- Paperback:432 pages
- Publisher:Scribner; New edition edition (2 Jun 2003)
- ISBN-10: 0743207610
Adeyinka Makinde trained for the law. He is a contributor to various websites on topics such as boxing, history, music and culture. His first book, Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal was published in 2005. His latest offering is Jersey Boy: The Life and Mob Slaying of Frankie DePaula which was released in 2010.
The importance of the pen, the brush and the voice of the artist as a social critic and as an interpretive lens to focus on the intricacies as well as the banalities of inter-human conflict may or may not carry less weight than they did in distant and not so distant past.
This of course is a question of perspective; but even in the age of the saturation coverage of wars and insurrections by the apparatus of the mass media, the nuanced touches provided by the evocative poet and the erudite writer can give new dimensions of insight into the background, the evolution and the effects of the wars waged by mankind.
Certainly those artists whose works have profoundly captured the imagination and which have been indelibly marked in human memory thus becoming part of the general narrative of historical consciousness have consistently spoken of the inherent baseness of wars: its infliction of mass suffering and its capacity for unleashing the demonic qualities that lie dormant in men.
The destructiveness inherent in war; the anti-thesis of the creative impulse of the artist has frequently cast the artist as being anti-war. But while Pablo Picasso’s monumental Guernica, the depiction of a Nazi air raid on a Basque city during the Spanish Civil War, projects the pacifist’s angst at the evident traumas induced on a wretched and defenceless civilian populace, the role of many an artist has not been confined to one of conscientious neutrality. There are those who have used their talents to extol the virtues of patriotism and the valour inherent in sacrificing self in the cause of the nation. There are those who have taken unambiguous stances for both belligerence and for resistance.
The Nigerian Civil War fought between 1967 and 1970 was a war which engaged a number of figures drawn from the nation’s cultural life. The dramatist and later Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, made efforts geared towards creating what he termed a ‘third force’ for compromise as the fractured nation hurtled inexorably towards a military showdown. He was jailed for his troubles by the military regime of General Yakubu Gowon.
Another figure, one not widely known outside of literary circles, but whose status has grown in succeeding decades, the poet Christopher Okigbo, was not content to remain in civilian life and joined a regiment of the secessionist army of Biafra. He met his death at the age of 37; an ending which inspired the Kenyan academic Ali Mazrui to indict Okigbo for “wasting his talent on a conflict of disputable merit” in his work The Trial of ChristopherOkigbo. “No great artist,” he argued, “has a right to carry patriotism to the extent of destroying his creative potential.”
For Chinua Achebe, author of the seminal work Things Fall Apart, the Nigerian Civil War was one in which he had no choice but to involve himself. As he explains in his book There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra, the integration of art with the community in traditional African society formed the basis of his war time ambassadorial role in promoting an international awareness of the plight of the short-lived Biafran state which was composed in the main of people of his Igbo ethnicity; a people who had endured a series of pogroms in the lead up to the war.
Achebe was in the vanguard of those artists who although initially absorbed with writing about the effects of colonial society on the African psyche would later become pre-occupied with the events in post-colonial Nigeria, events which took on increasingly dysfunctional turns.
Indeed his fourth novel, the unerringly prescient A Man of the People, ends with a military coup, an event which for the first time took place in Nigeria at the time of the book’s publication and which served as a trigger that would lead to a concatenation of violence: communal massacres, a second army mutiny and finally an armed conflict replete with the brutal instruments and cynical policies of warfare.
It is a war which was widely covered by Western correspondents and produced books by the likes of John De St. Jorre and Frederick Forsyth, who in contrast to De St. Jorre’s attempts at an even-handed approach was an unabashed polemicist for the Biafran cause.
The writers Arthur Nwankwo and Samuel Ifejika also contributed an important book during the war, and later in the re-united Nigeria, as taboos associated with dredging up the past began to relax, a plethora of books authored by former stalwarts of the Biafran military machinery created an industry of memoirs.
Younger generations of Nigerian writers such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie have used the war as a backdrop to their work. Achebe for his part although far from reticent about the ills which continue to plague Nigeria confined expressions of his war time experiences to poetry writings; twelve of which are interspersed at intervals in this his long awaited memoir of his wartime experiences.
The war of course remains a sensitive issue in Nigeria for a great many reasons; the narrative remains a contested one, but in the minds and the hearts of many Igbos who have for long claimed to be marginalised from the centres of power and influence, it signified more than physical and material defeat: It was a wholesale destruction of the spirit; of the post-Independence-era zeitgeist of optimism and aspiration in a society still operating with some semblance of meritocratic values. Defeat represented the extirpation of all that they considered to be morally right and just.
Achebe’s book works around this central thesis: The Igbos were the willing acquirers of Western culture and that the synthesis with their pre-existing cultural mores of what he considers to be their ‘individualism’, democratic ethos and competitive spirit enabled them to supersede other ethnic groups in the British created colonial order. This led to tensions and their subsequent removal from positions of leadership by forcible means which included a strategy of ethnic cleansing.
For Achebe, the importance of the civil war had profound consequences which went further than the territorial borders of Nigeria. It was he argues “a cataclysmic event which changed the course of Africa.”
In his typically direct, uncluttered style Achebe weaves a compelling literary reportage of roots which were embedded in an ancient society existing within a colonially imposed order and how that cultural dialectic shaped him and the wider destiny of his people within the multi-cultural potpourri of the conglomerate state of Nigeria.
The dramatis personae of the era, their backgrounds their motivations and his critique of their respective roles at this most critical of periods are laid out: The rival colonels Yakubu Gowon and Odumegwu-Ojukwu; the leader of the Yorubas, Obafemi Awolowo, as well as key military and political figures on the Nigerian and the Biafran sides.
Achebe also considers the role of the wider world in a conflict which in his view was influenced foremost by the necessities of realpolitik and not by the objective application of moral standards.
But for all the moral weight behind it and sympathy that the plight of the Igbos engendered, one of the key criticisms of the Biafran enterprise was that its leaders did not provide a clear and distinct idea platform to serve as a template for the rest of Nigeria and the African continent other than one which was dominated by a tribal group seeking self-determination.
The Nigerian Civil War has been typically viewed as one permeated by the ultimate reality of naked tribal interests in conflict and not as a battle of ideas. Achebe attempts to redress this by addressing the motivation behind the Ahiarra Declaration of 1969 which he describes as an attempt aimed at expressing the “intellectual foundation” of the new nation of Biafra.
The effect of the declaration on world opinion at the time was limited and in certain quarters, it was derided as an ill-sorted hodge-podge of ideas and intentions. But the task of evolving a fundamental core of ideas and precepts aimed at transforming an ex-colonial, multi-clan group into a self-constructed modern nation deserves the sort of considered attention Achebe’s book is not able to fully explore.
Granted, Achebe’s explorations do take account some of the philosophical and cosmological constructs of the pre-colonial Igbo and the effect these have had on the Igbo psyche in the modern world. But a consideration of the efficacy of Igbo nationalism and the collective identity of the people must acknowledge to a greater degree the historical record.
From the Igbo-Biafran perspective there have been few if any truly introspective works which have considered the viability of a Biafran state from the point of view of the historical reality that there was never a united Igbo nation which operated as a cohesive national entity. A study of the period before colonial conquest reveals not a united kingdom of Biafra but an aggregate of disparate villages and hamlets whose communities became steeped in the conduct of the brutal trans-Atlantic slave trade.
The argument that by the dawn of the colonial era, the Igbos had not evolved to a feudal level of social organisation and developed attendant indigenous institutions of governance, akin to say to that of the neighbouring Edo people, may of course be met with a riposte that the social organisation practised by many Igbo communities manifested a form of ‘republicanism’ and ‘individualism.’
But whatever the interpretation given to the underlying nature of the relative sophistication of these descriptions, the reality was that tensions arose during the civil war between Igbo-Biafrans based on their places of origin as indeed they did with the non-Igbo minorities within the borders of the former Nigerian Eastern Region without whose acquiescence the Biafran project was doomed to fail.
The unity of the Igbos based on their collective fortune as a successful people in the post-colonial order as well as their ill-fortune through the trauma of pogroms and abuse, understandably provided the strong, emotionally grounded impetus to create a separate nation. Nationalism, a concept that is inherently grounded in the practice of self-invention, can be a force for self-transformation. But while emotion may serve as an excellent form of petrol, it is, in the final analysis, a poor engine.
That said, Achebe has produced an extremely readable personal history in which he provides a masterful series of vignettes that greatly sensitize the reader to the struggles, the triumphs and the tragedy of the artist and his people during an era of rapid change and great turbulence.
Adeyinka Makinde is the author DICK TIGER: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal, the story of a Nigerian world champion boxer of Igbo ethnicity who became embroiled in the Biafran War. His latest book is JERSEY BOY: The Life and Mob Slaying of Frankie DePaula.
The defeat of Italy by Spain in the finals of the recently concluded European Championships tournament in Kiev has, if any doubts existed, confirmed the current Spanish national football team of one of the greatest football squads in history.
They are the first team in the modern history of the sport to win consecutively, three major tournaments; namely the 2008 Euros, the 2010 World Cup and now the 2012 Euros.
No team before, not even the formidable West German machine of the early to middle 1970s, had ever accomplished the stunning feat of securing back-to-back European Championship trophies, or were able to have won a final in such an emphatic manner. The 4-0 trouncing of the Azzurri is the widest ever margin of any final match.
The appellation of greatness is the preserve of but a few national sides. In Europe, the Dutch side of the early 1970s, purveyors of the system known as Totaalvoetball, immediately springs to mind, as indeed do their West German contemporaries.
But until the emergence of this particular Spanish side with its peculiar brand of football, for many the apotheosis of footballing brilliance was attained by the Brazilian World Cup-winning side of 1970.
That side, emblematic of the romantic notions assigned to the Brazilian style which combined attacking flair with a capacity for improvisation, represented the culmination of a golden age of international dominance stretching back to their World Cup triumphs in Sweden in 1958 and in Chile in 1962.
Although acknowledged as a bastion of excellence in the sport, the Spaniards for decades represented an exemplary case study in perennial underachievement at international level.
It was the enigma of Spanish football that after the European Nations Cup win of 1964, which followed the European Champions Cup dominance of the legendary Real Madrid clubside of the 1950s and early 1960s, no further international honours followed.
While La Liga continued to be an esteemed football league producing a successive pool of very capable players and even exceptional ones such as the strikers, Emilio Butragueno and Raul Gonzalez; and even while Real Madrid and Barcelona remained perennial powerhouses within the sphere of European football, success continually eluded a national side which as hosts endured the embarrassment of a futile campaign for the 1982 World Cup.
To whom or what circumstances can this ascendancy to apparent dominance be assigned? To answer this, a story of migration along with the cross-pollination of footballing philosophy and culture requires telling.
The roots of the methodologies employed by the Spanish national side and its style of play lie interestingly in the aforementioned Totaalvoetball, the brain child of Dutch coach Rinus Michels who led Ajax Amsterdam to European Champions Cup victories in 1971, 1972 and 1973.
It is a tactical theory which is guided by the premise of all outfield players being able to assume the role of any other player. It was a style of play which Michels, for a time also the national manager, used to great effect at the World Cup finals in 1974. That team, influenced by the brilliant skills and technique of Johan Cruyff, of course, lost the final to West Germany.
Cruyff transferred to FC Barcelona in the middle 1970s where during his lengthy association with the club, both as a player and later as a manager, he remained a proponent-in-chief of the philosophy of Totaalvoetball, which Michels had brought to the Catalan side.
The Dutch connection with Barcelona, which continued over the years through the tenures of Cruyff, Louis Van Gaal and Frank Rijkaard, ensured the enduring influence of the style; the tenets of which were inculcated by Josep 'Pep' Guardiola whose imposition of the Spanish-derivative labelled Tiki-Taka has brought the club an astounding level of success.
History provides much compelling evidence that the successes of several of the great national teams have been predicated on the acquiring of key manpower of a dominant clubside along with an adaptation of the playing systems guiding such clubs.
This was true of the West German national team which had a 'spine' of Bayern Munich players consisting of goalkeeper Sepp Maier, defender Franz Beckenbauer and striker Gerd Muller, and which played the sweeper system at the heart of which, as at club level, was the sweeper himself Beckenbauer.
It is certainly borne out by the Dutch side which was composed of Ajax players like Johan Neeskens and Cruyff alongside a contingent of Feyernood players who operated under the premise of Totaalvoetball.
The Spanish national side has followed this path. It is composed of many players from FC Barcelona, from which it has also appropriated the methods of Tiki-Taka; the underpinning factor in their recent monumental successes.
This evolved version of Totaalvoetball retains a strict adherence to the rigours of team effort and the physical demands involved in the interchanging roles of players who have to be constantly aware of the use of space.
At a fundamental level it focuses on ball possession; close and sustained possession along with precision passing which ensures their domination on the field of play. The possession and passing provides the basis of both defensive as well as offensive capabilities.
It can be used to stifle and frustrate the opposition, as part of the process of preserving a score advantage, but at the same time it can be used to create openings for attacks.
The style of play can be misleadingly referred to as being 'defensive' or as 'counter-attacking'. Its proselytisers prefer the term 'pro-active'. The constant possession of the ball is somewhat analogous to the effect of a bullfighter on his prey; luring the opposition into a state of despondency or desperation before the sword is administered. It allows them to slow down a game or, quick as a flash, to transform the activity into an attack from any part of the field.
The sense of team effort is palpable. Composed of many gifted individuals, none stands out to a great degree from his teammates. The sum of the individual's skill is sublimated to the overall machinery of collective effort.
Deprived of the services of David Villa, and wary of the suspect marksmanship of Fernando Torres, it meant that the team was able to score goals and win without the services, for long stretches, of a recognised striker.
In keeping with the spirit of totaalvoetball and its disavowal of fixed positions and the interchangeability of players, midfielders and defenders are capable of stepping into the relevant attacking positions to score goals as was demonstrated by the goals which were contrived against the Italians.
This is as distinctive a system as has ever been invented and perfected in the sport of football, but it has a history extending further back in time than Michels' exposition.
For Michels was himself influenced by tactics developed in Hungary which were utilised by that nation's groundbreaking team of the 1950s and an even deeper link posits the elemental origins of Tiki-Taka/Totaalvoetball to the Austrian 'Wunderteam' of the 1930s.
Whether it is in essence an 'unbeatable' system is a contentious matter. The Catenaccio system which emphasised a defensive strategy aimed at stifling attacking play and goal scoring opportunities was successfully applied by a number of Italian sides in the 1960s.
But football is a creative sport capable of tactical innovations and developing counteractive formats of play. It was Totaalvoetball which definitively unlocked the 'door bolt' of Catenaccio in the 1972 European Cup final when Ajax defeated Inter Milan.
It remains to be seen whether a countervailing system can be formulated in order to disrupt the Spanish style of play and be capable of consistently overcoming Tiki-Taka.
It is argued, with much logic, that teams cannot adopt the system overnight because most of the Spanish players have had its nuanced techniques drummed into them from youth level, so on a long-term basis, the possibility exists that other countries may decide to adapt the system into their youth development programmes.
For many, the romance of the Brazilian style of play, epitomised by the grace and the intuitive brilliance of the 1970 side, will remain the definitive rendition of how the game of football should be played and won. But there are of course many difficulties in comparing teams from different time periods.
If that Brazilian side played the 'Beautiful Game' beautifully, the contemporary Spanish team play a pragmatic game replete with its own aesthetically pleasing features which see the merging of a high level of physical fitness with spatial ability and technical adroitness.
History, while acknowledging the part played by aesthetics in assessing greatness, will ultimately judge them on their record. And what a record it is, and what a record it threatens to become if they can retain the World Cup due to be held in Brazil in two years time.
