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, from the Yoruba sàró) 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”, from the word àgùdà in the Yoruba language. 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 of western and central Nigeria. Other Nigerian groups forming part of the Sierra Leonean Krio population included Efik, Igbos, Hausa and Nupe.
The returnees mostly resided in the Lagos Colony, with substantial populations in Abeokuta and Ibadan. Some also settled in Calabar, Port Harcourt and other cities in the Niger Delta. 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.
Photo: royalgazette.com/Cpt J.P.L Davies & his wife Sara Forbes Bonetta
In Lagos, the Saros chose Ebute Metta, 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.
Captain James Pinson Labulo Davies and his wife, Princess Sara Forbes Bonetta, were some of the most prominent Saros in Victorian Nigeria. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was also a descendant of the saro.
Photo: Thehealthpilot /Funmilayo Ransome Kuti
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 Cuba 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, their neighborhood became known as Popo Aguda, Brazilian quarter.
Photo: DNL/Sir Adeyemo Alakija
They were not brought up in the Anglican faith like the Sierra Leoneans, but Catholicism, the dominant religion in Brazil and Cuba. By the 1880s, the Agudas comprised about 9% of the population of Lagos. Some of the Agudas were Muslims. Some of the Catholic Brazilians and Cubans also worshiped the African Orishas they had also worshiped in Brazil and Cuba. These Amaros gave Portuguese and Spanish names in Nigeria.
Photo: The Trent /Chief Antonio Deinde Fernandez.
The Brazilian returnees were notably technically skilled artisans and were known for the distinctive Brazilian architecture built in their settlements and later in the Lagos environs. 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 also introduced cocoa plantations together with the Saro, J.P.L. Davies.
Prominent Amaros include Oloye Sir Adeyemo Alakija and Chief Antonio Deinde Fernandez.