The Paraíso Family

The family says that its founder was a Yoruba prince who came from Iye, between the kingdoms of Ibadan and Oyo, and that he was sold as a slave as a consequence of political rivalries. He lived many years in Bahia, Brazil, where he was baptized José and adopted the surname “Paraíso” (“Paradise”). It was there that he trained as a barber and also converted to Islam, whereupon he adopted a new first name, Aboubaka.

On February 12th, 1848, he was granted a certificate in recognition of his services by the Brazilian authorities, and subsequently, on December 1st, 1849, a passport. It was under the name of José Aboubaka Paraíso, with the stated trade of barber, that he reached the Slave Coast in January 1850, having been acquired by Domingos José Martins for his personal comfort (Verger, 1992: 34).1 Martins put him to work as a guard and his private barber at one of his properties on Ohum-Seme beach at the Porto-Novo harbor, earning him the nickname of “Bambero,” derived from the Portuguese word for barber, barbeiro.

When Martins died, in 1864, Paraíso was included in the part of the Brazilian trader’s estate to be inherited by the king of Porto-Novo, De Sodji. His life experience in Brazil made him useful to the kingdom, such that he entered the king’s service as a lari, or trusted servant, but went on to become his main adviser in his dealings with foreign powers (Verger, 1992:36). He also became a reliable reference for the older slaves returning from Brazil, both those who had converted to Islam and those who were catholics, which gave him considerable authority amongst the city’s Nago population. The king granted him the ownership of Domingos José Martins’s palm tree plantations, as well as a substantial plot of land in the district of Issala-Odo.

His oldest son, Ignacio Nounassu Souleimam Paraíso, was about 12 years old when Aboubaka entered the king’s service, and from then on he grew up in court. He started out as an adviser to the king, and when the land became a French protectorate, he went on to advise the French, becoming the most influential “Brazilian” in Porto-Novo in his day. He was one of the first to support the French in their aspirations for Porto-Novo, and was a member of the Council of Defense during the colonial war against the Dahomean king, Behanzin. He is also believed to have supplied General Dodds with troops thanks to his influence with the Nago (Turner, 1975:294).

After the French conquest, in recognition of his services, the colonial administration made Ignacio Paraíso the first and, for many years, only African to have a seat on the Council of Administration of the Colony of Dahomey. Regarded as the most important public figure in Porto-Novo after the king, he drew on this prestige to protect the muslim community and the many “Brazilians” who settled in the kingdom precisely because of his presence there. He was also responsible for having the Great Mosque built.

Ignácio Souleimam Paraíso died on October 5, 1939, aged 87, leaving an extraordinary legacy of 135 children, all of whom were “included in the records,” according to his family. His most important descendent in the second half of the twentieth century was Karim-Urban da Silva, the son of one of his daughters. A businessman who amassed a great fortune, he was the Honorary Consul of Brazil in Benin and founded the Da Silva Museum in Porto-Novo.


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  • Karin Urbain da Silva, neto de Ignacio Paraíso e, na ocasião, presidente da nova “Association des Ressortissants Brésiliens – Associação de Descendentes de Brasileiros”, na cerimônia de entronização do Chachá VIII - 7 de outubro de 1995 - Uidá (Singbomey), Benim

    Karin Urbain da Silva, neto de Ignacio Paraíso e, na ocasião, presidente da nova “Association des Ressortissants Brésiliens – Associação de Descendentes de Brasileiros”, na cerimônia de entronização do Chachá VIII - 7 de outubro de 1995 - Uidá (Singbomey), Benim

  • Musée da Silva - 2010 - Porto Novo, Benim

    Musée da Silva - 2010 - Porto Novo, Benim

  • Musée da Silva - 2010 - Porto Novo, Benim

    Musée da Silva - 2010 - Porto Novo, Benim

  • Musée da Silva - 2010 - Porto Novo, Benim

    Musée da Silva - 2010 - Porto Novo, Benim

  • Musée da Silva - 2010 - Porto Novo, Benim

    Musée da Silva - 2010 - Porto Novo, Benim

  • Musée da Silva - 2010 - Porto Novo, Benim

    Musée da Silva - 2010 - Porto Novo, Benim