The descendants of the foremost slave merchant in what is today’s Niger Delta region of Nigeria, King Eyo Honesty, have said that they cannot regret the active and frontline role their precursor played in the 1800s in being a big time slave merchant. They said they are rather proud that he played that role since it was what trended at that time.
They said they are proud because the man was generally adjudged to be an honest man in his way of life and in business dealing with the white men whereas others were dubious.
One of the descendants, who is now the clan head of the Eyo Honesty dynasty, a massive community in Creek Town, Odukpani Local Government Area of Cross River State, His Royal Highness Etubom Eyo Ekpenyong Eyo Honesty II, spoke to our correspondent in his palace.
He said that the name Honesty was deliberately given to their patriarch because he persisted in truth and in being genuine in his business dealing with the white partners who came from Europe, particularly the Portuguese and British merchants, to buy palm oil, spices and slaves from Calabar.
“We are the fourth generation of Eyo Honesty II. He was a great man in all meaning of the word. At that time, he had 1000 big boats as well as workers and slaves under him. With the boats, he transported his farm produce and slaves. He was a major force. One thing that was conspicuous about him was his truthfulness and kindness, which endeared him to the white men.
“He was a trader, a dealer in palm oil. He could speak a little of the English language, which led to his becoming an interpreter between the white business men and the local people. This made him wealthy and famous.
“Many chiefs of local communities would usually keep their slaves in the custody of Eyo Honesty for the white buyers. Available history says he would keep as many as 2000 slaves, most of them brought from distant places such as today’s Akwa Ibom, south-east states, and even Rivers State. Indigenes of Creek Town were never sold.
“Nobody should feel pained or be angry with the Eyo Honesty dynasty over the slave trade; perchance their forebears were affected. We should not be misunderstood when we say we are proud. Slave trade was a major business at that time. We are proud on one hand because apart from the pain of slave trade, he opened up Creek Town, which is the root of the Efik nation and cradle of Black civilisation.
“Our great great grandfather brought Christianity into what is today called the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. He first moved for the abolishment of slave trade when he told the white people that he won’t be continuing anymore but rather asked them to bring their God to Calabar. He wrote to England requesting for missionaries to come to calabar. This was how Christianity came to Africa through Calabar. But do today’s Christian leaders know this? This is why the descendants are proud,” the traditional ruler said.
Findings showed that the foremost slave merchant had many wives who gave him 36 children aside from slaves and other dependants who lived with him.
Another of the descendants, who is also a community leader, Elder Okon Eyo Nsa, said it was their patriarch who also brought Western education to the country. “This enabled the people of Creek Town to be the first set of Nigerians to have access to western education through the establishment of missionary schools, which legacies can still be found in the community like the school buildings and the Presbyterian churches etc.”
Creek Town is a sleepy community usually made alive by the activities at the nearby beach when speed boats bring passengers and traders to and from Calabar. Engine boats take about 15 minutes ride through the long and snaky stretch of the river, named after the state. It is sometimes from the creeks of this river that militants perpetrate deadly maritime crimes and kidnapping of big men from the town, which has led the Nigerian Army to maintain an outpost at the beach.
Despite the security threats, the town remains peaceful, natural and alluring. Some of the ancient buildings constructed in the 1800s still adorn the landscape. The one that was built for Chief Eyo Honesty is still standing. It now serves as a mini museum and palace for meeting by the Eyo Honesty clan.
The community has decided to keep it for posterity. There’s a guard who shows visitors round. Although weeds and the elements are threatening it, but seeing this one-storey ancient building relives history. The structure, now over 300 years, is likely to endure many more years.
Within this community is the cemetery that houses the original grave of famous Scottish missionary Mary Slessor, who spent years in Creek Town and other nearby communities, spreading the gospel and eventually stopped the killing of twins. The cemetery is called Udi Mbakara, meaning Cemetery of White men.
The Slave History Museum at the Marina Resort Calabar, though established by former Governor Donald Duke, has been taken over and is managed by the National Museums and Monuments.
The curator, Mr. Imoke Enya Ngalagu, who gave statistics of the slave trade as it impacted on Calabar and the South-South region, confirmed that Eyo Honesty II was a big time slave merchant. He also mentioned Chief Otto Ephraim of Parrot Island, Antera Duke of Duke Town, Ephraim Duke, king of Dahomey, Oba of Benin, Oba of Lagos, the Arose (Ibos), many Efik chiefs as those who facilitated the trade in these parts of Nigeria.
He said the Atlantic slave trade was referred to as The Triangular Trade because the white buyers moved in a triangular form. They would come from Europe to Calabar, Africa, to buy slaves, move from there to either North or South America for the slaves that would survive the six month sea trip to work in their sugar or other plantations. Thereafter, they will move further to Europe. He said the slaves were usually jam-packed into ships loaded already with drums of palm oil, spices etc.
Ngalagu said the volume of trade from Africa from 1690-1807 was really huge, explaining that in the Bight of Biafra which comprised the Old Calabar, no fewer than 776,400 slaves were taken through Creek Town Calabar to the new world, representing 30.1% of the entire trade.
The curator explained that coastal chiefs sold their domestic servants to European slave merchants who came in their ships and would offer them irresistible gifts which the chiefs had never seen or owned. And so when the stock of their slaves were exhausted, the chiefs with small shot guns would raid neighbouring villages and arrest able bodied young men to meet up demands.