Songs on the battlefield – Biafra’s powerful weapon

Ugochukwu, Francoise (2012). Songs on the battlefield – Biafra’s powerful weapon. In: Ofomata, Godfrey E. K. and Uwazurike, P. Chudi eds. A Survey of the Igbo Nation, Volume 2. New York: Triatlantic Books, pp. 809–836.


Igbo tradition boasts many war songs – celebrating local heroes or lamenting over those who did not return from the fight; Basden, Leith-Ross, Nwando Achebe and others acknowledged the power released by those songs and dirges. Yet, the role songs played in the Biafran war has seldom been investigated, and this is what this article, based on a 1969 recording of sixteen songs in Igbo, English and ijo, sets out to do. These songs were recorded in aid of the Biafran Red Cross at the height of the civil war, 16km away from the frontline, just before the fall of Biafra’s make-shift capital, Umuahia. The study compares those songs with others, noted down by journalists visiting the enclave in 1968-69 and with those inserted in Igbo novels and memoirs published after the war. Offering a thematic study of the texts, their oral roots, their style, structure and language, it reveals their power to impact the morale of civilians and soldiers alike, and sheds some light on the reasons behind their inclusion in writings from Adichie, Agu, Akuneme, Aniebo, Ekwensi, Ike, Iroh, Madiebo, Nwachukwu-Agbada and Uzokwe.

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