Tabom: Brazil away from Brazil

(FOTO:MURAL BREAKING CHAINS)Around seventy Afro-Brazilians from seven different families arrived in Accra in the area of the old port of Jamestown in 1836. At that time they only spoke Portuguese and then they would greet each other with the question, “How are you?” And the answer was “Tá bom”, which means “Okay” Therefore, the Ga people, who welcomed them, began to call them Tabom. “The first group arrived in 1835. But we had others who also started to come because they knew that their brothers and sisters in Brazil were homelike here,” says the current Tabom chief, Nii Azumah V. Much of what is known about the history of this people was obtained through oral tradition, especially over their mythical arrival in Accra. However, at least three publications and a documentary on the subject have drawn attention to the historical relevance of this community. “Some have bought their freedom. Others left Brazil around the 1830s after some slave revolts in Bahia. After the end of slavery in Brazil in 1888, many free Africans decided to return to West Africa. Over time, their descendants also realized the need to reconnect with their ancestral homeland, “explains Ghanaian Kwame Essien, author of the Brazilian-African Diaspora in Ghana: The Tabom, Slavery, Dissonance of Memory, Identity and Locating Home, published In October 2016.

As a way of preserving their identity as Brazilian descendants, the Tabom seek to be seen as a distinct people with a different history from other tribes. “It is very common for them, of course, even if they do not speak Portuguese and have never gone to Brazil, they call themselves” Brazilians “, when asked about their own identity”, observes the Brazilian researcher Marco Schaumloeffel, author of the book Tabom: Afro-Brazilian Community Published in 2014.

Pride of Origin

The Tabom people have specific characteristics, different from the other ethnic groups that make up the Ga section, such as the way of dressing, typical Bahian foods, reminiscences of Yoruba and Hausa culture and how to proceed in funeral rituals. “Brazil is seen by many as their homeland, even if they were not born there,” he adds.

“They are very proud of this Brazilian heritage. But this relationship with Brazil today is more based on fantasy than on reality. They know very little about Brazil nowadays, “says Juan Diego Diaz, Colombian historian, author of the book Tabom Voices: History of the Ghanaian Afro-Brazilian Community Told by Themselves, published in 2016 by the Brazilian Embassy in Ghana, and also the documentary “Um Tabom na Bahia” (One Tabom in Bahia), which will be released soon. “Bahia is special to them. It is the land of their ancestors, “says Juan. The documentary records the visit of the percussionist conductor of the Tabom community to Bahia in July 2016. Eric Morton, the chosen one, is the third member of the community to know Brazil and the first to know Bahia in almost two hundred years.

Nii Azumah V (left) and followed by his linguist-interpreter (Marco Schaumloeffel)

Today the Tabom are organized as they have always been since their return to Africa, with a traditional leadership method equivalent to that in Ghana, with a Mantse (chief or king) and all other hierarchical activities including positions such as the Queen Mother, Interpreter, director, spokesperson, etc.

“They are part of one of the traditional leadership subdivisions of the Accra metropolitan area, more specifically they are one of the subdivisions of Otublohum’s leadership. They are part of one of the three clans from outside the region accepted among the Ga people, “says Marco Schaumloeffel.

However, it is difficult to estimate the exact number of descendants of the Tabom people that exist today in Ghana, since there is no specific census for this. It is speculated that the community exceeds 5 thousand people. “The community is dispersed. There are a lot of people who do not know what Tabom means. “

Eric and the Brazilian flag (Marco Schaumloeffel)

Vision about the country

Recent academic investigation that has resulted in books and documentaries has rekindled the pride of the Tabom people. The visit of former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to Ghana in 2005 also helped to improve Tabom’s perception of Brazil, which at the time was singled out as an merging power. “They’ve always been a marginal group. They are poor andn ave no government assistance. And the new generations believe that Brazil can bring opportunities for them. But this position that Brazil had as a power no longer exists because of the political and economic crisis of recent years. It will take time for them to understand that expectations are not very realistic, “says Juan Diego Diaz.

However, the Tabom people and other descendants of Afro-Brazilians in other West African countries can be a bridge to strengthen relations between Brazilians and Africans, especially in the cultural sphere. “The Tabom people form a kind of inverted diaspora, the diaspora of returnees, and can be a very important element in strengthening relations among peoples, a way of thinking about who we are, a way of dealing with differences and similarities, A way of learning more about ourselves, “reflects Marco Schaumloeffel.

Movement was born in the 19th century

Some studies estimate that in the 19th century around 10,000 former slaves decided to leave Brazil, returning to Africa, especially Benin, Nigeria and Togo. In many of these countries we can find properties, schools and museums under the name “Brazil”. In Lagos (Nigeria) there is a property called “Brazilian Quarter” and a club with the name “Clube Social Brasileiro”. In Benin we can find a school called “Ecole Bresil”. In these countries it is also very common to find surnames like Souza, Silva, Olympio or Cardoso.

The first president of Togo, elected in 1960, was Sylvanus Epiphanio Kwami Olympio. The first Brazilian ambassador to Ghana was an Afro-Brazilian named Raymundo de Souza Dantas. The first Brazilian ambassador to Ghana was an Afro-Brazilian named Raymundo de Souza Dantas. He cites in his book “Difficult Africa,” published in 1965, that he received a letter from a Togolese named Benedito de Souza, who claimed to be his cousin.

The various Afro-Brazilian descendant communities in many parts of West Africa were studied by Africanists such as Pierre Verger. However, there is still little dialogue between these communities. “The main causes are the relative geographic isolation between them, because there are still borders with huge bureaucratic obstacles that prevent easy transit between the countries of the region, but it is also necessary to take into account that distinct groups form the Tabom and the other groups. The internal organization is different and the Afro-Brazilian cultural expressions of these groups are not the same either “, recalls Marco Schaumloeffel.

Tabom celebrating (Marco Schaumloeffel)

Notable contributions from the community

Exposed to European, African and Amerindian cultures in native Brazil, the Tabom synthesized the knowledge of each culture and also brought valuable skills such as irrigation, architectural design and tailoring to Ghana.

Among the various useful agricultural skills, they introduced superior techniques for mango, manioc and bean cultivation. The Tabom also founded the country’s first tailoring shop, in 1854, which provided uniforms for Ghana’s army. The leader of the Tabom group upon arrival in Ghana was Nii Azumah Nelson. Since then, the Nelson family has been very important to the History of the Tabom People. Prominent names among the Tabom include world boxing champion Azuma “Professor” Nelson, current Chief Justice of Ghana, Georgina Theodora Wood,first woman to take the job, and Dan Morton, one of the country’s most famous tailors.

Brazil House

Icon of the Tabom people, Brazil House was built by a returnee in the 19th century. The place housed in the past, the family of former slaves Nassu, one of the first who arrived in Accra. The house was reopened in 2007 after undergoing a refurbishment. Today there is a historical archive on the relations between these two countries, classrooms and library. Currently, 15 to 20 people in the community live in the building.