Sara Forbes Bonetta: A Remarkable Journey from Yoruba Royalty to British Aristocracy

Born Aina (also known as Ina) in 1843 in Oke-Odan, a Yoruba village in West Africa, Sara Forbes Bonetta’s life took an extraordinary turn. Her parents tragically died during a war with the nearby Kingdom of Dahomey, leaving her orphaned. The Dahomey army invaded Oke-Odan, capturing Aina and other residents, who were either killed or sold into the Atlantic slave trade. Aina ended up in the court of King Ghezo of Dahomey as a young child slave.

In a twist of fate, Aina’s life changed forever when she was “gifted” to Captain Frederick E. Forbes of the British Royal Navy. Forbes was struck by her intelligence, grace, and resilience. Recognizing her noble lineage, he renamed her Sarah Forbes Bonetta and brought her to England. There, she became a goddaughter of Queen Victoria, who took a keen interest in her upbringing and education. Sarah’s life straddled two vastly different worlds. She moved from the Yoruba courts to the opulence of the British royal household. Her intelligence and charm endeared her to Queen Victoria, who ensured she received a proper education. Sarah’s remarkable journey challenged societal norms and racial prejudices of the time.

In 1862, Sarah married Captain James Pinson Labulo Davies, a wealthy Lagos philanthropist. Together, they had three children: Victoria, Arthur, and Stella. Sarah’s marriage and family life were marked by both privilege and tragedy. She continued to navigate her dual identity as a Yoruba princess and a British aristocrat. Sarah Forbes Bonetta’s story is one of resilience, adaptability, and courage. She defied the odds, rising from slavery to become a respected figure in British society. Her legacy lives on through her descendants, including her great-great-granddaughter, Ameyo Adadevoh, a renowned Nigerian physician.

Sarah Forbes Bonetta’s life transcends borders and eras. She remains an enduring symbol of strength, cultural exchange, and the indomitable human spirit. Her journey from Yoruba royalty to British aristocracy inspires us to embrace our shared humanity and celebrate the richness of our interconnected world.