West African Bushmen Are Denied U.S. Visas

Carlos Santos, Times-Dispatch (Richmond), July 03, 2008

Three West African bushmen recruited to build an authentic mud-hut village at the Frontier Culture Museum of Virginia were denied visas because they are too poor and inarticulate.

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John Avoli, director of the museum in Staunton, said yesterday, “After a monumental effort, we identified three bush people who actually lived in mud huts. You can’t imagine how difficult it was to get them out of the bush and bring them to Lagos. We were heartbroken.”

The museum has been planning to build a mid-1700s West African Igbo compound to illustrate the history of the slave trade as well as the early American frontier. Many slaves brought to America and to Virginia came from Nigeria in West Africa.

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But Avoli said the whole point of recruiting the bushmen—who would of course be poor farmers with no English skills—was that they built and lived in mud huts and so possessed the skills to construct a real Igbo compound.

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Despite efforts by the Warner’s staff, the decision was not reversed. In her letter last week to Warner, Heien, wrote that Ikegbunam “has no regular income” and that Nkwuda “is a farmer who ekes out a marginal living” while Anigbogu didn’t fill out the application forms properly.

Material to construct the Igbo village is currently on its way to Virginia via ship, Avoli said. The material includes raffia palms for roofing and landscaping as well as pottery, tools and wood carvings that will decorate the mud huts.

An Igbo compound of the mid-1700s usually contained several houses enclosed by a fence of closely planted trees or a wall of compacted earth. Igbo houses were generally rectangular to square in shape, with walls of either solid earth or wattle and daub, and with roofs of palm or grass thatch, according to the museum.

Historically, the Igbo were yam farmers, and the compound of every successful Igbo included a yam barn where the harvested root crop was stored.

Avoli said that despite the setback, the West African village will be built. Umembe Onyejekwe, a former Nigerian government museum curator, will spend four months helping to build the village. She helped recruit the three bushmen.

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