Memorializing Asaba Massacre

TAMPA, Fla. (Oct. 6, 2009) – Scholars, activists, and survivors will gather Friday and Saturday, Oct. 9-10, at the University of South Florida to remember and document a mass killing of civilians that took place in October 1967 in Asaba, Nigeria.

Researchers from USF’s Anthropology and History departments, together with the people of Asaba and the local Igbo community in Florida are seeking to reclaim the history of the massacre, in a spirit of reconciliation. During the two-day symposium, genocide survivors will share previously unheard stories and scholars from across the nation will discuss the Asaba project as well as larger issues of genocide and memorialization.

This event marks the inauguration of the Asaba Memorial Project Archive and Website, sponsored by the Holocaust and Genocide Studies Center at the USF libraries. Along with the symposium, the research team will be conducting video-taped interviews with witnesses to the killings who are travelling to Tampa to participate.

On Oct. 5, 1967, hundreds of Igbo civilians, including children, were massacred by Nigerian government troops in Asaba, in southeast Nigeria, during the war over Biafran secession. Many were hurriedly buried in several mass grave sites, and no formal accounting of their deaths was ever was made. This event followed other killings of Igbo people in nearby towns and villages.

This spring, a USF research team – anthropology professor Elizabeth Bird, assistant anthropology professor Erin Kimmerle and Fraser Ottanelli, chairman of the department of history – will travel to Asaba to conduct an examination of the mass graves and collect witness testimony.

“This project is an exciting representation of USF’s commitment to global awareness, human rights, and active engagement with local and international communities,” Bird said. “In an age when mass killings and genocide are all too common, it is important to honor the dead as individuals who deserve to be remembered.”


Since the massacre, the people of Asaba working with U.S. expatriates have formed a committee whose goal is to reclaim the history of the massacre, and create a permanent memorial. There major focus of their effort are to exhume the mass graves and bury the dead according to custom;  create a report detailing what occurred and record oral histories from survivors. The ultimate goal is to develop an archive, web site, and ultimately a museum and memorial on the site itself.


On Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., the USF researchers and genocide experts will discuss the massacre at Asaba and the international community’s treatment of the genocide. The program continues on Saturday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., with testimony from witnesses to the massacre and a roundtable discussion on creating a records and official monument to the Asaba atrocities.  Both events will be held in the Grace Allen Room of the USF Library on the Tampa campus.

On Saturday at 8 p.m., a gala cultural night will be held featuring traditional food, fashion and dance in the TECO Room and rotunda of USF’s College of Education. Chief Philip Asiodu, Izoma of Asaba and the former Minister for Petroleum for the Federal Government of Nigeria who lost family members in the massacre, will deliver the keynote address.

The symposium events are free and open to the public. Tickets to the cultural gala are available at the door and are $30 for singles, $50 for couples and families with proceeds being contributed to the Asaba Memorial Project.


The University of South Florida System is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of 39 community-engaged, four-year public universities as designated by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. USF was awarded $380.4 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2008/2009. The system offers 232 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. It has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 47,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.