In Africa, the history of the slave trade elicited stories that were exciting and heartbreaking especially when the slaves were removed from their homes and kept in a foreign land.
Yet, one may never find a story like the one of Omoba Aina, also known as ‘Sarah Forbes Bonetta’.
She was born as an Egbado princess of the Yourba people of Oke-Odan in the present day Ogun state. She was reaped from her home and was invaded by Dahomeyen soldiers who raided her neighbouring towns and villages for enslaved people.
In this raid, she lost her parents, entire family and her people. She was taken and not killed because a special tribal mark on her face indicated that she was a princess, meaning that she was a good candidate of beheading rituals.
She was made to work in the King’s palace as a slave. In 1850, Frederick Forbes, a sea captain visited King Ghezo of the Kingdom of Dahomeya as a Queen Victoria’s representative, to convince him to stop his activities in the slave trade.
King Ghezo wanted to carry out the sacrifice in front of his visitor. But, before the young princess would have been beheaded and used for the ritual. Frederick Forbes intervened and insisted she should be released.
To save the girl’s life and not provoke the King, he told him that the girl would be a gift to Queen Victoria from him as a black.
The young princess sailed with the captain and returned to England. But, before she went, she was taken to the Church Missionary Church in Badagry where she was baptised as Sarah Forbes Bonetta, giving her his name and the name of the ship he sailed on, which was called the HMS Bonetta.
A few months later, she was presented to the Queen of England who immediately like her and described her as ‘being intelligent and smart’ of a 10 year old girl. She was impressed that she can speak the English language fluently at her young age.
At the time she became a full fledged adult, she became so popular among the Victorian elites and was regarded as the black goddaughter of the most powerful woman in the world.
On the 14th of August 1862, she married a Nigerian, Sierra Leone-born businessman, James Davies, who the Queen approved. It was believed that she didn’t approved of this man, but they were married in a lavish ceremony by the Queen herself.
Later, the couple moved back to Lagos and they had three kids. The first child was named Victoria after the Queen and became her goddaughter.
In the late 1860s, Sarah became severely ill with tuberculosis, which at that time had no cure. She moved to Madeira, hoping that the weather there would change her illness. She died there on the 15th of August, 1880 at 37.
Her story is a unique one, much like a fiction. From the traumatic childhood of slavery to a privileged upbringing shaped by a woman who at that time was the most powerful ruler in the world.
Her story teaches how intelligent and capable Africans were, even in the 19th century and how much they can accomplish if there were given the right opportunities and network.