Sunday, September 9, 2007
Report on the 1ST INTERNATIONAL INTERDISCIPLINARY CONFERENCE ON "AFRICA AND THE TRANS-ATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE: REVISITING THE OLAUDAH EQUIANO GLOBAL
APPENDIX REPORT ON THE 1ST INTERNATIONAL INTERDISCIPLINARY CONFERENCE ON "AFRICA AND THE TRANS-ATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE: REVISITING THE OLAUDAH EQUIANO GLOBAL LEGACY", 26th -28th JULY 2007, IMO STATE UNIVERSITY, OWERRI, NIGERIA. Sponsors: -United Nations Forum of Arts and Culture, Nigeria. -The Catherine Acholonu Research Center for African Cultural Sciences, Abuja, Nigeria. -Imo State University, Owerri, Nigeria; Office of the Vice Chancellor. Hosts: The School of Humanities and the Department of English and Literary Studies, Imo State University, Owerri, Nigeria. Conveners: -Prof. Catherine Acholonu, Country Ambassador, United Nations Forum of Arts and Culture. -Prof. Chima Korie, Prof. of History, Rowan University, New Jersey, USA. -Prof. Dorothy Ukaegbu, Department of Anthropology, Community College of Southern Nevada, Las Vegas, USA. INTRODUCTION: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, which saw millions upon millions of African peoples transported in slave-ships through the Atlantic Ocean to Europe and the Americas, began in the 15th Century and was in its boom in the 16th, 17th and late 18th Centuries. For four hundred years African men and women were traded as commodities with the connivance of local chiefs on the African continent. "By the 1780s, the high point of the African Slave Trade, when more than eighty-eight thousand Africans would be brought to the New World every year, the Atlantic Slave Trade was a well-established mercantile system connecting Africa, Europe and the Americas in a web of (illicit) commerce" (Robert J. Allison, Introduction to The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, 1995). By 1750, England, Holland and France had become leading slave traders with those from Portugal, and later America, and by 1776 there were slaves in every American colony from New Hampshire to Georgia. Slavery became the mainstay of European and American economies as well as the main domestic workforce, so much so that by the late 1700s when the wind of Abolition began to blow, even the anti-slavery proponents still possessed slaves. (Robert Allison, 1995) In 1789 Equiano's autobiography was published under the title The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, The African, Written by Himself. In the book, Equiano presented himself not only as a victim of slavery, but more importantly, he gave the first ever from the point of view of a black African and an ex-slave: "The kingdom is divided into many provinces, in one of the most remote and fertile of which, called Eboe (Igbo), I was born, in the year 1745, in a charming fruitful vale, named Essaka." Equiano gave some detailed and poignant description of his life's beginnings as a little boy of noble birth from one of the world's earliest democracies; an egalitarian society where men and women lived with the utmost regard for human dignity and honour, the dignity of labour, the rule of law and in total harmony with the environment. By contrast, this picture was parodying the savagery and inhumanity going on all around him in the European society of his day. The book was an instant bestseller. It portrayed Equiano as a great literary craftsman for it was written in such a way as to successfully appeal to all segments of the society. It was at once a theological essay, a slave narrative, a sentimental novel and an adventure story, but more than all that, an irrepressible abolitionist tool. Robert Allison in his introduction to the 1995 edition of The Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, The African, Written by Himself, wrote: In 1788, diverse abolitionist coalitions banded together to form one of the greatest mass movements in British history. Activists collected tens of thousands of signatures urging parliament to end the slave trade. Equiano presented his own to Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, on March 21st 1788. Equiano's Narrative became one crucial link between these segments of the British public. He had played no small part in inspiring the great English abolitionists Clarkson, Sharp, Ramsay and the parliamentarian William Wilberforce. But he also knew sailors and dock workers, black refugees from West Indies and America, and leaders of London's emerging radical working class. He was recognized by virtually every segment of the anti-slavery and reform movements, and he could speak of his own experiences in a way to move men and women at every level of society. Among the first subscribers of his book were members of the English royal family and political radicals … pacifists and Admirals, Anglican bishops and dissenting ministers, Africans