Muhammad Ali, the ring legend and inspirer of a multitude of words; some intensely vitriolic but most fulsome in praise and admiration continues to attract the attention of books, articles, films and documentaries. This has happened with unceasing regularity since the denouement of his career in a Bahamanian ring over twenty years ago. During this time we have had various retellings, assessments and revisions of the man born Cassius Clay sixty years ago in Louisville Kentucky. The facts of the Ali tale, so familiar even to the most casual observer needs little in the manner of detailed recounting to fans of boxing. For a figure like Ali who lived in the glare of media attention, many facts of his life are beyond dispute. But what does remain disputed and will continue to remain a focus of contention is the interpretation given to his true level stature.
Is he a bona fide hero-figure of the civil rights movement who should rank alongside Martin Luther King and Malcolm X? Or a dupe to a charlatan like leader for the cause of black American separatism? Is he the greatest heavyweight ever to have laced on a pair of gloves? Or simply the most hyped about boxer and sportsman in history? The answers to these and other questions would presumably not be difficult to find since Ali, the most photographed, talked about and written about sportsman in the history of mankind is far from being the proverbial ‘riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.’
The overriding perception of Ali since he overcame the hurdle of being convicted for refusing to be drafted into the United States Armed Services during the Vietnam War and the other hurdle of regaining the heavyweight championship that was stripped from him is that of hero status. There have always been dissenters but this has always remained so.
‘Ali,’ the film by Michael Mann falls into this category. It is absorbing in its vivid recounting of its subjects most dramatic life and career episode’s. And as befitting of the director is under girded with atmospheric music and colourful and detailed attention to the sites and sounds of the era. From the sweetishly, gut wrenching hollering of Sam Cooke live on chitlin’ duty at the Harlem Club Square to the densely compacted electronic riffs which accompany Salif Keita’s ‘Tommorrow’ the film is stylishly evocative. Many a review has often made mention of this or that "missing" incident or theme. But this merely confirms the futility inherent in any attempt to compact the Ali saga in two or three hours of movie making. The scope and sweep that is the life of Ali is simply not amenable to this.
The Michael Kram book ‘Ghosts in Manilla’ released last year attempts authors point to reassess Ali, forming at its fundamentals the argument that the significance of Ali has being grossly over exaggerated by a fawning coterie of American journalist’s who have somehow brainwashed the succeeding generation of writers and thence the public into a state of mind much too reverential. Ali it would appear to Kram is an overblown personage who may have been but nevertheless has not been subjected to the appropriate degree of critical scrutiny. There is of course truth in several of Krams observations and interpretations. The negative aspects of Ali, dealing with his womanising, his abominable treatment of Joe Frazier, his excursions into cruelty with Floyd Patterson and Ernie Tyrell, his lack of intellectual acumen and a propensity to be duped by certain people and causes; have all being accounted for in previous books and articles. The difference of course is that while Kram makes little cause for diminishing his status of a fighter, his conclusion is that Ali’s reputation as a force for social change is considerably overblown, misplaced in point of fact.
The recent book and documentary, Muhammad Ali continues with the tradition of treating Ali as a figure whose importance transcended the ring. It is not uncritical but does purvey a general feel that Ali is a figure deserving of much of the praise and reverence that has come his way.
And so it should be.
Muhammad Ali is indisputably a great figure of boxing and indeed sports history. But he is also without doubt a substantive figure in the generality of history because even though he did not initiate events he nonetheless reflected the cataclysmic changes occurring during his times in race, sports and politics in bold and innovative ways. There will doubtlessly continue to be revisions and reassessments, of the sort offered by Kram, but the trend will likely continue to follow a more balanced path as offered by the Mann film and the documentary entitled ‘Ali: Through the Eyes of the World.’
All simply prove one point: The eternal fame of the one known as Muhammad Ali.
The question of sport and national identity and achievement is one which should not be underestimated. Certainly at various junctures in history, there have been events and policies linked to the perpetuation and consolidation of national spirit as well as a grandiose means of national expression in order to advertise a nation's ascent to presumptions of grandeur.
Consider for instance the resurgent German nation under the banner of Hitlerian Fascism and its use of the 1936 Olympics as the means not only of granting a certain legitimacy to the Nazi regime among the community of nations but also as the battleground to prove the putative supremacy of the 'Aryan' race. Consider also the reality of the American Joe Louis and the German Max Schemeling; boxers used as hefty metaphors in a heavyweight battle between the forces of democracy on the one hand and totalitarianism on the other. The tracks, fields, rings and arenas of Olympic games would also be used as one avenue in the battle for ideological supremacy waged by the Soviet Union and America during the 'Cold War' years.
Nations have utilised sports as an important fulcrum for building 'national character'. The French very deliberately appropriated and transplanted the game of Rugby into its national fabric after studying and reflecting on the reality of the Anglo-Saxon dominance it found so threatening. The British public school system placed an emphasis on the Grecian ideal of healthy body and healthy mind and trained its elite with a view that the expansion of their Empire and pre-eminence among the imperial powers would be predicated on such ideal. Further back in history, the newly crowned emperors of Rome sought to inaugurate their reigns by staging gladiatorial spectacles that were designed to surpass those staged by their predecessors. Such was his thirst for recognition that the despotic leader of the then Zaire, Mobutu Sese Seko spent close to twenty million dollars in staging the famed 'Rumble in the Jungle' between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Kinshasa. Ali would later justify the expense by noting that while many nations had "got onto the map by going to war"; Mobutu had wisely chosen to stage one of his fights.
So sports matters. Whether as curriculum or as spectacle or as a focus of national pride, recognition or redemption, sports and sporting figures have been viewed and accepted as an important part of any nation's resources as well as a reflection of its place in the world.
If it can be argued that sporting endeavour can provide a barometer of sorts in relation to the health and wealth of a country and can truly be a reflection of national character and ambition, where does this place Nigeria? Should Nigeria, with its vast human resources, not be rivalling Brazil in football, the United States in athletics or China in table tennis?
Boxing, as with other modern sports, was introduced into Nigeria via the institutions of colonialism. The military, church and the education system played their parts. Key to this development was the involvement of specific individuals who acted to develop particular brands of sports out of their love of the sport. Jack Farnsworth, an insurance manager at BEWAC for instance earned the moniker of 'Father of Youth Clubs' for his energetic devotion to the setting up of a system of youth organisations and amateur sporting associations through which many of Nigeria's earliest sports stars progressed. Farnsworth was for many years the chairman of the Nigerian Olympic and Empire Games Committees overseeing the country's efforts in international athletic competition. Farnsworth had connections with Hogan Bassey and Dick Tiger, both of whom he part-sponsored when they embarked to Liverpool and into the managerial hands of Peter Banasko, a handler of Ghanaian descent. Apart from Farnsworth, Douglas Collister, a manager at the United African Company also played a huge role in organising Nigerian amateur and professional boxing culminating in the establishment of the Nigerian Boxing Board of Control.
Upon the granting of independence, the Nigerian nation was expected to be in the forefront of economic development and political stability among the newly decolonised African nations. Things looked promising on the sporting front. The country had produced two British Empire (later commonwealth) boxing champions; the immortals - Hogan Bassey and Dick Tiger. Both fighters became undisputed world champions, Bassey at featherweight and Tiger at middleweight and light heavyweight. They were two individuals among hundreds of Nigerian born fighters who plied their trade in the boxing halls and arenas of the British Isles during the 1940's and 1950's. The nation seemed to be on the threshold of something remarkable. But this sense of promise was not built upon. Few Nigerian boxers have come close to emulating these feats. Why has this been the case? The reasons are multifaceted. One relates to the policy developed in the late 1960's and early 1970's to discourage amateur fighters from entering the professional ranks. Thus, Eddie Ndukwu, a two-time Commonwealth gold medallist at bantamweight and featherweight categories, was unable to make the impact that he arguably could have made had he turned professional at an earlier age. The other reason, which forms the basis of recurrent national underachieving in all sport, is linked to the unsatisfactory state of the infrastructural and financial underpinnings within which boxing talent must struggle to find success.
Boxing at the amateur level requires finance from the youth to Olympic level but the standards achieved from the 1960's to the middle 1970's have regressed. Support has dwindled in terms of the amounts previously offered by larger companies while aid from the government has tended to be inconsistent; based on the whims and fads of incumbent politicians and apparatchiks. Not surprisingly, the professional game has failed to thrive. A promoter who wants commercial sponsorship, despite public interest, has to work within the prevailing economic constraints. As for finance from television, the mentality here is that the promoter must pay the television company for the privilege of covering his bouts and not the other way round.
While Nigerian boxers have made inroads in world boxing, several of their campaigns have ended in disappointment and even tragedy. Dele Jonathan defeated a future world champion, Scotland's Jim Watt, for the Commonwealth lightweight title in the middle 1970's but his career was cut short by an eye injury sustained in a motor accident. 'Kid' Akeem Anifowoshe's promising career as a super flyweight ended in 1991 after a loss to Robert Quiroga. Anifowoshe sustained a blood clot and had to fight for his life which although ostensibly saved after an operation, would come to an end three years later in Nigeria.
Although the Nigerians Herbie Hide and Henry Akinwande have both temporarily held the WBO heavyweight title, neither had what could be described as distinguished reigns. The fighter who did present Nigeria with her best chance of a potential dominating force in the heavyweight ranks, Ike Ibeabuchi, today languishes in an American prison cell serving a five to thirty year prison sentence for sexual battery and false imprisonment. Known as 'The President,' Ibeabuchi is an imposing six-foot-two-inch 240 pound figure of unbridled menace. He stopped Chris Byrd, a current world champion, in five rounds and defeated the formidable David Tua in twelve highly exciting rounds during which a record number of punches were thrown in a heavyweight boxing contest. Likened to Charles 'Sonny' Liston, both for his capacity to intimidate as well as his power of punch, Ibeabuchi was being earmarked to fight Mike Tyson before taking on Lennox Lewis, then the champion.
Those fighters who have carved up relatively successful careers have had to do so away from Nigeria. In many ways the 'brain drain' in relation to professionals is mirrored by the 'brawn drain' in sportsmen. While it could be argued that many fighters regardless of nationality have to go to boxing citadels in Europe and particularly in the United States, this does not obscure the painful reality that as is the case with other sports, Nigeria does not have the financial, administrative and institutional framework to nurture talent within a stable and self sustaining environment.
There must be a reformatting of values. This must involve investment that is not merely governmental in source. There is too much reliance on the state in Nigeria and other African nations. Companies must play a part and must be convinced of the mutuality of interest between a promoter and an advertiser - albeit that things must be worked out within the context of the wider economic malaise. The mentality must also change. The mindset which elevates the European football leagues to a level of importance far exceeding that of the home grown league as well as the practice of exporting talented youngsters to far off lands at the expense of developing critical infrastructures and investing at home negates the possibility of advancement. The stories of Jack Farnsworth and Douglas Collister, although British figures from the colonial era, provide a lesson in relation to the ability of individuals possessed of the requisite zeal and work ethic to make a difference. It brings to mind those Nigerians who have amassed large amounts of wealth, legitimately or illegitimately acquired, who can redeem themselves by investing in the national sports infrastructure.
It would be inaccurate to refer to a renaissance or resurgence of sporting excellence since Nigeria, in its relatively short spell of nationhood never presided over a classic period of sporting dominance. And this notwithstanding the world title reigns of Hogan Bassey and Dick Tiger. What there was, was a sense of promise, of potential. There was progress; stultified but not irreparably stunted so long as there is a dedicated elite of persons who are imaginative, enthusiastic and courageous enough and available to nurture dormant talent and to build the institutions necessary for sustaining such talent for years to come.
Copyright 2005. First published in 'African Renaissance' (March/April Edition)
The following is an adaptation of the substantive aspects of a private response to Mr. Ozodi Osuji's rejoinder to a lecture that I delivered to an audience of the Jewish Museum in London. In it, I attempted to pick up on a number of points and observations of Mr. Osuji; many of which have added alternate perspectives and further depth to my knowledge and understanding of the topic.
I embarked on this topic fully cognizant of the controversies and sensitivities attendant to it. It was in anticipation of your query: "Why do black men always want to be associated with white folks when white folk do not want anything to do with them?", that I took the trouble to highlight genuine reservations that a black person would have about the premise of proposing a consanguineous link between a black African people and Jewry, which as I specifically mentioned are a people who in modern times are identified as white skinned Caucasians. Indeed, I referred to one particular comment posted on the messageboard of a website which I visited in the course of my research. The poster referred to a fellow poster who had postulated such a link as "indulging in a brazen expression of inferiority complex and self devaluation." And in the same vein, towards the end of the talk, I had referred to the issue of the black descendants of Sally Hemmings and their claim to be formally recognised as part of the extended family of Thomas Jefferson.
I can't remember which side of the fence Jefferson stood over the issue of the status of Africans in America. Some delegates to the constitutional convention felt their humanness should not be acknowledged while others thought it should and the compromise was the infamous declaration of blacks as being three-fifths human. Yes, your experience at his estate demonstrates the racism inherent in his treatment of the slaves that he owned. But I thought it prudent to put forward another view that the facts be put squarely in the faces of the white descendants, and that this should not be automatically referred to as kow-towing. Otherwise we get into that emotionally satisfying but not too helpful attitude of blacks describing themselves as "Field Negroes" and "House Negroes": There should be a penumbra of views.
I also recognised the fact that there are Jews, probably a sizeable number of them who would be hostile to the premise of a genetic link between an African people and Jewry. There are no particular records of salient episodes of disharmony between Blacks and Jews in the United Kingdom, but this is not the case in the United States where there was rioting in the Crown Heights district of New York between Blacks and their Orthodox Jewish neighbours sometime back in the 1980s.
Louis Farrakhan's infamous comment denouncing Judaism as being a "gutter religion," the publication of a book by the Nation of Islam detailing their claim of heavy Jewish involvement in the slave trade, and Farrakhan's perceived influence in the Black community led to an examination of Black-Jewish relations.
So while mutual antipathies between U.K. based Black/ African and Jewish communities have not been obviously played out, I prepared the talk mindful of the fact that there are Jews with racist attitudes towards blacks, and that there are blacks who view Jews in an unfavourable light. It would not have escaped your keen eye the post talk comment by a Jewish lady in the audience who stressed that she felt that many of her fellow Ashkenazi Jews are in denial about the fact that they were "originally a people of Colour."
Of course, being a people of colour does not mean that the Jews were originally black in the sense of having being a Nubian people with Nubian features, it is perhaps more likely that they were a dark skinned Caucasian people. There is the school of thought which believes that the Semitic peoples were an admixture of Negroid and Caucasian strains. But if we are accepting of the thesis that the Jews of ancient times were 'non-white', then the premise of whether the Igbos are a lost tribe of Israel takes on a whole different meaning. Put another way, there would be less unease among black skeptics if the link postulated was between Igbos and say, the Ancient Egyptians who are widely understood by blacks to have been of black African origin, even though the image of the modern Egyptian is that of a darker hued Caucasian.
Your elaboration on possible vistas of Jewish migration into the hinterland of Alaigbo is most welcome. I appreciate your reference to the possibility of certain Hebrew sounding words as having possibly come from avenues other than Trans-Saharan migration such as from Jews who perhaps were of Portuguese origin. The time scale of about 300 years for certain words to become imbibed into the lexicon of the language of a community is compelling. On the other hand, one must question how a miniscule number of Jews among a small population of Portuguese could have spread certain words and customs which are seemingly congruent to that of the Jews. Surely, there would have been a similar or proportional acquisition of non-Jewish Portuguese customs and elements of the language in Alaigbo.
The interpretation of evidence, even when there is universal agreement of evidence is a crucial factor and I am in essence sympathetic to your wariness about the interpretation that could be given to a future consensus view which formally identifies the Igbo with Jewry, and specifically one which would permit the 'enemies' of the Igbo to maintain that the Igbo would therefore constitute an 'alien' group in West Africa.
