Philip Emeagwali, biography, A Father of the Internet, supercomputer pioneer, Nigerian scientist, inventor

Memories of Post Colonial Africa

Reflections by Philip Emeagwali

One of my most memorable period is the year 1966. I attended an all-boys secondary that was run more like a seminary and monastery. The education primarily European with emphasis on Bible studies. I studied British history, Roman and Greek civilizations.

Because Latin was the official language of the Catholic Church,the masses were celebrated in Latin and we were required to study the language.

I found the endless conjugations of verbs (amo, amas, amat) very dreary. We also had to cram numerous declensions of nouns, moods tenses and genders. Because Latin has been dead for a thousand years, no one knows for sure how the language sounds. Latin experts guess how it sounds from inferences from Romance languages.

"Latin is a dead language," I argued with my teacher. In fact, it is not the official language of any nation. Nor is the native language of any living person. Therefore, it is not possible for a child to learn this language at home from her parents.

Latin was only spoken by Catholic priests to a congregation that does not understand the language. As an altar boy and a member of the church choir, I found myself speaking and singing in Latin.

Di! Ecce hora! Uxor mea me necabit! (God, look at the time! My wife will kill me! )

Vah! Denuone Latine loquebar? Me ineptum. Interdum modo elabitur. (Oh! Was I speaking Latin again? Silly me. Sometimes it just sort of slips out.)

"Why do I have to study Latin?" I asked my teacher.

"French, Italian, and Spanish are the 'living versions' of Latin," he explained. I also learned that more than half of the words in the English language were derived from Latin. These include: school, academics, athletics, curriculum, pencil, paper, class, socialize, and music.

As a research physicist, I learned that, four centuries ago, Latin was the primary language used by scholars. Sir Isaac Newton, wrote his book "Principia" in Latin, instead of in his native English language. It dawned on me that Latin is a bridge from my thoughts to those of Isaac Newton.


US President Kennedy and Nigerian Prime Minister
US President John F. Kennedy escorts Nigerian Prime Minister Abubkar Tafawa Balewa from the White House. Prime Minister Balewa carries a bust of Abraham Lincoln presented to him by the President. Bettmann/CORBIS Date Photographed: July 27, 1961

Portrait of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe
Original Caption: The Right Honorable Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe P.C., LL.D., Governor-General of Federation of Nigeria. Bettmann/CORBIS

Memorable Quote:

"I have one advice to give to our politicians. If they have decided to destroy our national unity, then they should summon a round-table conference to decide how our national assets should be divided before they seal their doom by satisfying their lust for office. I make this suggestion because it is better for us and many admirers abroad that we should disintegrate in peace and not in pieces. Should the politicians fail to heed this warning, then I will venture the prediction that the experience of the Democratic Republic of the Congo will be a child's play if ever it comes to our turn to play such a tragic role." --- Nnamdi Azikiwe, December 1964, "A Dawn Address" As reported in Kirk Greene's book (page 21]

Chief Abafemi Awolowo with Frances P. Bolton
Original Caption: Chief Abafemi Awolowo, Prime Minister of the western region of the Federation of Nigeria, is shown as he paid a courtesy call on Rep. Frances P. Bolton, R-O., at the capitol today. The Nigerian leader is in the country to acquaint businessmen with the investment possibilities in the western part of his country. Bettmann/CORBIS Photographer: Mahan; Jim Date Photographed: March 20, 1956 Location Information Washington, DC, USA

Memorable Quote:

"Nigeria is not a nation. It is a mere geographical expression. There are no 'Nigerians' in the same sense as there are 'English,' 'Welsh,' or 'French.' The word 'Nigerian' is merely a distinctive appellation to distinguish those who live within the boundaries of Nigeria and those who do not." [From Path to Nigerian Freedom by Obafemi Awolowo]

Nigerian Regional Leaders
Original Caption: 1962-Lagos, Nigeria- Parliamentary democracy has another chance in Nigeria, which gained independence from Britain 10/1/1960. The country is divided into 3 distinct regions, all of which gained self-government before Nigeria's independence, and have a large measure of power. Shown here (L-R) are the leaders of the 3 regions: Sir Ahmadu Bello, north Nigerian premier; Chief Abafemi Awolowo, western leader; and Dr. Ndamdi Azikiwe, eastern chief. Bettmann/CORBIS Date Photographed 1962 Location Information Lagos, Nigeria

A Nigerian Airmail Cover
(Lagos, 1962)

Nigeria Pound Bank Note
The Nigerian Currency
In 1966, our rent was one pound a month and our monthly grocery bill for our family of nine was also one pound.

