The Olympio Family

Francisco Olympio da Silva (Rio de Janeiro, July 24th, 1833 – Ague, 1907) left for Africa aged 17 on the crew of a ship belonging to Cerqueira Lima, a slave trader from Bahia, Brazil, headed for Adina, on the coast of what is today Ghana.1 After spending a short time in Agorko and Adafienu, he settled Porto Seguro, the Brazilian name for the mining town of Agbodrafo, in current-day Togo. There, he worked in the slave trade, at least initially in the service of João Gonçalves Baêta, a slave trader from Bahia, Brazil, who also lived on the Slave Coast, where he fathered a considerable progeny.2 In the late 1850s he moved to Ague, where he was received by Iyá Francisca Mondukpê Pereira Santos,3 whose daughter Talita Constância he married.

A big plantation owner, Olympio was forced to give up the slave trade and devote himself to legal trading activities in the 1860s, having become one of the most successful traders on the Coast. In his 74 years of life, during which time he never once returned to Brazil, Francisco Olympio had 21 children with seven wives as well as other illegitimate children who were also given his surname.4 He taught all his children Portuguese, and some went to Brazil for their studies.

Part of the family is still based in Ague,5 whose cemetery contains the graves of the family patriarch and most of his direct descendants, but it was in the region that is now the Republic of Togo that the Olympio family gained particular repute. In fact, the first-born of Talabi Constancia Pereira dos Santos, Octaviano Olympio (1859-1940), was one of the founders of Lomé, where he had several plantations. When Togoland came under German rule, it was Octaviano who received the colonizers and translated their proposals for the local chieftains. He also had a brick factory and supplied the laborers for the first colonial buildings in Lomé, supervising their construction. Considered the patron of Lomé, Octaviano Olympio remained until his death the most important figure in Togolese politics in the colonial period. One of his sons, Pedro, was the first Togolese to graduate in medicine, opening the first private African clinic in the country in the 1930s.

Sylvanus Olympio, one of the 30 offspring of Octaviano’s brother Epiphanio Olympio, was the first president of the Representative Assembly of Togo when it was still under French rule, and was the first to call for the country’s independence before becoming the first president of the Republic of Togo. A fierce nationalist, he was assassinated in the gardens of the United States embassy in Lomé on January 13th, 1963, by a group of servicemen who had served in the French military. The leader of the assassins, Etienne Gnassingbé Eyadema, served as president of Togo from 1967 to 2005 and was succeeded by his son Faure Gnassingbé.

While never turning their backs on their Brazilian roots, as can be seen from the patriarch’s tombstone, remade in the 1990s, and while behaving socially like western aristocrats, as we can see from the photos of the reception for the researcher in 1995, the Olympio family make a point of identifying themselves as nationals of Togo. Bebi Olympio, Octaviano’s grandson and one of the country’s foremost jurists, chooses his words carefully: “We know that our great-grandfather came from Brazil and married African women here, but we feel completely integrated as Africans. We do not feel as if we belonged to a different people, a different nation. Not in the least. We live as Africans, history does not stop. We do not worship our Brazilian origins.”


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  • Francisco Olympio (álbum da família Olympio) - s/d

    Francisco Olympio (álbum da família Olympio) - s/d

  • Francisco Olympio da Silva (álbum da família Olympio)

    Francisco Olympio da Silva (álbum da família Olympio)

  • Francisco Olympio da Silva em Aguê, no começo do século (álbum da família Olympio) - s/d - Aguê, Benim

    Francisco Olympio da Silva em Aguê, no começo do século (álbum da família Olympio) - s/d - Aguê, Benim

  • Sopeira e prato em porcelana, personalizados com o nome de Francisco Olympio da Silva, quando ele morava em Agbografo (Porto Seguro) e usava ainda o sobrenome Da Silva (acervo da família) - 10 de junho de 1995 - Lomé, Togo

    Sopeira e prato em porcelana, personalizados com o nome de Francisco Olympio da Silva, quando ele morava em Agbografo (Porto Seguro) e usava ainda o sobrenome Da Silva (acervo da família) - 10 de junho de 1995 - Lomé, Togo

  • Epiphanio Olympio (álbum da família Olympio) - s/d

    Epiphanio Olympio (álbum da família Olympio) - s/d

  • Epiphanio Olympio (álbum da família Olympio) - s/d

    Epiphanio Olympio (álbum da família Olympio) - s/d