Though he grew up in one of Africa’s largest English-speaking cities, Alexander De Souza remembers a childhood when Portuguese was spoken in the streets, Brazilian dishes were served in the kitchen and friends and family lived in houses styled in the architecture of Sao Paulo.
De Souza spent the early years of his childhood in the “Brazilian quarter” of Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos, a part of town so named because former slaves from Brazil settled there to restart their lives in the 19th century.
Decades of British colonisation that ended in 1960 made Nigeria a firmly Anglophone country, with English the lingua franca and thousands of Nigerians living in countries such as Britain and the United States.
But in the Brazilian quarter of Lagos, the festivals, meals and architecture all have a distinctive South American touch, thanks to the legacy of the “agudas”, a distortion of the Portuguese word for the cotton that became a moniker for the returned slaves.
Yet, many in the quarter worry that these traditions and cultural relics may not last much longer.
The descendants of the freed slaves are moving out of the neighbourhood. Brazilian-style houses have been sold off and renovated. And, in September, a developer levelled the Ilojo Bar, a 161-year-old house built by a returned slave that had been designated a national monument.
“[The demolition is] a very big, massive loss for this culture, for this community,” said Gasper da Silva, a resident of the quarter and president of the Brazilian Descendants’ Union, which organises traditional Brazilian events there.