living in London, and women and men committed to reform… (p. 15) After Equiano sold more than two thousand copies of the Narrative on a trip to Ireland in 1791, a white abolitionist said that Equiano was "more use to the cause than half the people in the country." Equiano was the unsung father of the abolition of slavery in Britain, and the Black world's foremost abolitionist. His Narrative was second only to that of Ottobah Cugoano in order of appearance, but in terms of its impact as an anti-slavery weapon, it was second to none. Equiano saw himself as the representative of the black race in its entirety, and has been compared to Moses, the deliverer of the enslaved Jews of Egypt. In America the Narrative is recognized as the first great African-American slave narrative. Equiano was the only slave author who gave detailed insight into the author's native African nation, culture and lifestyles including the lifestyles of the peoples among whom he traversed on the African continent. This gave his work the stamp of authenticity and even so was his impact on the English, American and global society at large. His Narrative became an international bestseller, and even before Equiano died in April 1797, the book had had eight English editions as well as an American, a French, a Dutch and a Russian, a feat which no other work by an African or a Black had attained. The book continued to be a political tool for the abolition of slavery and racism against Blacks well onto the early 19th Century in America (North and South) and in Britain. Equiano's fame and popularity continued to grow and the records indicate that eighty years after his death he was still remembered as the influential abolitionist "Olaudah Equiano, the African", on the tombstones of his daughter and son-in-law. In the 20th Century Equiano's voice was a key instrument for Black anti-racism struggle in America, the Caribbean, Europe and among African nationalists struggling against colonialism. Equiano's poignant and proud portrayal of the civilized African society of his ancestors gave African blacks born in the Diaspora who had no knowledge of Africa, a sense of pride and cultural identity, such that an African-American author and veteran of the Harlem Renaissance noted the "whispered pride" with which African-Americans trying to reclaim their own history cited Equiano's Narrative. Slavery eventually abolished in Britain in 1807. This year 2007, Britain and the commonwealth countries in Africa are celebrating the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Britain. But this celebration will not be complete without sue tribute being paid to the African heroes of the Abolition, in particular Olaudah Equiano, the African, the Nigeria Moses who being a Black man has not been given the honour due to him as the initiator of the Abolitionist struggle in Britain and as one who having already earned his own freedom, sacrificed his energy and life's earnings for the freedom of his fellow Africans who were still in bondage. Between 1986 and 1989 Prof. Catherine Acholonu conducted field work in Isseke, Anambra state, Nigeria and came up with overwhelming evidence indicating that Equiano's "Essaka" was indeed Isseke. Her world acclaimed findings, published under the title The Igbo Roots of Olaudah Equiano, bestored upon Isseke international recognition as the actual home of Olaudah Equiano. THE 2007 ANNUAL INTERNATIONAL INTERDISCIPLINARY CONFERENCE ON AFRICA AND THE TRANS-ATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE: Racism in the ivory towers of Britain and America has however thrown up a Vincent Caretta who now argues that Equiano's claim to an African/Igbo origin was contrived and a hoax. His obnoxious argument, though lacking in merit, is surprisingly getting a lot of attention in the West, so much so that Olaudah Equiano is already being called a liar in some quarters. Three committed Igbo scholars Prof. Catherine Acholonu, the researcher who discovered Equiano's hometown and surviving relatives in Isseke, Anambra State, Nigeria; Prof. Chima Korie, a Professor of History at Rowan University, USA and Prof. Dorothy Ukaegbu, a Professor of Anthropology at the Community College of Southern Nevada, Las Vegas, USA designed The Olaudah Equiano Global Legacy Project to give Equiano his rightful place in history by bringing the Equiano discourse onto the Nigerian soil and thus hoping to set the records straight, free of the racial underpinnings that have characterized the discourse in the West. Thus was born "The Annual International Interdisciplinary Conference on Africa and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade" which is being co-sponsored by United Nations Forum of Arts and Culture (UNFAC) and Catherine Acholonu Research Center for African Cultural Sciences (CARC) in partnership with Imo State University (IMSU). The First/ Inaugural conference in the series, convened by Professors Acholonu, Korie and Ukaegbu, took place from 26-28th July 2007 at Imo State University, Owerri, Nigeria and was hosted jointly by the office of the Dean School of Humanities, Prof. J. I. Okonkwo and the office of the Head of Department of English and Literary Studies, Dr. Isidore Diala. DAY I THE OPENING CEREMONY: The conference took place at Kumasi Hall. The opening ceremonies began at 11.00 am with Opening Remarks and presentation of kola nuts by Prof. B.E. B. Nwoke, former Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academics) of Imo State University, and presently Dean of Faculty of Science, who stood in for Dr. J. O. Eboreime, Director General of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM). The Vice Chancellor of Imo State University Prof. Innocent Chuka Okonkwo read a welcome address on behalf of the host university. He paid tribute to the Special Guest of Honour and Visitor to the University, Dr. Mrs. Ada Okwuonu, the Deputy Governor of Imo State who he said was on the verge of taking up the post of Visiting Professor at Imo State University before her recent election as Deputy Governor. He declared the willingness of Imo State University to host the annual conference on a permanent basis. The high point of the opening ceremony was the arrival of the Isseke contingent of no fewer than fifteen men consisting of traditional chiefs and titled men led by the traditional ruler of Isseke, His Royal Highness Igwe Emma Nnabuife, Ezeoha II of Isseke, a man of immense height and proportions, clad in an all-white traditional regalia. As this giant of a man strode into Kumasi Hall trailed by uniformed red-capped chiefs (Ndi Ichie and Ndi Nze-Nzu), the already full hall broke into an instantaneous standing ovation. The titled chiefs settled into their seats in the front row of the hall while the Igwe (whose title means 'Sky King') walked up the steps to the High Table and the drums intoned his glorious arrival. Before taking his seat, the Igwe announced that three of his companions were sons of the Ekwealuo family of Isseke, nephews of Olaudah Equiano. There was another rousing ovation as he introduced Oliver Ekwealuo, Callistus Ekwealuo and Vin Okezie (Ekwealuo) before settling down on his seat. Thereafter Prof. F.N. Madubuike, Dean of the School of Crop Sciences, Imo State University a native of Isseke and Chairman of the Isseke National Committee on Olaudah Equiano introduced the traditional ruler and his team and then made introductory remarks to the conference from an Isseke indigenous perspective. Prince Ajay Prabhakar, Country Programs Coordinator of the United Nations Forum of Arts and Culture (UNFAC) presented a welcome speech on behalf of both his organization and Catherine Acholonu Research Center (CARC), declaring the willingness of UNFAC/CARD partnership to give more support to the project in the years ahead. He noted that the Resident Representative of UNESCO Mr. Abhimanyu Singh who was billed to officiate as the Special Guest to the conference had earlier sent compliments with a written apology to UNFAC for his inability to participate in the conference due to other conflicting engagements. The Director General of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Dr. J. O. Eboreime was however represented by Mrs. Chioba F. Uboh, Chief Curator of the National Museum, Imo State. In his speech, presented on his behalf by his representative, the D.G. National Commission for Museums and Monuments praised the organizers of the conference, insisting that Prof. Acholonu's research had placed Isseke, the home of Olaudah Equiano, high on the list of national monuments. He announced that due to the publication of her research in the late 1980s the commission had placed Isseke on the nation's Heritage List. He revealed that the commission had just acquired ten copies of the revised edition of Acholonu's The Igbo Roots of Olaudah Equiano for distribution to its zonal offices and was poised to cooperate with all stakeholders to promote the international recognition of Isseke as a heritage monument and an open air museum, and to place it on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Mrs. Uboh explained that since the NCMM was the only body having the legal instrument to manage, maintain, administer, preserve and protect the nation's monuments, cultural resources and antiquities, its listing of Isseke within the Nation's Heritage List should be seen as a declaration by the Federal Government of Nigeria of Isseke's status as a National Heritage and Olaudah Equiano as a bona fide son of Nigeria. The Deputy Governor of Imo State and Special Guest of Honour, Dr. Mrs. Ada Okwuonu, read her speech welcoming the conference participants and declaring the conference open. Thereafter she performed the formal presentation of the just released 