King Toffa IX

King Toffa IX pours alcohol on the ground as part of a ceremony to honor and speak to the buried ancestors.

During the 18th century, the African kingdom of Dahomey collaborated with the Portuguese in the slave trade. Often under duress, African kings would capture Africans to be shipped across the ocean to forced labor in the Americas.

Hundreds of years later, a descendant of those kings visited Loudoun County to reconcile with his ancestors and his African-American relatives.

King Toffa IX of Porto-Novo, Benin, performed a traditional African blessing at the African American Burial Ground For The Enslaved At Belmont on Saturday as part of a private ceremony before a public annual wreath-laying the following day.

“I am the same as you. I am your brother,” Toffa said in French through a translator. “This ceremony is to commemorate and to remember the return to our roots … We honor [the souls of the people buried here] so that wherever they are today, they will rest in peace.”

Toffa poured water and alcohol on the ground to wake and speak to the ancestors, asking for forgiveness for his ancestors’ part in the slave trade. After speeches and an offering of gifts from several local community members, ancestral drummer Joseph Ngwa of Cameroon formed a drum circle dance made of young people and local religious and political leaders.

While the country of Benin has been run by a president and parliament since the 1970s, the political capital of Porto-Novo is home to the king. Toffa has served on multiple councils of sovereigns in Africa, and reconciliation over the slave trade is a major issue of his reign.

Toffa first heard about the nationwide American effort to preserve and protect cemeteries for the enslaved when Ada Anagho Brown, founder of Roots to Glory Tours, visited the king’s household during a culinary tour with Thomas Balch Library Commission Member Donna Bohanon.

With this year marking the 400th anniversary of the beginning of African enslavement in America, the king found it a proper time to visit. After Belmont, Toffa will travel down the East Coast to meet with African Americans of Beninese descent and bless other burial grounds.

King and Group at Belmont

King Toffa IX of Porto-Novo, Benin, tours the Belmont cemetery grave sites in Ashburn with his retinue, Pastor Michelle Thomas, and locals who came to the ceremony.

For Pastor Michelle Thomas, founder of the Loudoun Freedom Center and president of the Loudoun County Chapter of the NAACP, the visit was both unexpected and meaningful.

“He really wanted to come … and see the resilience of the African-American community,” Thomas told the Times-Mirror. “He has brought together people across the globe now.”

Thomas and the LFC gained rights to the Belmont Cemetery, formerly part of a plantation owned by the Lee family, in 2015. While the plantation is gone, the burial ground has been preserved with help from the community and Eagle Scout Mikaeel Martinez Jaka. It now has gravel trails around the 44 known graves, rock quarry and schoolhouse site.

To Thomas, the king’s visit is especially fitting since it is the fifth anniversary of the burial ground dedication.

“In the Christian faith, five is the number of grace, and it definitely feels as if God has graced us to be able to honor our ancestors in such an authentic way,” Thomas said.

Public figures in attendance included Nji Moussa Njikam, a notable from the Bamoun Kingdom in Cameroon, Loudoun County Supervisor Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg), Purcellville Mayor Kwasi Fraser, Leesburg Town Councilman and LFC Executive Director Ron Campbell and All Dulles Area Muslim Society Board of Directors Chairman Rizwan Jaka.

In addition to the king's visit, the Loudoun Freedom Center on Sunday commemorated the 400th anniversary of the slave trade hitting America with the fifth annual wreath laying ceremony and observance at the Belmont cemetery.

Ancestral drummer Joseph Ngwa

Ancestral drummer Joseph Ngwa performs during a ceremony at the African American Burial Ground For The Enslaved At Belmont in Ashburn on Oct. 12. 

(17) comments

David Dickinson

At least they admitted to their part in the slave trade. To listen to liberals, you'd think that white Southern Democrats were the sole source of slavery in the world ignoring the entire history of humanity that demonstrates slavery since time immemorable, the fact that all original American Colonies had legalized slavery (New Jersey didn't outlaw it until the 13th Amendment forced them to), or that the Plantation of Rhode Island was a key component of the Atalntic slave trade, or that African tribes enslaved each other to sell people off for European goods (at least this article hints at that). History has been so perverted.


What are you talking about their part? Did you not see the words “Often under duress?” Since in general liberals and democrats are better educated than most republicans and conservatives your statement is off and you thinking that you know what they think is absurd. You could never conceive any notion of a dems ideas or ideals.Glad to see you know a little history, you must be one of the better educated repubs.

David Dickinson

That phrase "often under duress" was an editorial comment inserted by the article's author and not stated by the King who, by all appearances, was here to atone for the sins of his ancestors. I disagree with the authors assertion, which appears to be a way to soften the evil that African tribes imposed on each other and shift blame back to Americans. "Sometimes" would have been more accurate. Tribes that traditionally warred against each other had a new reason to capture additional slaves (which was a common practice before Europeans started buying slaves) and they readily did so. They got to make money and get rid of enemies too.

David Dickinson

Liberals are better indoctrinated. Better educated? No, not by a long shot.


David, “King who, by all appearances, was here to atone for the sins of his ancestors” where do you get that from? It’s like victim shaming. Just because you don’t believe the history books doesn’t mean you can change the reason he was there. The tribes didn’t start the slave trade, they were coerced into it. You still want to blame them though? If there wasn’t a demand for slaves do you think this would have happened?

According to Pew, 54 percent of college graduates either identified as Democrats or leaned Democratic, compared to 39 percent who identified or leaned Republican. One-third of Americans have a college degree.


Having a degree doesn’t mean you’re educated. I see lot of people with “degrees” working as barristas. Though less because if the great employment market fostered by President Trump.


Tolerant, how many people with degrees have you seen doing that type of work? You make up so much crap, like you stopped and asked them how educated they are? I call BS.


You see, I'm out working everyday in the private sector. I talk to Americans outside the DC bubble. I'm not sitting at my desk using my google machine to complain about how America stinks. Unlike the Left, I like everyday Americans, particularly folks in "fly over" country. They are what make America Great. They don't complain, they want to work and not have Dems tell them how they will "tax the rich" bec they want to be rich, they want their kids to be rich.

P.S. Go test my claim. It's very simple, strike up a conversation, ask about their day, ask them what college they went to. They're happy to tell you.


What a beautiful ceremony and look at the beautiful clothes and traditional dress they have on. We can't ever fix what the white man destroyed for African Americans, Native Americans and other ethnic groups, but things like this are really special and deep with traditions. Traditions need to be respected and passed along to other generations for sure.


Really... this was the best paragraph to start this story??? To remove any "white blame" for slavery? It's not even the point of this entire story. Next time hire out someone with some type of level of intelligence to write this story. Terrible job on an otherwise nice story and special event.


Am I missing something here?Has this article been edited or rewritten? I ask because I find nothing in that assigns blame to any specific group of people.

Thus I do not understand your complaint. Perhaps you could be more specific.


Don't mind me, I'll just be eating my popcorn while I wait for the racists to roll into the thread.


Here they come!


In other words, Africans were an integral part of the slave trade in America and the Caribbean.


Africans weren't' just an an integral part, they were the origin. Also, just how were they forced??


Did you really even ask that?


slave trade makes it sound so innocuous, but you're right. They were traded like possessions not people.

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