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Exploring my Nigerian Heritage: My Journey to West Africa in May 2024

May 2024 has been an incredible month for me. Why, you ask? Well, I had the opportunity to visit Nigeria – the country of my heritage. It was my first trip back since my university days, and it was a truly amazing experience.

 

My pride in my heritage is a core part of who I am, driving me in the work I do. Born in Southampton, England, to a Trinidadian mother and a Nigerian father, my background is rich and diverse. My name, Chikere, is Igbo and means "God’s creation." My father, a very proud and patriotic Igbo man, chose Igbo names for myself and my siblings. Both my parents instilled a deep sense of worth and pride in our heritage, and I have always cherished exploring my roots to their fullest extent.


Photos of me as a baby and with my parents in Southampton, England.






 

A few years ago, I took a genealogy test to delve deeper into my Caribbean heritage, given that my ancestors were enslaved Africans. To my delight, the results confirmed my strong West African roots, with ancestry links not only in Nigeria but also in Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Senegal, and Gambia. However, the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade were also reflected in my DNA, with traces from Europe and Indigenous American regions.

 

Returning to Nigeria as an adult held a new significance for me. I arrived with a more educated, informed perspective and an even greater sense of pride. This visit was prompted by a bittersweet occasion – the celebration of the life of my uncle, my father’s older brother, who had passed away at the remarkable age of 89. In African culture, this was not a time for mourning but more a celebration of a life well-lived and a legacy left behind.

 

As we landed in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, the first things that struck me were the humidity and the warm smiles of the airport staff, who greeted me with, “Welcome home, sister.” The next few days were a whirlwind of meeting relatives, exploring Port Harcourt, savouring the most delicious food, and sweating profusely in the intense heat – I have definitely lost a few pounds! I fully immersed myself in every experience, and it was utterly exhilarating.


Photos of me in Traditional Nigerian attire. My headtie - "gele or as the Igbo's call it - Ichafu" is tied the Igbo way.





 

One of the highlights of my trip was visiting my ancestral village. Located in Abia State - 25 miles form Port Harcourt, my ancestral village is situated in the southeastern part of the country, known for its rich cultural heritage and economic activities, particularly in agriculture and trade. What struck me was the diverse cultural history and a strong sense of community.


There, I saw the Lion Building, the house my grandfather, Chief Jeremiah Inglis Ekeke, built in 1936. Papa, as he was affectionately known, was the Post Master General for West Africa and left a wonderful legacy, including palm and banana plantations and the magnificent Lion Building. My father often reminisces about helping Papa in the darkroom - he was into photography, listening to him play the organ, and watching him write at his desk. Unfortunately, during the Biafran Civil War (1967-1970), my father lost contact with the family while studying in England. The Lion Building was taken over by soldiers, and the family had to flee. When they returned, the house was in ruins, and many memories were lost.


Photos of The Lion Building, built in 1936 by Papa and Papa (my Paternal Grandfather). As is tradition, he is buried outside his house. Abia State, Nigeria.





 

I also had the chance to visit my grandmother’s grave and meet relatives I never knew I had. It was an incredibly enriching experience. What struck me most about my ancestral village was its beauty – it was peaceful, fertile, green, and lush, with happy and polite people. I also visited the stunning Azumini Blue River, just ten minutes from the village, and most importantly, I got to say goodbye to my uncle.


Photos of the beautiful Azumini. Blue River, Abia State, Nigeria.



 

During my visit, I learned that the Igbo tribe, to which I belong, was one of the principal ethnic groups enslaved during the transatlantic slave trade. My ancestral village had a market called Mini-Onwo, where slaves were sold and transported to the West Indies, Portugal, and America. The horrors of the slave trade were starkly evident, with an estimated 14.6% of all enslaved people taken by the British from the Bight of Biafra (also known as the Bight of Bonny) between 1650 and 1900 – that’s more than 1.5 million Africans that were shipped to the New World- as it was called, often kidnapped during village raids.

 

I have returned to London with a greater sense of purpose in my work. I feel my voice needs to be louder than ever – to drive change while learning about the past. This journey back to my roots has not only reaffirmed my pride in my heritage but also strengthened my resolve to honour and advocate for the rich and complex history that shapes who I am today.


Photos of scenery and yummy food - Fried Yam and scrambled eggs, Jollof Rice, fried plantain and Chicken, Egusi Soup and Garri.








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