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The Life & Times of a Yoruba Man Born into Slavery in Brazil

Above: Ebun House in Lagos

 

 

This is Candido J. da Rocha.

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Fate had played a key role in what was to become the future of a man whose name was destined to boom through generations. Towards the late 1871, a large number of freed slaves from Brazil known as the Brazilian returnees sailed into Nigeria on what became a final homecoming. In the midst of this group was Candido’s father, Joao Esan da Rocha and his family. Some members of the group were the Sho-Silvas, da Silvas, Dacostas, Lopezes, Gomezes. Agustos, Domingos, Pereiras, Evaristos, Cardosos, Pedros among many others.

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But somehow, da Rocha seems to be the most widely known name of all. Joao Esan da Rocha who was of Ilesa extraction on his return to Lagos became a successful businessman who owned two houses, one at 4, Tinubu Street, presently the site of Mr. Biggs (UAC) and the other later to become known as “Water House” at Kakawa Street both in Lagos Island. According to Pierre Verger, in his book “Trade Relations between the Bight of Benin and Bahia – 17th to 19th century’ many ‘Brazilians’ were retail traders. Payne’s Lagos and West African Almanac and Diary for 1881, listed the name of Joao da Rocha as ‘Trader of Kakawa Street. And A.B. Loatan, in his little book, The Torch Bearers or Old Brazilian Colony in Lagos stated that “Senior Joao Esan Rocha (was) a prosperous merchant perhaps the richest of his time…” While his proper native name was ‘Esan’ he was baptized in Brazil as ‘Joao’ (meaning in English John) but his surname ‘Rocha’ was the name of his Portuguese master. He was probably a young man of about 30 years when he returned to Lagos in 1873.

The total population of the Emancipados (freed slaves) at the time was 1, 237, according to Governor C. A. Moloney of Lagos. Candido’s mother was ‘Mamae’ Senhora Angelica Josephine Louisa da Rocha, daughter of Papae Ogaga – Martins, whose family compound was at Bamgbose Street, Lagos, Island. She too was also a native of Ilesha, Osun State. Candido lost his mother on May 7, 1885, when he was only 19 years old, while his father died on December 31, 1891, in Lagos, when he was aged 25 years.

 

At age 7 , Candido could only speak Portuguese and Ijesha – dialect of Yoruba.

Candido’s father had as wife Louisa Angelica Noqueira da Rocha and both of them were blessed with four children. Candido the subject on focus was the first born, having been born in Bahia, Northern Brazil on the 3rd of October, 1866. As a young boy of seven years when he arrived Lagos in 1873, Candido could only speak Portuguese and Ijesha – dialect of Yoruba. It is not known whether he attended any school in Brazil before he arrived Lagos. His other siblings were Joanna da Rocha whom according to records never got married but died in 1941.

The third was Moyses who was born in Lagos in 1876 and qualified as a medical doctor in 1896 from Edinburgh, Scotland, specializing in tropical medicine. Academics, for Candido da Rocha was a must because he was very brilliant. He began his education with enrolment at the Saint Xavier Catholic Primary School presently known as Holy Cross Catholic Primary School on Catholic Mission School on Catholic Mission Street, Lagos Island. He had his secondary school education at the popular CMS Grammar School, Bariga, Lagos.

He, according to records available was never beaten and always came first in his class. At the time he was leaving CMS, he became the school’s Head Boy. His classmates at the school were the late Bishop Oluwole, late Herbert Macaulay, and S. H. Pearse who once owned the old Elephant House on Board Street, It was later pulled down for redevelopment following a fire incident. The building is now owned by the Shonibare family. Another account however gave a contrary view concerning his intellectual endowment. According to this account, Candido da Rocha made no pretension to intellectual pursuit in his early days. In his last days, however, it was stated that he was a voracious reader of newspapers and magazines. It was also claimed that he had a good stock of books in his library, where classical English books and works of great novelists adorned his shelves.

It was equally said that he read Charles Dickens and Oliver Goldsmith, besides books on history and exploration of Africa.

In 1903, his name appeared on the Lagos Colony Jury List as having served in a previous year. Thus at the age of 25 years, Candido da Rocha had attained maturity, capable of fending for himself. Lagos Weekly Record publication of 11th December, 1893 published on the Island, featured a public notice signed by Candido da Rocha, where he applied for letters of administration for his father’s estate, who died intestate at his residence at Water House in Kakawa Street on December 31, 1891.

In other words, Candido da Rocha stepped into his father’s business empire, which he later expanded and consolidated into a multi-million pound financial empire, straddling agriculture, hotel, trading, real estate, banking and financial investment. After leaving school at the age of 16, da Rocha never wanted to work as a clerk as it was common in those days. He went to work with a German firm on Lagos Island where he learnt the rudiments of the export and import business.

 

an English gold prospector  approached da Rocha one early morning

As he went about perfecting the skills of the trade, providence also played a major role. In what was to eventually mark the beginning of his fortunes, an English gold prospector who wanted to travel back to England approached da Rocha one early morning in 1894 with bars of gold that he had mined and wanted to dispose off. The Englishman also had two other Lagos merchants in mind apart from da Rocha.

 

Water House in Lagos

One of them was the late S. H. Pearse, a classmate of da Rocha at C. M. S. And as mother luck would have it, the Englishman chose da Rocha of the three. But there was a problem of funds as he never had all the money the man wanted. The Englishman wanted 6,000 pounds. So, da Rocha approached the Bank of West-Africa now known as First Bank. The bank was originally registered as Bank of West-Africa and later Standard Bank before assuming its present name. The bank lent da Rocha the money with which he funded the purchase of the gold bars.

