My Great-Grandfather, the Nigerian Slave-Trader

My parents’ home, in Umujieze, Nigeria, stands on a hilly plot that has been in our family for more than a hundred years. Traditionally, the Igbo people bury their dead among the living, and the ideal resting place for a man and his wives is on the premises of their home. My grandfather Erasmus, the first black manager of a Bata shoe factory in Aba, is buried under what is now the visitors’ living room. My grandmother Helen, who helped establish a local church, is buried near the study. My umbilical cord is buried on the grounds, as are those of my four siblings. My eldest brother, Nnamdi, was born while my parents were studying in England, in the early nineteen-seventies; my father, Chukwuma, preserved the dried umbilical cord and, eighteen months later, brought it home to bury it by the front gate. Down the hill, near the river, in an area now overrun by bush, is the grave of my most celebrated ancestor: my great-grandfather Nwaubani Ogogo Oriaku. Nwaubani Ogogo was a slave trader who gained power and wealth by selling other Africans across the Atlantic. “He was a renowned trader,” my father told me proudly. “He dealt in palm produce and human beings.”

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