2007 revised edition of Catherine Acholonu's publication The Igbo Roots of Olaudah Equiano, containing a reply to Vincent Caretta. She paid glowing tributes to its author's twenty years of dogged campaign to give Equinao his rightful place in African and world history. In her well researched speech, Dr. Ada Okwuonu, a scholar in her own right, said, "Many scholars such as Professors Chinua Achebe, Ernest Emenyonu, Elizabeth Isichei and Adiele Afigbo have contributed substantially to reclaim the Igbo origin of this great black man. However, Prof. Catherine Acholonu's seminal writings and literary/anthropological findings remain the most authentic and provided the key to the actual origin of Olaudah Equiano." Speaker after speaker paid tribute to Prof Acholonu's research for drawing the curtain on the speculations that trailed the discourse on Equiano's actual origin and her consistent efforts to give him a befitting place in Igbo, Nigerian, African and world history. The Deputy Governor called on sons and daughters of Igbo land in particular and Nigeria in general to speak with one voice and reclaim Olaudah Equiano for Africa and promote the international recognition of his achievements and his glorious place in world history. The occasion was rounded off by a scintillating cultural performance by the students of the Theater Department, Imo State University followed by group photographs of the special guests with the Deputy Governor. DAY II: Day 2 proceedings had Professor U.D. Anyanwu, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Admin), Imo State University and Head of the Center for Igbo Studies as chairman. It began with a keynote address presented by Prof. Catherine Acholonu under the title, "Finding the True Origin of Olaudah Equiano: The Facts, the Fallacies and the Grand Conspiracy". (It has been amended to the present title) In the paper Acholonu narrated the events surrounding the two-and half year-long research leading to her discovery of Equiano's Isseke hometown and his surviving relatives, the global importance of Olaudah Equiano and the subsequent publication and international success of her book, The Igbo Roots of Olaudah Equiano. She explained how the international success of the publication led to a conspiracy involving some leading Igbo scholars who with the aid of Prof. Paul Edwards of the University of Edinburgh, Scotland and Henry Louis Gates of Cornell University, USA strove to stamp out the international acceptability of her work by downplaying on the importance of her discoveries before that international media. She cited originals of personal letters written to her between 1987 and 1989 by Edwards and Gates in which they eulogized her research, and blamed their sudden turnaround on a grand conspiracy involving some leading Igbo scholars who were not happy with the international success of her publication. She pointed out the obvious irony of the fact that it was one of these conspirators, Henry Louis Gates, that was now sponsoring "the enfant terrible Vincent Caretta" to defame Equiano by demasking him of his Igbo and African identity and personal integrity. She took a serious exception to the involvement of Igbo scholars in the conspiracy to undermine her work and concluded with the warning that "It is these lizards that ruined their own mother's funeral (to borrow an expression from Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart), that we have to thank for this brazen attempt to brand Equiano, one of Africa's greatest heroes of the last millennium, as a liar." Acholonu in her keynote also presented a powerful defense against what she perceived as Caretta's racial profiling of the Igbo tribe whom he described as the "lowest and most wretched of all the nations of Africa", "the conformation of their face …resembles that of the baboon"; … "very frequent to seek in a voluntary death, a refuge from their own melancholy, … The Eboes are in fact more truly savage than any nation of the Gold Coast… of religious opinions and modes of worship… they pay adoration to certain reptiles…". She informed the audience that the Keynote Address had been first presented as the Black History Month Celebration Lecture on February 2007 at the Community College of Southern Nevada, Las Vegas, USA, which sponsored her trip to USA to give a public lecture to set the record straight and defend Olaudah Equiano against Vincent Caretta's posturing. She called on Prof. Chinua Achebe Africa's "Eagle on Iroko" to lend his voice to the vindication of Olaudah Equiano, by setting the record straight, and on other established Igbo and Nigerian scholars to support her and her team to reclaim Equiano's African and Nigerian heritage. After Prof. Acholonu's keynote came a speech from the Isseke Traditional Royal Stool delivered by His Royal Highness, Igwe Emma E. Nnabuife (ksj), the Ezeoha II of Isseke