Growing up, I really wish that I had spent more time asking my parents questions about their past. It’s something that had never come up in our conversations, and I wish it had.
Last week, I had mentioned how I had a paper about genocide, and it was a topic that I became super interested about.
I don’t think I have mentioned this in any of my past posts but… I’m Nigerian.
My whole family is Nigerian. I’m the first in my family to ever be born in America, which is exactly how it sounds: exciting yet daunting.
I’ve always asked my parents about how they met or how they came to America, but I never received much information about it. It seemed like something my parents just didn’t want to talk about.
But today, I had to call my dad about financial aid matters, and then, as usual, we diverged to other topics usually related to school. He would talk about his friend who has a daughter in Brown and she decided to pursue her Master’s after graduation. I talked about how I was still looking for summer storage and I was debating on whether I should stay this summer or stay at home.
Then it got to the topic about college and if I was on track. I reminded him that my birthday was in two weeks, and he was surprised at how fast time had flown. He talked about how he had finished school at a much later age. Then he really thought about and wondered why he had finished so late. I told him that maybe education was started much later in Nigeria. He said that that wasn’t it.
Then he said it was because of the civil war.
It was then that I had a lightbulb moment. I told myself that I would ask him about it, but I completely forgot until he mentioned it. Wow, would you look at that?
I had tried asking my mom about it a few weeks ago, but she was really tired and said that I should just try to ask my dad about it. But I forgot to ask him…
So for my genocide paper, I had wondered if Nigeria had ever experienced a genocide, and it turned out that they did have a civil war/genocide called the Biafran War between 1967 and 1970. about 2 million Igbos were killed during this time (and my family is from the Igbo tribe). I looked at the places that this had affected, and it affected the exact places of where my parents were from. I was super intrigued and wondered why my parents had not mentioned anything about it.
My dad was born in 1959 and my mom in 1964 so I was really wondering if this had affected them at all.
Apparently it did, much more than I would have ever imagined.
So I asked him if it was the Biafran war that he was talking about, and he said “Yesss”, as if a bunch of memories just flooded back into his memory.
There was a civil war brought about by religion in that Christian Igbos in southern Nigeria were trying to secede from the republic of Nigeria (which had been established on October 1st, 1960) which was majorly Muslim, and they were trying to make their own state called Biafra. The war was brought about my government officials (who were all Muslim) who didn’t support this event. As a result, the Biafran war began.
My father was about 8 when the war started and it didn’t end until he was 11 year old. He was still in school during this time, and he talked about how anytime there were bombings happening, they would all run into the bushes to hide.
The Head of State, who was an Igbo man, was killed, which is one of the events that helped to start the war. He said how his family eventually relocated out of the area (about 3 hours out) and into the village where trees would hide them. I asked him if he had witnessed or heard anything. He said that he could feel the bombs hitting the grounds, and he could hear the airplanes flying over and dropping bombs on public areas such as schools and churches. Then, after every bomb the military soldiers on the ground would come and catch and kill the people who would survive the blasts.
During this time, there were killings happening everywhere. He said how on trains there were fathers being killed while the mothers and their children were allowed to escape.
Bridges connecting the Igbo land to Yoruba and Hausa lands were blown up, and the ports on the southern region of Nigeria were closed off. The Igbo people were closed in, making the annihilation of its people easier.
He talked about how times were so hard while in hiding. He had to fetch water with the elder women from a stream that was 5 miles away at about 5 in the morning. Usually a girl would have done it, but his mother bore no daughters, only 7 sons. As a result, since he was one of the younger kids, he had to do it.
He talked about how he had plenty of brother- and father-inlaws who were drafted into the army to fight in the war, and he never heard from them again. The little kids weren’t drafted because of schooling.
He talked about how the whole year after the civil war was over, military men came to every door, searched the houses, and collected all guns and weapons from everyone. His father had a gun that he hid in the kitchen, but he had forgotten that there was a bullet somewhere in the house. When the military approached and searched their house, they found the bullet and interrogated his father about where he was hiding the gun. His father tried to lie and say that he may have sold the gun or something, but then the military men pulled out their gun and hit his father with it. That was when his father had to pull out the gun from its hiding place and hand it over to them.
I was completely shocked by this. My father had witnessed this along with his brothers and his mother. They had done this when everyone was home, and everyone had thought that the war was over. According to my dad, there were still plenty of killings going on and it was still unsafe to leave your house at night.
He said how during this time, no school was in session. Everyone was in hiding with their families. As a result, he didn’t attend school until the 3 years of war were over. Unfortunately, they also had to make students repeat grades, so he really didn’t finish all of his schooling until the age of 27.
He says how to this day, no Igbo men are allowed to be in office due to this event. The only ones allowed are Yoruba and Hausa.
He explained to me how Igbos were considered the minority during that time, and they were treated as such. They were not respected as people.
He says that this mindset led to Igbos being more industrial and stronger people. They started building industries, working with mine and oil, and created a stubborn mindset among the people.
My dad also says that this led to the reason why he wanted to leave Nigeria. It wasn’t a nice place at all. He wanted to come to America.
He says that everything he does today was shaped by that event, and he could never look at Nigeria the same because of it. Unfortunately, this event has also led to him and many other Nigerians not having very good thoughts about the Muslim faith.
I don’t think I would have ever thought to ask my dad more about this subject if it hadn’t been for the anthropology class. I wonder just how many stories my parents had and they were not telling my sisters and me. Don’t they know that this is how we preserve our culture? Do they know that these are the stories that need to be passed down generations? Without them, we lose our culture, and we lose everything that our ancestors worked so hard to establish.