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Flux and Reflux: African Diaspora

Candido da Silva, nascido na Bahia, Nigeria, Anos 40Candido da Silva, born in Bahia, Nigeria, in the 1940'

During his numerous trips back and forth between Africa and Bahia, Pierre Verger never stops being struck with amazement by the resemblances between the people he frequents on each side of the Atlantic: physical appearance, way of talking or of walking and customs, through which he sees the tangible proof of interwoven histories. He is so passionate about this theme that he ends up playing an essential role in the re-establishing of the links between West Africa and Bahia. Here and there he organizes museums , receives and guides many people, carries messages and realises comparative studies. In order to understand in depth the historical reasons for those resemblances, he devotes himself during several years to the study of the slave trade that tore millions of Africans out of their birth lands, carried them to the Americas and, after the abolition, caused the return to Africa of many of their descendants. The result of his studies constitutes one of his main works: Flux and Reflux of the Slave Traffic between the Benin Gulf and the Todos os Santos Bay.

 The research starts in 1949 in Ouidah, when Verger has access to an important testimony on the clandestine slave trade with Bahia: the trade maps of José Francisco dos Santos, made in the 19 th century. Verger progressively discovers that, during the last years of the traffic the slaves where almost exclusively Yoruba, that tobacco was used as legal tender and that the intensity of the trade was abominable: "The agents responsible for the trade with Bahia had close relations with this part of Africa. Some years a hundred ships sailed back and forth between the port of Ouidah and the Bay of All Saints".

About twenty years of research is needed for the text to be ready. In 1966 Flux et Reflux du Trafic des Esclaves entre le Golfe du Bénin et la Baie de Tous les Saints is defended by Verger at the Sorbonne. Verger, a self-taught man expelled from two schools for indiscipline and who stopped studying at school at the age of seventeen, receives his PhD in African Studies. The thesis is published two years later, in 1968. The publication of the English version occurs in 1976. It is only in 1987 that the book is translated into Portuguese and published in Brazil by the publishing house Corrupio.

Flux and Reflux has become a reference book. Within its 718 pages, the detailed study brings to light aspects of the economic, social and political consequences that had previously remained obscured. Verger was hard at work: he describes the trade relations, discusses in particular the slave rebellions, forms of emancipation, life conditions, legislation, return to Africa and the life of the Brazilian descendants. Literally transliterating a large number of the documents he looked at in archives in London, Lisbon, The Hague, Rio de Janeiro and Lagos, he produced the most historiographical of his books.

Ceremónia Nago, Ouidah, Benin, 1949Nago ceremony, Ouidah, Benin, 1949"Candomble Joaozinho da Gomea, Salvador, Brasil, 1946 Candomble Joaozinho da Gomea, Salvador, Brasil, 1946Many Blacks, when they returned as free men and women to Africa but with Brazilian customs, created there a kind of Brazil, in the same way as a kind of Africa had been created in Bahia", said Verger, who saw the re-establishment of the links between those people as something essential. With Flux and Reflux, a number of articles and some other initiatives, he actively contributed to this reconciling. As a matter of fact, the work of Verger promoted and continues to promote numerous break throughs in this domain, for it remains one of the most important sources of information for the Bahians and African people willing to know better their own history.