Ancient Kingdom. In his paper titled, "Isseke: The Birth-place of Olaude Ekwealuo", Eze Emma Nnabuife emphasized Olaudah Equiano's description of Isseke customs in his autobiography: The Interesting Narrative, and declared that his choice of title for his paper derives from the fact that all the claims in the literary works of Olaudah Equiano, Gustavus Vassa 'the African' … are congruent with the physical features, evidences as well as historical facts prevalent in Isseke ancient kingdom from time immemorial. …The only thing missing in his narrative is the mmanwu masquerade which, I believe, he did not discuss for two reasons: firstly he was not initiated into the cult as he was underaged (sic) for it at the time of his captivity, … secondly, it is an abomination for an uninitiated to do so. Olaude Adipuo Ekwealuo is a Prince of Dimori Dynasty, which is one of the five Ruling Houses of Isseke Ancient Kingdom… Ekwealuo (Olaude's father), a prince of the Dimori Dynasty was very rich and had a large family and many wives and children among whom were - Olaude, Albert, Iwujimba and Enyidiegwu. It is important to note that references are made only to surviving male adults. The paper gave a graphic illustration of the villages that make up Isseke, the Dimori Kindred Family Tree and the Ekwealuo Family Tree beginning from Olaude's grandfather Nnadozie right down to the present generation of Ekwealuo sons: Fidelis, Oliver, Innocent, Bright, etc. (first mentioned in the course of Acholonu's research in 1987-89). During the question and answer session Igwe Nnabuife challenged Paul Edwards for seeking to disprove Acholonu's claim that Isseke people are known for longevity. He said that the oldest man in Isseke today is over 160 years and that in the past some people were known to have lived to the age of 200 years. He insisted that this man whose name is Ndonu Agbodike is a contemporary of Olaude's cousin Nkeereberem Uzowuru, who was interviewed by Acholonu in 1989, and that both he and Nkeereberem knew Olaude's junior brothers and about Olaude's capture into slavery. He announced that a juniour sister of Nkeereberem, Mgbokwonta Ifeanyi Uzowuru was still alive as over 150 years and was living in Mbosi. He invited the participants to meet with the oldest man in Isseke during the excursion which was to take place the following day. Igwe Nnabuife took a swipe at established Igbo scholars who by omission or commission contributed to the prolonging of the debate as to whether or not Equiano is from Isseke, and by distancing themselves when their voices would have made a critical difference. He unveiled current plans by the Isseke kingdom and people to immortalize Equiano as follows: 1. We have reclaimed the place (portion of land) where Prince Ekwealuo Ikenkwo (Olaude's father) lived and died, where Olaude Ekwealuo was born. The family has donated the place for a mausoleum to be erected in memory of Olaude Ekwealuo. 2. Because it was always his intention to come home… we intend to collaborate with the British authorities to collect his remains for reburial in Isseke his birthplace. 3. Instituting an annual lecture series in his memory in the Olaudah Ekwealuo Memorial Hall now under construction by the (Isseke) Town Union government. The 2007 Annual lecture which is the second in the series shall be given by Prof. Catherine Acholonu and she has already been informed. 4. We intend to establish the Olaude Ekwealuo Foundation for Scholarships and to endow Chairs for Studies and Research in Slavery and Human Rights, plus Reparation to Africa for Slavery by the International Community… 5. We shall continue to support and participate in the Annual International Interdisciplinary Conference on African and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, one of the highlights of which will be A Right of Passage during which we shall give traditional Royal Titles to Blacks and African Descendants in the Diaspora in Honour of Olaudah Equiano. Igwe Emma Nnabuibe enjoined Igbo sons and daughters worldwide to refrain from comporting themselves like dogs in the manger and join Professors Acholonu, Korie and Ukaegbu, the UN Forum of Arts and Culture, the Isseke community and Imo State University to silence the racist voices of the likes of Vincent Caretta and give Olaude Adipuoerie Ekwealuo (no more to be pronounced as Olaudah Equiano) his place in history so that his soul may end its 220 years of wandering and finally find a resting place among his ancestors in his beloved "fruitful vale" of Isseke. He pronounced a royal curse against those who would so the contrary! Among the papers delivered during the long plenary session on Day II were: "History and the Neglected Sides of Olaudah Equiano" by Chimee Ihediwa of the Department of History, University of Nigeria, Nsukka; "A Discourse Analysis of the Linguistic and Ethnographic Heritage of