Monday, July 23, 2018

A Nigerian's Uncomfortable History

For the geographically deficient among us.
At the New Yorker, Nigerian novelist Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani writes about her great-grandfather Nwaubani Ogogo -- a prosperous and honored man who became so by being a slave-trader. (For the record, I am not Nigerian. People keep asking.)
Long before Europeans arrived, Igbos enslaved other Igbos as punishment for crimes, for the payment of debts, and as prisoners of war. The practice differed from slavery in the Americas: slaves were permitted to move freely in their communities and to own property, but they were also sometimes sacrificed in religious ceremonies or buried alive with their masters to serve them in the next life. When the transatlantic trade began, in the fifteenth century, the demand for slaves spiked. Igbo traders began kidnapping people from distant villages. Sometimes a family would sell off a disgraced relative, a practice that Ijoma Okoro, a professor of Igbo history at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, likens to the shipping of British convicts to the penal colonies in Australia: “People would say, ‘Let them go. I don’t want to see them again.’ ” Between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries, nearly one and a half million Igbo slaves were sent across the Middle Passage. (...)
My father succeeded in transmitting to me not just Nwaubani Ogogo’s stories but also pride in his life. During my school days, if a friend asked the meaning of my surname, I gave her a narrative instead of a translation. But, in the past decade, I’ve felt a growing sense of unease. African intellectuals tend to blame the West for the slave trade, but I knew that white traders couldn’t have loaded their ships without help from Africans like my great-grandfather.
The Igbo also used their slaves for human sacrifices to dark spiritual forces. In the last portion of the piece, Ms. Nwaubani gives accounts of the stigma still attached to Nigerians who are descendants of slaves and of her family's attempt to cleanse itself of the evil forces and their consequences.

It's a fascinating article and I make no judgment on the Igbo tribe or Ms. Nwaubani's great-grandfather. That's God's job.

The piece is just a reminder that, in the affairs of men and women, no nation or ethnic group is clean.

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