, a little was given to widows and orphans.
Samson Hunt was President of the Yoruba Society, John Storr, President of the Egbar Society, and R. S. A. Cambridge was Secretary for both.
(Nassau Times, Wednesday May 7, 1884)