1968: Biafra

Don McCullin,Photographer
Saturday 22 October 2011 22:39

FIVE MINUTES after setting foot on Biafran soil I was in jail. My Time-Life reporter colleague, George de Cavala, on the plane to Port Harcourt, had been diligently typing up his notes. They thought we were spies. Five hours later we had talked our way out. I was free to embark on one of the most emotional assignments of my life. As a nation, Biafra survived for no more than three years. In each of those years I recorded its fragile existence, its struggle and decline.

The breakaway fragment of Nigeria had become a separate country on 10 May 1967, when Lieutenant-Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu proclaimed its succession from the Nigerian Federation. The Ibo, the dominant tribe of the new nation, had a prime motive for declaring independence - fear of genocide. George and I had just returned from the North of Nigeria, home of the hereditary enemy of the Ibo, the Hausa. Here Ibos had been savaged, looted and murdered. Almost 50,000 were said to have died After a few weeks' pause, the Federation invaded. Totally outgunned, Biafra seemed likely to collapse in a matter of weeks, but its resistance was fierce, and enduring.

I went back to Africa as often as I could ... I would like to think that my pictures brought help to the beleaguered hospitals with their dying children. I knew my pictures had a message, but what it was precisely I couldn't have said - except, perhaps, that I wanted to break the hearts and minds of secure people.

Don McCullin's 'Unreasonable Behaviour' (Cape, pounds 12.99) is out now.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments