BRAZILIAN President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, has paid tribute to former Brazilian slaves from West Africa, who bought their freedom and returned to settle in Ghana in the 19th Century.

According to the Agence France Presse (AFP), Lula, who was visiting Ghana, commended the former slaves saying: "The families who left Bahia and who came back to Ghana are a true example for us; people that were born slaves but bought their freedom. "They had everything to surrender but never gave up the dream of living with dignity, peace and freedom," he said while visiting Brazil House, a two-storey building that backs onto the ocean and is now a memorial to returning former slaves.

"This is his (Lula's) project. This is one of his pet projects for Ghana - the rehabilitation of the cradle of the Tabon people," Brazil's Ambassador to Ghana, Luis Fernando Serra, told AFP.

Tabon is the name given to the returnees in Ghana. Elsewhere on the West African coast they became known as "Agudas." "The Tabon community is the oldest link that exists between us in Brazil, the country that they left in the 19th Century, and Ghana, the land that they have adopted," Lula said after being welcomed by the elaborately clad chief of the Tabon, Azumah Nelson V.

The local community, led by a dancer with waist-long dreadlocks, tattooed legs and white plastic sunglasses, staged a frenetic dance in front of Brazil House during the ceremony.

During the 19th Century, many freed Africans and their children left Brazil to return to West Africa. This increased after 1835 with the deportation of large number of slaves who took part in an attempted uprising in Bahia. Those who came back were the elite among the slaves in Brazil - they were those who had been healthy enough to survive the tough conditions and who had the skills needed to obtain freedom. They spoke fluent Portuguese and understood the day-to-day running of a plantation. And ironically, on their return to West Africa, according to research by Rio de Janeiro-based Universidade Federal Fluminense, they allied themselves with Brazilian traders who were established on the coast and involved in the slave trade.

It was during a visit to Ghana in 2005 that Lula approved turning Brazil House into a memorial. Recently, the building, in Jamestown, a low-rent part of Accra, was renovated with financial backing from two Brazilian companies and turned into a memorial-cum-museum. Lula said he hoped that the restoration would help in the redevelopment of Jamestown district, an area where everything takes place in the street - from film screenings to meals and hairdos.

Rocks at the back of the house lead straight down onto the beach. The view over the ocean serves as a reminder of how the slaves left and came back home.

April 23, 2008.