Francisco Félix de Sousa

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Francisco Félix de Sousa
Francisco Félix de Souza.jpg
Born(1754-10-04)4 October 1754
Died8 May 1849(1849-05-08) (aged 94)

Francisco Félix de Souza (4 October 1754 – 8 May 1849) was a Brazilian slave trader who was deeply influential in the regional politics of pre-colonial West Africa (namely, current-day Nigeria, Benin, Ghana and Togo). He founded Afro-Brazilian communities in areas that are now part of those countries, and went on to become the "chachá" of Ouidah (the slave trading hub for the region), a title that conferred no official powers but commanded local respect in the Kingdom of Dahomey, where, after being jailed by King Adandozan of Dahomey, he helped Ghezo ascend the throne in a coup d'état. He became chacha to the new king, a curious phrase that has been explained as originating from his saying "(...) já, já.", a Portuguese phrase meaning something will be done right away.

His early years in Africa are well documented in a long article (in Portuguese) by Alberto Costa e Silva entitled "The Early Years of Francisco Féliz de Souza on the Slave Coast".[1]

Francisco Félix de Souza was a major slave trader and merchant who traded in palm oil, gold and slaves. He migrated from Brazil to what is now the African republic of Benin.[2][3] He has been called "the greatest slave trader".[4]

Trading slaves from what was then the Dahomey region, he was known for his extravagance and was reputed to have had at least 80 children with women in his harem.[5] De Souza continued to market slaves after the trade was abolished in most jurisdictions.[4] He was apparently so trusted by the locals in Dahomey that he was awarded the status of a chieftain."[6] Although a Catholic, he practiced the Vodun religion, and had his own family shrine.[6] He was buried in Dahomey.[6]

Family and legacy[edit]

De Souza is regarded as the "father" of the city of Ouidah. The city has a statue of De Souza, a plaza named after De Souza, and a museum dedicated to the De Souza family.[7]

According to Edna Bay, De Souza was "deeply influential as an intermediary between European and African cultures".[8] Today he is known as a founding patriarch of the Afro-Brazilian communities in Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria. The de Souza family has been very instrumental in fighting for the independence of Togo, Ghana, Nigeria and Benin. Figures like Paul-Emile de Souza, a president of Benin, and Chantal de Souza Boni Yayi, a former first lady of Benin, typify the class.

According to the de Souza family, Francisco Félix de Souza was the eighth generation descendant of Tomé de Souza (1503–1579), a Portuguese nobleman who was the first governor-general of the Portuguese colony of Brazil from 1549 to 1553.[9] If true, it would make the contemporary de Souzas members of the Portuguese nobility in addition to being an African chieftaincy family.

A descendant of Francisco Felix de Souza is Martine de Souza along her paternal line.[7][10] She is also descended along her maternal line from Joaquim João Dias Lima, a prominent Brazilian trader in Dahomey during the late 1800's.[10] Dias Lima's wife, Marie, was a Nigerian captured by Ahosi and sold to Dias Lima, who later married her. Martine de Souza and her mother, Lali, share the story with the actress Lupita Nyong'o during the filming of the documentary Warrior Women with Lupita Nyong'o in Benin.[11][12] Martine de Souza is one of the leading tourism guides in Benin, not only having provided guide service to Nyong'o, but also for PBS, National Geographic and NBC.[13]

The protagonist of Bruce Chatwin's novel The Viceroy of Ouidah is said to be based upon the life of Francisco Félix de Souza.


  1. ^ (África: Revista do Centro de Estudos Africanos. USP, S. Paulo, 22-23: 9-23, 1999/2000/2001)
  2. ^ David Ross, “The First Chacha of Whydah: Francisco Félix de Souza,” 1969
  3. ^ Alberto da Costa e Silva - Francisco Félix de Souza, mercador de escravos 2004
  4. ^ a b Ramer, Richard C. (February 2008), "Bulletin60PartXIX", Richard C. Ramer Old & Rare Books, retrieved 2008-08-26
  5. ^ Thomas 2006, p. 695
  6. ^ a b c Jose C. Curto: Africa and The Americas: Interconnections During The Slave Trade (2005) p. 235
  7. ^ a b Sieff, Kevin (2018-01-29). "An African country reckons with its history of selling slaves". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2018-03-07.
  8. ^ Bay 2008, p. 68
  9. ^ Ana Lucia Araujo, "Forgetting and Remembering the Atlantic Slave Trade: The Legacy of Brazilian Slave Merchant Francisco Félix de Souza," Crossing Memories: Slavery and African Diaspora, ed. Ana Lucia Araujo, Mariana P. Candido, Paul E. Lovejoy (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2011), 79-103.
  10. ^ a b Law, Robin (2004). "Introduction" (PDF). Ouidah: the social history of a West African slaving 'port', 1727-1892. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press. p. 15. ISBN 978-0-8214-4552-5. OCLC 654384850.
  11. ^ Hughes, Sarah (2019-10-23). "Warrior Women with Lupita Nyong'o told a complicated history of oppression". Retrieved 2022-09-18.
  12. ^ "Sisterhood and Slavery in "The Woman King"". The New Yorker. 2022-09-16. Retrieved 2022-09-18.
  13. ^ Ran Forte, Jung (2009-06-20). "Marketing Vodun: Cultural Tourism and Dreams of Success in Contemporary Benin". Les Cahiers d'Études Africaines. 49 (193–194): 429–451. doi:10.4000/etudesafricaines.18767. ISSN 0008-0055. S2CID 143227127.