1. Introduction

The place of the Badagry Cultural Area (BCA) in the recent history of Western Nigeria is undoubtedly significant; it was one of the embarking points for slaves (mostly Nigerians) towards the Americas until the 19th century. Its location near the Atlantic Ocean contributed to the siting of two sea ports there, firstly at Apa (Owode-Apa in Figure 1) between 1700 AD and 1800 AD, and then later in Badagry main town between 1800 AD and 1900 AD. These ports were to serve as administrative posts for European colonists, both to control the transatlantic slave trade and to quell any rebellion by the indigenes. Apa was chosen as a port because of its strategic location and cultural status; it is located at the bend where the Yewa River and the Badagry creek meet (Figure 1) and is traditionally regarded as the oldest settlement in the BCA.

Figure 1
Figure 1: Map of the Badagry Cultural Area (BCA) showing sites mentioned in the text (Image credit: E.A. Orijemie)

Radiocarbon dating of a charcoal sample obtained from 1.75cm of unit AP1 in Apa indicates that human occupation dates back to 2670 ± 90 BP [Beta-89266] (Alabi 1998). Subsistence economy during the earliest occupation up until the recent past included the use of oil palm trees and palm kernels and perhaps food production (Alabi 1998; 2002). The recovery of ground stone axes, charcoal and charred palm kernels from Apa (Alabi 1998) indicated that the people used fire to clear part of the forest. Although no remains of domesticated plants or animals were recovered in West Africa, the occurrence of charred palm kernel has been linked with the sudden increase in oil palm pollen (Sowunmi 1999). Oil palm trees are deliberately protected during slash-and-burn carried out in preparation for farming. Other radiocarbon and thermoluminescence dates from Apa (360 ± 50 BP/cal AD 1440-1655 [Beta-91940]) and Ganyingbo beach (cal AD 1660 ± 58/290 ± 20% BP [Alpha-3192) (Allsworth-Jones and Wesler 1998) respectively suggest human activities in the BCA from the 15th to 17th centuries. Outside Apa and Ganyingbo, little information was hitherto available from other towns in the BCA.

Ahanve is an important settlement in the BCA. Its original name was Ahanfe, i.e. Ahan ife, which in Yoruba means 'to show/express love' but is now written Ahanve, which is the official name of the village today. Ahanve is regarded as an ancient settlement established by populations originating from Apa. It is located along the swamps of the Badagry creek and Yewa River, which adjoin the Atlantic Ocean. It is about 13km west of Badagry and about 4.5km west of Apa (Figure 1). It is bounded on the west by the Nigerian-BĂ©nin border as well as adjoining villages, on the east by the Badagry creek and Yewa River, on the north by the southern parts of Ogun State and on the south by the Kweme, Angorin and Ganyingbo beaches, as well as the Atlantic Ocean. The present-day vegetation is a freshwater swamp dominated by Typha australis (Sowunmi 2004; Orijemie and Sowunmi 2014); T. domingensis is present but it is not as abundant as T. australis. Also present are communities of secondary and freshwater swamp forests, and some cultivars such as Manihot esculenta (cassava), Capsicum sp. (pepper), Colocasia sp. (cocoyam) and Citrus sp. (orange). Ahanve has an annual temperature range of between 24°C and 29°C. Rainfall, which is controlled mainly by the movement of the Inter Tropical Divergence (ITD) ranges from 1500mm/yr to 1800mm/yr (Adejuwon 1970).

Palynological analyses of cores obtained from the Typha swamp near the present-day settlement at Ahanve indicated that during the early to mid-Holocene (9000-5500 uncal BP), lowland rainforest and mangrove swamp forest dominated the environment. The mangrove swamp forest disappeared while the primary rain forest declined c. 3109 ± 26 uncal BP (1440-1310 cal BC) [KIA-17574] (Sowunmi 2004). The main factors responsible for this were suggested to be primarily climatic, hydrologic and geomorphologic; but humans probably also contributed to a decline in rain forest area (Sowunmi 2004; Orijemie 2013). This last suggestion is in part based on marked increases in microscopic charcoal and the occurrence of pollen of plants associated with human disturbance at the time the mangroves disappeared and the primary forest declined, and partly on a radiocarbon date obtained from Apa (2,670 ± 90 BP). Therefore, since humans were already present in the BCA about 2700 yrs uncal BP, it is desirable to ascertain how they interacted with the environment. To this end, archaeological, ethnographic and palynological investigations were undertaken. As this is a swampy environment, aquatic resources were given particular attention in terms of their availability and use, as well as their impact on the subsistence economy of Ahanve.