My hometown is Onitsha (Oh-nih-chaah), a corruption of the word Orisha (Oh-rih-chaah).
In the 1550s, the slave wars forced my ancestors to flee the Benin Kingdom to present day city of Onitsha. The Portuguese exported to Brazil, hundreds of thousands of slaves that were of the Orisha faith. The British and Spanish also exported Orisha slaves to the Caribbean Islands of Haiti, Cuba, and Trinidad. The influence of the Orisha faith is seen in the religious rites, myths, music and beliefs of Brazilians of African descent.
Growing up in Africa was the most interesting period of my life. I was active in the Catholic Church choir. I was also an altar boy for a group of Irish priests of the Holy Ghost traveling and we traveled together to churches in small African communities.
After completing my seventh grade, civil war broke out in Nigerian and I was forced to drop out of school and live in refugee camps. Five million people or one in three Biafrans became refugees.
I spent my teenage years trapped in refugee camps. Dodging the rubble underneath ceilings crumbling from rocket shells. Living in fear and poverty with no money to pay my school fees. I was forced to drop out of school and study on my own. I studied from 6 a.m. to midnight to earn my high school equivalency diploma.
Food was scarce in the refugee camps. We ate in the International Red Cross feeding centers, when food is available. I spent my days gathering palm nuts from the rain forest, hunting birds with slingshots and fishing on the River Niger. One million Biafrans died from hunger and starvation. You couldn't find a dog within the refugee camps. They've all been eaten. There were few adult men in our refugee camp. The men were conscripted into the army and sent to the war fronts.
One memorable story that has been told and retold over several generations within my family was how King Chima helped my ancestors escape from the wicked King Esigie of the Benin Kingdom. Esigie sold many Africans to Portuguese slave traders. With the exception of Nigeria, Brazil has more people of African descent. My ancestors who could not escape from Esigie brought the Orisha faith to Brazil.
In the 1550s, King Chima led his people to make a heroic and arduous journey to freedom. I admire his courage, leadership and ability to lead his oppressed people to freedom. Without his courage, all my ancestors would have been enslaved in Brazil, Cuba, Haiti and Trinidad. His courageous journey was not easy. It was a time animal spirits occupied the rain forests. It took a lot of courage for King Chima to lead the Orishas away from the Benin Kingdom and into the rain forest wilderness.