Oral History Interview - Maurice Nwokeji

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Oral History Interview - Maurice Nwokeji

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Audio recording of an oral history interview with Maurice Okechukwu Nwokeji (IJah), born Akuma, Biafra 1961.

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Photographs copyright Emma Davies.



"We lived in a mud hut, me and my brother and my grandmother in a beautiful village called Akuma. We were like wild kids, hunting with catapults. I was five when the war started and to me that was the way the world was. Thanks to the Red Cross I didn’t die of hunger but I came very near to it. When I came to Hackney my parents were strange people. I’d never met them or seen them. I didn’t speak the language, I felt very isolated. I got knocked down quite a few times by cars. I found it really strange having to stay indoors and I’d feel hot and take all my clothes off. Because I was naked all my life I couldn’t work out what all the fuss was about.

Ten years ago I had a bit of an epiphany. I became a Rasta man and somebody handed me a guitar. I discovered music; I didn’t know I could write songs. Since that time I’ve become much calmer, I’ve stopped running.

I’m separate from my own people, from my own culture. Our culture has been very damaged by colonialism, we have to go and claim that back. If you’ve had your history stolen you’re not a human being in the same way others are, you’re like a tree without roots and that’s not a tree at all, that’s driftwood. If you don’t know who you are, you have nothing to be faithful to.

I’m happy in my own skin. I’m from Hackney but I’m also from Akuma. I’m an Igbo man but I’m also a Rasta man. I’m a musician. I’m a human being.

I come from a background of war, starvation, hatred. I was taught to hate from the age of five. I hated all my life and I don’t any more. Wow! How good is that!"

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