By Mike Ojoobanikan
The wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry in England dominated media space since Saturday 19 May 2018. Meghan in particular generated much interest because she is half African American (through her mother) and caucasian ( her father).
However, she was not the first coloured individual to experience such. A Nigerian, named Aina Sarah Forbes Bonetta, adopted daughter of Queen Victoria, enjoyed that status 156 years ago. Queen Victoria married her out to another Nigerian, Captain Labulo Davies, a rich merchant mariner and businessman. The wedding was held at St. Nicholas Church, Brighton on 14 August 1862. Davies’ parents were, like Ajayi Crowther, captured but freed slaves resetled in Sierra Leone.
Davies was an influential man. And he was wealthy. He was the one who funded CMS Grammar School in Lagos, established by Babington Macaulay who married Crowther’s daughter and gave birth to Herbert Macaulay. So big was Davies’ influence that he was a go-between for the Queen and some African chiefs in the slavery abolition persuasion. It was a period when African slave traders were persuaded to leave that barbaric practice and engage in palm oil, lumbering, mining, etc. Obas of Lagos (like Kosoko, Dosunmu) and even the legendary Madam Tinubu fell into that category.
It was during one of his peregrinations that Davies stumbled on Aina in Dahomey. She was about to be slaughtered for ritual by King Gezo after she was captured as a slave from Oke Odan/Egbado part of present Ogun State, Nigeria. Davies played upon the ego of Gezo to release Aina for him as a gift from the king of the blacks to the queen of the whites. He agreed and Davies took her to England and the Queen adopted and trained her.
The story of Aina and her rich hiusband is contained in a book, The life of Captain Labulo Davies, authored by Adeyemo Elebute, a professor of surgery and a foundation staff member of Lagos University College Hospital (LUTH). It was reviewed for TheNEWS by Damola Awoyokun (a UK based civil engineer).
The Story is presented below:
“Queen Victoria married Aina to a Nigerian, Labulo Davies. The life of Captain Labulo Davies was too compelling, too needed and too unknown that Adeyemo Elebute, a professor of surgery for 45 years and a foundation staff member of Lagos University College Hospital (LUTH), turned himself into a professional historian at 82 years of age. He travelled far and wide, burrowed into many Nigerian and British archives in order to lock down Davies’ story in this splendid book. Davies was born on 14 August 1828 to former Yoruba slaves whom the British had rescued and resettled in Freetown. His father was from Abeokuta and his mother from Ogbomoso. His parents refused to accept that Africans should be left to their traditions and ways of life after what they had done to them. Their son joined the Royal Navy as a sea cadet in 1849 and later, when he retired began his own shipping line. Being trustworthy, he became a point of contact for many European trading companies in West Africa. He grew rich…
When the Kingdom of Dahomey broke away from a weakened Oyo Empire, it rose rapidly to become an important military power capturing towns and villages from the grip of Oyo Alaafin. To get slaves, you need war. Port Novo, Whydah, Ouidah, Popo that used to be some of Oyo’s contact with Euro-Brazilian ship owners became important slave trading ports for Dahomey. With the British government becoming proactive with its anti-slavery campaign, Commander Forbes was sent in 1849 to 1850 to meet and persuade the King of Dahomey to switch to trade in cotton, palm kernel and other agriculture items as a key source of income instead of trade in slaves. At the meeting, some slaves had been earmarked to be beheaded for religious ritual.
One of them was Aina, then a seven-year-old girl who had already witnessed the killing of her parents when Gezo’s army invaded their Egbado village of Oke Odan in 1848 and took her as a slave. Commander Forbes used everything to persuade Gezo to release the little girl to him. Gezo refused. The game changed when Forbes said: “She would be a present from the King of the Blacks to the Queen of the Whites.” But it was not true that Queen Victoria was the queen of the whites and Gezo definitely knew he was not king of the blacks. There were his immediate superiors: Alaafin Abiodun Atiba in Oyo and Oba Osemwende and Adolo in Benin. But being a megalomaniac, by equating him with Queen Victoria, Forbes ballooned his estimate. And Gezo saw that being the Queen’s coequal, he would earn more respect and command more power from Alaafin and Oba of Benin. He released Aina.
When Aina eventually arrived at Windsor Castle on 9 November 1850, the Queen, who never knew Commander Forbes nor asked him to bring back a black girl, adopted Aina and sent her for royal training. The girl not only impressed the Queen with her charm, intelligence and willingness to blend, she impressed the whole of Britain. She spoke English with a royal accent unlike millions of other Britons. Several photographers, illustrators and artists came to document her. Even foreign dignitaries who came to visit the Palace saw Princess Aina with the royal family and wrote about her. Her presence was sufficient to confound and debunk the pernicious racist theory then that blacks were of least intelligence. The phrenologist even came to measure her skull. With the royal family having a black Princess with her own waiting ladies, it was difficult to regard blacks as monkeys in respectable circles in Britain.
During the meeting with Ajayi Crowther at the Windsor Castle, the Queen asked whether Aina’s gifts were due to her noble blood. Crowther answered that she wasn’t a descendant of one of those mighty kings of West African empires or kingdoms but her parents were chiefs of a small town. Since the Queen arranged the marriages of all her six children, she arranged Aina’s marriage too to Captain Davies, supremely confident she was in good hands. The wedding was held at St. Nicholas Church, Brighton on 14 August 1862. The Queen paid for the elaborate ceremony which was the talk of the country. And when both settled in Lagos, they continued the course of civilisation, opening schools, educating the people and discouraging slavery. They were the reason why there was no major uproar against British presence in Nigeria unlike in other countries like Ghana, Kenya and India. They earned the trust of fellow Africans and the colonial governments across West Africa respected them.”