Saros or Creoles in Nigeria during the nineteenth century and early twentieth century were freed slaves who migrated to Nigeria in the beginning of the 1830s. They were known locally as Saros (elided form of Sierra Leone) or Amaros: migrants from Brazil and Cuba. Saros and Amaros also settled in other West African countries such as the Gold Coast (Ghana). They were mostly freed and repatriated slaves from various West African and Latin American countries such as Sierra Leone, Brazil and Cuba Liberated “returnee” Africans from Brazil were more commonly known as “Agudas”. Most of the Latin American returnees or Amaros started migrating to Africa after slavery was abolished on the continent while others from West Africa, or the Saros were recaptured and freed slaves already resident in Sierra Leone. Many of the returnees chose to return to Nigeria for cultural, missionary and economic reasons. Many (if not the greater majority) of them were originally descended from the Yoruba people, and so because of this, they were mostly regarded as a part of the ethnic group that the Yoruba constituted in the Nigeria of the era.
The newly arrived immigrants resided in the Niger Delta, Lagos Colony and in some Eastern Nigerian cities such as Aba, Owerri, and Onitsha. Though, many were originally dedicated Anglophiles in Nigeria, they later adopted an indigenous and patriotic attitude on Nigerian affairs due to a rise in discrimination in the 1880s, and were later known as cultural nationalists.
Life in Sierra Leone
While living in Sierra Leone, many Creole residents became exposed to the Christian faith as a result of the work of British missionaries who established some Churches, a few grammar schools and a pioneer Educational institution, the Fourah Bay College. Relatively, the residents of Sierra Leone soon gained a fast start in Western education and were soon well trained and experienced in medicine, law, and the civil service. Many of them graduated from grammar schools and became administrative workers for the British imperial interest in the country. By the middle of the nineteenth century some of the African literati in Sierra Leone began to migrate to Nigeria, especially the colony of Lagos for economic reasons and some were administrative personnel who were reassigned to Lagos. An expedition of the river Niger by Ajayi Crowther furthered the evangelical interest of many Sierra Leaneans on Nigeria, many of whom had grown to be accessories of the missionaries and their effort.
Life in Lagos and Abeokuta
Lagos was a strategic and important fishing location for the original founders, the Aworis. It was established as a fishing community by Awori immigrants in the sixteenth century. The town later emerged as major economic base nurtured by immigration from nearby ethnic groups led by the Ijebus, then the Ijaws, the Binis, and the Egbas. Trade with Europeans also fueled the commercial rise of the city. By 1880, Lagos had already become a cosmopolitan city. Sierra Leonean immigrants started moving to Lagos in the 1840s. Many of the immigrants were of Egba and Oyo heritage and some were familiar with Yoruba traditions and culture. They assimilated fairly well with the Yorubas, and coupled with an earlier training and interaction with the British in Sierra Leone, they were able to become part of the colonial society with little abuse from Lagos indigenes. The immigrants immediately rose to become commercial middlemen between residents of Lagos, Abeokuta and the Europeans.
In Lagos, the Saros chose Ebute Meta, Olowogbowo, and Yaba as primary settlements. The Saros mostly of Egba heritage established a few of the oldest churches in Lagos and also expanded the missionary work of the British in Nigeria. The Saros also emerged as a dominant commercial group in Lagos. Having developed a migratory forte, they had an edge as travelers who were able to go into the interiors to meet directly with various commodity producers and traders. They were the pioneer Southern Nigerian traders in Kola, a cash crop that later emerged as a viable and important export commodity for the Western region in the early twentieth century. The Saros introduced the crop which was bought from Hausa traders across the River Niger into Southern Nigeria agriculture. The first Kola farm and the dominant trader in Kola, Mohammed Shitta Bey, were orchestrated by Saros. They also did not drop their yearning for western education as they dominated the ranks of professions open to Africans. They were lawyers, doctors, and civil servants.
