By Jude Atupulazi
For those believing that space exploration started with the White men, perhaps a little piece of history right here in Nnokwa, a community in Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State, will provide them with a whole new perspective. That perspective is that the first spacemen were not only Africans or Nigerians, but Nnokwa people, right here in Anambra State!
This fact is contained in a book written by Mr Obioma Joseph Uchendu (JP), a Deputy Director in the National Orientation Agency, NOA, and a native of Nnokwa.
On Saturday, December 14, lovers of history gathered at Nnokwa Civic Centre to witness the launch of a Book, ”The Early Spacemen of Nigeria”, authored by Uchendu.
The book tells the story of the feat of some young men of the town many many years ago, who, desirous of going beyond their immediate space, attempted to go to the moon which they thought to be a sort of animal. They planned to go there, capture it and bring it back triumphantly.
To achieve that, they came to a spot in a place called Isimgbede in Nnokwa. Chasing away the women around there, on a moonlit night, they climbed the tallest iroko tree at the place and from there, began to climb on each other in a bid to reach the moon and pluck it.
However, at a stage during the climb, the moon was said to have interrupted them by asking them what they were trying to do. The moon, apparently mad at their audacity to come and take it, was said to have shouted at them and ordered the ground to open and swallow the young astronauts.
This was how their quest to get to the moon ended. However, as a mark of reverence, the youths of the town decreed that no one should go to that site; that no one should go to the moon and that no one should climb on anyone’s shoulders. But that was then.
Today, the author of the book in question is bent on unravelling the facts behind the aborted journey to space; even as he wants the site to be made into a kind of tourist attraction. He wrote the book by conducting extensive interviews with some elders of the town.
Speaking at the book launch, the author, Uchendu, said his people made inquiries about the moon, just as Galileo did. He urged the present society to learn from those young men on how to conquer the obstacles in their lives.
He believed that those young men were able to conquer their immediate needs and attempted to climb to the moon.
‘Nigerians should see these young men as early scientists making inquiries,’ Uchendu said, urging them to quest beyond their immediate environment and make sacrifices; not just looking for bread and butter.
The town, according to him, would have preferred to build a museum at the site with the N20m grant by the state government, but the state government rather preferred an event centre there which, it believed, would benefit more people.
The reviewer of the book, Prof Mrs Ifeyinwa Emejulu, of the Department of History and International Studies, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, said the title of the book easily elicited interest, as Nigeria was never connected with space travel.
She called on Nnokwa people to get archeologists to investigate the site where the event took place, especially at the site of the crater made by the fall of the young men. She believed such an investigation would go a long way in unravelling the mystery of the attempted space exploration.
She also called for functional labs for the preservation of artefacts, just as she noted that Africans had a world view and interpreted things the way they saw them.
She thanked the author for capturing information that would have been lost, as well as preserving the town’s oral tradition.
Prof Emejulu said that archeological excavation of the site was long overdue, reiterating her belief that it would reveal a lot about the saga.
While unveiling the book, Dr Obiorah Chukwurah, expressed joy that the first attempt at space travel took place in Nnokwa, even without technological advancement.
The occasion was chaired by Chief Didactus Uchendu.