Short History of the Tabom People of Ghana

Tabom – The Afro-Brazilian community of Accra

It was very strange for me as a Brazilian to arrive in Ghana and hear tales of a people called “Tabom”, because of the familiarity of the term with greetings in the Brazilian Portuguese. The Tabom People is an Afro-Brazilian community of former slaves, who decided to come back to the African continent of their ancestors, after they bought their own freedom in Brazil*. When they arrived in Accra they could speak only Portuguese, so they greeted each oth er with “Como está?” (How are you?) to which the reply was “Tá bom”, so the Ga people of Accra started to call them the Tabom People.

Nii Alasha, extreme left, with Ga Chiefs including Nii Tackie Tawiah.

We in Brazil already know about various communities of Afro-Brazilian descendants in West Africa, most of them spread through Benin, Nigeria and Togo. Some studies estimate that in the 19th Century approximately 10,000 former slaves decided to return to Africa. Throughout these countries we can find estates, schools and museums with the name “Brazil”. In Lagos there is an estate called “Brazilian Quarter” and a club with the name “Brazilian Social Club”; in Benin we can find a school called “Ecole Bresil”. In those countries it is very common to find family names like Souza, Silva, Olympio or Cardoso. Some of them were very well known in their countries. One was the late Sylvanus Epiphanio Kwami Olympio who was elected the first President of Togo in 1960. The first Chacha of Benin, that means the chief and controller of trade and relations with foreigners, was the Afro-Brazilian Francisco Felix de Souza, he became very rich due to his involvement in the slave traffic. He had 53 wives, 80 children and about 12,000 slaves. When he died, he left an empire of an estimated 120 Millions Dollars to his successors. The royal line of the Chachas still exists nowadays in Togo. The first Brazilian Ambassador to Ghana arrived in 1961. He was an Afro-Brazilian called Raymundo de Souza Dantas. He cites in his book “Africa dificil”, that he received a letter from a Togolese called Benedito de Souza, who alleged to be his cousin.

Tabom Mantse Nii Azumah V dancing during the outdooring ceremony at the Stool House (February 26th, 2000).

In Ghana, the only representative group of people that decided to come back from Brazil is the Tabom People. They came back on a ship called S. S. Salisbury, offered by the English Government. About seventy Afro-Brazilians of seven different families arrived in Accra, in the region of the old port in James Town in 1836, coming from Nigeria as visitors. The reception by the Mantse Nii Ankrah of the Otoblohum area was so friendly, 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. Since that time the Nelson family has been very important to the History of the Tabom People. 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 and environmental sanitation.

At the present moment the Tabom Mantse is Nii Azumah V, descendant of the Nelson’s. The Tabons 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 Mr. Dan Morton, another Tabom and one of the most famous tailors nowadays in Accra.

Because they were welcomed by the Ga people and received by their king as personal guests, the Tabons received lands in privileged locations, in places that are nowadays very well known estates, like Asylum Down, the area near to the central train station and around the Accra Breweries. 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 “Tabon Street”, which is a reminder of the huge plantations that they formerly had there. Some of the Tabons live nowadays in James Town, where the first house built and used by them as they arrived in Ghana is located. It is called the “Brazil House” and can be found in a short street with the name “Brazil Lane”.

The Tabons did not arrive poor, but rather with much wealth. Because of their agricultural skills, they started plantations of mango, cassava, beans and other vegetables. They brought also skills such as irrigation techniques, architecture, carpentry, blacksmithing, gold smithing, tailoring, amongst others, which certainly improved the quality of life of the whole community.

Apart from all these contributions, they also influenced the religious life of the community, helping in the definitive establishment of the Islamic religion and the preservation of some African religions that they modified in Brazil, like the shango. Nowadays the Tabons are completely integrated in the Ghanaian society and are a part of the Otublohum Section of the Ga People.

* Up to now it is not very clear, if they really bought their freedom and decided to immediately come back or if they were at that time free workers in Brazil, but were deported after the Male Revolt of 1835. A lot of Afro-Brazilians were deported back to Africa, especially Moslems who organised the Male Revolt. Since they arrived accidentally in 1836 in Accra and most of them were Moslems, it can possibly be the case. Only detailed and deeper studies can prove one of the suppositions.

Marco Aurelio Schaumloeffel, Brazilian lecturer in Ghana. 2004©

Note: This text was originally posted on the website of the Embassy of Brazil in Ghana from 2004-2007 on its then website brasilghana.org (deactivated since 2007).

Sources:

– DANTAS, Raymundo Souza. África difícil. (Missão condenada : Diário). Rio de Janeiro : Editora Leitura S/A, 1965.

– Programme of the Swearing In Ceremony of Tabon Mantse Nii Azumah V. February 26th, 2000. Pages 2-3.

– Conversations with members of the Tabom People, recorded by the author of this text.

Moro no Brasil

 

Moro no Brasil, de Mika Kaurismäki

Neve, vento cortante, frio alojado debaixo da pele. Ponto de partida: escandinávia. Ponto de permanência: Brasil. Ontem assisti em Bremen a Pictureum filme do finlandês Mika Kaurismäki, que mora no Brasil há dez anos, daí se explica o nome dado ao trabalho. Segundo a imprensa alemã, o documentário trata de ritmos nacionais, mais precisamente de samba, sendo uma espécie de  Buena Vista Social Club tupiniquim.  De forma engraçada uma revista faz alusão à diferenças de estilo, diferenciando samba de samba, dizendo que rapidamente se percebe diferenças entre o que parece ser a mesma coisa. Ledo engano. Kaurismäki faz muito mais do que isso. É uma verdadeira viagem musical que se inicia no sertão pernambucano e termina com o Funk’n Lata de São Paulo. Contado histórias pitorescas de personagens reais, o diretor, que viaja pelo interior do Brasil pobre com um velho jipe, mostra de forma nua e bela a simplicidade com que pessoas, muitas vezes sem oportunidade de acesso à instrução institucional, mas com enorme bagagem cultural e musical invejáveis, mostram ritmos e melodias complexas. A verdadeira música popular brasileira – sem maiúsculas ou abreviações – é o enfoque. Mesmo para os brasileiros o filme certamente passa a impressão do pouco que conhecemos desse lindo baú, empoeirado e jogado em algum canto, tão pouco valorizado e mostrado pela imprensa e os meios musicais do Brasil.

A música popular apresentada por Kaurismäki mostra todo o sofrimento, a alegria e a cultura das regiões por ele visitadas. A diversidade impressiona, a simplicidade contagia.

Visto no estrangeiro, certamente o filme peca, pois dá a impressão de que não existam dois Brasis díspares, de que há somente um país, rico musicalmente, miserável em sua infraestrutura. O que para nós parece claro faltou obveizar – me desculpem se crio neologismos – aos estrangeiros, já que primeiro rodou no exterior (e talvez nunca venha aos cinemas brasileiros); faltou a referência ao contexto popular, ao meio no qual esta música brota e está inserida, às discrepâncias que há entre as camadas sociais, à globalização americanizada da classe média. Sem essa didatização, que parece, a princípio, absurda, os menos informados em relação ao Brasil, ou seja, a grande maioria dos europeus, mesmo os que movimentam culturalmente o Velho Continente, deduzirá que somos, por excelência, favelas.

Ver músicos como Silvério Pessoa e Mestre Salustiano é deparar com a essência de um Brasil de beleza bruta, virgem com lábios de mel. Não assista ao filme com pretensões de achar um fim ou um começo. O bom do final é que fica a gostosa sensação de que Kaurismäki elucidou apenas uma migalha dessa vastidão.

Marco Aurelio Schaumloeffel