You are right about persons seizing upon a theory that the Igbos are Jews as a weapon to incite say the masses of the Moslem North of Nigeria—the 'Talakawa'— to take up arms and unleash pogroms against the Igbo. This is why I categorically stated in my lecture that one: The Igbo language is a West African language belonging to the KWA linguistic group, and two: The Igbo people are a West African people who are of 'Bantu' stock. They have flat noses, thick lips and woolly hair. Of course, Igbos have a high rate of albinoism and in many instances appear to be lighter hued than their Bini or Yoruba neighbours. This tendency to light skin has also been a source of supposed 'pride' on the part of the Igbos. Other than instances of albinoism, is this a distant reminder of intermarriage with Portuguese or Semitic elements or even related to the texture of the earth on which they reside? I also did speak of the dangers which political or rabbinical "recognition" of Igbos as Jews would pose in the political context of Nigeria.
So far as the reference you made to my mention of the Khazar theory as giving the Arabs the justification to overthrow a putatively 'alien' and non-Semitic state of Israel (and by analogy, a justification for the Igbos to be swept into the Atlantic for being a non-authentic African people), I would offer that the Arabs do not use the thesis of the Jews being mainly of non-Abrahamic lineage as THE justification of sweeping the state of Israel into the sea. Remember that much of their antipathy stems from the Mohammedan policy of hating Jews since the time when they refused to offer the prophet aid in his time of need. This level of hatred, enshrined within and encouraged by the Koran is enough reason to oppose the state of Israel and even if every single Jew in Israel could account for the veracity of the Semitic origins of their genes, it would make no difference.
I made references during the course of my lecture to similarities between certain Hebrew words and customs and that of the Igbo. I did not refer to one Professor Alaezi's contention that the name of 'Eri', a son of Gad, appears in as a suffix to certain words in its original form or as a corruption in, for example, Aguleri, Umuleri, Nri and Nkwerre. Neither did I refer to the purported discovery by archaeologists of a stone in the town of Aguleri which had the name 'Gad' etched in the Hebrew language. Much of this need not be accepted at face value and should be forensically examined and corroborated by reference to empirical standards. There perhaps is a whiff of desperation in the references relied upon by some Igbos who subscribe to the premise of their being a lost tribe of Israel. For instance, the writings of early British travellers whose referrals to 'Heeboes' is interpreted by that as evidence that the word 'Igbo' is a corruption of 'Hebrew.'
There is something inherently disturbing and dangerous when a people believe that their fortunes and misfortunes are pre-ordained by biblical injunctions and prophesies. It is apparent that some Igbos believe that the Old Testament words, attributed to a fearsome God that he would, "scatter" the children of Israel among the nations and that their neighbours and other tribes would "hate" them relates to their experiences of being hated and of being targeted for pogroms in Nigeria.
As a people who pride themselves as been adaptive to modernity, it is crucial that they resort, as has been the standard of enlightened peoples, to the application of reason—as opposed to emotion or metaphysical traditions—when assessing the trends of their existence. If, for instance, as you say that there is a commonly held perception among their neighbours that the Igbos are an 'arrogant' people, then this must be cause for some form of internal analysis of the patterns and traits of the group culture. Nations and peoples have changed over the course of time and such change can be effected by the calibre of the intellectual leadership that they possess.
The quotations by Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chinua Achebe to which I referred as indicative of the Igboman's belief in his special-ness was in essence a form of a rebuke. As to your allusion to have been on a life-long mission to "save the Igbos from themselves", I would tend to interpret this as an implied critique of a lack of leadership from the elites within the Igbo society. Goethe was on a mission to save the German people from themselves. He knew that they were an aggressive sort of people prone to chauvinist thinking and expansionist ideologies. And he spoke against such tendencies to the extent that he did not support his people in their quest to be freed of Napoleonic control when the French were on the retreat from their ill-advised attempt to subjugate the Russians.
The Germans—remember there was no corporate entity at this time called Germany—vilified him for thinking that way. Goethe foresaw the militarism inherent in the Germans which was later bourne out by the rise of Prussia and then of Hitlerism, which would lead their people to disaster in the 20th century. His advice to them was to "invest" their prodigious talents into what he termed "The culture": in the arts, the sciences, and in trading which would serve as a means of pacifying those aggressive impulses which he was convinced inhabited the German psyche.
This is what leadership entails—not only in the obvious sphere of the political classes, but from the intellectual elite of a people—people who while they are the embodiment of the best of their people are nevertheless understanding of the foibles and weaknesses of their people and are not afraid to say so. The Igbos, by implication, do not appear to have such persons. It is arguably an indicator of an underdeveloped and unenlightened pattern of leadership where a leader indulges in superfluous aggrandizement of his ethnic group at the expense of being a more imaginative contributor to the development of an understanding of the psyche of his people. The role of the novelist, poet and. intellectual par excellence is to do just that. This is the task for all African peoples, and not only the Igbo. But this will surely change with the passage of time as the political and intellectual culture becomes more sophisticated.
I mentioned that one cultural similarity between the Jews and the Igbos was their sense of being special and that this has had widespread ramifications in the fate of each people. One critique of Jews—and one which has not been limited to what one might refer to as the "racially conscious" extreme right of the political penumbra—has been to accuse Jewry of a form of racial supremacy and exclusiveness. The extreme right claims that the Jews are hypocritical in their stances as purveyors of liberal values and of being in their view the main proponents of equality of races and citizens in Western societies, when they practice this sort of racial exclusiveness which finds a particular ugly corollary in the neo-apartheid policies of the state of Israel. They also claim that the Jew was at the forefront of the American Civil Rights movement, or at least providing sustenance and encouragement for the movement as part of their grand scheme or unconscious policy of undermining the culture of the dominant populations were they live. To the racist right, civil rights means integration and race mixing which the Jew "forces down the throat" of the white majority while he himself does not condone such race mixing.
As you mention, there were those historical injunctions not to marry non-Jews and today there are these stipulations by conservative rabbinical authorities on who should be considered a Jew. You will note, as I explained in my lecture, that most Jews of western and eastern European origin (Ashkenazim) would fail the test. You will also note the stringent tests for obtaining Israeli nationality contained in The Law of Return which was covered during the question session that followed my presentation. A member of the audience referred to the case of an Igboman whose legal argument that he be categorised as a returnee Jew by virtue of his Igbo heritage, was dismissed by the Supreme Court of Israel.
There are those who will argue that the Talmud makes derogatory references to non-Jews, i.e. Gentiles as been little more than "animals," while of course there is the insistence that the book does not denigrate Gentiles by refusing them the possibility of salvation and condemning them to eternal damnation. Those who are termed 'Ethical Monotheists' have souls which are apparently salvageable. There are further categorisations depending on which scholar you read, but the fact that even those who receive a favourable classification can never be accepted into the Jewish community or society merely confirms for some the 'apartness' of Jews.
A straightforward comparison with Igbos in this vein is not possible. There is no specific canon of the traditional Igbo religious system, at least of which I am aware, with commensurate stipulations although it is worth noting the practice of the Osu system; a system which mandates that Igbos cannot marry certain people who are categorised by reasons of descent as being of lower caste. One of the core precepts pertaining to the age of enlightenment and reason is that concerning the equality of human beings. And given that a fundamental assumption of today's world is that all humans are entitled to the gamut of human rights, it amounts to a moral stain on the cultural mores of the Igbo if they continue to perpetuate a system which condones a practice which categories groups within them as being virtually sub-human.
One of the themes which I mentioned in my lecture was the perception which the neighbours and host communities had of the Igbos and the Jews and it is fair to say that this perception has often been unfavourable. Even today, and this is not confined to the obviously racist far right, there are those who believe that Jews are selfish and only interested in promoting their own ends. I stress that I am not saying I agree with such views but that they are a reality of the perception of many in the Western world for centuries. The Igbos too, have been viewed as selfish and arrogant. Both peoples have suffered immensely from violent uprisings during which they were targeted. As with all sorts of phenomena it is a matter of cause and effect.
But while it is easier to achieve unanimity in assessing the effect of the destruction and humiliation of human beings, it is harder to achieve consensus on what the causes were. Should we merely stop at a finding that Jews and Igbos have been attacked solely because of the 'jealousies of their neighbours and their neighbours needs to find a 'scapegoat' in times of specific societal crisis? And if it is postulated that other causes abound which relate to the conduct of and the characteristics of Igbos and Jews, does that bear the connotation of blaming the victim, and further, of being anti-Semitic or anti-Igbo? I believe not. Not if we are embarking on a genuinely objective enquiry into the nature of man.
I, for instance, would welcome 'genuinely objective' and purposeful enquiries by black and African intellectuals into whether there is a common thread existing within the black African psyche which has contributed to the poverty and mistreatment of his kind over the ages. An enquiry which does not overwhelmingly keep blaming others for his misfortune, but instead asks why black Africans sold their kind as slaves, first to Arabs and then to Europeans, and whether the destructive and self defeating tendencies of that sort have contributed to the corrupt misrule of African nations and the maladies suffered by African descended communities in the Americas are related to some transmitted cultural facet.
Such enquiries must be purposeful and be active in presenting points of action which over the course of time will eradicate what you, Mr. Osuji, refer to as "negative" tendencies. It will involve the conception of new philosophies and shared precepts aimed at re-socializing African peoples with new values to replace old ones while maintaining and promoting those positive cultural traits.
You deduced from my lecture an overt as well as a subtle insinuation that the "sense of specialness and tendency to look down on other people" has played a part in generating anti-Jewish and anti-Igbo sentiments. The Igbo found themselves friendless inside Nigeria during the turmoil of 1966. They were the victims of large scale injustices. But is it not ironic when you consider that the murderous acts within the ranks of the military in 1966 could not have taken place without the participation of Christian soldiers of middle belt origin who formed the bulk of the foot soldiers in the Nigerian Army? Is there no truth in allegations that some Easterners in the North including, but not limited to market traders were openly and overbearingly triumphal in their attitudes about the rise of Ironsi? Is there no truth to comments made by certain Yorubas of some Igbos indiscreetly asserting at the time of Ironsi's administration that they would obtain greater 'living space' in the West and other parts of Nigeria?
You also mentioned my note on the frequent accusation of Jews and Igbos being involved in the unholy pursuit of money. The Igbo are often made the face of Nigerian '419'; this, the art of swindling foreigners, usually North Americans and Western Europeans of large amounts of money. Igbo names such as Ajudua and Nwude are referred to as being the most successful of these 'scammers'. The backdrop to this of course is that Nigeria presently is a very corrupt state and society, and if a thesis of a preponderance of Igbos in this form of financial crime is accepted, the rationale could be based on the matter of the marginalisation of Igbos from the corridors of political power such that many of them have not been in a position to steal from the Nigerian treasury as have the leaders of other ethnic groups from the North, Middle Belt and the West. So for many, the route to acquiring equivalent massive forms of money is through executing these scams.
As for the Jews, there are those who assert that the face of the Russian oligarch, who epitomizes the wanton rape of the Russian treasury and acquisition of state assets by crooked means, is represented by that of a Jew. Berezovsky. Gusinsky. Freidman. Khodorkovsky. These oligarchs were supposedly aided by Jewish financial figures in the West in the transfer of assets out of Russia in that chaotic period following the fall of communism. So too is the face of what is referred to as the 'Russian Mafia.' The Jewish gangster Simone Mogilevich is often cited as the quintessential Russian 'Don', although the fact is that such 'mafia' is composed of a range of ethnic groups.
While it is the case that the first portion of my lecture dwelled on certain similarities in terms of cultural traits and experiences in history, at no point did I mention that this was indicative of a lineage between Igbos and Jews. In fact, I was at pains to refer to the other possible comparisons such as the Armenians and the Chinese who live outside of their homeland in other Far East Asian countries. They, like the Japanese, are noted for their industry. But let us face it, almost every group which demonstrates traits of industry and resourcefulness are likened to Jews. Love them or loathe them: they are the standard. And what standards they have set. When one considers their relatively miniscule population and matches that against their achievements and their influence it is obvious that all comparisons with other peoples are in essence superficial—a description which I used in my lecture.
The Jews have played an important role in the constructing of Western civilization. They can boast of numerous philosophers such as Maimonides and Spinoza; of scientists like Einstein and Oppenheimer, who was the lead scientist in the Manhattan Project which oversaw the development of the atom bomb; of bankers like the Rothschilds and so on. They practically invented Capitalism—and because Karl Marx was of Jewish origin, some would say they also invented the idea of Communism.
There are recent studies propounding the theory that Ashkenazi Jews are the most intelligent form of the human species and have attained such levels of intelligence by virtue of their having to improvise and contrive the strategies which were required to cope with the vicissitudes of societal exclusion, pogroms and expulsions from various lands. However, there are no available studies which would permit a similar view in regard to the Intelligence quotient of Igbos.
The Igbos are a black African people, labouring under the accusation, like other Africans and peoples of black African descent, that they have not been significant contributors to the development of civilizations. They, like other African groups, had not developed a comprehensive written system by the time of the arrival of the Europeans and as with other Africans were subjugated and pacified by European powers.
There are of course two ways of looking at the level of social and political development among the Igbo when the Europeans came across them. One view tends towards that of them having primitive, stateless underdeveloped polities, while the other is to view them as ruling themselves in autonomous enclaves. Where the Igbo sees the evidence of a meritocratic, "republican" heritage, his critics see a chaotic, malformed political heritage based on the fact that they existed as a "stateless" people.
It is perhaps as you argue that because of the achievements of the Jews, that some Igbos will want to push all they can to become associated with Jewry; analogous to the human psychological condition whereby persons wish to be associated with those who are successful. When I devised my lecture on Igbos and Jews, I was wary of people misconstruing it as an attempt of black people trying to link themselves with a people perceived as white for the purposes of obtaining a shaky, self esteem by association. I am mindful of the fact that Africans and African descended persons should preferably display the qualities associated with being inspirational and not merely being aspirational.
You do not copy or imitate—you adapt knowledge, precepts and modes of behaviour to suit your own cultural needs.
I devised the lecture in a manner by which I presented evidence so that a debate—with reference to cogent evidence—may ensue and the theory can be proved or disproved. It was conceived on basis that while the Igbos have discernible traits and a history which can be adjudged as being similar to that of the Jews, there is in existence certain linguistic and cultural points of reference which demanded further investigation. This is simply a result of what I consider to be a natural and healthy sense of intellectual curiosity.
One which finds, say, the proposition that the Japanese language is somewhat related to the Magyar and Finnish languages fascinating in the extreme and worth exploring. I
would find it abhorrent for anyone to dismiss a link between Jews and Igbos for reasons other than those based on empirical scrutiny. It would be abhorrent for a Jew to dismiss it out of hand on the basis that he considers himself "white" and "superior" to an African people just as I would abhor the situation where an Igbo is accepting of such a link merely to be associated with what he perceives to be a successful white ethnic group.
Are the Igbos specifically a "lost" tribe of Israel? A reading of the text of my lecture clearly shows that I describe them as a black African people who speak a black African language. If Jewish elements migrated to what is now Igboland, they would have been a miniscule amount and would have merged with an indigenous people already existing there. That much was alluded to in my talk.
I am fairly agnostic about the whole thing, but enjoy the process of forensic enquiry. What motivates others in terms of their interest in the proof or disproof of the subject at hand is another issue. One vista of enquiry which has so far not been pursued is the undertaking of large scale blood testing in the manner in which the Lemba people of Southern Africa subjected themselves. If the Igbo are related to Jewry, they will bear the traces of Semitic chromosomes which with the passage of time and intermarriage would doubtlessly have mutated, but would be present.
The results might just settle this matter.