He later filed the gold bars into gold dust and sold on retail to the local gold smiths. He made on average, a whopping 200% profit on the sales which is worth billions of naira in today’s money. It was unheard of if not unthinkable at that time for an African to make that kind of money. At the age of 24 in 1891, he became one of the founders of the Lagos Race Club and had sufficient funds to maintain champion racehorses.

He kept stables for horses at his Lagos Island Kakawa residence. His horses participated in and won several races. Everything he founded brought him money. He was said to have a midas touch. If for instance, 10 horses were lined up for sale, his choice often proved uncanny, as he would pick the champion. He had the best known race horse at the time called Vampa which won several races from sprint to long distance.

He imported glass beads and horse tag like harnesses for horses, beeps and long horsewhips. Da Rocha’s knack for spotting champion horses, information reveals could be compared to that of the legendary Agakhan, a rich man who brought almost all champion horses and was reputed to have won all the English classics in his time.

 

Founded Lagos Native Bank

Da Rocha later went into the banking business. Records available to Island News reveals that he was the first African to own a bank called Lagos Native Bank which was established in 1907. He ran the bank himself – he was the founder, sole owner and sole operator and competed with the Bank of West-Africa and probably the old Barclays Dominion, Colonial and Overseas.

The Lagos Native Bank did not last long as da Rocha reportedly fell into the hands of “419’ fraudsters and was discouraged from continuing. Following the painful experience, he went into financing and established what was called the Lagos Finance Company. He lent money out to people and also invested heavily in properties.

He was said to have as part of his properties on the Island, 37 Marina, now site of Unity House and 72 Campbell Street now host to Cappa and D’alberto. There were many others along Broad Street and Customs Street. Some of these include the present site of Shell House and Chanrai. All his properties were given Brazilian names like Perseveranza, Constaranza, Finanza and many more like that.

 

Humble beginnings : Enslaved Africans in Brazil

The present site of the Central Bank on Customs Street originally belonged to da Rocha. He bought 55 hectares of land in Agege area where he had his hunting ground and built a country home. It was originally a farmland which he bought in 1926 and hired to tenant – farmers. He went there from time to time to recreate away from his “Water House” residence.

He invested in hotels as early as 1900. At the age of 34 years, he had acquired a property at Tinubu Square in Lagos, near Ilojo Bar, which he turned into a restaurant cum hotel, known as “Restaurant da Rocha’ where, according to a newspaper advertisement:

‘excellent cuisine and wines, visitors will find many advantages of by staying at this quiet, homelike and comfortable hotel, the terms for which are as follows: rooms furnished – from 4 shillings to 6 shillings a night.

Table de hot dinner at 4 shillings per head per diem, if sufficient inducement is offered. EL Arte Cigars, Will’s cigarettes and Tobacco, Dry Monopol Ayata and other champagnes, darets, liquers, Benedictine and Chartreuse, whisky, brandy, mineral water is supplied on premises at reasonable rates. Private rooms for dinner parties, dancing parties, raffles and games available at moderate charges.

“Rickshaws [equivalent of car hire], without boy, at 5 shillings a ride or 50 shillings per month. For further particulars apply to Candido da Rocha, Proprietor,’

the announcement stated.

 

Problems in family life

Research conducted by Island News shows that da Rocha may have had problems with family life. He lived alone most of his adult life and was never formally married to any woman whether traditionally, in the court or in the church even though he was a strong Catholic.

“He was a very difficult man to live with,” said Dr. Oladele da Rocha – Afodu, his grandson who lived with him from age 12. Three women were known to have had children for him and lived with him briefly. One of the women was originally from the old Gold Coast now Ghana who had his first child and only son called Alexander. The da Rocha family is well entrenched in Ghana. The second woman who had a son for him died at an early age. Thereafter, he had four daughters; three of these were born by the same woman and one daughter, Mrs. Enitan Salako, from another woman.

The daughters, three in all include Louissa Ebun Turton, the second daughter was called Angelica Folashade who later became Mrs. Thomas. The third and last of da Rocha’s children named Candida died at the age of 96 six years ago. da Rocha reportedly fell out with his only son, Alexander in 1920. It was not exactly known what led to the estrangement between father and son. Whatever the cause, da Rocha was said to have been too pained to the extent that he never made up with his son till he died.

Family sources confirmed that Alexander was not mentioned in his will. Following the estrangement, Alexander went to live with his mother in Ghana. After about 37 years sojourn in Ghana, Alexander came back on a visit to Lagos and was accompanied by a close family friend of the da Rocha’s to see his father; da Rocha declined to see his son. “Even though nobody could lay claim to what my uncle did to papa, the general conclusion was that he must have caused papa great pain. Every little thing meant so much to him. A mere photograph skewed a little to the side in the process of being hung on the wall could attract a very serious reprimand. For instance, if one of his birds died, he must be told how many were left.

Any person in charge of the birds upkeep, must by papa’s standard know all the species of birds he had” said Dr. da Rocha–Afodu.

To be continued

Credit: Senator Femi Ojudu

 

THIS ARTICLE WAS FIRST PUBLISHED ON ISLAND NEWS

 

Wiki- Candido Joao Da Rocha ( 1860 – March 11, 1959)[1][2] was a Nigerian businessman, landowner and creditor who owned Water House on Kakawa Street, Lagos Island, Lagos, and was the proprietor of the now defunct Bonanza Hotel in Lagos. Da Rocha, a native of Ilesha, was born to the family of Joao Esan Da Rocha, a former slave;[3] his father was 10 years old when he was captured as a slave in about 1840 and Candido was born in the Bahia region of Brazil.[4]

 

 

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