HE CAME, HE SAW, HE SAVOURED
His story is reminiscent of Alex Haley's 'Roots'; yet, there are many differences even though the bottom line, connecting with one's ancestry; is similar. He is the first returnee, after his Efik, Calabar-born great-great-great grandmother left Africa 200 years ago. However, it has to be pointed out that Marcos David Ostrander Moreford's story is not another 'Emancipado-come-home' lore, for his African-born forebear was not taken out of the Mother Continent as a slave.
So, while Ostrander is another 'Omowale', the lore of this devotee of the Yoruba deities, 'Olokun' and 'Yemoja'; is very different to the ones most people frequently encounter. In deed, his African-born great-great-great grandma was not just another freeborn, but the scion of a very powerful family; who was also a very successful entrepreneur.
Our subject's full name, Chief (Dr) Marcos David Ostrander Moreford, must seem like a mouthful; but there's an enviable reason behind this concatenation. Currently resident in Panama, 57-year-old Dr Marcos Ostrander was born in the Brazilian port city of Rio de Janeiro and his ancestry stretches from the Americas, Brazil, Cuba and Panama; to Europe, Leicester in England, which is how Moreford also came into his chain of names; and the Netherlands, and into Africa, Nigeria and Cameroon.
Though one man, Dr Ostrander is several continents and races rolled into one: Apart from his Nigerian great-great-great grandmother; his great-great-great-grandfather, Mr. Moreford, hailed from Leicester in England; his great-grandfather, Mr. Fernando Oller (pronounced 'O-yer') was born in Cuba and his grandmother, Juanita Oller, a late professor and author; was Panamanian.
'My Patron Saint happens to be 'Olokun', which happens to be the 'Orisa' of the depth of the oceans', Ostrander declared with pride, while speaking to 'Travels', during an encounter in Calabar. He further revealed that aside Cuban and Spanish bloods, Dutch blood also flowed in his father's veins and that his paternal grandmother was actually Scottish.
The name Ostrander reveals the man's Dutch heritage. 'My Dutch ancestor, Ostrander, came on the first ship that berthed at New Amsterdam, now known as New York (USA)'. It is said that civilization is a mixture of cultures, and it all comes together in Marcos Ostrander.
But, how does one authenticate his African connection? 'Well, I've always been a sort of historian of the family; I know that my great-grandfather, Fernando Oller, was initiated into 'Abakua', the first 'Ekpe' Lodge in Havana, Cuba; because my grandmother, Juanita; and her older brother, Jose; wrote down many things about my great-grandfather. In fact, some of these are available in a pamphlet, titled 'The three Cuban patriots'', explained Marcos Ostrander.
'My great-great-great grandmother was from Obio-Oko (Creek Town), Western Calabar. I know that she was from there', Ostrander stressed; adding, 'She was a very strong woman of knowledge, of nature and spiritual things. Some of my sources of information, like antique manuscripts, are very, very old. But I have read copies, and we know enough to arrive at this conclusion. And, I was taught from childhood that my great-great-great grandmother came from Calabar in Africa', he reiterated.
A widely travelled man; Ostrander had at various times visited Scotland, England, Holland, Cuba and the US. Apparently, after travelling almost everywhere, he said without a visit to Africa; his life's journey would have been incomplete; so, the man set out to visit Nigeria, and his sojourn in the Cross River Basin area from 26 May to the 31st marked the first time Ostrander set foot on African soil.
During our chat in Calabar, on the eve of his return to Panama, via Lagos, Frankfurt and New York et cetera; Ostrander enthusiastically pointed out that his effort was the more historic; because, as he claimed, 'I am the first 'Carabali' to come home. I have always been drawn to my roots. So, I have been tracing my roots, and I consider this journey symbolic because I have accomplished a life-long dream; to see all the lands of my ancestors.
'I returned (to Calabar) to trace the roots; and to be initiated here as the first 'Carabali' from America to be initiated back home (in Calabar) at the Efik Obutong Lodge, the lodge that actually gave birth to that 'Ekpe' Lodge in Havana (Cuba). I had to do this (come to Nigeria), because I've always been drawn by the spirits. Truly, coming to Africa was the last on the itinerary, but the last shall be first', he enthused. Talk about saving the best for last.
Memories of a trailblazing sojourn
Although English, Nigeria's lingua franca is widely spoken in Calabar, without a knowledge or comprehension of Efik, Efut or Ejagham, the three languages of the aborigines of Calabar; could Ostrander say he enjoyed sufficient immersion in the culture of his ancestor; in a nutshell, how did he get along?
