Every year, Black people from all over Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, and the rest of the Americas converge on the shores of Badagry in Lagos for a celebration of culture, freedom, brotherhood, and spirituality. The Badagry Diaspora Festival marks the “return” of people of African descent whose ancestors were taken from the continent and enslaved; it spotlights the legacy of slavery and the connection that Black people share across the globe, irrespective of geography, creed, or ethnicity.
The coastal town of Badagry is marked by the 400-year history of slavery; it has such historic places as the Brazilian Baracoon Slave Cell, the Seriki Faremi Williams Abass Slave Museum, the Mobee Family Slave Relics Museum, the Tomb of Huntokonou, and the Seat of the British Cannon, a gift presented to the Wawu of Badagry as a symbol of the abolition of the slave trade in 1843.
Founded in 1999, each edition of the festival has been dedicated to an important figure in the struggle for Black liberation: the 2015 event was dedicated to Toussaint L’Ouverture, leader of the Haitain Slave Revolution; in 2016, it was held in honor of Olaudah Equiano, the Caribbean slave-turned-writer of Igbo origin who fought for abolition; in 2017, the Brazilian sculptor Descordes Maximiliano Dos Santos (Mestre Didi) had the honor for situating African spirituality at the center of his work.
The festival begins with the symbolic “Door of Return Ceremony,” during which Africans in the diaspora walk through what used to be known as the “Point of No Return”—the infamous spot where enslaved Africans were shipped to foreign lands, never to come back home—and are welcomed with song, dance, laughter, applause, hugs, and prayers.
They are officially received by the Akran of Badagry who adorns them with royal beads and chieftaincy titles, and sometimes they are given crowns, affirming them as “kings and queens” in accordance with the festival’s theme. A long-lasting feature of this ceremony is the adoption of indigenous names.
The event also features swimming, a fishing competition, a beauty pageant, a fashion show, a magic show, a boat cruise, a symposium with political and traditional leaders, and a tour of the historical sites in the town.
The returnees, dressed in indigenous attires, are treated to local food, a slavery-themed stage play, a dance party during which they are taught some local moves, and a presentation of Africa-themed souvenirs, such as calabashes.
But beyond its sentimentality, the festival is seen by many as an avenue for concrete, pan-African development.
The festival continues to be held every year, sponsored by the Lagos State Government in conjunction with UNESCO, attracting more global attention to the country amidst renewed interest in the return of diaspora-based Africans—inspired by Ghana’s successful 2019 “Year of Return” campaign.
Kanyinsola Olorunnisola is a journalist, social critic and literary enthusiast. He is the recepient of the 2017 Fisayo Soyombo National Essay Prize, the 2020 Speculative Literary Foundation’s Diverse Writers Grant and the 2020 K&L Prize for African Literature. He is the founder of SprinNG, a platform dedicated to the development of young African writers.