The story of how the Tabom people (an Afro-Brazilian community of former slave returnees mainly of Yoruba descent*) that migrated from Brazil to West Africa has long fascinated me. Those of you who know me know of my love affair with Brazil, my search for its Twi-speaking community and my crazy experiences in the country over four trips.
So, you can imagine my utter excitement when I found a living descendent of the Afro-Brazilian community right under my nose in London. Her name is Kai Lutterodt. She’s British-Ghanaian, a recent journalism graduate and her two-part story is fascinating.
Lutterodt first learnt about her Tabom roots from her dad when she was eight years old. “I always considered it to be this exotic side that I had. It wasn’t until I became older that I explored it a bit further and I found out that it was a lot to do with slavery.
“Obviously, as an African, I could empathise with slavery but I never associated it with part of my history. So discovering my Tabom ancestry and its connection to slavery made me part of that discourse even more.”
Lutterodt’s initial journey to Brazil in 2009 was purely for pleasure but a second trip in 2013 shortly after an academic set back got her exploring more of the vast country (Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Belo Horizonte and Salvador). “I had failed my first year at journalism school so it was either I could fall into depression, which I was close to doing or use this opportunity to actually go to Brazil and do the research that I had always wanted to do,” she said.
Importance of oral tradition
Lutterodt had a head start however. Her paternal aunt Marian, who recently passed, was able to furnish her with oral knowledge of her Tabom roots. “My aunt was only a child but she used to hear her mother organise family meetings in Brazil House (the cradle of the Tabom people and now a museum in Otublohum, near Jamestown, Accra) and would pick up information that way.”
Lutterodt also got her hands on ‘Sou Brasileiro’ by Alcione Meira Amos and Ebenezer Ayesu, which coincidentally cited her great grandfather as a case study of the Tabom returnees.
The book also mentions other ancestors including his mother and his mother’s mother – who made the initial journey from Brazil to Ghana. “The author got almost all of the information right except some of the names were in the wrong order,” said Lutterodt. “The beauty of Ghanaian names is they have a meaning and usually, it helps to describe the order of sequence of children when they are born. My great great grandmother had twins so it turns out the author got the order wrong which my aunt rectified.”
Lutterodt’s Tabom journey starts with her great great great grandmother Aduma (or Adsuma) who is thought to have come to Ghana between 1829 and 1836. It is well documented that two ships sailed from Brazil to Nigeria during those years with some of the returnees travelling on to Ghana. The second ship sailed a year after the famous Malê Revolt of Bahia during which enslaved Africans rose up against their Brazilian slave masters.
Malê means Muslim and it is widely believed that many of the six million Africans transported to Brazil were Hausas – an ethnic community spanning much of western Africa – many of whom follow the Islamic faith. Lutterodt’s great great great grandmother Aduma came to Ghana with a child or children and a male relative – either a cousin or a brother called Mamman (Mohammed) Nasau. He was the leader of that clan and the family head of Brazil House. “I like the idea that Aduma was a single mother. I find it very empowering,” said Lutterodt. “I love travelling and it makes me think just how brave it was for her to leave her known surroundings to go to the unknown “Aduma’s child or children had the surname Peregrino – a common Tabom name. Aduma went on to have a further child following a marriage to a man called Ade who was related to the Ga Royal House. This child – Adelaide (Lutterodt’s great great grandmother) – went on to marry a reverend.
Skills and prosperity
Like many other Tabom settlers, Lutterodt’s ancestors brought transferable skills and prospered thanks to the hospitality of the local Ga Manste who gave land to the new settlers. Lutterodt ancestors boast an enviable line of tailors and seamstresses. Her great grandfather became a merchant, and his brothers were lawyers who had trained at Lincoln’s Inn, Holborn in London.
“It is surreal for me to cycle past there and think – oh wow, I have a connection,” said Lutterodt.
But her exploration is not over. “There are still some mysteries in terms of names. My aunty was quite sure we had an ancestor called Fatima, who may have been a sibling that was married off into another family. And I would love to think there is someone in Brazil doing the same research as me which could somehow highlight a link between our two families.”
* Marco Aurelio Schaumloeffel (2014) Tabom. ‘The Afro-Brazilian Community in Ghana’.
In part two (here) Lutterodt talks about the vestiges of Tabom culture, food and language that remain in Ghana, and how her trip inspired the launch of Diversity Matters – an awareness platform which aims to promote diversity at the University of the Arts London (UAL).
For more posts like this, check out The Brasil 2014 World Cup: a family affair
To learn more about Lutterodt’s ancestral explorations, check out her blog here.
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