Dr. Chima Korieh on Memory and History

Dr. Chima Korieh is Associate Professor of History at Marquette University. He the author of a number of books and articles on Nigerian and African History. Dr. Korieh will be speaking on Thursday, April 20, in the panel on The Power and Politics of Memory. This interview is by Abby Pioch.

  1. How would you describe your major fields of scholarly interest?

I am a historian of Africa and may major interests are in the areas of colonial history, comparative slavery and gender. I have recently been doing some work on war and genocide, focusing on the Igbo genocide. As Director of the Biafra War Oral History and Genocide Project, my goal is to document the experiences of those who lived through the war.

  1. What got you interested in Biafra? 

Less than two week before the end of the Biafra War, my father was conscripted into the Biafra army. By this time, the Biafra state was desperate and all hands were need to sustain the dying breath of the Biafra state and what it meant to all those involved in the prosecution of the war. The scares of the war is written in every face and body of all who lived in Biafra.  Yet my father story, like the experiences of many Biafrans and other easterners has been lost in time. This desire to forget and the politics of suppression of the memory of the war has occurred at two levels. At the first level is the individual level. Drawing on my own family’s experience, I have wondered why my father and mother never talked about their own personal experiences of survival in what was obviously an usual war. At the second level is that of the community and state. At the core of the state sanctioned amnesia is what I see as a wide-spread perception that can be characterized as the “Igbo Problems”. Just like the notion of the Jewish problem in Nazi Germany, the Igbo have been vilified as a group. At the intellectual level, the war is largely excluded from the history of Nigeria. How can a country not teach about its past to the younger generation. This is a driving force for me.

  1. What specific topics will you be talking about when you come to the conference?

My paper is titled “The Power of Silence: Reflections on the Politics of Memorializing the Biafra experience.” It will draw from my family’s experiences of the war to explore how the war has been memorialized at the individual and public levels.

  1. What lessons might be learned from the Nigeria-Biafra war (or the response to that war)?

The Biafra war is problematic in the Nigerian context because it has been regarded as a personal horror story only by one side. Within the country is a one-sided perspective, a narrative that is seen as the Igbo experiences rather than the Nigerian experience. Nigeria is yet to confront its ugly past. It is impossible to move forward until this is done.

My work on the war:

The Nigeria-Biafra War: Genocide and the Politics of Memory http://www.cambriapress.com/cambriapress.cfm?template=4&bid=509

Remembering Biafra: Narrative, History and Memory of the Nigeria-Biafra War


Abby Pioch is the primary blogger for Remembering Biafra. She is a senior in the Elliott School studying International Affairs concentrating in international development with a second major in French Language, Literature and Culture and a minor in Political Science. She is a member of Delta Phi Epsilon Professional Foreign Service Sorority and currently tutors ESL students at the Washington English Center.