Equiano's World" by Dr. Ngozi Anyachonkeya, Department of General Studies, Akanu Ibiam Federal Polytechnic, Unwana; "The Isseke Root of Olaudah Equiano" by Dr. Lawrence Ogueze, Department of Social Sciences, Federal Polytechnic, Oko; "Between Literature, Facts and Fiction: A Closer Reading of Olaudah Equiano's The Interesting Narrative" by Dr. Elizabeth Onogwu, Department of English, Benue State University, Makurdi; "Igbo Identity - The Case Study of Olaudah Equiano" by Sybil Mmezi of Alvan Ikoku College, Owerri; and "Historians and Historiographers: Reflections on Olaudah Equiano's Gender Discourse on Essaka Village" by Uche U. Okonkwo, Department of History, University of Lagos. Except for Elizabeth Onogwu's paper which was unable to convince the audience that the use of figures of speech such as metaphors in Equiano's Interesting Narrative, gives his work the quality of fiction, every other paper presented treated Olaudah Equiano as a bona fide son of Africa of Igbo extraction and as the pioneer of African and Igbo Literature and History. The consensus conclusion about Vincent Caretta's baptismal certificate claim to a South Carolina origin for Olaudah Equiano was that it lacked merit and was too coloured by racist undertones to have an enduring impact as a scholarly contribution. DAY III Day three was spent on an excursion trip by the conference participants to Isseke, the original birthplace of Equiano. Imo State University, Office of the Vice Chancellor had provided a bus that conveyed the conference participants to Isseke. The journey commenced by 9.30 am. Those who went on the trip were the staff from Imo State University, Owerri; participants from University of Nigeria Nsukka; expatriate staff of United Nations Forum of Arts and Culture and Catherine Acholonu Research Center; two staff of National Commission for Museums and Monuments; the participants from Rowan University, New Jersey, USA, Akanu Ibiam Federal Polytechnic, Afigbo and University of Lagos, Nigeria. The bus arrived at Isseke on the Anambra/Imo border by 10.30 am and was directed to the palace of Igwe Emma Nnabuife who was holding court with his Ndi Ichie and Nze-Nzu among whom were two chiefs who still bore the ichi facial scarifications described by Olaudah Equiano in The Interesting Narrative. The cameras were clicking away when Igwe Nnabuife waved his horsetail in welcome and beckoned for silence as a court case was in session. The case, reminiscent of the one described by Olaudah in his Narrative, was a land case between a widow and her late husband's brothers. The proceedings went on for about thirty minutes and then the case was adjourned to enable the Igwe attend to the international visitors. Igwe welcomed the guests and reiterated the plans of Isseke people to immortalize their son Olaude Ekwealuo. He said that the Ekwealuo family and the Umuikenkwo kindred had donated the portion of land where Olaude's late father's homestead had stood towards the erection of a monument in honour of Olaude Ekwealuo. He expressed happiness for the support and Participation of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments and declared the willingness of Isseke Royal Stool and its people to partner with NCMM to make Isseke a national monument of note. Thereafter he and his traditional chiefs and titled men rose from their seats and walked to the front of the court house where he poured libation to the soul of Olaudah Equiano: Olaude Adipuoerie Ekwealuo! Today we welcome you home to the land of your fathers! We welcome you home to take your place among your revered ancestors and Ndi Ichie! You have fought the good fight! You have earned yourself a place in world History! Welcome home great hero of Isseke! And the chiefs and titled men intoned: "Isee!!!" Igwe Nnabuife then led the visitors to places of cultural and historical importance on Isseke soil. The first place to be visited was the shrine of Ogwugwu, the head deity of Orsu clan and father of five deities of the five other towns that with Isseke make up Old Orsu clan (Ebonesie): Mbosi, Azia, Lilu and Ubulu Isiuzo. This is the deity from which Isseke gained its original name - Isi Eke Ise: 'Head of Five Deities' (Equiano's Ala Ise or Elese as spelt in his appeal letter to the British parliament in 1788). The shrine, one of the very few surviving virgin shrines in Igboland, is hidden in the center of a virgin forest at a radius of about fifteen minutes walk from the edge of the forest. Having paid traditional tribute, the group made their way to the plot of land that had housed Olaudah Equiano's paternal homestead where they took photographs of a stump of red earth that is the remains of one of the houses where Olaudah's father, Ichie Ekwealuo, lived with his family. From there the group made their way to the homestead of some surviving members of the Ekwealuo extended family, paying