Cândido da Fonseca Galvão, also known as Oba II d’Africa (1845-1890) was a Brazilian man who fought in the War of the Triple Alliance (also called the Paraguayan War) and claimed to be the grandson of an African prince whose son had been brought to Brazil as a slave. Galvão himself was born a free man in Bahia, and enlisted in the military at a time when Black slavery was still legal in what was then the Empire of Brazil.
Galvão was the grandson of the powerful African prince Alafin Abiodun, who unified the Yoruba kingdom of Oyó in the late eighteenth century. Galvão’s father fought in the wars that raged in that region of Africa in the early nineteenth century, was captured in battle, and sold into slavery. He was then transported to Bahia. With the help of friends among the Yoruba community in Salvador, Galvão’s father quickly purchased his freedom. He then married and had children. As an offspring of freedpersons, Cândido Galvão was raised as a free black man near the town of Lençóis in the interior of Bahia.
Dom Obá II considered it his duty to fight for his country in the war against Paraguay. “As the patriotic soldier that I am, I understand that I have only been doing my duty in taking an active part in all the matters that I understand to be grave.” Enlisting as a Voluntário in the all-black Zuavo company that departed from Lençóis on May 1865, Galvão remained at the front until wounded in his right hand in August 1866. After his return to Bahia, where he remained through the decade of the 1870s, Galvão petitioned government officials for recognition of his service during the war and for monetary compensation. His experience in Paraguay inspired his commitment to ending slavery in Brazil and his pride in being a black man.
Galvão settled in Rio de Janeiro in 1880, where he gained renown. The wealthy considered him a “disturbed veteran” (uma espécie de veterano resmungão) and “folkloric aberration” due to his outspokenness and appearance in attire that included a long black morning coat, tall hat, gloves, umbrella, and walking cane. An activist of the first order, Galvão met personally with the Emperor [Pedro II of Brazil] 125 at public meetings from June 1882 to December 1884! Dom Obá garnered great respect among “the Blacks and the Browns” (the terms commonly used by Galvão) residing in the city. Slaves, freedpersons, and free persons of color all provided financial support that enabled the prince to publish articles in newspapers. In his writings, Galvão praised the contributions of black and brown soldiers during the Paraguayan war, condemned the racism he witnessed in Brazil, and called for an end to slavery.
Galvão died in 1890, shortly after the abolition of slavery in Brazil and the establishment of the Brazilian republic. An biography of Galvão, entitled Prince of the People, was published in 1993.
The Ransome-Kuti family children
(L-R) Olikoye, Beko, Dolupo and Fela. Photo taken in 1941
By 1471 Portuguese ships had reconnoitered the West African coast south as far as the Niger Delta, although they did not know that it was the delta, and in 1481 emissaries from the king of Portugal visited the court of the oba of Benin. For a time, Portugal and Benin maintained close relations. Portuguese soldiers aided Benin in its wars; Portuguese even came to be spoken at the oba's court. Gwatto, the port of Benin, became the depot to handle the peppers, ivory, and increasing numbers of slaves offered by the oba in exchange for coral beads; textile imports from India; European-manufactured articles, including tools and weapons; and manillas (brass and bronze bracelets that were used as currency and also were melted down for objets d’art). Portugal also may have been the first European power to import cowrie shells, which were the currency of the far interior.
Benin profited from its close ties with the Portuguese and exploited the firearms bought from them to tighten its hold on the lower Niger area. Two factors checked the spread of Portuguese influence and the continued expansion of Benin, however. First, Portugal stopped buying pepper because of the availability of other spices in the Indian Ocean region. Second, Benin placed an embargo on the export of slaves, thereby isolating itself from the growth of what was to become the major export from the Nigerian coast for 300 years. Benin continued to capture slaves and to employ them in its domestic economy, but the Edo state remained unique among Nigerian polities in refusing to participate in the transatlantic trade. In the long run, Benin remained relatively isolated from the major changes along the Nigerian coast.
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“There are two answers to the things they will teach you about our land: the real answer and the answer you give in school to pass. You must read books and learn both answers…They will teach you that a white man called Mungo Park discovered River Niger. That is rubbish. Our people fished in the Niger long before Mungo Park’s grandfather was born. But in your exam, write that it was Mungo Park.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in Half of a Yellow Sun.