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Hearing more of the story

July 4, 2010

From Liz Bird:

Our main goal in Asaba is to hear from more people who survived the 1967 killings, or who were affected in many ways. While some are reluctant to speak, we are finding many who believe it is important that the story be told. Many extended families lost multiple family members. Mr. Benedict Onyemenan gave us a list of eight relatives who died, including brothers, uncles and cousins. He described how two teenagers were ordered to take cases of beer to the soldiers, and were never seen again.

 

This plaque on a pew in St. Joseph's Cathedral Church, Asaba, is one of many that remembers those who died in October, 1967.

In St. Joseph’s Catholic church,  where many Asabans still worship, small plaques on pews record the names of some who died.  Eighty-five-year old Right Rev. Mnsr. Chukwumah, bishop of St. Joseph’s,  shared his recollections of 1967, and told us that for a few years afterwards, he had celebrated a memorial mass each October, before being ordered to stop by military authorities.

We were also privileged to meet Obi (Chief) Esonanjo Awolo, who lost two younger brothers, as well as many other family members, in October 1967.His brothers, Harry and Joseph, were gunned down by soldiers while attempting to flee as federal troops entered Asaba. He was able to bring them home to the compound; one was already dead, while the other died shortly after. Igbo people traditionally do not bury their dead in cemeteries, but in their own home compounds, following customary ceremonies.  Many people who lost family members were never able to retrieve their bodies, which made the loss even harder to bear.

Chief Awolo, whose status is marked by his robes, red cap, and other regalia, showed us the spot where he buried his brothers. He explained that he planted a small pepper tree on the site, which has now grown quite large over the last 40 years.

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