The multi-talented Jeff Gardiner talks about Nigeria, the beautiful place that inspired his novel Igbo Land, and celebrates the rich culture and traditions of the Igbo people.
A new life begins for her thousands of miles from home.
Lydia and Clem Davie arrive in an Igbo village in Nigeria in July 1967 just as civil war breaks out, but Lydia has trouble adjusting to life in West Africa: a place so unfamiliar and far away from everything she truly understands.
Initially, most of the locals are welcoming and friendly, until one or two begin a frightening campaign of anti-white protests.
Lydia’s life is changed irrevocably after she meets enigmatic Igbo doctor, Kwemto, and war victim, Grace. Through them Lydia learns about independence, passion and personal identity.
Conflict and romance create emotional highs and lows for Lydia, whose marriage and personal beliefs slowly begin to crumble.
Will this house in a Nigerian bush village ever seem like home?
Nigeria is a much misunderstood place. Many people know it as world centre for corruption. We’ve all had those dodgy emails from the Bank of Nigeria telling us to put all savings in a ‘special’ account. There are still bombings and attempted coups to this day. It’s a messy place, politically, and yet it is also an inspiring place of beauty; rich cultural heritage and the birthplace of many great football players (Go, Super Eagles!).
Chinua Achebe is recognised as the father of African literature. His wonderful novel ‘Things Fall Apart’ is a terrific book that even inspired Nelson Mandela. Many world famous actors and singers are Nigerian; for example, Chiwetel Ejiofor (star of ‘12 Years A Slave’).
Whilst ‘Igboland’ tells the story of Lydia, an English girl thousands away from home and under the shadow of her husband Clem; the setting is an Igbo bush village at the beginning of the Biafran War. She meets Kwemto, a local doctor, and Grace, whose life has been ripped apart by the war. These two between them change Lydia’s life forever.
In 1914, when Nigeria became a single nation (under the leadership of British Governor, Lord Frederick Lugard) there were three distinct groups: the Muslim caliphates in the north; the mainly Yoruban southwest; and the Igbo people in the southeast. This is a simplistic but useful way of understanding things, although Nigeria is an incredibly complex nation, consisting of over 250 different tribes, each with separate languages.
Finally, in 1960, Nigeria achieved independence from Britain.
The Biafran War
On 15th January 1966, a military coup resulted in General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, an Igbo and head of the Nigerian Army becoming President under military rule.
Then on 29th July 1966, Northerners executed a counter-coup placing Col. Yakubu Gowan into power. July and September saw large-scale massacres of Igbos living in the north.
1967 saw the south-eastern region of Nigeria attempt to become the independent Republic of Biafra under the leadership of Igbo military governor, Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu.
The Biafran War officially began on 6th July 1967 when Nigerian federal troops advanced into Biafra, and this brutal civil war led to around three million deaths. The hunger and genocide became world news. For the next few years Igbo villages and farms were bombed on a daily basis. The pogroms, massacres, and starvation continued until January 13th 1970. Meanwhile, millions of Igbos were displaced, losing their homes and forced to travel south as refugees.
Martin Luther King, Jean-Paul Satre and even John Lennon spoke out against the atrocities. John Lennon sent back his MBE in anger of the government’s support of the Nigerian federal government (as well as his anger about the Vietnam War and the fact that his latest single was doing badly in the charts).
Since then and to this present day, military coups and parliamentary deals see political power change hands between tribes and parties. Some commentators suggest that the fight over oil revenues is very much to blame. Now that does sound familiar.
‘Igboland’ is a fond and sympathetic look at a country that I consider my spiritual home (having been born there). I want to celebrate the wonderful culture of the Igbo people, which is well worth exploring – especially their spiritual beliefs known as Odinani.
(The photos were taken by my parents who lived in Nigeria from 1964-1970)
Jeff’s website: http://jeffgardiner.com/
Jeff’s blog: http://jeffgardiner.wordpress.com/