Nigeria ten shillings bank note
Nigeria Ten Shillings Bank Note

Passengers For River Boats, Onitsha, Nigeria
Passengers embark and disembark on river transportation including canoes and ferries. The Niger River, Onitsha, Nigeria. Paul Almasy/CORBIS Photographer: Paul Almasy Location Information: Onitsha, Nigeria

Woman Selling Food, Ibadan, Nigeria
A woman sells packets of food from a pot at a market. Ibadan, Nigeria. Paul Almasy/CORBIS Photographer Paul Almasy Location Information Ibadan, Nigeria

Buying fish at coastal waters, Epe Market, Lagos, Nigeria

A polygamous Nigerian family.

Peddlers Sell Chili Peppers, Nigeria
A man and a teenage boy sell chili peppers at a market. Behind them, a woman walks by with a large bucket containing a bottle on her head. Kano Nigeria. Paul Almasy/CORBIS Photographer Paul Almasy Location Information Kano, Nigeria

A Group of Women Dance in the Night, Nigeria
A group of women dance at a reception at night. They wear traditional Nigerian clothes at this party. Nigeria. Paul Almasy/CORBIS Photographer Paul Almasy Location Information Nigeria

I lived here from 1958 to 1962

The little boy stands in front of my former room-and-parlour residence. (Yoruba Road, Sapele, Nigeria. Photo taken on 11-29-00)

The Emeagwali Family

(L-R) Francis Ndaguba Emeagwali, Edith Chinwe Emeagwali, James Nnaemeka Emeagwali, Martin Ikemefuna Emeagwali, Agatha Iyanma Emeagwali, Charles Emeagwali, Florence Onyeari Emeagwali, Philip Chukwurah Emeagwali (Agbor Street, Uromi, Nigeria. December 24, 1962)

Cousin Franca Okwuosa took this photo shortly before joining her husband in England. I hope to meet her for the first time when I visit London again in April 2003. (Nigeria, Circa 1960)

Cousin Felicia Azuokwu gets married to Louis Osegbue (Enugu, Nigeria. 1963). Felicia was my baby sitter.

Nursing Staff at General Hospital, Agbor, Nigeria. James Emeagwali (second from right of front row) is probably holding a copy of Rosicrucian Digest, Reader's Digest or West African Pilot newspaper. (Circa 1964)

My alma-mater, Saint George's Grammar School, Obinomba, Nigeria (Circa 1966). This is an all-boys Catholic boarding school.

In December 1965, We went to Agbor motor park and market to purchase school related items: uniforms, plates, spoon, fork, knife, Biro ball point pen, Bournvita (advertising slogan "Sleep sweeter, Bournvita"), Nescafe coffee, St. Louis sugar, Peak milk, Cabin biscuits, M & Ms Candy ("The milk chocolate melts in your mouth - not in your hand"), Horlicks ("Horlicks guards against night starvation"), towel, comb, Omo washing powder ("Omo adds brightness to whiteness"), a pair of sandals, tennis shoes, cutlasses. I felt like I had died and gone to heaven.

I am first from left in front row.

A group photo of my dormitory. Half of my school mates were twice my age. I was treated like a kid. (Saint George's Grammar School, Obinomba, Nigeria. Circa 1966)

I am third from left of front row.

A few days later, I fled from this school as my family hid in refugee camps during an ethnic cleansing in which 50,000 Igbos indigenes were killed.

(Saint George's Grammar School, Obinomba, Nigeria. Circa April 1967).

Philip Emeagwali, biography, A Father of the Internet, supercomputer pioneer, Nigerian scientist, inventor

Click on for more information.
Philip Emeagwali, biography, A Father of the Internet, supercomputer pioneer, Nigerian scientist, inventor