Niara Bely Also known as Elizabeth Bailey Gomez, was a African queen who also doubled as a slave trader in nineteenth-century Guinea.
Niara Bely was the daughter of Emmanuel Gomez, the Luso-African ruler of Bakia, Guinea. who founded a Luso-African dynasty in Bakia, Guinea in the eighteenth century. She studied in Liverpool where she adopted the name Elizabeth Bailey Gomez.
In 1809 she married the slave trader Stiles Edward Lightbourn who spent much of his time on voyages across the Atlantic. The couple originally lived in Bangalan. Bely subsequently maintained a trading settlement located in Farenya, Guinea. While there, she became a prominent businesswoman involved in the business of trading human beings. She resided in the fortified settlement, in a two-storey building she described as a “palace”.
Archaeological evidence suggests that the area became a village only after Bely set up her trading outpost. It was the destination for trading routes from the Fouta Djallon highlands.
Currently, the ruins of her “palace” are in fairly poor condition due to activities such as the mining of soil for mud brick manufacture, and more recent attempts at “improving” the site.
In 1841, when Benjamin Campbell was investigated for involvement in the slave trade, he freely admitted that he had done business with “Mrs Lightbourn”, but said that he had only bought legitimate goods such as ivory, hides, wax, gold and coffee.
In 1842, Niara Bely and her colleague Mary Faber united their armies to help their allies, the Fula, to plunder the Susu capital, Thia, when weakened by throne fighting, they installed their own candidate there, which benefited the Fulas, Faber, and Niara.
The 1840s are described as a great flowering period for the region’s trade.
This 19th century trade is particularly interesting as it was “illegal” at the time, since it took place after the 1807-08 abolition of the slave trade north of the equator. The trade was aided by the presence of sand bars at the river mouth that prevented entrance of the large vessels of the British Anti-Slave Trading squadron.
On January 17, 1852, the British and Sierra Leone, in agreement with the domestic ruler, imposed a ban on the slave trade of the region. To show their displeasure, Niara bely closed alliance with Mary Faber de Sanger and Charles Wilkinson, and together they pillaged the Susu region by the lower river. However, the war ended with a defeat for Faber, Bely and Wilkinson (1855). Around this time, the Transatlantic slave trade experienced its final decline and the slave traders of the region gradually began transferring their interests to peanut and coffee cultivation.
Niara bely died on 14 April 1879, the news of her death was commemorated by the firing of the settlement’s cannon the morning after. A mission who was present at the time wrote “The infirmities of age had pressed heavily upon her ever since her baptism, and at last she died somewhat suddenly”.
She was initially buried in a hole under a cheese tree in the middle of the village. In 1966, a graveyard was built around the location and her remains were re-interred in a cement grave.
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