Transcript of a seminar delivered by Adeyinka Makinde as a special Black History event for the Jewish Museum on Monday, October 22nd 2007 at Cecil Sharp House, Camden Town in North London
Good evening everybody. What I hope to do first is to give us a general introduction into the Igbo people who are from the south eastern part of Nigeria. The Igbos came to world attention in the middle part of the 20th Century; in the 1960s to be precise, when they attempted to secede from the federation of Nigeria, and in doing that, prompted a large scale interest in them. Contemporarily, at the time, you already had these expressions of the Igbo being 'The Jews of Africa' and in a sense, those analogies tended to be superficial. They were based on their (commercial) acumen, the way in which they had risen during the era of colonialism.
And I say superficial in the sense that by same token, you might as well have compared the Igbos to the Armenians. You might have compared them to the Chinese Diaspora. But (after) we go through that, we'll come onto to the archaeological and historical evidence that says there is an actual link. And we'll look at them in terms of history, culture and linguistics.
So in other words, our enquiry relates to the Igbos being more than merely LIKE the Jews and that they may in fact be OF the Jews. I will do it in two halves. The first thing to do in the introduction is we'll look at the history of the Igbo in the 20th Century and at various junctures compare their experiences with the experiences of Jewry. At the time they [Igbos] fought the Biafran Civil War, they'd just concluded the Six Day War in the Middle East, and there was a connection even then between Biafra and the state of Israel. Then after that, we'll look at the history of how there is that link which goes beyond observations.
How did I get to do this presentation? I should tell you that I'm Nigerian but I'm not Igbo. And I'm not Jewish. But, I grew up in Nigeria—we're going to look at an excerpt of the tragic events of Nigeria due to the inter-ethnic rivalry—but even as a child, you'd have these arguments. I come from the Yoruba side of Nigeria and often times as young men or adolescents, we'd have these arguments and I would probably say something like "You know that the Yoruba people came from Egypt; from the Nile Valley", and there's all that evidence (such as) the hieroglyphic-like designs, the bronzes of ancient Ife and the political systems of the Yorubas.
Then the Igbo person would say, "Do you know that we are of Jewish lineage?" We wouldn't necessarily be listening to each other. And then somebody would interject—because the face of Jewry as many would admit is of a white Caucasian—and so people would say, "Why are you trying to link yourselves to what essentially are 'foreign' people?" And then the other drift would be: "Hang on, that part of the world was once black or at least brown." I don't want to go into deep seated arguments of that nature because there's a lot to go through, but that is the starting point.
I posted (notice of this event) on the Internet and one particular gentleman, his name is Rocky Alkazoff, he's Armenian-American, he pleaded with me—he was a young man in the 1960s, and he was very moved by the plight of the Igbos. He feels a kinship with them. He actually feels that they have more in common with the Armenians than the Jews. In other words, that they were a Christianised people who were put to the sword by Islamic political entities and the world stood by and did nothing. And he profoundly feels that way. I sent him a copy of my book on the late world (boxing) champion, Dick Tiger, and he (told me): "Look, I read that book three times." It really meant something to him. Although he followed the news in the 1960s, he was astounded by what he considered to be the parallels between the way in which the Igbos were persecuted in Nigeria in the 1960s and what happened to the Armenian nation in the early part of the 20th Century.
This aspect of African Judaic claims: the Igbos are not the only ones in Africa to make such claims. There are a number of ethnic groups in Africa, such as the Sefwi of Ghana. Some of you might be familiar with the Abuyudaya who are part of the Buganda (people of Uganda). Now the Abuyudaya don't profess to have any sort of blood links with the ancient Israelites. They became Jews simply because one of their elders converted and there was a mass conversion. And I think that we are all familiar with the Falasha people of Ethiopia, and they were recognised by the rabbinical authorities as being Jewish in 1975, and they came to prominence again in 1984 with 'Operation Moses' to airlift them to Israel.
And there's also the case of the Lemba of Malawi. There was a trade route from the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East with the eastern part of Africa. So they've done these genetic and chromosomal tests which demonstrate that they have a genetic link to the Semitic peoples of the Middle East. So there is more or less some acceptance that there might be a connection there. And it is that sort of connection with the Igbos that I'd like to explore this evening.
Well, who are the Igbos? I thought that it would be good to introduce you to who the Igbos are. This is a map of Nigeria. Nigeria's a very large country in West Africa. It was colonised by the British and like most modern African nations, it was created by imperial draughtsmen who divided up the spoils and regardless of ethnic tongue or shared history, they just divided up the African continent. The Igbos are one of the three major tribes of Nigeria. You have the Hausa-Fulani in the northern part; largely Islamic and feudalistic.
Then in the west, you have the Yorubas and in the east, the Igbos. Now, these are the three major ethnic groups, but they are by no means the only ethnic groups because you have at least 250 different ethnic groups in Nigeria which as you know is a recipe for 'tough governance.' Who are the Igbos? They are black African people. And when we talk about Africa, as being synonymous with black; certainly in regard to 'sub-Saharan' Africa. But Africa is composed of diverse elements.
Just like when we speak about Asia; the Chinese, the Indians, the Turkic peoples all inhabit Asia. So the same way in Africa, you have black people as well as Caucasian people; particularly in the northern part, and in regard to Caucasian people, I am not necessarily referring to Arabs, but to the Berbers for instance. But essentially a black African people; this is what the Igbos are.
They had an oral tradition which meant that there wasn't a developed system of writing although among the secret societies they had, and this is also true of the Yoruba aristocracy, the Igbos had what was called the N'sibidi Script, which was something only those involved with the priesthood could understand. Linguistically, they are part of what is called the 'Kwa' language group. This is important, because later on, I am going to go through a list of words in the Igbo language, and compare it with what you find in Hebrew and assess the similarities.
So we'll look at that and see whether it is just by happenstance, by chance or whether there is something more substantive to it, but essentially it is of the Kwa language, that means that it is of the same language group as other West African nations such as the Ashanti of Ghana, as well as the Yoruba and the Bini. They also consist of a disparate group of communities united by language and customs. The thing to mention here is that when we later start talking about how the Igbos may be composed of some elements of Jewish migration, a lot of the time when you talk about people migrating in history, they often come, whether it is males or females, and then intermarry with a so-called indigenous group. Nothing is ever 'pure.'
So even among the Igbo people, the word 'Igbo' to some people from the Northern part of Igboland, they consider it a derogatory term. I'm referring to people from a place known as Onitsha and Asaba. These people are said to have migrated and are said to have had connections with the nearby kingdom of Benin. And so they met the indigenous Igbo people and although they speak the same tongue and same language, there's a little bit of a distinction between them culturally.
The same thing with the Yoruba people. Whether they say they came from the east, they also met an indigenous people who they also called 'Igbo.' The other thing about the Igbos is that they tended to have ruled themselves autonomously in their village enclaves, so they didn't have traditions of kingship. It was more of a meritocratic set up. Although, as I said, the northern Igbo are slightly different. They had chiefs and they also did have kings.
So very multifarious in their origins. One final thing to mention is that when the British conquered Nigeria, they tended to disregard the Igbos when it came to matching the different ethnic groups, because they were impressed by materialistic things. In the Benin Empire, they had roads, underground water systems. And these are things that were documented by the Portuguese when they met the Binis. Before the era of colonialism and imperialism, they actually exchanged ambassadors and dealt with each other as equals.
And they were also impressed by the Yorubas and their complex system of governments and religious rites. With the Igbos, they couldn't make much out of them. But that changed in the 1930s when they discovered a site which they called Igbo Ukwu. And Igbo Ukwu, which I'll make another reference to when I start exploring the link between Jewry and the Igbos, what they found were these cemeteries in which they found these ornately designed bronze ornaments, which appeared to be associated with the burial of a ruling priesthood. So they were probably operating a sort of theocracy.
They are an African people and they had traditional religions. They believed in a supreme god whose name is Chukwu, but there were also subsidiary gods: god of the forest, god of yam—yam is the staple diet, and interestingly, they also believed in the concept of destiny; that each one has a personal god they called a chi, which basically determines your good fortune or lack of fortune in your life. So we'll bear all of these in mind when we come on to the links with the Hebrews.
When we talk about Jews, we are not necessarily talking about one people—even though that is the tendency, because we all know that there are Sephardic Jews, there are Ashkenazi Jews. Are we talking about Zionists or non-Zionists. In another instance, we could be talking about secular Jews and talking about Orthodox or Ultra-Orthodox Jews. So even within Jewry itself, there is that disparateness in a sense. But there is that unity of cultural norms and a shared sense of history.
It's an important point to mention—harking back to these adolescent arguments I had that some people are uncomfortable among Igbos or black people who feel, "Well, so what?" Whether or not there is that link. I got something off the Internet. There was this argument by this Igbo person, and his words were, "Why indulge in such brazen expressions of inferiority complex and self devaluation?" It's as if to say: "Do you want to force yourself on to them?" So it brings up these issues of identity and who determines who is who. And what happens if someone feels they are been ostracized or have not been accepted?
I mentioned the Falashas as an example of Jews and in more recent times the Menashe of India have been accepted. And that took a long time. Some people feel that it is only a matter of time before the Igbos are accepted in this way, but when I come to our conclusion, we'll see that they are probably some misgivings about that, for instance given the political context in which Nigeria is. But this whole idea of lost tribes and lineages, I'm sure we're all familiar with through our history.
You've probably heard of the Israelite societies here in Britain who believe that the Anglo-Saxon 'race' was descended from these lost tribes of Jews. Just to remind people—I don't need to remind most of you, but some of us; you had 12 tribes of Israel plus two others. The twelve tribes were the sons of Jacob, and two of Joseph's sons were also given the status. And what happened was that when the Assyrian Empire conquered the northern state of Israel, they had this dispersal and they were never together again.
So ten tribes roamed the earth and to this day, nobody probably knows where they are. But there are always people in the four corners of the earth staking their claim. One of them was the Anglo-Saxon race. It's not just a question of the lost tribes of Israel but also people who've 'lost' that lineage. In other words, they were Jews but, what happened was that through forced conversions, and other situations, they've 'lost' that connection to Judaism. I think in recent years, there was this issue in Latin America of those—they must have been Sephardic Jews—who went over to the New World and due to the Inquisition didn't retain their Jewish faith.
Some of them did it in secret (retained their faith) over long periods of time, it must be said and that is why some can trace it hundreds of years later. A number of them are re-discovering their lost lineage but they've been layered with Catholicism. Is that the same thing with the Igbos? A Jewish people now identified as being Christian.
So those are the issues raised. Before I show you a clip, I just want to say how we going to look at the Igbos. I put it in six different headings. First thing I'll look at is a belief in being a special people and having a special mission. Secondly, the Igbos had this drive in academic, professional and commercial endeavours. What was the perception, thirdly, of the host communities or their neighbours. Fourthly, the suffering of pogroms, fifthly, genocide, and finally the issue of nationalism and war. And through that, I'll be linking them with Israel in modern times as well as with the Jews in history. So I just want to first of all show you an eight-minute clip of a BBC documentary Timewatch called 'Biafra: Fighting a War without Guns." What this does is it gives you an idea of Nigeria and how it was created and we'll stop it when we get to the creation of the state of Biafra.
Audience watches an 8-minute video clip.
The first point that I mentioned before we showed that clip was this belief in being a special people and having a special mission; I think that when that is the case, it is almost like a double-edged sword in the sense that you are praised for being a hardworking people. You are very adept at creating things etcetera, but then there's the other side of people being envious, or people feeling that you are being too prideful—and the Igbos suffered that. I'll give you a number of quotes.
Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was Nigeria's first president—an Igbo—but he was mostly associated with Nigerian nationalism and I remember quoting this to a man who is now fairly elderly. He was the in-law of 'Zik', and he was surprised that he had ever made a statement like this. What Zik said in 1949 was that "it would appear that the God of Africa has specifically created the Igbo nation to lead the children of Africa from the bondage of the ages."
And then Chinua Achebe, I don't know if you've heard of him. Any one heard of Chinua Achebe? The writer of Things Fall Apart, probably the most famous African novel. He said the following: "Unlike the Hausa-Fulani, the Igboman was unhindered by a weary—that is a Moslem—religion. And unlike the Yoruba, he was unhampered by traditional hierarchies. This kind of creature, fearing neither god nor man was custom made to grasp the opportunities of the white man's dispensation."
So that was Achebe's explanation for why the Igbos rose. As I said, remember the attitude of the British. And their attitude wasn't that good whether it was to their Celtic neighbours or to the French or Continental Europeans or the black or brown peoples who they conquered; in the hierarchy of things, the Igbo were right at the bottom there. But this was Achebe's explanation of why they rose up in the era of colonialism.
By no means an intellectual but a very decent man—I wrote a book about him, Dick Tiger, the world boxing champion in the 1960s. During the height of the Nigerian Civil War, he used his prestige in the United States to support the Igbo in the secessionist cause of Biafra. And he told an American journalist, "Our opponents call the Igbos the Jews of Africa. It is meant as an insult. I interpret it as a high compliment."
So they had that belief in them. And I'll just run through a few facts and figures to show that. In the early 1920s, Nigeria—just a new nation, newly colonised. It had 15 barristers and 12 physicians. Now 20 of these were from the Yoruba ethnic group, and the rest were so-called Native Foreigners. Absolutely not a single Igbo doctor or lawyer. By the middle (1950s), Nigeria had 300 doctors and lawyers. 76 were ethnic Yorubas but the Igbos now numbered 49. So they were gaining pretty rapidly.
In education, the Igbos, prior to the Second World War, only had one studying in the United States: Nnamdi Azikiwe, who I mentioned earlier on was the first president of Nigeria. After the Second World War, half the students in the United States were of Igbo origin. One thing that I mentioned in my book was that the Igbos had what was referred to as the 'Onitsha Chapbook Culture.' In other words, the thing that was responsible for their drive; you could see it in this literature that developed. It developed from the market city of Onitsha in the north of Igboland but spread all over to the urban proletariat.
And what that culture was, was a mixture of traditional values, Christian and entrepreneurial precepts. If you struggled hard, remained sober: You could reach for the stars. And so many of them were imbued with this zeal which probably lasted until the shattering events of the Nigerian Civil War. You had these chapbooks (with titles) like 'Determination is the Key to Success', or 'How to become Rich'. People fed of this sort of thing. You'd find it in market places, in bus stations. They were very into self development and the development of the community.
The third point that I mentioned was the perception of the host communities and the neighbours. Well, I don't want to go into the epithets that have been used against Jews, but with the Igbos, there's a name in Nigeria that originated in the North: 'Nyamiri.' And that referred to something akin to being a money lover.' They would do anything for money; sell your mother for money. That was the way in which the Igbos were viewed: as a people with an unbridled lust and love for money.
So there was all this suspicion, envy, antagonism. The other thing we could compare with the situation of Jews, was a certain ghettoization. As the clip mentioned, the Igbos spread across Nigeria. They were in the Civil Service—the higher echelons; the lower echelons. The northern part of Nigeria, I should remind you: Islamically orientated, so they didn't adapt to western education and the professions in the way that southern people like the Yorubas and the Igbos did. When people lived in the North, they lived in what were termed 'Strangers Quarters'; Sabon Garis. Everybody did. But again, when the pogroms started, they knew where to head to.
And on that issue of pogroms, in Nigeria, you could say that there were three pogroms against the Igbo. One in 1945 in the northern city of Jos; or what you'd call the 'middle belt' in Nigeria. In 1954, in the northern city of Kano and in 1966 there was a prolonged series of pogroms. What happened as that clip hinted at was that (in) Nigeria, the six year-old civilian regime was stalemating into absolute corruption and (it was) a mess. There was a coup d'état. That coup was led by middle ranking officers, most of whom were Igbos.
