Slavery in the world was an absolute evil, and its transatlantic brand has become one of the most visible and contemporary pointers to its gruesome reality. Many things have crossed my mind since I wrote the article for the Nigerian newspaper NEXT (reproduced here on the blog) on my experience at Badagry examining the slave relics and the role of African (nay, Nigerian) families in the propagation of the trade. One of the pressing ones was whether it was right or moral or fair that descendants of the slave traders were the owners of the many private museums now at Badagry housing the original relics of the horrible time. Unfortunately it is not a slam-dunk open and shut case.
On the one hand is the right of any citizen to make money off of anything as long as it doesn’t pose any harm to the other person. On the other hand is the tug of annoyance in our heads when we realize that every time we pay money to gain access into the private museums, we continue to fund the machinery that once profited at the expense of millions of helpless lives. Then there is the added complexity we find in the need for information from whatever source. The slave trade is a historical fact, and there is so much that needs to be told about it. Generations after us will retain the same level of curiosity as us, if not more, and would ask questions. And who best to answer them than the true descendants of the slavers who know either from word of mouth or from family treasures of relics exactly what went on at the time and the role their families played.
In a normal working society though, one would expect that those artifacts would be in custody of a working government, with sufficient documents and audio-visual materials there detailing all that needs to be told about the period, and the proceeds going to take care of the citizens. Will this, if implemented, violate some principle of “free market” and private ownerships? Maybe. But when descendants of slavers still profit from the trade this indirectly, it rubs the nose of the society in the indignity, and it elevates evil one some level. The Mobee “royal family” of Badagry are an elite family already there. I don’t assume that they need any more of the dirty money that must come from tourists all over the world wanting to know about slavery. How do they even deal with the shame it must bring to ask people to bring their money to see what your ancestors used to enslave others? Have they thought about it, or don’t they care about what their lineage represent in history? I imagine a private concentration camp in Germany – if there was one – being run today by descendants of the racist anti-semitic people and profiting from it, whether or not their descendants still retain the same level of hate for the descendants of the victims. Or descendants of John Wilkes Booth being the ones in charge of the Lincoln Presidenial Museum earning money by showing off a few of the killer’s tools to the world. Something is definitely wrong there.