The Biafran War and The Act Of Survival

Working on this post was one of the most emotional things I have ever had to do and I am not a very emotional person per say. I love to build relationships and I am usually attached to the people close to me…oh I digress.
The Biafran war was a civil war fought between the Nigerian soldiers and the Igbo(eastern) soldiers led by Odimegwu Ojukwu in order to prevent the secession of Biafra from Nigeria. This war lasted from the year 1967-1970…And this is me not wanting to go into the whole sad tale. Although we can pretend that Biafra never happened, it’s just story for another day.

Odimegwu Ojukwu in Nigerian military uniform.

During the war, there was severe starvation due to food supply being cut off to the eastern states. People became hungry, children became very malnourished and parents had to find a solution to their dilemma. Hunger became a usual affair…from the 9 year old clutching on to an empty corned beef can to the starving child holding on to nothing but an empty plate with the mother struggling to breastfeed her child; even with very little breast milk being produced. Those were the dark times…

image gotten from africafederation.net

image gotten from africafederation.net

My father was a prisoner of war. He was imprisoned by the Biafran soldiers as a result of an accusation made against him. My father was accused of supplying the Nigerian soldiers oil/fuel. Come to think of it, my late father had always worked in the oil and gas industry. Before his passing, he was a Petrochemical engr. As a matter of fact, he had a master’s degree in Petrchemical engineering. And folks when I say oil and gas, I don’t mean the non existent ones that them Yoruba demons deceive girls with…I kid ?

 Back to my story. My father whilst in prison got regular visits from my mother. She used to walk or ride a bicycle when she could rent one just to go pay him a visit in prison. She walked or rode from Imo state to Achina in Enugu state. And whenever she walked, she would set out very early and take breaks after every five miles. On the days when my father wanted to see his children, she would rent a bicycle and ride; carrying two of her children; one in front and the other at her back.

During mom’s visits to my father, she took foods like palm kernel and cooked cassava. Sometimes she took the bark of the cassava after she had dried it and made it ready for consumption. My mother also took grounded cassava balls which we now know as the modern day cassava fritters. Luxury was Pineapple…which was sometimes used as a bribe for her to visit my father. There were times she was able to take akpu(fermented cassava fufu) along with some soup for my father…she referred to these foods as treats. Sometimes, she sold palm kernels and stuffed the money she had made into the middle of the molded akpu just so my father would have money.

fermented cassava fufu

There is this saying that the Igbo people eat a lot of leaves. Perhaps, it was from all the experiments they did with leaves at some point during starvation. During this time, everyone’s survival instincts kicked in. Things like lizards and frogs that would maybe be seen as taboos became a local delicacy.

I had the opportunity to ask my friends and followers about what they knew about foods eaten during the Biafran war. And below are some of the comments:
“They fed on a special kind of wheat that used to be cooked like rice.
They also ate salted stock fish.
And powdered milk.” Cj

children receiving their ration of milk during the Biafran war, image gotten from africanfederation.net


“Virtually anything that looked edible was eaten for survival. Lol… I’ve seen pictures of frog/toad being roasted, rats, lizards. Dad told me snake meat served as fish most times
.” Mazi Imaga
“According to my dad, they ate corn and fiofio (local beans) with any available vegetables.” Chichi Onuorah
“My father in law told me about powdered egg yolk. And how they soaked stock fish in order to extract salt from it.” Nene
“My uncle hunted for monkeys. Meat was scarce. Grandpa had an old tank that collected rain water. The frogs that grew in there were harvested and cooked.” Chinonso Duruh
“My mum told me that lizards became a delicacy favoured by the locals and were aggressively hunted down by catapult wielding lads. Also, she said that cassava leaves became substitutes for ugu (et al) in soups! She can’t say for sure if any deaths were recorded from acute food poisoning, knowing the level of toxicity in that plant. Anyhoo, who was keeping tabs on anything with the stench of death every where. Also, caritas (the aid/relied service from Rome) were particularly helpful esp for families with babies and toddlers.” Ugochi
“My Mum said that they ate lizards and rats. She said lizard was medicinal; and that after the lizard was cooked, the water would be given to children suffering from kwashiorkor to boost their blood supply.” Ikenna George
“Omg MMA! This will make me remember my Mum,(bless her) for the millionth time this period. She actually taught us how they made the meal. It wasn’t much but it kept them alive during the war. She called it corn meal. Basically putting red oil ,salt,scent leaf,crayfish in grounded corn and turn till it thickens like semo. The crayfish and smoked fish she added for us to like the food when she made it for us. It was bland in every way. She Would add smoked fish to jive it up too. The catholic sister’s that gave them shelter made the meal. The chaff in the corn was good fiber source among other things. She loved it,brought memories to her each time she ate it. I enjoyed the stories she would tell eating and not the survival food.
I hope this helps.
More grease to your hustle.” Chido Okpala
“Lizards were part of their major food. They also used it to cure cough.” Chika
“My dad  said they had the rare opportunity of accessing stock fish. They would boil just the stock fish and any vegetable available and it would turn out really tasty. The stock fish was always packed with lots of salt which according to to the white men she said was medicinal(the salt contained iodine he believes. Buying salt was a luxury then.” @the_oluwadamilola
“My dad talked about killing lizards and roasting it with his cousins. May we and our children never see war.” @cupcakecouturelagos
Following the stories from the war, just as much as people died from being shot with guns, plenty died due to starvation and malnutrition.  I just wish we would practice the peace that we preach.
Thank you to everyone who contributed to the post in one way or the other. The images used for this post were gotten from google.
 I just have one more thing to share:
My family started a go fund me page for my cousin who is ill and in need of funds for surgery. You may find the link here…https://www.gofundme.com/save-henry-okwara. Please no contribution is too small. Your prayers will also do us a world of good.
Please leave us comments in the comment section of this post and let us know of any food related stories you know about the Biafran war.

6 comments

  1. Sandra Ochai says:

    Sad story… Now i feel like crying 🙁 but very enlightening! You didnt say if your dad got released? Also may God heal your cousin IJN, Amen

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