Login   Sign Up 


War Child in Biafra

by Poetic 

Posted: 27 January 2004
Word Count: 1498
Summary: A child's eye view of the war times in the then Biafra.

Font Size

Printable Version
Print Double spaced

I felt myself waking up from a deep sleep and a hand hurriedly lifting me out of bed. It was my mother and she quickly secured me on her back with a wrapper. She bundled up a few belongings in a bed sheet, held my sister by the other hand and ran out of the front door to join the long trail of adults and children stampeding towards safety. There had been a tip-off that the northern soldiers were badgering into homes and slaughtering people. So there we all were, in pitch darkness, running for dear life.

It soon transpired that I had to travel with my father on a plane bound for Enugu, while my mother and sister remained in the capital city. No sooner had my father and I arrived in Enugu than we had to transfer to our hometown where the rest of the family was located. Like us, most had travelled from different parts of the country to be there. I’m not sure why, but my father soon went away leaving me in the capable hands of my grandmother who also had several other grandchildren under her care. Throughout the war years she became our surrogate parent attending to our every need.

The many cousins I met became my playmates and, to some extent, life assumed some kind of normality. I was particularly close to my cousin, Joma, who was the same age as me. In the months that followed, Joma became severely ill with a bad and painful cough. Her ceaseless coughing in the dead of night and her agonising cries kept the whole compound awake. This was especially stressful for her mother who got no sleep during the night nor any rest in the daytime. Then one night, an eerie silence descended upon the compound. Joma’s usual coughing and crying could not be heard, only the wailing of a woman shrieked through the tranquil night. Soon the voices of other women could be heard singing the traditional elegy. I could sense something was amiss. I lay very still, afraid to move, listening to their sorrowful and heartbreaking lamentations:

“She’s gone, she’s gone, she’s gone in peace
She’s gone, she’s gone, she’s gone in peace
She has departed this earth to return to her origin
God receive her spirit
She has departed this earth to return to her origin
God receive her spirit”.

On and on the singing continued until the break of dawn. That was when I heard the hushed whispers that Joma had passed away, never to come back. With hardly anytime to mourn, we were soon jolted back to the business of living and trying to survive. The war had suddenly escalated and we could no longer remain in the family compound.

We were moved to the relative safety of the refugee camp that had been set up in the town. The camp stood on large grounds and was made up of several quarters inhabited by a mix of families. Facilities such as toilets and kitchen were communal. The kitchen was usually the centre of activity were the women spent most of their time cooking and socialising. Apart from the pathway leading in and out of the camp much of the grounds were carpeted in brown sand with sprouts of bushes in the less trodden paths. These were all enclosed within a thick wall fencing off intruders and shielding children from unsuspecting danger. A dense green forest housing creepy crawly insects and venomous snakes was located behind the camp but kept at a safe distance by the wall.

It was an unusually quiet morning especially when compared with the blasts of the ruthless bombing campaign from the night before. Many of us children in the camp had come out to play. Scarcely with any meal in our stomachs and with weakened bodies, we ran about playfully in a kind of suspended hazy animation. Nevertheless, there were daily chores to be performed and one of them was fetching water from the town’s stream. So off we went, empty buckets in hand, skipping along merrily through the bushes in our bare feet and scantily clad bodies. It was a fair distance from the camp but, being children, we were able to turn the whole venture into play. We took it in turns to fill our buckets, balanced them on our heads and made our way back to the camp. We matched on excitedly in the knowledge that we would be welcomed with a delicious breakfast of buttered doughy bread and sugary milky tea.

Hunger was a daily reality, which was evident from our kwashiorkored frames. Any food available was heavily rationed. My grandmother would go one step further and hide the pot of soup away from our hungry eyes. But somehow we were able to locate these hiding places and would sneakily steal pieces of meat from the pot. This was a very risky business indeed because anyone caught in the act was sure to receive a severe caning. To overcome hunger pangs my big cousin, Buchi, would catch lizards which he would skin and roast over an open fire we had made from sticks and dried leaves. We relished these little treats. Often our micro feast would be interrupted by the sound of air raids and we would have to abandon everything to take cover in the bomb shelters.

Buchi was leader of the pack and we all looked up to him. When he was around no one dared pick a fight with us. We followed him everywhere and hero-worshiped him. He thought us many games which we spent hours on end playing. This kept us well occupied until it was time for bed. The war situation meant that there was no schooling whatsoever.

We gathered and looked on with a combination of innocent interest and barefaced fright. We watched as the beige skinned lizard wiggled out of Buchi’s grasp. Its outer covering of rough scales, elongated body and long tail were very snake-like except for its four limbs. Along the hot baked sand it scurried speedily in a bid to escape capture. But Buchi was not going to let the reptile creature get away so easily. The lizard crawled into the once lusciously green bushes, which were now crispy brown from the relentless heat of the sun. Little did it know that there was no place to hide. Buchi, accompanied by us, followed the lizard in determined pursuit. Then his large hands descended upon the lizard like a vicious Eagle about to snatch its prey. Fuelled by their mouth-watering anticipation for food the children jumped and screamed joyfully.