The actual coup did not succeed, but the person who took over, was the army commander who was Igbo. And a lot of the other ethnic groups, particularly the Hausa—because a number of their leaders were killed during that coup—felt that this was the Igbos trying to establish a form of hegemony over the rest of Nigeria. It's part of a lengthy story—can't go into details but that is it. Later on there was a counter coup and the slaughter of many of the Igbo (within the) officer corps. There were pogroms against Igbo civilians.
Now I'm not Igbo. I'm not a propagandist trying to stir up hatred (against) Moslem northern Nigerians or Islam in general, but you saw a few of the propaganda clips (in the T.V. excerpt). We don't have pictures of how Jews were dealt with at the time of the pogroms in Tsarist Russia, but you can imagine how they were punished. These are pictures released by the Biafran secessionists on what was happening. People had their eyes gouged, people were turned into refugees in their own country, this picture which is folded, contains the image of a beheaded corpse, so if you don't want to look at it, don't open it. But that was the whole effect of Nigeria's problems.
So you had a political revolution, and once they started the communal violence, the Igbos fled to their own Eastern Region. And in doing that, many of the people who witnessed this made an analogy with the situation of the Jews, because the Eastern Region now began to look rather overpopulated with over a million people coming from all over Nigeria (who) had to be absorbed in one region. This is a statement from Colin Legum of The Observer, October 16th 1966. He wrote for his readers that "after a fortnight, the scene in the Eastern Region continues to be reminiscent of the ingathering of the exiles into Israel after the end of the Second World War. The parallel is not fanciful."
And it wasn't fanciful because what was going to happen was secession and from their perspective, a war of independence, which of course the Jewish people had before the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. From the pogroms, the issue of genocide raised its head. For Jews, the image of genocide is the camps of Belsen, Auschwitz: emaciated figures liberated after the Second World War. For the Igbos: starving children in Biafra. I have two quotes for you that (are) linked to this issue (of genocide). While I read this out, I have pictures of Jews rescued from one of the concentration camps and the rest are (of) Igbos.
Once Nigeria blockaded them during the civil war, that was their means of warfare. They didn't want to do much hand-to-hand fighting; they just blockaded Biafra by land, by sea, by air and basically wanted to starve them into submission. Well, I'd mentioned the boxer Dick Tiger earlier on who did a large amount of propaganda work on behalf of the Biafran cause, and he was interviewed by a Western journalist during the war. And here's a quote from him. He said, "If we don't fight back. If we don't protect our rights, it will be what's the word? Genocide. Like what they did to the Jews. They are out to kill us."
And Frederick Forsyth in his book, The Biafra Story—Frederick Forsyth of The Day of the Jackal fame. Before that he was a journalist who had covered the assassination attempt on General DeGaulle and various other European news stories, then he became a war correspondent, then resigned that to propagate the Biafran cause—this is what he wrote in his book The Biafra Story in 1969. He said, "One can no more explain the present day attitude of Biafrans to Nigerians, without reference to the anti-Igbo pogroms than one can account for contemporary Jewish attitudes towards the Germans without reference to the Jews experience in the Nazis hands between 1933 and 1945."
So yet another analogy being made there. So far we haven't yet spoken about Judaism and the links with Igbos, but this is what I said I wanted to do just to show why there was this analogy been made. And the final thing that I wanted to look at was this issue of nationalism and war, because there's a similarity here in the sense that an horrendous experience was the prompt for Jews to go back to the Middle East; the land of Canaan; of Palestine and form the state of Israel in 1948. Of course, there was the pre-existing school of Zionism as espoused by Theodore Hertzl, and that had been something that had been there for much of the century and Jews were migrating to Palestine. But the impetus that led to a final resolution to form a Jewish state was the Holocaust. And so much in the same way that the Jews formed the state of Israel, the Igbos reacted to what they felt was the attempt to exterminate them as a people, to form the independent republic of Biafra.
So some similarities there, but I will remind you about the differences, because it looked like a 'David and Goliath' situation. Looking at what is known as the 'War of Independence' to Jews and Israelis but (as) 'The Calamity' to Arabs, you had two more wars; one in 1956 at the time of the Suez Crisis and then the Six Day War in 1967. Now before the Six Day War, it looked like a classic case of David and Goliath. You've seen the map of Nigeria and how small the area inhabited by the Igbos was compared to the rest of Nigeria.
Much the same way people would have looked at things in a superficial sense and seen the state of Israel and look at these large Arab nations: Syria, Egypt and Jordan around them. A lot of people in the world did think that the state of Israel was in peril. Just looking at things it would have taken a swift set of pincer movements, and Israel would be swept into the sea, and God knows what would have happened to the people who were left there. But the reality was different as people know now. The Israeli General Staff were very confident of victory. There are all these stories of the indecisiveness of the Prime Minister, Levi Eshkol and Yitzhak Rabin, the army commander was said to be smoking heavily and had a nervous breakdown.
But the only thing that was perplexing the Israeli state was what would be the nature of their victories. They couldn't take any of the Arab capitals, and it was a question of how much territory they could take and then see if the world could accommodate that. With the Biafrans, same David and Goliath scenario, but the Igbos did not have much in the manner of weapons to fight the Nigerians. So what I was going to show you on the projector: here's a picture of some little Jewish girls in Golders Green holding up a placard saying HELP ISRAEL—but essentially, the Generals, there's General Dayan, Rabin and the Air Force commander; they knew they were going to win that victory.
More or less; it needed an effort and they did just that. These are battle scenes and famous thing at the Wailing Wall where Israeli soldiers were pictured by a photographer from (Life magazine). This is a picture of Colonel Ojukwu, who led the Biafran secession. Now there was a connection at this time as I hinted in my introduction between the state of Israel and Biafra in the sense that the Six Day War had been concluded in June of 1967.
It would have been impolitic for Israel to recognise Biafra at that stage but what happened was after the spectacular successes against the Arab armies—I have some pictures there of abandoned Egyptian armour from the Mitla Pass—a number of those tanks and armour, well I don't know about tanks, but light weaponry, were airlifted to Biafra. So the state of Israel did send some aid to them. That connection existed. It ended in defeat (for Biafra) so a vastly different situation from what we have with the situation of Israel.
Well, I come on to the aspect of the link between the Igbos and the Jews. So far we've looked at those analogies which were made. People would make these phrases: "The Jews of Africa." Aid workers or people who were flying aeroplanes when Biafra was blockaded in order to bring in food because the Nigerian government wouldn't allow food to pass through unless it was inspected, and the Biafrans felt well they're going to poison it. So the way Biafra was kept alive was through these constellation flights between Sao Tome and Portugal.
So people were making these analogies. But they were just saying that these people were like Jews; analogous to Jews. But we want to look at what this connection is that appears to have transpired. Just to remind that the history of the Jewish people has been one of dispersal. I referred earlier on to how biblical Israel had been destroyed by larger empires: Assyrian and Babylon. And we know that there were these migrations to different parts of the world: Egypt, southern parts of Europe, the Iberian Peninsula. But what of sub-Saharan Africa? We know of Jews existing in China. And this was as a result of the trade route through the Silk (Road). And the traditions have been suppressed but today they are trying to reinvestigate that past.
I mentioned Latin America before, and why not sub-Saharan Africa? What are these possible routes? There are 3 areas in which we could say that there was a form of Jewish migration. We'll also look at (whether such) migration was just of the Jewish faith or of people with the DNA of the people of the Middle East. One would have been through the North East of Africa; through the Nile Valley. Historically, remember there was an Arab conquest of North Africa and southern Europe. There were trade routes, and it is quite possible that some of these conquests and the traders came down via that north eastern element. A second route would have been right up here in North Africa.
Everybody knows where Tunisia is? There was a Jewish community there destroyed in the first-second A.D., but there are still elements of them there (in) Djerba. Remember the Sahara desert wouldn't have always been as vast as it is because it's constantly expanding. It would have been onerous to cross it but there were these trade routes. Also, in West Africa, there were three great kingdoms. Not right down on the coast and not right up at the northern tip. These empires were known as Ghana; and then from Ghana, you had a larger empire called Mali.
In history, there's a famous King of Mali known as Mansa Musa. He made a pilgrimage to Mecca—they were Islamic—and on his way—gold was plentiful in those days—he would make gifts of gold bars as he went along the route. That succeeded in devaluing the value of gold, and I think he was broke by the time he finished his pilgrimage. But he made it back to Mali. And then after the Mali Empire, you had the Songhai Empire. We know about Mali through oral traditions. We also know of it through written testaments.
One of them was through a famous Arab traveller called Ibn Batuta. You have to remember that these were Islamic states—perhaps not in the 'fundamentalist' mould as we would understand it, but rather if you think about the Islamic caliphate; the Islamic presence in Spain before they were pushed out of Spain where it was one of tolerance etcetera. You had Jewish traders and soldiers there at that time. So that would have been another means by which Hebrews; Jewish people might have made their way into sub-Saharan Africa.
Lady in Audience: These are speculations really...
Adeyinka Makinde: We're going a bit deeper. We're going a bit deeper. When you say speculation, it starts off as speculation but it ends up as historical enquiry, because as I said, the (Lemba) people were tested for DNA, and their rites were pretty much congruent to ancient Hebrew rites, so hold your horses madam. We're coming on.
Lady in Audience: Yes, I could walk out or hold my horses. I know that.
Adeyinka Makinde: Much of history is (as) you mentioned speculation. Yes. But the reality of the fact that there were Jewish people, who came along with conquering Arab armies, is not speculation. In fact in Mali which I just mentioned, there is an ancient Jewish community there. And rather as we mentioned Spain at the time of the Inquisition, people were either put to the sword or were forced to convert (to Islam.) And rather as I mentioned Latin America, the Far East in China even, people are now re-investigating the past. So absolutely, that aspect isn't speculation.
Lady in Audience: What is your point? I know you are a lawyer, (but) what do anthropologists say about this.
Adeyinka Makinde: If you don't mind madam, I can take some questions at the end.
Steward of the Jewish Museum admonishes the lady to leave questions for the end of the seminar.
There are aspects where people might say it is speculation, but I've just mentioned some actual historically documented facts. There was a Jewish presence just as there was an Arab presence through trade. Let's come on then to the traditions of the Igbo people. And I want to look at it in terms of those aspects which are somewhat congruent with the Hebrew faith. There are the lores, that is, the oral traditions of three clans of the Igbos which do say that they are descended from three tribes. One is the B'nei Manashe. (Another) one is B'nei Gath and the other one is B'nei Zebulon. Those are the three specific tribes which in Igbo folklore, there is a connection with Jews.
This is pre-dating any contact with Christianity or the bible. I will read out a collection of words which tend to (demonstrate similarities between Igbo and Hebrew.) First is 'Adah', a female name. The daughter of Elon. That name exists in the Igbo language; the name of a first daughter. The second word 'Udu'; to certify or attest in Hebrew. In the Igbo language, they refer to it in 3 areas: Where it has to do with fame or popularity; where it is as a reference to a clay pot, or a pot like musical instrument. A third (word): 'Ani'. In Hebrew, 'everlasting' or 'unending'. In the Igbo language, that means 'land' or 'ground or the earth.'
In Hebrew, 'Ush' is the name of a town or the name of a male. In the Igbo language, it is the name of townships within the cities of Owerri and Ideato. In the Hebrew faith it is also the name of a male. That same name is the name of a male among the Igbos. A fifth one: 'Addar'. A town. Where? A town in Judah. That's from (the book of) Joshua. There's a town called Adda in a place known as Arochukwu. Sixth: 'Asa'. A Hebrew king, The son of Abijah and father of Jehoshaphat. In the Igbo language, it is the name of a beautiful female, and it also appears as the name of a town. 'Ezer'. What does Ezer mean in Hebrew?
Was there a chieftain among the Israelites who fought the Gadites sent to support King David at the battle of Zitlag against Saul which is the last record of the activities of the three Gadite brothers: Eri, Arodi and Areli? That was from (the book of) Chronicles. So that was a Chieftain. In Igbo 'Eze' is the (title) of a king or chief. 'Ewe'? That's a goat in Hebrew. (Member of the audience offers that it is spelled E-Z). In Igbo it is either 'Ewu' or 'Eghu'. 'Am'. What is Am in Hebrew? (Two members of the audience respond that it refers to a "nation" or "place") A nation. A place. There are a number of prefixes in the Igbo language which also mean 'place'. 'Ama'.
The fellow I wrote that book on, Dick Tiger, he comes from a place called Ama-Igbo. Amaigbo. Now that means compound of the Igbos. Compound. Place. (Member of the audience states it could refer to 'mother country.') That's what the Igbos recognise it as; as a certain territory. My understanding of Amaigbo is that it means compound of the Igbos. So a bit of a similarity there. 'Ol'. In Hebrew is said to be servitude or slavery. (A member of the audience refers to it as a Yoke around the neck). Igbos have 'Olu', and that means labour or work. And then 'Maaz'. In Hebrew what is that? Is that the name of a male? M-A-A-Z. The name of a male in Israel. Maazi in Igboland is a male name or a title.
And the final one I have here is 'Ikkar'. I-K-K-A-R. (Member of the audience mentions 'a farmer.') Tiller of the ground. In Igbo, 'Iku-ugbo', so the first 'Eee-khh' sound; it means to till the ground or to farm. So as I said, (Igbo is part of the Kwa language group) but there are these terms. How did they get there? Were they from migrations or from Jewish elements who converted them? Unlike the Lemba on whom they have done genetic testing, I'm not sure that there's been any large scale testing on the Igbos. That's something (on which) they'll work on in the future.
A mention also of the religious practices. The Igbos have a traditional religion. I had mentioned that they believe in a god, one god—Chukwu, and certain subsidiary gods. And also the concept of the god of destiny. And some of those, apart from the personal god, are congruent with other traditional African religions. Where does traditional, that is pre-Christian Igbo religion merge with Judaism. Before Christians arrived or the bible in various guises and versions was brought to that part of Africa, the Igbos had a tradition and still have a tradition of circumcising of the male born eight days after birth.
The Igbos also have a tradition of separating men from women during female menstruation. There are other issues. They refrain from eating meat that would be referred to as being 'Un-kosher'. So in other words, if a ritual prayer has not been said over a dead animal, you can't eat it. And also, it depends on how the animal was killed. If it was destroyed by another animal, you cannot touch it. The Igbos also have that as a tradition. The sounding of the ram's horn. I didn't have any video clips to show you but according to Rabbi Howard Gorin, who went there and established this B'nei Igbo, the Igbos also have a tradition of blowing the rams horn. Apparently it sound like, if not identical to the manner in which the Shofar is blown.
And also the tradition of mourning, Shiva, there is a similar Igbo ritual whereby, for instance, a husband dies and the wife stays and weeps for 7 or 8 days in the house. There are also some similarities with some Jewish festivals. For instance, (although) I didn't find reference to this one, I thought it was implicit. Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement. In the traditional Igbo society, when they begin their New Year, there is a month of sacrifice, which they call the Onwa-Eja, where you fast and try to do good deeds. Similarity? Rosh Hashanah, the New Year. The Igbos place a particular emphasis on the New Year. They call it the Ikeji-Aro.
So a few things to chew on there in terms of the migratory aspects, and the linguistic similarities and the traditional. I have some pictures of Rabbi Gorin who has gone to Nigeria (distributing photographs of Rabbi Gorin and Igbos practicing Judaism.) Those are pictures of newly established Jewish faith groups in Igboland. There are 40,000 practicing persons. Nigeria is a nation of 120 million and the Igbos anything from 20 to 35 million. What this means is that a lot of Igbos may acknowledge that there is some connection, but on mass, they are a Christianised people and most of them are Roman Catholic.
Most of them are not interested in converting to Judaism, but they do tend to find the analogies as well as any archaeological, historical (or) cultural link to Hebrews pretty appealing. There are different attitudes in this regard. To conclude, what are the implications of this? Is it a question of if you could establish, rather like the Falashas of Ethiopia or the Menashes in India, that they were a branch of the lost tribes of Israel, what would be the consequence of that? Would it entail that they would want to be recognised by the state of Israel?
