Monday, November 10, 2014

RTE’s iWitness features Launch of “Silence would be Treason” at Maynooth University

Tonight - 10th November - RTE’s iWitness will feature the visit of Dr Owens Wiwa to Maynooth University Library on 7th November 2013 to launch “Silence Would be Treason: Last Writing of Ken Saro-Wiwa” and the Ken Saro-Wiwa Audio Archive. Today is the 19th anniversary of the execution of Saro-Wiwa and eight colleagues (the Ogoni Nine) for protesting against  the activities of the international petrochemical industry in his homeland Ogoni, in the Niger Delta.
The programme will be available instantly on the RTE Player (for 21 days) and also online 
The book “Silence Would be Treason: Last Writings of Ken Saro-Wiwa,”contains the letters Saro-Wiwa wrote to Sister Majella McCarron in the two years leading up to his execution, in 1995.  The letters, poems by Saro-Wiwa and various other artefacts – including a cap that that belonged to Saro-Wiwa and a Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP)  flag – were donated by Sister Majella to Maynooth University in November 2011.
Click here to see images from the Ken Saro-Wiwa Archive
The 28 letters – mostly handwritten – were smuggled out of detention in breadbaskets and tell the story of a well educated and articulate Nigerian writer, broadcaster, businessman and environmental activist.  Sister Majella says Saro-Wiwa saw her as his contact with the outside world, a way of getting his message about what was happening in Ogoni out to a wider audience.  As well as writing about Shell, the then Nigerian government and other political issues,  Saro-Wiwa wrote about family, his short stories and other writing, conditions in detention and his trial.  All this gives a unique insight into a particular person, a major conflict over natural resources and his deep relationship with an Irish nun.
Sister Majella McCarron’s story
While we have Saro-Wiwa’s letters to Sister Majella, we don’t have the letters she sent him.  She thinks they may be in a box or filing cabinet in Port Harcourt and perhaps someday they will be retrieved.  McCarron describes herself as an activist. She didn’t want to write her story; instead she told it to me and it is recounted in my essay in “Silence Would be Treason.” She also told her story for the “Ken Saro-Wiwa Audio Archive” – a collection of recordings  of people connected with Saro-Wiwa..
In addition to telling us the Ogoni story, Sister Majella’s story broadens our understanding of mission and Irish missionary activity.  On the first recording she talks about her childhood; of writing letters at an early age – sending away money for the “black babies,” seeing an advertisement for novices and writing away to become a nun, which she did joining Our Lady of Apostles (OLA) congregation in 1956. After completing a science degree in Cork Sister Majella travelled to Nigeria where she taught first at secondary schooland and later at university.  She met Saro-Wiwa in the early nineties and was to become his voice to the outside world. Following a sham trial, he was executed, alongside eight others (The Ogoni Nine) on the 10th of November 1995.  See YouTube coverage

I had the privilege of editing the letters, with two colleagues from Maynooth University.  We discussed how best to present them, and decided to each write a chapter that sets them in a particular context.  My chapter is on the importance of the letters as archival sources and also tells Sister Majella's story; Dr Íde Corley writes about Saro-Wiwa's place in African literature, while Dr Laurence Cox situates the conflict in the Niger Delta in the context of international conflicts over natural resources.  We wanted to contextualise the letters, so that people would better understand the issues and the people.   
The letters were published in 2013 and the book launched in November by Dr Owens Wiwa, Ken’s brother.  Kairos, a media company at Maynooth University, filmed the event and this is being broadcast tonight, on the 19th anniversary of his execution.

 To order a copy of “Silence Would be Treason: Last Writings of Ken Saro-Wiwa” contact the Maynooth University Bookshop. Email:; tel: (01)6285629

The Ken Saro-Wiwa  Archive is housed in the Special Collections Reading Room in Maynooth University Library. 

Helen Fallon
Deputy University Librarian

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