Guernica Magazine

Harvesting My Father’s Mementos

Officially, B.A. Ehikhamenor was an uneducated farmer. Privately, he was a devoted scribe, a relentless keeper of records and photographs that preserve intimate memories of Nigeria’s tumultuous post-colonial transition.
Welcome reception for Uncle Eni, pictured shaking hands with my father upon his return from America in the 60s. All images courtesy the author.

My father’s bedroom also turned out to be his mausoleum. He was buried under his bed, the grave flattened back into the cracked grey cement floor. Our tradition demands that elders must be buried inside their personal rooms. I can’t remember now who did it, but while the cement was still wet a short epitaph was engraved on his grave: B.A. Ehikhamenor 1924–2004.

Eleven years later, my mother was buried in her ancestral village, not too far from my father’s village. Her younger brother, Uncle Ephraim, had loved her deeply and wanted her buried inside his living room, but that was not the tradition. We buried her by the side of the house in which she was born, eighty-nine years earlier. I have not visited my ancestral home since her final burial rites. Most houses in my village—once filled with men, wives, children, and festival celebrations—have emptied, their memories overtaken by weeds.

My father's school notebook a page from muy father's school notebook My mother and sister born in 1962 Old voters cards Uncle Eni and my granfather in the 50s Old letters Old Nigeria Stamp
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A page from my father's school notebook

As these places fade to my periphery, what was peripheral there takes on central importance in my imagination: Photographs. Old suits with swollen pockets filled with money tied in hankies. Reused gin and beer bottles filled with herbal concoctions, and water for morning ablutions. An old rusty gaslight. Political party affiliation cards dating back to 1959. The registration number of a bicycle bought on March 23, 1952. Hospital prescription notes; a gramophone with a pile of 45s; a ceramic red plate from which kola nuts were served to important visitors; invitation cards to burial rites; and, most importantly, old notebooks and letters from far and near.

My village has been hit hard since Nigeria’s urban migration began with the oil boom of the early ’70s, right after a debilitating civil war. This problem of farmers and traders leaving the village to seek the evasive glamour of the city has not abated, and my once-vibrant village is emaciated, its streets stripped bare. As of today, nobody lives in the big blue-red house my grandfather built in the ’50s, where I spent a large part of my childhood, nor the one my father built in the ’80s, where adolescence met me. Buildings, like humans, need breath, which is how the strongest blocks and stones survive time without crumbling. This debacle prompted me, in December 2019, to implore one of my uncles to help clear out my father’s room, rescuing his old furniture and the voluminous documents left behind from his meticulous record-keeping.

I’d ignored the two hefty Ghana-Must-Go bags sitting in my house since they’d arrived, like loved but

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