There would be a big problem in Nigeria. As I mentioned before, the state of Israel did help the Igbos during the civil war by sending equipment which had been taken during the Six Day War. However, to recognise the Igbos (as a branch of Jewry) when the whole idea of their secession is still fresh in history might be considered a provocation. For that reason, even if there was compelling evidence and it was accepted, it would be a big problem whether it was political recognition or rabbinical recognition. Yitzhak Rabin, when he was prime minister, did send a fact finding (team) to Igboland between 1995 and 1997. So there are a number of people in the Jewish Diaspora who are aware of this.
I mentioned Rabbi Howard Gorin. There's also a producer by the name of Jeff L. Leiberman. He's Canadian-born and based in Los Angeles. He's also just made a film called 'Re-Emerging: The Jews of Nigeria'. It's just been produced, so it may be available as we speak. So there are some problems (recognising the Igbos as Jews) politically, religiously. Also there's that wonder, some people feel in Black Africa that the experience of the Ethiopian Jews in Israel has not necessarily been plain sailing. There've been allegations of racism. I think there was one particular instance of (Falashas) been refused as blood donors. And people felt, is this what you want? Also, there's this uncertainty as to how long recognition would take.
As I mentioned at the beginning, this issue of identity and recognition. Who has the power? It's almost (like the situation of) Thomas Jefferson who is said to have sired children with a black slave—mixed race slave, Sally Hemmings. And down the generations, I think it was in the last decade or so, the (black) descendants of Sally Hemmings wanted recognition as being part of the wider Jefferson family, and there were arguments for and against. Some people felt "That's a good thing! They acknowledge." But others would say, "Why are you trying to force yourself on them. If they don't want you, why force the issue?"
In some instances, that's the attitude on both sides. There are other attitudes, the less conservative attitudes among the Jewish faith, the Rabbi Gorin's of this world, who feel, "Look a lot of the Jews feel that population wise, we're diminishing through inter-marriage and issues like that. If you can have people with a connection to Judaism whether they're in the Far East or the Near East, sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America: We should embrace them." There are others who presumably don't feel that way.
As I said, I think that it is something to think about because even the Jewish—80% of those who are termed Jewish are Ashkenazi Jews, and in terms of when we refer to casting doubts—which are valid—in regard to certain peoples being connected to Jews, remember there was the Khazar Theory which reared its head in the 1970s which was that you can't account for the large amount of Jews in eastern Europe who would have been descendants of migrants from the Middle East and that this was as a result of the mass conversion of this medieval Turkic people.
The person who first (postulated) that was actually pro-state of Israel, but others have seen that as an attempt to de-legitimise most Jews by saying, you do not have a connection to Israel, therefore you are imposters and you're colonists. As I told you, I'm not Igbo, I'm not Jewish—I'm just a student of history. These are the arguments in terms of fashioning something for the future. Some people are confident that eventually there will be enough evidence for the Igbos to be given acceptance as a lost people of Judaism and that they will be accepted much in the way of the Falashas and the Manashe.
But as I said it's not a vast majority of Igbos—who are willing to acknowledge that connection but it's a relatively smaller, but growing number of people who are interested in exploring more of the Judaic faith. So that's were I end things. I hope that was thought provoking and slightly stimulating.
Question and Answer
Does anyone want to ask any questions?
Member of Audience: Just two points. Firstly, I don't know if you are aware, there was a case before the Israeli Supreme Court in about 1993—because there are a large number of foreign workers from Nigeria working in Israel—so a Nigerian who was Igbo tried to petition the Supreme Court to be granted permission to live in Israel permanently on the grounds that he was Jewish. And secondly, I remember reading a couple of years ago in the Jewish Chronicle, there was a rabbi from Nigeria, living in the UK who had been asked to go on a fact finding mission to Nigeria to (inaudible).
Adeyinka Makinde: Right. Do you know what the result of that Supreme Court petition was?
Member of Audience: It was rejected. It was decided that he had no rights under the Law of Return which grants every Jew the right to (live in Israel.)
Adeyinka Makinde: I must say that apart from the Igbos who consider themselves to be Jews who've rediscovered their faith—Judaism is not a proselytising religion as we know—there is a messianic aspect to (the spread of) Hebrewism which is not linked to the Igbos in Nigeria. They practice Judaism because they believe it is the purer form of what was then (developed into) Christianity and Islam. And I remember that there was a soldier fighting in the Israeli army who died, and he had a Yoruba name. So how he could be accepted into the Israeli army but not into the constituency of being recognized—I don't know how that occurred. That's interesting! I'll look that up.
Member of Audience: Have you read about the rabbi?
Adeyinka Makinde: I know (of) a few of them through my research of people linked to Mr. Gorin
Member of the Audience: He's based in Manchester. I'll see if I can dig out the article.
Adeyinka Makinde: That'll be good! I'd like to find out about that.
Member of Audience (2): There was also at one time I think a lecture on the Jews practicing—a cult actually—in Uganda. I don't know much about it, but their practice is very similar to that of (mainstream Jews).
Adeyinka Makinde: Not the (Abuyudaya)? Because as we mentioned, they do not say that they have a genetic or migratory connection with Israel, it's just that an elder was converted in the early part of the 20th Century and they all adopted it.
Member of Audience (2): Oh, O.K.
Adeyinka Makinde: There is that issue of conservative rabbinical thought that first of all you have to be born of a Jewish mother and have a rabbinical court confirm that. But if you look at the migration of Ashkenazi Jews, they found in the DNA that most of them were males who married presumably Slavic females. So where does that leave them? It's full of convolutions and can be highly political. So it's one of those issues where you have to treat people, really, the way you want to be treated. That's the only way one can look at it as a neutral observer.
Member of Audience (3): There are also the Israelites in the (United) States who are black who (claim to) derive their (descent) through slavery from Africa to the United States and Caribbean. Also, there is some theory linking Rastafarianism to Judaism. So what goes around comes around. Also from a commonsense point of view, to me, it must make sense that there was dispersal to sub-Saharan Africa. Why should it be uniquely to Northern Europe? It's just that people have got lost and there hasn't been much research into how the communities dispersed.
Adeyinka Makinde: Absolutely. As I said, I'm not here as this big expert. There are other (topics for which I could claim a greater level of expertise). I am a discoverer as much as you are. I am not professing an ultimate, supreme knowledge of it.
Member of Audience (3): Jews are originally people of colour. I'm of Ashkenazi descent but a large number of Ashkenazi Jews just don't want to accept that. It's just a fact. It's a fact that they were a people of colour. And as you say through intermarriage, through rape...
Adeyinka Makinde: So many ways it could have happened. I think the interesting thing whether it's in Europe (or) in Africa; was it through conversion or was it through this genetic link? And the (Lemba) people of Malawi which is in southern Africa (have established) this link. Genetic mutations of Jews and Arabs are, I would presume, relatively the same. (Reference to Arab trade and presence in the eastern and south eastern part of Africa. Jews from the Arabian Peninsula may have come via this route.) They (genetic historians) do claim that the (Lemba) bear traces of Semitic genes which would tend to confirm that they practice of what looks like Judaism for a long time before Christian missionaries arrived.
Member of Audience (4): Just a comment on Mr. Makinde's lecture. I find it very helpful Mr. Makinde is neither Jewish nor Igbo and it gives his position a form of credibility. I am Igbo myself and I've picked up a lot of things that I didn't know from what he's said so far. About the connection between Igbos and Jews. I've heard that from day one. Long time. I'm not so sure as to the reality or the scientific connection, so I'm very interested in what he is saying now. This is the first time that I've been exposed to any possible scientific or historical connection—besides rumours, of course.
But the Igbos, in any case, although we have similarities with the Jewish people, most of us are not interested or pushing for any recognition at all. Most of us are quite settled where we come from in Nigeria. What we are looking for is our own nation state back there in Africa. What I think is important in our connection with the Jewish people in terms of forging connections is we share similarities in terms of democracy, enterprise and the rest of that. If we can build on that, I think we'll probably go a long way.
Adeyinka Makinde: Yes, I would think that much the attitude. Even Rabbi Gorin who's the head of Benai Igbo, he basically felt that this could be a long process. First of all do we have something in common so that we can say we are brothers in the sense of human brotherhood. And then (they could) further delve into connections: scientific, anthropological, scientific. As I said, 40,000 practicing out of a Nigeria population of 120 million and Igbo population of around 35 million. Most of them are happy being Roman Catholics. It's caused problems; people supposedly rediscovering their Jewish roots. You can imagine what it's like "Oh, you've just joined a sect!" People want stability. You've always been this. And for people, whatever the issues of being a Jew historically—just the upheaval—if you were say a Latin American (and) you never knew you were Jewish; just like you never knew who your real mother was—it's such an upheaval, so that there isn't this big movement that we all suddenly want to be Jewish. It's a relatively minuscule amount. But in the discourse of knowledge and the imparting and sharing values; that's the whole idea of why I've picked upon it.
Member of Audience (4): Why? What's basically your interest in this subject?
Adeyinka Makinde: Well, I heard the Jewish Museum was presenting some boxing seminars, and I said, "God, I've got to do something about that. What could I do though? I thought of Dick Tiger who was Igbo and thought about the connection (between Igbos and Jews.) I thought why don't I explore this, which as I said has been a part of my life since I was a child, you know in terms of how we would argue among ourselves in terms of our roots. Where do we come from? And occasionally we would bring up Egypt. The Israelites. So I would say it is a continuation of the exploration of things I heard of while growing up in Nigeria.
Steward of the Jewish Museum: Well you've certainly given us a lot to think about. Thank you. And we look forward to welcoming you back to the new museum. Thank you very much.
Adeyinka Makinde: Thank you very much.
Reviewed by Adeyinka Makinde
The name Sam Langford has loomed large in many constructions of boxing history. From the oral discourses of the old timers to the pictorial digests of the glossy coffee table offerings, Langford’s tale is often summarised by his rivalries with contemporary black fighters Joe Jeannette and Sam McVey, his unrequited hopes of attaining the heavyweight championship of the world –a slender chance rendered impossible by the decisions and indiscretions of Jack Johnson- and his later descent into a private hell of blindness and poverty. It is of course true that while historians have consistently alluded to his masterful style and his dexterity of skill, his story nevertheless has tended to be portrayed in short, consumable stanzas –never writ large, and only as a ‘supporting act’ in the often repeated saga of Johnson.
Why this is so is not at all hard to fathom. The writing of history, particularly as it relates to boxing, can often be dictated by the commercial viability of a project. The tried and tested paths of explorations into a select band of personages are comfortable if ultimately stultifying enterprises when over the course of time very little of valuable discovery and enlightened interpretation are the proceeds for the discerning reader. There have been innumerable projects on Jack Johnson and the era of the ‘white hopes’; of Jack Dempsey and the ‘roaring twenties’; of Joe Louis and the breakthrough in American race relations as well as of Muhammad Ali and his career set against an age of tumult. Yet Langford lived during an age as marked and as interesting as any other in regard to boxing and the wider society. His reputation as a puncher was not far off those of both Dempsey and Louis, his technical proficiency as a boxer rivals that of any other in any chosen age of the sport and his personality, while not skirting on the boundaries of outrage that were the hallmarks of Johnson and Ali, was distinctly colourful.
Clay Moyle’s ‘Sam Langford: Boxing’s Greatest Uncrowned Champion’ is the first large scale attempt on the life and career of the man famously, or infamously, nicknamed the ‘Boston Tar Baby.’ The moniker itself is as revealing as it is not. ‘Tar Baby’ alludes to the obsessive zeal with which fighters were dispensed with sub-titles for names and in particular how the sportswriters of the day emphasised what they perceived to be his typical African features and the link that supposedly had to his physical prowess and the ‘primitiveness’ of his being. The reference to Boston is indicative only of where the first rumblings of his talent was put on display and is not reflective of the peripatetic drift of a career that took him across many cities in North America, Mexico, England, France and Australia.
Langford, who in fact was born in Nova Scotia, Canada, was the descendant of African slaves who opted to fight for Britain against the revolutionary forces of George Washington in return for their freedom. He rarely returned to his hometown of Weymouth Falls and his career, as Moyle tenaciously recalls, was a continuum of movement; an ever restless search for money, the glory of the heavyweight championship and finally, for sanctuary.
As a fighter, the book details his encounters inside and outside of the ring with luminaries such as the original Joe Walcott, Joe Gans, Jack Johnson, Stanley Ketchel, Harry Wills and Tiger Flowers. Coverage is given also to his visits to London for showdowns with the British heavyweight "Iron" Hague and the Australian Bill Lang, both of whom he dispatched with consummate ease. There is also a whole chapter of an extended sojourn in Australia which accommodates recapitulations of his contests with Sam McVey, his testy relationship with the promoter Hugh MacIntosh, which led to a confrontation in the courts and the delicate negotiations conducted by MacIntosh with Jack Johnson aimed at getting Johnson to defend his crown against Langford.
Moyle’s work cannot ignore the backdrop of the contemporary attitudes to race. It was a factor which all boxers of African descent contended with in their daily existence as human beings and as fighters. It was all encompassing and not only dictated where they could live, walk and sleep when they travelled, but also defined the manner in which they fought Caucasian opposition. While the received wisdom of the day postulated the composite black fighter as possessing a hard skull which was immune to pain or sense of feeling, a stomach that was vulnerable to punches as well as a psyche which lacked courage and had a propensity to lose heart once the going got tough, the reality was altogether different. “If ever you hear of a man drawing the color line,” John L. Sullivan once mused, “you can bet your life there is some Negro he is mighty afraid of”. As one scribe put it: “Like a number of great fighters of his race, Sam had no choice but to put on the brakes occasionally to keep hay in the bar.” This needs to be borne in mind when making comparisons of his punching effectiveness with the likes of Dempsey and Louis. There were bigger men no doubt, yet Langford could “stretch a guy out colder” than other heavyweights according to ‘Fireman’ Jim Flynn.
He was the giant slayer of the sort which Bob Fitzsimmons was and Mickey Walker would be. The peaks in his career are faithfully covered by Moyle who reconstructs his mastery over Joe Jeanette and Sam McVey, and his victory over the younger, powerful Harry Wills in the second of their encounters before advancing age, and a creeping blindness began the irreparable slide in his effectiveness as a fighter.
He would never ascend to the peak of glory his talents merited. It was a career littered with much in the manner of unrequited hopes: not only would he never get the re-match with Johnson or stab at other heavyweight title holders, he would not get to face Stanley Ketchel for the middleweight title or subsequent middleweight champions who like their heavyweight counterparts, drew the so-called ‘colour line’. The light heavyweight championship also, remained out of his grasp, being not sufficiently delineated to make a claim. Thus it is that the only ‘title’ affixed to his name was that of heavyweight champion of Mexico. Thus it was that the titles affixed to his name including brief recognition as the champion respectively of England, France, Australia and Mexico as well as the threadbare appellation; 'Coloured Heavyweight Champion' all served as scant consolation for his been denied the opportunity of becoming a world champion.
Nothing of course will resolve the argument as to whether he would have defeated Jack Johnson in a heavyweight battle. Johnson, much the larger man and a wily foe, was the unquestioned victor in their only encounter. Yet, the argument, and a compelling one at that, persists that Langford, at only 20 years of age had yet to reach the peak of his fighting powers.
Langford, as Moyle relates, was a thinking fighter. He was one who ruminated a lot on what he could garner from the likes of Walcott and Gans, and was often strategic in assessing how to confront his opponents, many of whom invariably were taller than he. It was such admixture of skill and cunning that enabled him to ‘carry’ fighters for the benefit of promoters wishing to give their customers value for money or others who would only meet him in round-limited, ‘no decision’ matches for which newspapers awarded their own verdicts. While his physical features –Langford’s head was once described as flat “as the plains of Nebraska”- earned the mocking derision of many white sportswriters of the time, he was apt at eloquently displaying a basic sense of decency, as exemplified by his actions after knocking out an opponent. Langford it is recalled “always stayed around until the poor bum opened his eyes.”