Skirmishes in western Nigeria
Early on, the Saros who were well learned and trained, began to show paternal characteristics in their relationship with native residents of Lagos. The perceived disrespect extended to some Lagos citizens led to the Saros being expelled from Lagos in the 1850s, although they soon returned. In 1867, another conflict emerged, this time it was in Abeokuta. The conflict was between the Egbas and the Europeans. The Egbas were protesting the increasing influence of western culture and a land encroachment led by the Lagos governor, Glover. Egbas decided to go on rampage and damaged European symbols such as churches and missions, a few Saros were also expelled from Egbaland, but like the case of Lagos, calm was quickly restored. Prior to the conflict, a few notable Saros, such as Henry Townsend played prominent roles as advisers to the council of chiefs in Abeokuta.
Life in the delta
The Niger delta was a little bit dissimilar to Lagos and western Nigeria where the Yorubas were dominant. Lagos was much more cosmopolitan while the delta was composed of different and varied ethnic groups of equal political footing. There was also little historical attributes that could foster cultural assimilation. However, the immigrants soon found a home in a few cities especially in the new city of Port Harcourt. Port Harcourt was founded by British authorities in 1913 as a coastal center for the export of Palm oil and coal. A number of immigrants from Yorubaland, the Hausa states, Gambia and Sierra Leone soon came to the city to work. Some of the Saros were clergymen and others were transferred for administrative duty. The Saros emerged in the city as pioneers of African commerce as they became suppliers to the residents of the new city. However, life in Port Harcourt was rough for many Saros. Some came to the city as workers for British merchant houses and the colonial government. However, there was no job security afforded the immigrants in the new city. Some Saro workers were retired without pension and suffered much financial deprivation. The retired Saros asked to return home, and some were transported back with the help of colonial funds. The lack of promotion and retirement faced by immigrant Africans was partly as a result of a systemic wall against promotion of Saros and Africans by the British. The Saros in Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abeokuta had earned the irritation of Europeans because of the achievement of a few immigrants in the clergy and business world. This policy led to a gradual change among Saros especially those in the West. The idealistic revolt against the British was led in the missionary by James Johnson who decried excessive British interference in the affairs of the missionary society and who wanted more African involvement in promoting Christianity.
Amaros in Lagos
Unlike the Saros who were principally from Sierra Leone, the Amaros, who were sometimes called Nago in Brazil (Nago, indicates Yoruba ethnicity) were liberated slaves from Brazil and Cuba. Returnees from Brazil and their current day descendants were and are more commonly called “Agudas”. They went to the New World as slaves from different sub-ethnic and ethnic backgrounds but approached relationships among themselves as equals. They came back to Nigeria, principally to re-connect with their fatherland. In Lagos, they were given the watery terrains of Popo Aguda as their settlement. They were not brought up in the Anglican faith like the Sierra Leoneans but chose Catholicism, the dominant religion in Brazil. By the 1880s, the Agudas comprised about 9 % of the population of Lagos. It should be remembered that some of the Agudas were Muslims. Some of the Catholic Brazilians also worshipped African Orishas which they had also worshipped in Brazil.
The ex-slaves were notably technically skilled artisans and were known for the distinctive Brazilian architecture built in their settlements and later in the Lagos environs. During the time, modern European architecture was not only meant to be a nice abode but also a dominating advertisement to show Africans of a different style and culture. However, in due time, the Brazilian style emerged as a viable alternative and modern style used by African contractors working on public and large private jobs such as the Holy Cross Cathedral in Lagos and the Mohammed Shitta Bey Mosque. The Brazilians introduced to Nigeria elaborate architectural designs, two story buildings and bungalows with stucco facades. The Brazilian returnees also popularized the use of Cassava as a food crop. They had pioneered trade with Brazil in the mid nineteenth century. But by the 1880s, ruinous competitors and an economic downturn had forced many to abandon the export trade. Agriculture soon became an avenue to supplement shortfalls in economic activity. They also introduced Cocoa Plantations together with Saro, J.P.L. Davies.