The absence of teaching proper history to our youth in Nigeria is absolutely deplorable. Not only does it isolate you from your past, but it also robs you of your right to celebrate and remember those who came before you and on whose shoulders you actually stand on today. It also condemns you to repeat the mistakes of the past because in most instances you remain clueless. One of the advantages of going to Historically Black College or University in the US, as I did, is that the African-Americans really celebrate their history as hard as it was, and return to it almost on a daily basis. They are so well versed in their evolution from plantation-hand, to of late the White House, that almost nothing is too inconsequential to explore or revisit when it comes to their history.
Such an example is the case of the slave ship called the Wanderer and the sad fact that I would need to travel the 9,068 km from my village in Imo State to Baltimore to learn about my possible ancestors, their dignity and bravery, as well as their refusal to wilt under the slave masters whip and remain unrepentantly Igbo.
The Wanderer arrived off the shores of Savannah, Georgia in 1803 carrying approximately 100 Igbo slaves that were then purchased by slave merchants John Couper and Thomas Spalding, The chained slaves were then reloaded and packed under the deck of a coastal vessel, the York, which would take them to St. Simons Island where they were to be resold.
During the voyage, approximately 75 Igbo slaves rose in rebellion. They killed their captors and caused the grounding of the ship in Dunbar Creek. The Igbo were already known by planters and slave owners of the American South to be fiercely independent and more resistant to chattel slavery than others and this bore testimony to that fact.
Led by their chief, the Africans then marched ashore, singing and at their leader's direction, they walked into the marshy waters of Dunbar Creek, committing mass suicide. It remains of one of the largest mass suicides of enslaved people in history. Their point of entry is called Igbo Landing, or Ibo Landing, or in some instances Ebo Landing, or Ebos Landing.
Igbo Landing Memorial
For centuries, some historians have cast doubt on the event, suggesting that the entire incident was more folklore than fact. But post-1980 research verified the accounts provided at the time using “modern scientific techniques to reconstruct the episode and confirm the factual basis of the longstanding oral accounts”. The site was designated as holy ground by the St. Simons African American community in September 2012. It has also been called the first Freedom march in the history of the United States. Unlike in Nigeria, the Igbo Landing is also now a part of the curriculum for coastal Georgia schools.
However, what gave the event its real mythical status is that only 13 bodies were ever recovered spawning the belief that many of the Igbos didn't actually die, but had walked through the ocean back to Africa. Another version was that they changed into buzzards and flew back to Africa. So powerful is this story of resistance that it is often referred to in African American literature. Writer Alex Haley recounts it in his high acclaimed book, Roots, and it was the basis for Nobel laureate, Toni Morrison’s, novel, Song of Solomon. Below is part of Jamaican artist, Donovan Nelson’s illustrations paying tribute to the event. which are on display at the Valentine Museum of Art.
Even recently Beyonce paid homage to Igbo Landing in her song Love Drought while in the movie Black Panther, Killmonger, played by actor Michael B Jordan, refers to this event, saying, “Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from ships, ’cause they knew death was better than bondage”.
While we Africans and in this case, Igbos especially must applaud the people that continue to pass on stories and recount true events like this for the younger generation to learn and hold dear, we also have to look inward and come up with our own plan to not just keep our history intact and accurate but make sure it has longevity. If not we have no other person to blame if one day it will be told differently or worse still, not told at all.