With the motion of a waiter unscrewing a bottle of wine, Buchi quickly twisted and snapped off the head of the lizard. Some of the children began to cry and some ran to mama at the sight of blood gushing like a small narrow fountain of water. Buchi then skinned the lizard to reveal white flesh which could easily have been mistaken for a chick. The rest of us eagerly went into the dead bushes to fetch sticks and dried leaves with which to build a fire. In no time yellow flames were rising upwards in a heated competition with the already hot and humid atmosphere. Buchi spiked a long sharp stick through the lifeless lizard to hold it in place as he dangled it over the fire which splattered little yellow sparks all over the place. The air was filled with the aroma of barbecued meat inviting the unwanted presence of opportunistic flying insects stubbornly buzzing and circling annoyingly.

In an ‘Oliver Twist’ fashion we waited with outstretched palms to be given our share. Each piece was no bigger than a cube of chewing gum bearing in mind that the meat was slightly bigger than a chick and was to be divided among a dozen children or so. Nonetheless any kind of food was better than no food at all no matter the quantity or the nutritional value for that matter. It was obvious from the way we greedily gulped down the meat that it was ‘finger licking good’ to say the least. Once again, Buchi the hero had given us a little something to alleviate our hunger.

The sun had begun to set casting an evening shade over the campgrounds. This was a welcomed reprieve from the punishing mid-day heat. The mosquitoes were awake and had started to feast on their favourite meal - succulent human blood. The camp was abuzz with sundown activities. Women with babies strapped to their backs stood over pots cooking on open fire and prepared what little food they could for dinner. Adults were seated around the fires telling stories to younger ones. Children – ah, yes, the children – we were chatting, laughing, chasing, running, skipping and hiding. Our continual hunger and the activities earlier that day were all but forgotten. It was just another day in the unsettled life of a war child.

Favourite this work Favourite This Author

Comments by other Members

roovacrag at 14:07 on 27 January 2004  Report this post
Beautifully written,and so true. No one cares about the children in a war or the aftermath of it.Just a sightless few that people tend to ignore. Thank you for this piece. xxxxxAlice

amnesia at 16:50 on 27 January 2004  Report this post
Hello Poetic, This is fantastic. Very moving. It makes me think of the kind of images we see in the media of children in war torn countries, and it's often hard for us westerners to empathise because we see so many of them. It's writing like this that reminds us that every one of those children has a story. Amnesia.

anisoara at 17:12 on 27 January 2004  Report this post
I also think this is fantastic. It's very real and sounds like it is being recounted from memory.

The only place where I got tangled up a bit was in the initial paragraphs introducing Buchi catching the lizard. The sequence was a little confusing there.


SamMorris at 19:52 on 27 January 2004  Report this post
Hi Poetic, Powerful stuff, enjoyed reading this one. This has a simple, but unsual and authentic voice from the 'other side' of a conflict.

Look forward to more.

All the best


Poetic at 12:34 on 28 January 2004  Report this post
Thank you all so much for reading this piece and for your positive comments. It is a true story recounted from memory - all those things mentioned did happen to me and others. As a child I was right in the middle of the Biafran war. Sorry about the confusion Anisoara. I'm trying to see how I can re-jig that bit if need be. Merci beaucoup.

PeterOC at 11:54 on 30 January 2004  Report this post
Hi Poetic,

Very nice piece. Theres a couple of typos in there and I agree with Ani about the bit where Buchi is intoduced but apart from that it's just about perfect. I could see this being a part of a novel and a very good one at that. It kind of put me in mind of the film 'Empire of the sun'. One small thing that I thought would have helped with the setting was a mention of the year in which it's set.

Well done. Looking forward to reading more.


libera at 13:59 on 03 February 2004  Report this post
Hi there this is amazing, not only your writing ability but because I am half way through a screenplay on the Biafran war. What is lacking for me in my story so far is an insight from local people, particularly the elderlty and the children. I would love to discuss further. I shall re-read your piece carefully and get back to you. In the meantime my email is:


Best, Anita

Becca at 21:07 on 10 February 2004  Report this post
Hello Patricia. I did comment on this piece about a week ago, but from work and it doesn't seem to have got posted up. I do remember what I said then and have read through it again. It is a unique piece of writing and very moving. The only thing that I struggled with was the notion that the children were hungry all the time and yet so active and happy. Could the two things be true?

Poetic at 11:57 on 12 February 2004  Report this post
Hi Everyone,

Thank you all for taking the time to read this piece and for your comments.

Becca, there was a tendency for us children to temporarily forget our hunger when we were in the company of other children - jumping about and screaming. As mentioned in the piece there was a little food but it was heavily rationed so that there was never enough to curtail hunger pangs. So I guess the knowledge that a little ration would be available at some point kept us going. I think that is the best explanation I can offer. It would appear that children are often stronger than expected in these situations.

Libera, you are more than welcomed to contact me any time.

Peter, I've been looking for those typos you mention but can't find them. By typos I assume you mean incorrect spellings etc. I checked it a few times before uploading. The important thing is that it wasn't totally incomprehensible and you got the gist of the story.

Jumbo at 00:08 on 26 March 2004  Report this post
A very moving piece of writing. Is there more to come? I hope so.

I was also a little confused by the sequence of some of your paragraphs dealing with Buchi and the capture of the lizard.

You should write more.I hope you will.

Best wishes


Abby at 14:58 on 31 March 2004  Report this post
Hi Poetic,

What a great piece! I thought it was well written and the descriptions really placed me there. Having lived in Nigeria (though decades after Biafra) the piece felt really evocative.

I wondered if it might be good, to perhaps explore a bit more the child's emotional response in a bit more depth - to the war, to dad's disappearnce, to Joma's death? A small suggestion, but the piece works great as it is.

Look forward to reading more.


To post comments you need to become a member. If you are already a member, please log in .