special attention to the remains of some household items/relics that had belonged to late Nkeereberem Uzowuru, a later-day cousin of Olaudah Equiano whom Acholonu had interviewed in 1989. They visited the house of Ndonu Agbodike of Ibeagwa kindred in Edeke village of Isseke, the oldest surviving person in Isseke. Unable to work on his own two feet, the over one hundred and sixty year old man was carried out by two men and was seated on a reclining chair while everyone in the crowd strained themselves to get a clear view of the shriveled frame of the living relic. Ndonu Agbodike, whose memory was still intact, was labouring with his breathing as he told the shocked crowd that as a child he ran errands and harvested palm products for Olaudah Equiano's later-day brother Albert Ekwealuo. "Muna ya yiri. Ana m egburu ya akwu." It was from Albert that he had heard the sad story of the disappearance of the young male member of the Ekwealuo family, Olaude. (After all his sons died in the wake of the disappearance of Olaudah, Equiano's father married again in his old age and bore Albert, who brought Christianity to Isseke and two other sons Iwujimba and Enyidiegwu.) Agbodike continued, "Albert told me that his brother was lost. The way he said it suggested that he (Olaude) may have done something which caused it." (In The Igbo Roots Acholonu had suggested that Equiano's admission to the fact that he used to follow his mother into her monthly seclusion may have been the factor that caused him to be sold. It was a taboo for a man, a candidate for the ozo title and ichi scarification to show signs of effeminacy and weakness. Olaudah wrote in The Narrative that he was attached to his mother to the point of following her into her monthly menstrual seclusion and went through the rites of purification with her at the end of each period. Acholonu insists that this would have exposed him as a baby-man still drinking his mother's breast and thus unfit for any of the prestigious titles meant for men who were men in the land, least of all the excruciating rigours of ichi scarification, and that since it was unheard-of for a noble man's son to not take the ichi/ozo title, one could deduce that Olaudah Equiano might have been sold by his own brethren. Agbodike's feeling that Olaudah was sold because of something he did could be taken in the light of the above interpretation.) From Agbodike's house the group was led to the house of Ichie Igwe Agbaka, the major informant in Catherine Acholonu's research. Igwe, now over 120 years old and still bristling with agility, welcomed the guests and broke kola nuts and shared with them. The group was then led back to the palace of His Royal Highness Igwe Nnabuife. They were taken into the old family house of the Nnabuifes which has been converted into a museum named Olaude Ekwealuo Museum, housing, among other things, ancient relics of Isseke described in Equiano's Narrative. Among the relics in the museum were the war lance, shield and ofo sacred stick of Agbaka, the father of Igwe Agbaka and a contemporary of Olaudah Equiano's brother Albert; an over 300 years old statue of Ogwugwu deity bearing ichi masks on its forehead; a statue of Eke (the Creating Deity, counterpart of Chi in Chi-na-eke) also bearing ichi marks, two ofo trays marked with ichi symbols. As the group was emerging from the museum, they were greeted by Isseke traditional masquerade music and a group of young all-male dancers rushed into the scene. Then a rare sight accosted the visitors, an event that marks very great occasions was about to take place. Seven tall masquerades trooped into the scene. The visitors were warned not to take pictures so as not to incur the wrath of the 'spirits'. The masquerades held the audience in rapt attention for over thirty minutes before the lead masquerade speaking with a voice that sounded as if it was piped through a harmonica saluted the Igwe and blessed the guests. He then danced a dignified dance and spoke a welcome verse for the spirit of Olaudah Equiano to which the young, all male dancers, sang a refrain "Ekwealuo aloruola!!!" (Ekwealuo has finally returned home!) It was explained by the traditional ruler, Igwe Nnabuife, that the emergence of all seven masquerades of Isseke to welcome Olaude Ekwealuo was to be seen as an act of bestowing on him Isseke's highest traditional honour, and that since Olaude was yet to be initiated into the masquerade cult before he was lost to slavery, the appearance of the seven highest masquerades of Isseke in his honour was serving to initiate him in absentia, welcome him home and install his spirit among the guild of the revered ancestors. The team was thereafter treated to some of those items of Isseke traditional cuisine described in Equiano's Narrative. Compiled by Prof. Catherine Acholonu Prof. F.N. Madubuike Prof. Chima Korie Prof. Isidore Diala.