The founder of the Vieyra in Benin was Sabino Vieyra, who had been enslaved in Brazil, returning to Africa after being freed in the first half of the nineteenth century. He first settled in Ouidah, then moved to Calavi, near Cotonou, on the suggestion of Francisco Félix de Souza, Chacha I, with whom he had some business dealings.1 According to his grandson, Papa Joãozinho Vieyra, who was the head of the family in 1995 at age 80, Sabino was actually called Gouyé and was from Agbogan, near Bida, in western Nigeria, on the banks of the Niger river. “He was sold by his brothers,” Papa Joãozinho explains, “because of a dispute between them, who didn’t love each other.”
His story is partially retold in the family’s prayers, spoken in Fon and Nago, the latter being the language the Vieyras use to speak amongst themselves. The prayer goes: “Djéto mi as / Agbom gon nu / Aku do gla gla / sin ma han / Do Anan mè,” meaning: “You Djetos, you sold the dweller of Agbogan, but despite the great drought, there is no shortage of water in the leaf of Anan [a plant in the region].”2 Indeed, there was no “shortage of water,” and Gouyé of Agbogan became Sabino Vieyra, worshipped in Nago thus: “Obi unja / omom lokpon da / omom é akoyayo / eguilomon atouloko,” which, according to Papa Joãozinho, means, “You who came from the other side of the sea, you are the first Europeans, the first Europeans coming to do trade.”
Sabino had twelve children, three of whom settled in Calavi, five in Porto-Novo, and four of whom stayed with him in Ouidah, where he lived until the end of his days. The ones who moved to Calavi – Martin, Sebastien, and Yaya Marianna – maintained the surname “Vieyra” with a “y,” but the others changed it to “Vieira” to facilitate the identification of their imports.
The most striking indication of the power of these “Brazilians” is the imposing mansion built at the end of the nineteenth century by Martin Vieyra, Sabino’s oldest child. Still standing, albeit slightly dilapidated, it remains the largest and finest building in Abomey-Calavi, now a suburb of Cotonou.
Faced with the high cost of maintaining and renovating the old mansion, the Vieyras had a more modest house built on the same plot of land to hold their gatherings. Exhibited there is a large collection of portraits, which eloquently tell the story of financial success of the Calavi branch of this family.
Mansão construída no fim do século XIX por Martin Vieyra, o primogênito de Sabino. Embora um pouco arruinada, esta mansão continua sendo a maior e mais bela e imponente construção de Abomé-Calavi, hoje um subúrbio de Cotonu - 1995 - Abomé-Calavi, Cotonu
Casa da família Vieyra, em primeiro plano Alfred Vieyra e Leon Vieyra. Alfred Vieyra foi presidente da Associação DJAKAHWENDO de Abomé-Calavi. Leon Vieyra, neto de Euzebe Vieyra, já falecido, antigo funcionário do OCBN, era um grande feiticeiro - 1995 - Abomé-Calavi, Cotonu