'It is true I don't speak the language, and everything sometimes seemed so strange; but, I still feel at home. This is home to me', he declared. Expatiating, Ostrander said; 'It's the chemistry with the people, we are one; I can feel that this is my people, and I can feel that they could feel me, too. We are kinsmen, and I feel fantastic because of this. I have felt great throughout this whole trip. I was in good hands, I never felt insecure. I have respected the culture, and it has also respected me; therefore, I've been at home totally'.
It is, however, worth noting that Ostrander would have missed everything he enjoyed from his trip to Calabar, had he heeded the advice of many Latin-Americans he had revealed his plans of visiting Nigeria to.
Ostrander again: 'In Cuba and elsewhere, many people told me, 'O, you go to Nigeria, you'd be killed'. But, I told myself, 'If that's the price for searching for my ancestry, so be it'. 'So, it's a very big step. This trip, to me, is a very powerful experience; something I cannot describe, but something very close to my heart; in the very soul of my person'.
When he landed in Nigeria, his title was Dr, but before his departure Marcos David Ostrander Moreford had acquired another title, Chief. The latter followed his installation as 'Isun Mbakara', a chief of 'Ekpe' Society, after his initiation into that esoteric community at Efik Obutong Lodge.
Although questions would be asked how one could become an 'Ekpe' chief within one week of initiation into the society, Dr Ostrander's protagonists' response to that would probably be that the beneficiary deserved certain waivers, given the sacrifices he made and encumbrances he endured, such as the four-day odyssey he went through coming from Panama City in Central America to the West African port city of Calabar in Eastern Nigeria.
On investing in Nigeria
After all the tedium travelling here, not to talk of the crippling costs of air tickets, hotel fees and so on; would Ostrander say it was worthwhile? 'O, 'I feel totally at home here. I can feel the ancestors here, and it's very exciting to be here. After my initiation in Calabar, I was given a title, 'Isu Mbakara' at Efut-Ifako clan', he declared.
At this point, Dr Ivor Miller, a Fulbright scholar and visiting lecturer at University of Calabar, who was Ostrander's guide in the Cross River Basin area, interjected; 'He's come to reclaim the title, really'.
But, how does Ostrander's homecoming resonate on an investor's scale? 'Although it is very expensive to come here, you know, it took me three days to fly here.
I can still say it was worth every penny'. What business opportunities did Ostrander see from his visit to Nigeria? 'A lot; I can see lots of room for business and improvement. But, for foreign investment to come, you need stability, solid governance, strong judiciary and reliable infrastructure. Additionally, one must be sure that the rules that you came in to invest by are maintained; these are very, very important', Ostrander remarked.
Assuming all these factors were in place, would he come down to invest? 'Definitely, yes', he enthused.
When asked what area he would be putting his money on, tourism? This is what Ostrander had to say: 'Very likely not only tourism. I know that tourism is a very fascinating industry; it's a very great industry because it generates lots of employment opportunities in so many areas, whether in the urban or rural setting. You know I went deep into rural areas during my visit, and I saw beautiful places, just ripe for ecological tourism that would not adversely impact on the environment: All the same; there many areas of business for the international investor'.
The man Marcos Ostrander
Dr Marcos Ostrander is a legal practitioner, importer/exporter, explorer, diplomat, and environmental activist. He is also into oil and gas businesses as well as tourism and owns several hotels/resorts, including Tropic Star Lodge in the Pignas Bay neighbourhood of Panama. Evidently, Ostrander has fingers in many pies, but his various enterprises come under one huge conglomerate called Tropic Star Group. Ostrander's mega-dimension commercial ventures could well be likened to the fibrous nature of his genetic roots.
Indeed, Ostrander's business prowess and interests in the esoteric, the supernatural and freemasonry hint at some connect with the powerful woman of Obio-Oko.
Ostrander was the only child of his parents but he has helped preserved the clan through the five offsprings he sired. Today, this father of five is also a grandfather many times over. An unselfish man, Ostrander plans to encourage other Latin-Americans to visit Calabar, the Cross River Basin area, and Nigeria as a whole. And, he wants to lead such prospective tourists through personal example, by bringing his two sons to Calabar as soon as possible.
'I know that my sons, I have two very boys; Ascanio (24) and Eian (22); would love this experience because they are very proud of their heritage. I have worked very hard to make them proud of their ancestry; so, I hope to bring them here, and have them initiated into 'Ekpe'. I'm sure, this will be a very powerful experience for them', Ostrander added.
To be candid, Ostrander must be commended, considering the tedium he endured to visit Calabar. Apparently, through the same conspiracy that has rendered Calabar Port virtually moribund, the Margaret Ekpo International Airport, Calabar is now international only in name; whereas it used to be an important stop for international flights connecting Brazzaville (Congo), Douala (Cameroon), Malabo (Equatorial Guinea) and Nairobi (Kenya) et cetera until the late 1980s or so.
