Reflections on trauma - A review of Ogbunigwe: Voice of Biafra War Veterans

“Stories are medicine…[they] are embedded with instructions which guide us about the complexities of life”, as I reflect on this quote by Clarissa Pinkola Estes from her book Women who run with wolves: Contacting the power of the wild woman, I feel that it helps me to sum up my experience watching the short-film Ogbunigwe: Voice of Biafra War Veterans, which documents the experiences of some of the Biafra war veterans post conflict. It is a body of work which acts as a strong reminder of the importance of dialogue and engaging with the past. All aspects of the past, not simply facts but also the stories from those that have lived experiences from it. By doing so we provide ourselves with an opportunity to broaden perspective and realise the extent of atrocities. From this process we can leave ourselves in a more equipped position to add light to dark situations and initiate the work of healing and growth.

The Biafran war (1967 – 1970) took place within the first ten years of a newly formed country. Nigeria, a post-colonial creation following the official departure of British rule, which dates back to the late 19th century. The war reflected a violent period shaped, in part, around deep mistrust and disregard for human life, put by Writer and Musician Segun Akinlolu “[a] grand scale of human and material waste…The destructive long-term effects are ever so visible in Nigeria today”. It is a quote which emphasises the cyclical process of time and a reminder of history’s existence in the present. It also conveys the importance of engaging with the past to extract lessons to better assist us in our present, for individual and communal healing and growth. Many points for reflection came to mind whilst watching the film, they include:

Gauging the extent of degradation Listening to the accounts of the war veterans revealed the multiple layers of degradation that they experienced during the war as well as in present day. From resorting to digging holes in the ground and using the big leaf of a coco yam plant as a makeshift plate to eat the small rations of food that they were able to come across, to resorting to begging as a way to survive in the face of exclusion and no assistance. Such accounts present a chance to see the full extent of the lack of human dignity experienced by the veterans, both in the process of fighting to protect Igboland as well as whilst trying to sustain a life in that very same land post conflict.

Applying a holistic approach to trauma – How can healing take place if no space is given to gauge the full extent of trauma? Trauma does not only relate to the seen imprints of violence on the body, but also the unseen imprints that touch the mind and spirit. The countless lives that are directly and indirectly affected by warfare point to a strong need to create space to grieve and see the full extent of the pain that such an experience can inflict on the lives of people.

Feeling the discomfort – The importance of feeling uncomfortable is a key step in the process of healing and growth. This is not a call to seek out discomfort for the sake of it, but more so a call to recognise that facing the truth is not always an experience which can initially feel pleasurable. In the context of the film, it meant feeling uncomfortable about hearing the atrocities committed to a people and asking myself what it must feel like to be fearful about being yourself in a space that is regarded as home. Discomfort offers a chance to initiate the process of self-enquiry where we can ask ourselves “where does it hurt?”, as noted by Psychologist Tara Brach and be open to where such a question can leads us. By asking questions we create opportunities to face our feelings instead of running away from them.

Watching Ogbunigwe: Voice of Biafra War Veterans emphasised the power of a story. Stories are the glue that can bind us together and present multiple opportunities to nurture and learn from each other. Learning that the film is a product of one person’s desire to draw attention to the experiences faced by a group of people that are treated like a forgotten memory, is an inspiration to keep creating space to tell and listen to stories. They can act as crucial medicine for a person. I cannot think of a better way to be of service to the collective.

*For anybody interested in finding out how they can offer support to the Biafra war veterans in the film please contact Amarachi Attamah or The Igbo conference


Ogbunigwe: Voice of Biafra War Veterans - Nwadịọramma Concept

Sounds of Joy – Segun Akinlolu

Women who run with wolves: Contacting the power of the Wild Woman – Clarrisa Pinkola Estes

Tara Brach Podcast – Tara Brach

*(I do not own the rights of the picture in the post)

Oro Anike