There are also intriguing glimpses into his personal life with his love of fine clothes, automobiles and cigars; his jocular humour and his use of humour as a tool for diffusing combustible situations. At the same time Moyle does not spare the reader the unflattering allegations of domestic abuse and financial irresponsibility.
There is much to commend about this work: the author’s efficient sourcing of his references; his dedicated zeal in collecting and arranging a vast array of varied and interesting photography of Langford -many of which have not before been in the public domain- and his objectivity in highlighting those anecdotes and factual disputes of which a consultation of the records cannot presently provide a definitive resolution. All of them are hallmarks of his punctilious attention to detail in what no doubt will remain the definitive biography of Sam Langford for a long time to come.
Adeyinka Makinde is the author of Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal. His forthcoming book, Jersey Boy: The Life and Mob Slaying of Frankie DePaula is due to be published in 2008.
In Black and White By Donald McRae
Reviewed By Adeyinka Makinde
There are few biographies that opt to feature a parallel chronology of the lives of two people. Such are the demands placed on the author to deliver a meaningful enough summation on one character that the addition of a second seems at once a daunting, near impossible concept. In many ways such an undertaking will lack a central focus unless both protagonists are linked inextricably in their raison d'etre or their rivalry or other binding phenomena as were say Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin. Both of the subjects must be similar yet paradoxically they must be sufficiently dissimilar, if not discordant, in order for the author to wax and weave grandiloquent on coincidences and ironies which will litter the narrative.
Award winning sports author, Donald McRae chooses this format for his recently released treatment of the life and meanings of two of the greatest sporting icons of the twentieth century; Joe Louis and Jesse Owens. For if Muhammad Ali and Pele bear the mantle of greatest athletes in the second half of that century, then as surely Louis and Owens bestride the first fifty years.
Joseph Louis Barrow and James Cleveland Owens were born eight months and a few miles apart in the southern state of Alabama. They would die a year apart, Owens in 1980 and Louis in 1981. Both had antecedents enmeshed in the brutal history of slavery and the painful world of sharecropping. Both men rose virtually from the depths of nothingness to ascend the dizzyingly, rarefied heights of world fame by virtue of their athletic prowess, Louis with the crushing fury of his fists and Owens with the velocity of his legs. One quiet and seemingly diffident, the other ebullient and never complete without a trademark smile. One was a phenomenal boxer while the other was a peerless athlete but both were linked in the maelstrom of the social and political evolution of African-Americans for they both transcended the veneer of being mere sportsmen to bear the burdens of and inhabit the sort of status reserved in the past for political figure's. Although McRae does not mention it, both men were known better to the white American public than black intellectuals like W.E.B. DuBois. What McRae reminds us of, is just how important these men were.
But although McRae's title refers to the 'Untold Story,' there is little here that the discerning boxing aficionado does not already know about Joe Louis. From his glorious, record setting title reign to his inglorious descent into tax difficulties and mental maladies. It is Owens who probably is the lesser known of the two and McRae does well to focus, diary style, on both men's highest points in the 1930's. For Owens, it was his extraordinary performance at the summer Olympic games held in Berlin in 1936 where before the Nazi elite, then in the midst's of fashioning an idealized racial state, he conquered all opposition to win a then unprecedented four gold medals. Louis, who just weeks earlier had been shockingly defeated by the German fighter Max Schmeling, would vindicate himself two years later by battering Schmeling in a single round. By their deeds both men finally put to rest Hitlerian notions of Aryan superiority and Black inferiority. Yet as McRae, a man of white South African origin recounts, both lived in a racially segregated America, which perpetuated and reinforced assumptions of Black inferiority. It was Louis and Owens, we are reminded, who paved the way for the unbanning of blacks from baseball, basketball and American Football. Yet, these truly revolutionary figures were not revolutionary enough for their sporting descendants of the 1960's who derogatorily labelled them as 'Uncle Toms;' pacified stooges of the white establishment never mind that the circumstances of the times in Louis and Owens heyday dictated that militant stances within the sporting field were virtually impossible to contrive.
If by 'Untold Story' McRae is referring to the personal friendship between both men, then only few would be impressed by the revelation that Louis introduced Owens to his high class tailor or that both men were inducted simultaneously into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. Nevertheless, it is as a sympathetically written record of the lives of both; sporting gods on the one hand and fallible men on the other, that McRae's book succeeds. There is Owens, impecunious even after his Berlin victory, and hounded out of amateur athletics by the despotic machinations of Avery Brundage, the patrician chairman of the International Olympic Committee and aptly referred to as 'Slavery Avery.' Owens was forced over the next few years to race trains and horses in a series of grotesque exhibitions. Which reader can fail to travel in time forty years ahead and then weep at the thought of lesser men earning million dollar cheques? Read about Louis combating the American Inland Revenue for a spiralling amount of income tax back payment and empathize with the man who donated whole portions of his ring earnings to an Armed Service of the United States military which employed persons of his race only as cooks and mess boys. The reader, however, can hardly fail to chastise Louis for his childlike ineptitude in taking care of his finances when his earning power was at its zenith. There are anecdotal vignettes like where Owens steps in front of Louis who is being confronted by a redneck who wants to add the 'Brown Bomber' to his self-styled 'Hit-a-Nigger-a-Week' list. It is Louis who has to hold his friend back when the normally calm Owens takes umbrage at his slurs and smashes a bottle on a table in anticipation of 'glassing' his foe.
'In Black and White: The Untold Story of Joe Louis and Jesse Owens' ultimately is an expertly crafted narrative of the lives of two of the foremost sportsmen of recent times and although it unearths little of which is unknown about both subjects, it melds the stories of two icons from a bygone age whose excellence in their chosen professions and wider importance in terms of the development of race relations in the United States cannot be dimmed by the passage of time.
It was the case up to a period in the not too distant past that a fight for the heavyweight championship of the world was indisputably the 'Richest Prize in Sports', and the heavyweight boxing champion was acknowledged as the 'Emperor of Masculinity'.
Not so anymore. The ebb and flow in the fortunes of the heavyweight division, the barometer of the overall health of the sport, has been on a downward trend. Indeed, it is the case that many pundits are likely to say that never in the sport's history has the prestige and popularity of its premier division spiralled to such a low point.
England's David Haye, a former world cruiserweight champion who presently holds the WBA version of the splintered title, has been extremely vocal in expressing his views as to the reason for this nadir: the Klitschko brothers, Wladimir and Vitali.
He describes both as being ponderous, boring to watch and thoroughly devoid of charisma. Wladimir who holds the IBF, IBO and WBO titles and Vitali, the WBC champion have both dominated the heavyweight division since the retirement in 2003 of Lennox Lewis, the last undisputed titleholder.
Just why the amazing feat of two well-educated brothers simultaneously holding versions of the world title has failed to capture the public imagination apart, that is, from their Ukrainian motherland and adopted German homeland, is something truly to ponder.
Perhaps it is the fact that they are non-Americans dominating a division which for decades had been the preserve of the American heirs of champions such as Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis. American interest noticeably wanes when champions are foreigners. In fact, when HBO, the American cable television network, announced one year ago that it would no longer be screening any heavyweight title fights, its sports president, Ross Greenburg, made clear that it was the paucity of credible American challengers which lay at the heart of the decision.
Greenburg had mentioned that the only heavyweight contest worth screening would be one involving the Ukrainian and the Englishman. Klitschko versus Haye is the richest bout outside of a fight between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather.
Standing at 6' 6" (just over 1.98 meters) and with an optimum fighting weight of around 240lbs, Klitschko is three inches taller than the former world cruiserweight champion, Haye, who is also outreached and outweighed.
While his style is not an aesthetically pleasing sight to the purists, Klitschko's left jab has served him well in keeping most of his opponents at bay while he sets them up for an arrow-straight right cross. He has an 85 per cent knockout tally and will be looking for his 50th knockout when he encounters Haye.
Haye's record in securing 23 knockouts in the 25 wins of his career is also impressive. And although a relatively recent graduate to the heavyweight division, he has proved that he has the power to knock over and stop larger men. His best weapon against Klitschko will be his hand speed.
Both men have weaknesses. They have at times been accused of lacking stamina; the decisive factor in Klitschko's defeat against Ross Puritty, and Haye in his only career loss to Carl Thompson as a cruiserweight. Perhaps the Ukrainian's greatest vulnerability lies with his 'chin' - his ability to absorb a heavy blow. His style of keeping his opponents at a safe distance with his long reach, and then tying them up while leaning in with the full weight of his heavy frame has served him well.
It is a ploy which the lighter Haye will undoubtedly be working to counter. Despite a tendency to throw his punch combinations wildly, he stuck rigidly to a well-worked out strategy to defeat the behemoth-like Nikolai Valuev to win his title.
Apart from a physical plan, Haye has consistently employed a psychological tactic against his opponent with infantile-like relish. His verbal jibes and lack of courtesies including the wearing of a T-shirt bearing his triumphant image bestriding the decapitated torsos of both Klitschkos have gone beyond the boundaries of good taste and sportsmanship.
That notwithstanding, this promises to be the most enthralling heavyweight tussle since Vitali Klitschko's bout with Lennox Lewis in 2003. Haye is the best of as poor a pool of heavyweight talent as has existed since the inception of the sport, and if it lives up to the high expectations that it has engendered, not least from the combatants who have each promised to score a victory by stoppage, it will go some way in restoring some prestige to the division with arguably the most compelling narrative history of all sports.
Adeyinka's latest book is JERSEY BOY: The Life and Mob Slaying of Frankie DePaula.
Chapter Five/"Reborn" -- Mickey Duff, an ex-fighter and now the rising matchmaker for Harry Levene promotions, had seen Tiger lose by a decision. To him, Tiger's six-wins-to-five-losses record spelt "journeyman fighter" convenient fodder for Terry Downes, the great hope of British boxing. "I thought I had done my homework," Duff recalled in his autobiography. "I had seen Tiger lose to a nobody in Liverpool and thought he was a perfect opponent –- one who would make a show but wouldn't be good enough to win."
A lot was expected of Downes. He had taken up boxing during a brief sojourn in the United States, fighting for the Marines as well as in Golden Gloves competitions. His record was solid enough to have him co-opted onto the American Olympic squad bound for the Melbourne games until it was discovered that he was not an American national.
Vairo hastily completed the details with Duff, the bout being scheduled for May 14th -barely two weeks after the Read match- at East London's Shoreditch Town Hall. Tiger, like Vairo, was anxious to take the bout. It did not perturb him that he would receive £60 ($170) of the total £185 purse fee since he had consistently earned less than this on the northwest circuit. This was an opportunity. What struck him most was the extent of Downes' popularity and the expectations that were being dumped on his young shoulders. The only thing bothering him about the fight was his weight, the matter that had caused him to pay forfeit to Read.
On the morning of the fight, he stood on the scales and was stunned to hear his weight declared as being one and a half pounds above the stipulated weight of eleven stone and nine pounds. The room, filled with pressmen and assorted spectators, broke out into a general titter. He surveyed the faces impassively but inwardly he burned with anger. The promoters agreed to give him one hour to shed the excess. He spurned an offer to use the facilities of a nearby Turkish bath because of the weakening effects on the body and instead scurried around borrowing garments, which he piled on his torso before embarking on a furious workout. It proved just enough to make the weight.
Looking on, Downes had reason to be confident. Tiger's record, for one, suggested that he was up against a 'trial horse.' He had seen Tiger demolish Johnny Read but he reckoned the result had been hugely influenced by Read's lack of motivation on account of his impending emigration to Canada. Although Tiger appeared to him to be a "well built fighter," Downes suspected that Tiger's weighing in exertions would likely have left him in a weakened state.
Later on that evening, the hall quickly filled to capacity. The demand for tickets had been so great that "hundreds" were reportedly locked outside. Inside the smallness of the venue ensured a semi-claustrophobic atmosphere as spectators, many of them sitting and standing shoulder-to-shoulder crowded around the ring. Above them were a number of balconies that hung steeply, seemingly above the ring, the occupants, according to Reg Gutteridge "practically breathing down the necks of the contestants."
At the din of the opening bell, Downes sprang out of his corner throwing leather from all angles -- aiming, Tiger surmised, to secure a quick rout over what he expected to be a weight weakened, muscle bound duck. Tiger held his ground until Downes waded into a powerful left hook, which deposited him on to the canvas for a seven count. At this moment Tiger would claim later that he knew his man was beaten. With indecent haste, Downes scrambled up, dusting the resin from his scarlet trunks. He was still in the process of gathering his senses when the referee yelled for both men to "box on." Outweighed by six pounds, Downes was yet to shake off the effects of the blows when in the second round another of Tiger's left hooks sent him tumbling over. But this did not finish him off. He gathered himself again and both men traded punches with some of Downes' combinations ending under Tiger's heart. The damage, nevertheless had already been done and while Tiger waited for the sounding of the seventh round, Downes' handlers, mindful no doubt about the effects that a prolonged assault would have on their youthful charge, decided to withdraw him from the contest.
"That fight, he found himself," says Downes. "He'd become acclimatised. He'd been stuck in Liverpool probably not eating properly and God knows what. Afterwards he went from glory to glory. I don't put losing down to overconfidence; I put it down to Dick being a good fighter. He caught me with a good punch and that was it." He recalls Tiger fondly. "He was a wonderful gentleman. I saw him in New York a couple of times and another time in Boston at the time I fought Paul Pender. Dick was always friendly and hospitable. We had a repartee going on between us. He would call me 'Mr. Terry' and ask me how I was and I'd tell him, 'Not bloody well, thanks to you'!"
Back in his dressing room, Downes, the irrepressibly loquacious wit, bandied trademark quips in response to the questions being asked by the journalists. When one asked him whether he thought Tiger might have being too big for him he responded, "Yeah, he did look a big middleweight to me too, then I realised I was lying down and he was standing up." Another then asked him which opponent he would like to face next and Downes shot back a gem:
"I'd like it to be the bastard who suggested Dick Tiger."
While he waited for developments to crystallise, Tiger busied himself with a succession of opponents. Freddie De Largy was stopped in Birmingham, Jean Roellet was decisioned in Hull while previous opponents, Jimmy Lynas and Johnny Read were unable to last the distance.
A date was finally set for a title fight with McAteer on March 27. His employers at the paint factory granted him a month's leave of absence. For Tiger the moment of fulfilment was at hand and he was determined to seize it. For a man who instinctually trained for bouts with a zeal often bordering on the fanatical, Tiger surpassed himself this time and amazed those who witnessed his preparations. In all, he accumulated 100 rounds of sparring at the Professional Boxers Association gym and at Transport House.
The bout was scheduled to take place at the Liverpool Stadium, a venue with an unnerving reputation for being the 'graveyard of the champions.' Best Senior had actually built the stadium on the site of an old churchyard, an act which had brought storms of protest from sections in the Liverpool community. Superstition aside, Tiger had other things to worry about. The ring selected by the stadium for one measured in at 18 feet –four feet longer than the length of rings to which he was accustomed. Ring size can be an important consideration for fighters when set against the 'styles' they adopt. Boxers who rely on mobility to achieve distance from their opponents by applying lateral movement with retreating manoeuvres, are apt to prefer the inherent advantages of space which the larger ring brings while those with a combative bent, geared towards the employing of close fighting techniques are logically disposed to prefer the smaller ring where their ability to successfully utilise the technique referred to as 'cutting off the ring,' (applying stepping motions that shorten the distance between himself and his opponent) is greatly enhanced. The tactics employed by McAteer in the previous meeting would have weighed heavily on his mind. But if he felt disadvantaged in this regard, there were other areas which his opponents camp were confident would work against him. The championship duration for one would be in effect and while McAteer had successfully negotiated 15 rounds, Tiger had not.