Since Calabar has not seen one international commercial flight for many moons after Aero Contractors cut Nigeria's Canaan City from its route; Ostrander had to land in Lagos and board a domestic flight to Calabar. However, it wasn't only in Nigeria, Ostrander was forced to endure an avoidable circumlocution; there is no direct flight from Latin-America to Africa, whereas Brazilian Airlines, Varig, operated such flights until the 1980s or the 1990s.
Under the circumstances, Ostrander started from Panama City (Panama) to Newark, New Jersey (US) to Frankfurt (Germany) before finally landing in Lagos (Nigeria). It took all of three days, and, as one would expect, he probably arrived drained and dizzy from all the physical exhaustion and jet-lag. Hear Ostrander's rue: 'I wish there was a direct flight from Latin-America to Nigeria'. Although he said he had an alternative and could have flown from Panama to Sao Paolo (Brazil), then to Johannesburg (South Africa) and finally connect Lagos and start flying back to Calabar; Ostrander said even this could have been more strenuous.
Ostrander again: 'I believe there's a good market here. If KLM or some other airline could open a Panama City-Lagos route, I think it would be very profitable'.
Death almost overtook Marcos Ostrander's story
But for a fortuitous twist of fate, the story of Marcos Ostrander would have ended up a mere fable, another figment of someone's fertile imagination; had his great-grandfather not survived many life-threatening snares to sire children, one of whose offspring Marcos is.
His great-grandfather, Fernando Oller, was a pro-independence campaigner, and gained immense popularity as one of the outstanding Cubans that struggled for independence of Cuba from Spain. Expectedly, that advocacy would land Fernando Oller and other major pro-independence campaigners in trouble. At some point, the man was arrested, tried (apparently by a kangaroo court) and jailed.
Marcos Ostrander again: 'He was not only arrested and detained, but was almost executed by the Spanish. The man next to him was… They would count; 'one, two, three, four'; and the unlucky fourth man on the line would be executed'.
After surviving the parade on the execution grounds, the man; apparently with other political prisoners, was put on a ship bound for Fernando Po (also known as Bioko) in Equatorial Guinea. Although the islands of Cuba and Fernando Po lie within the Atlantic, the latter is roughly 100km south of Nigeria, while the former is in the Caribbean between the North American and South American continents. In any case, after surviving the treacherous journey from the Atlantic west-coast to that ocean's eastern fringes; the man, still a prisoner, was again bundled aboard another vessel bound for the Canary Islands, located hundreds of kilometers off Africa's northwest coast. After they set sail for the Canary Islands, the boat capsized; fortunately, the man that would be Ostrander's great-grandpa was rescued by a passing Brazilian freighter, which landed him in Panama. 'That's how he got to Panama in the 1870s. My grandmother, his daughter, and her siblings were born and so on, and so forth', Marcos Ostrander remarked.
From England to Cuba
His great-great-great grandfather, Moreford, had married the African-born lady in Leicester. Interestingly, the couple had only one child, a daughter, named Esther. Eventually, his great-great grandma (Esther) was sent by her father to Cuba, where she opened a branch of the family enterprise, a business venture established to assist the families of those that had been taken as slaves to Havana; to regain their freedom.
Esther later married Mr. Oller, a Spaniard from Barcelona. They were very wealthy, and did very well. While in Cuba, Esther and her Spaniard-born husband had Ostrander's great-grandfather, Ferdinand Oller, who was born in Havana in 1844. It would seem that Ostrander's African ancestry enjoyed resurgence in his great grandfather, who got initiated into the Efik Obutong, the first Ekpe society, which Africans taken to Cuba had established in Regla; a port settlement across the Bay from Havana.
Sources reveal that sect was founded in 1836, and Ostrander said his great-grandfather was initiated in the 1860s. 'We understand he was initiated when he was probably 20 years old; so, that would have been sometime in 1864', he reckoned. Given the line of their family business, and his African ancestry, it didn't come as a surprise that Ostrander's great grandfather would end up a notable figure among those that opposed continued oppression by the Spanish colonial government, which explains how he got into trouble with the colonial authorities, narrowly escaped execution, was exiled to Fernando Po and was being transferred to Canary Islands, when his boat sank before being rescued by a Brazilian freighter and landed in Panama.
According to Dr Ivor Miller, author of 'Voice of the leopard'; another reason the Ostrander story is special and so unusual is that the man's ancestors were not slaves. 'They didn't migrate as slaves. They were free Africans in the Americas, playing a foundational role in American societies. Interestingly, this is a story that's never been told very well at all. Instead, people are always treated to stories of all blacks as slaves and victims. So, we find; more and more, as we write history from below, based on real family cases, we find a lot of free people. These were the people instrumental in recreating 'Ekpe' in the Americas'.