His other source of worry was his weight, that is, of his ability to reduce himself down to the championship standard limit of one 160 pounds. It was and is the custom for boxers to fight their non-title bouts outside the demarcated title weight limits and Tiger had rarely been called upon to fight within the middleweight limit in most of his Nigerian and British bouts. What would have preyed on his mind was the knowledge that the maturation of the body over time diminishes the boxer's capacity to reduce his weight while at the same time keeping his strength. Aware, no doubt, of Tiger's problems in reducing before his bouts with Johnny Read and Terry Downes, Johnny Campbell was obviously indulging in psychological mind games when he pointed out that Tiger had never engaged in a contest at less than three pounds over the middleweight limit. Indeed many observers, including Douglas Collister, were doubtful that his naturally stocky physique would make it practicable for him to continue to campaign as a middleweight for much longer.
It was a day of the changing of the guard. In the early hours of March 27th, Radio Moscow announced that Nikita Khrushchev had relieved Nikolai Bulganin of the Soviet premiership. Tiger, who had watched two of his compatriots, Sandy Manuel and Roy Jacobs, win their preliminary contests by knockout, stepped into the ring wearing a deep blue dressing gown. The cheers from the crowd brought a brief grin as he strode purposefully around the ring waiting for McAteer's entrance. His thoughts tracked back to their last encounter, their sparring sessions and to the strategy he had devised along with Foran and Vairo. All were convinced that his priority would be to prevent McAteer from settling down to his classical boxing posture. He knew of McAteer's flaws. The champion was for instance inclined to drop his left hand after throwing the jab. McAteer also had a habit of carelessly catapulting himself off the ropes.
The opening rounds were uneventful, seeming largely to be a continuation of the pattern developed in the first meeting. McAteer constantly stuck out a long left jab at him as he retreated, while Tiger plodded forward, hoping for an opportunity to breach the champions guard. Five rounds passed and Tiger lagged behind McAteer on the judges score sheets. Fate, however, now dealt an intervening hand. The fans in the stadium, no doubt aware of the dullness of the first bout, were getting restless at the prospect of sitting through another staid encounter and chanted for both men to slug it out. McAteer responded by adopting a more stationary position the result of which enabled Tiger to get in close to his man. A series of intense exchanges ensued. The crowd rose to this, roaring their approval at each hook, cross and uppercut. In the midsts of this clanger, fans of the champion worried at the sight of McAteer receiving a beating, beseeched him to "Box! Box! Box!" and advised him to "Keep away Pat!" But to Tiger's relief, McAteer paid them no heed.
In round six, two swift left hooks landed squarely on McAteer's chin buckling his knees and forcing him to gasp for air. The effect of this according to the Liverpool Echo, was to send McAteer "plunging across the ring like a hop, skip and jump contestant." Although now largely bereft of his customary ring elegance and poise, McAteer was able to summon attacks of his own. But when he caught Tiger in the nose with a full-blooded swing, retribution came swiftly with a left hook that caused McAteer to stagger backwards against the ropes near to his corner.
The end came in the ninth. McAteer now bled from the nose, his mouth was permanently agape and the strain on his legs was becoming intolerable. At the two minute mark, Tiger shot out a left-right combination that froze the champion, setting him up for the coup de grace, a sweeping hook that deposited McAteer on the floor. Tiger watched as he attempted vainly to raise himself only to tumble over into a heap. Referee Tommy Little stepped in to wave the bout over.
After he was roused, McAteer went over to congratulate the new champion. He recalls, "(In the first fight), I took him too lightly. I was training but my heart wasn't in it. He took me by surprise and they gave us a draw. The next time we boxed, he'd improved. People said to me, 'What punch did he hit you with?' and I said, 'I didn't see it, I was asleep.'"
Still on leave, Tiger spent the next day relaxing and contemplating his future. It was the sort of future that the bedraggled journeyman bound boxer of one year past could only have viewed as a virtually unattainable dream. The reviews in the morning papers would have pleased him, his performance having received praise from previously disbelieving quarters. The Daily Mail's Harry Carpenter for one had in the past been unimpressed by what he termed Tiger's "wild swinging." Against McAteer however, he noted that Tiger "hit with deadly precision and a calculating grimness."
There were those who felt that Tiger had reached his finite level. Of course, they argued, there was no harm in facing the top middleweight contenders and trying his luck as it were -- that was his prerogative, but they felt that he was in essence a limited fighter who appeared to rely more on strength than skill. One journalist wrote that he could 'come close' to winning a title but no more. Others like Douglas Collister felt him capable but were doubtful of his chances of continuing to make the middleweight championship limit. Nevertheless, enough support and encouragement came from British fight fans, promoters and sportswriters; all sensing, perhaps, expecting that he would in the words of a Boxing News editorial, "Bridge the gap that has existed between rated American and British middleweights since Randolph Turpin."
It was a gap that would not be narrowed if he continued to fight the likes of Billy Ellaway whom he dismissed in two rounds at the Liverpool Stadium. He needed quality opposition of the sort that could only come from the United States. A match with Gene Fullmer was touted and was looking a distinct possibility before the American came down with a serious kidney ailment.
Offers, for his services continued to land on Vairo's desk coming from promoters like Johnnie Best Junior, Stan Baker and Reg King. Another from Australia involved him fighting a series of bouts in Sydney. While Vairo mulled over them, he was hopeful that Tiger would be able to fight the winner of the impending contest between Terry Downes and Phil Edwards. Later, he would enter into negotiations with representatives of Clive Steward, the Australian middleweight champion, with the view to defending his Empire title in Sydney. Despite the welter of activity, it was apparent by August of 1958 that none of the promoters were in a position to deliver Tiger with an adequate opponent: "There is neither anyone on the continent that wants Dick Tiger nor anyone available they want to put in with him" Vairo sighed.
The frustrations caused by the lack of suitable opposition and the searing ambition kindling in him had by now convinced Tiger of the need to make wholesale changes in the handling of his career. While he may have deferred to Vairo in public, the true state of relations between both men was far from being all sweetness and light. Much of this centred on Tiger agitating for Vairo to provide him with meaningful American opposition, that is, of the sort that would enable him to break into the world rankings. This he realised would not be achieved by engaging in 'dead end' excursions against the likes of Downes and Steward.
It had always been impressed upon him from the time of his arrival in Liverpool that if he truly wished to win the world championship, his ultimate destination would have to be the United States. Peter Banasko, whose indifferent career had perhaps in part have been shaped by the realisation that he would never be able to fight for the national title of the country of his birth, had been fond of telling his black fighters that sport, and in particular, boxing, was one of the few areas in American life where the issue of racial discrimination had been resolved to the to the extent that it compared more favourably to the situation in Britain: If you were good enough, you would not be denied the prizes or the purses.
On that score, Hogan Bassey was in a position to attest. The world featherweight champion, by now fighting regularly in America, was embarked on lucrative non-title bouts against the likes of former world champion Willie Pep, topping up the earnings he received for his championship defences. Bassey was instrumental in bringing Tiger to the attention of his American representative, Wilfred 'Jersey' Jones. In 1957, against many odds, Jones had contrived to get Bassey into the world championship elimination series that had been organised after Sandy Saddler had been forced into retirement because of injuries he had sustained in an automobile accident. As Tiger later recalled "It was Hogan Bassey who suggested that I come to America and have Jersey Jones handle me. Bassey was (British) Empire champion at the time, but that didn't mean anything in America and Hogan was unknown. Jones had some strong opposition getting him into the tournament –there were so many other featherweights with better records- but he did it and Hogan went on to become world champion. Bassey convinced me that what Jones had done for him, he probably could do for me."
The transaction with Jones meant that he would not only be leaving England but would also have to sever his association with Vairo whom his friend, Foran had grown to dislike. "Maurice thought the world of Dick and vice versa," relates Jim Jenkinson, Treasurer of the Merseyside Ex-Boxers Association, "He didn't get on with Vairo because he said Vairo got him a job in a bloody paint factory. Of all the places to put him, with the fumes and everything." Foran for his part insists that he did not have a problem with Vairo, claiming, "it was Dick who didn't get on with him."
That aside, money may well have featured as a point of contention and although Tiger would not outwardly assert to being ripped off by Vairo, the brief measured reflection of his stable mate, Harry Scott speaks volumes. "Vairo" he says, was a shrewd man." Adding the all too familiar pugilists lament that "boxers retire poor while managers get rich."
By the beginning of Autumn, Tiger and Vairo had settled on two matters: An opponent, Yolande Pompey was lined up on a Jack Solomons' package to take place on October 16th at London's Wembley Pool. Afterwards, he would depart for Nigeria for a long awaited break; this Tiger had insisted upon after turning down Vairo's proposal that he face Clive Steward in Australia, a month after tackling Pompey.
Pompey was a London based Trinidadian who two years earlier had made an unsuccessful attempt at wresting the world's light heavyweight title from Archie Moore. More recently, in his last contest, Pompey, who at this moment was the number eight-ranked contender in that weight division, had humiliated the great Randolph Turpin in a second round stoppage victory. The fight effectively ended Turpin's career.
Faced once more with the predicament of taking an overweight contest, Vairo had insisted that Pompey come in at no more than 12 stones. The punches exchanged with Pompey were particularly fierce and directed largely at each man's mid-section. At the end, it was Pompey, his face bloodied after ten hard fought pounds who came out the worse for wear and the referee raised Tiger's hand in victory.
The following morning's papers were unanimous in their praise of his performance, most seeming to place emphasis on his physical strength. Harry Carpenter of the Daily Mail wrote "There can be few men stronger than Tiger in this country today" while the News Chronicle's Gerard Walker noted that "every time Tiger got home, there was genuine power behind the punch." The Daily Telegraph's sportswriter opined that while "Tiger's performance may not have been spectacular, it was workman like and relentless."
On Monday, February 16th, he and Abigail finally flew to London. The following day, Vairo received them at the airport and accompanied them on the London to Liverpool intercity carriage, arriving at the train station at 4.30 in the afternoon.
Vairo, Tiger discovered had been working furiously at securing him a series of fights against world title contenders. In January he had written to Britain's representative on the World Boxing Championships Committee, Onslow Fane, imploring the Old Etonian to ensure that Tiger received a fair hearing in the event of a need to stage the world title eliminators that were expected if Sugar Ray Robinson was stripped of his middleweight title. Vairo turned to Johnnie Best Junior who was busy making preparations for Liverpool Stadium's annual Grand National Week Show, bouts which were held around the week of Britain's premier horse racing event, the Grand National. Best cabled Lew Burston, a New York City based agent, requesting that he send he send a 'top class' American as opposition for Tiger. Best had by this time given up hope of luring Sugar Ray Robinson to meet Tiger at the stadium and informed Vairo that the most he could hope for was to get Tiger a spot on the bill of the proposed 'super contest' between Robinson and Archie Moore touted to take place in New York at the end of June.
Burston did deliver an opponent for Tiger, the Brooklyn born Randy Sandy. Tall and leanly built, Sandy boasted a solid if not spectacular record; the sort that Vairo hoped would provide the stern but tameable opposition that Tiger needed to overcome in order to break into the world rankings. Tiger would be conceding five inches in reach and height but would have reasoned that the Americans eleven stone seven weight spread over a six foot plus frame would be no match for him in the area of physical strength. This proved to be the case. He plotted his way past Sandy's long jab, pummelling his torso with 'complete gusto and relish.' By the end of the sixth, he had succeeded inflicting a cut above Sandy's eye. But to Tiger's amazement and the audience's dismay, it was Sandy's hand that the referee raised. Many in the crowd rose, voicing their collective disapprobation with slow handclaps and foot stomps.
Observers noted the calm, stoical manner in which Tiger took the loss and contrasted this with Vairo's outbursts in Tiger's packed dressing room. His world appeared to be in tatters when announcing that the decision "has made me seriously consider whether to quit boxing."
"It has been my life's ambition to manage a world champion," he continued, "and in Dick Tiger, thought I had the chance to achieve this."
For Vairo, however, the anguish continued. Two years had passed since he had signed Tiger and their contract was now up for renewal. Vairo, who had recently re-signed Sandy Manuel, now on a tour of Australia, may have expected Tiger to do the same, but when he broached the matter, Tiger informed him that he had made alternative arrangements. "I remember that he went back to visit his family in Nigeria," recalls Michael Valerio, "and whilst he was away, my uncle Tony who had a co-promoter in New York, a chap named Mickey Vance, was negotiating a bout with Sugar Ray Robinson. In that interim period while Tiger was away, he had actually clinched a deal with him. But unfortunately, Tiger signed with somebody, which made him ineligible to go ahead with the fight. When he came back, he hit my uncle Tony with the news that he had signed with another manager. And I remember this because my uncle Tony said that it was the only time in his life that he knew he had a world champion. But it took Dick Tiger another (three) years to get a crack at the title."
Some years later, a writer to Boxing News would claim to have seen a copy of a contract detailing the terms of a proposed bout with Sugar Ray Robinson. The agreement, which according to the writer was dated in 1958, apparently bore the consenting signature of George Gainsford, Robinson's manager. Yet even if true, the agreement would appear not to have been binding on the notoriously difficult champion, at the time in debt to the United States Inland Revenue Service, who consistently haggled with promoters over purse sizes far in excess of the maximum monies that would generate out of a fight with Tiger. It is unlikely that Robinson would have considered Tiger, then virtually unknown in America, as a viable money making exercise, and also, perhaps not worth the risk.
Talk that Tiger had thrown away the chance of a fight with Robinson would do the rounds in Merseyside for years, but what is more likely to be the case is that the supposed document purporting to be a contract to fight Robinson was in fact a contract giving Gainsford the right to be Tiger's American representative when as Vairo expected, Tiger would relocate over there. The fact that Tiger did not renew his contract with Vairo, automatically invalidated it.
Tony Vairo was devastated and felt bitterly let down by Tiger, although his nephew insists that there was no lasting feelings of betrayal "He definitely knew that Tiger would be the champion and that was the most ironic part about it," Valerio says, "but, I don't think there was any bitterness later on. They had made up as far as friends were concerned because business is business, money is money."
This may well be a sugar coating of the realities; Vairo afterall had been the one to assume responsibility over Tiger when other managers had shunned him. It reminded Peter Banasko of the unfulfilled promise of guiding his fighter to the denouement of ring glory. "Tony," he wrote years later, "must get all the credit for Tiger's rise to the top like me with Bassey but neither of us was there as we should and could have been when both became world champions."
The return with Sandy was held three weeks later at London's Wembley Pool. On this occasion, Sandy, having learned a lot from the first meeting, went about matters in a manner designed to stifle Tiger; keeping his distance and constantly grabbing Tiger into clinches. His other tactic centred on mirth. "Sandy," wrote an on looking correspondent, "often had the crowd roaring with some amusing antics. At times, Tiger was left standing in the middle of the ring while the American strolled round the ropes twirling his arms windmill fashion." Sandy joked in between the furtive, painless jabs he was throwing going as far as playfully patting Tiger at the back of his trunks at the end of the sixth. Tiger was visibly outraged. Although Tiger's persistent display of aggression won him the fight, the decision drew boos from sections of the arena convinced that Sandy's tactics had won him the bout. Sandy's manager was convinced that his fighter had won and he stormed towards the press section to solicit help in finding an official of the B.B.B.C. with whom he intended to lodge a complaint.
Tiger was nonplussed. All that mattered to him was that the loss had been reversed. For the last time in his career, he stepped out of a British ring and would now step onto a far greater stage: that of America.
Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal (ISBN 1595710426) published by Word Association Publishers. Available from amazon.com.