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Released April 15, 2005


Hattiesburg- University of Southern Mississippi assistant professor of history Dr. Douglas Chambers says he doesn't expect his colleagues to treat him differently since he was made royalty by descendants of the king of an ancient African civilization.

But he admits he would have no qualms with fellow faculty referring to him as 'Chief Chambers.'

After years of conducting extensive research on the still living ancient civilization of the Igbo peoples of Nri (Ènrí) in eastern Nigeria, a traditional chieftainship was bestowed on Chambers in March by the descendants of the first unified king of the Nri civilization, the Umu Nri Bùífe, or Umunri of Obeagu.

The Igbo (Ibo) are one of the three principal ethnic groups of the most populous country in sub-Saharan Africa, and Nri is the 'Jerusalem' of the Igbo, founded about one thousand years ago.

"This is quite an honor, and came about because of the relationships I formed through my research in Nigeria," Chambers said. "I was originally inspired to study this ancient civilization because of the historical connection between Nigeria and the slave-trade to North America. The Nri civilization was based on pacificism and village-democracy, and today the Igbo have a useful story to tell the world."

Chambers' official title is Chief ÒkwulúNri Òka'ómèe, Ifé Umùnná of Umunrí ('Speaks for Nri' 'Said/done', Light of the Kindred of Umunri). As a titled chief of Umunri, Obeagu, Chambers is the first white person adopted by the royal lineage in its history and the first lineage-titled white person in Nri.

During the same visit to Nigeria for his honor by the Igbo, Chambers presented two public lectures on the history of Igbo in the African Diaspora; one at Abia State University, Uturu, Abia State; the other at the National Museum and Monuments/Enugu, Enugu State. He has presented professional scholarly papers at numerous universities including Harvard, UCLA, and NYU and institutions in Jamaica, Cuba, the United Kingdom and Canada. His next book is a study of the transatlantic slave trade from the Bight of Biafra in present-day eastern Nigeria; the focus will be on the Igbo hinterland of this major region in the larger forced migration that was the slave trade. He plans to return to Nigeria in 2006.

"The fact that Dr. Chambers was made an honorary chief during his recent visit to Nigeria demonstrates his standing as an important scholar of the Igbo people of that nation," said Dr. Chuck Bolton, chair of the history department at Southern Miss.

His new book, Murder at Montpelier: Igbo Africans in Virginia (University Press of Mississippi, 2005), explores the importance of Igbo peoples in the historical development of early slave culture and society in Virginia through the prism of the poisoning of the grandfather of President James Madison, the patriarch of 'Montpelier', by his African slaves in 1732.

"In the past 15 years or so, students of American history have begun to pay much more attention to the African past of American slaves, though their efforts are often hampered by their inability to understand Africa," said John Thornton, professor of History and African American Studies at Boston University, in his review of Chambers' Murder at Montpelier.

"Africanists have not made their task easier by generally writing little about the topics that interest their colleagues in the Americas. Douglas Chambers has triumphantly overcome that barrier by immersing himself in the study of the Igbo to the point that he is accepted as an Africanist without reservation; yet at the same time, he is equally a master of the American side and its sources," Thornton said. "His study of Igbos in Virginia, that underlies the murder mystery that makes the plot of his book, is provocative, well-informed, and convincing."

Chambers, who is a graduate of the University of Virginia, said he hopes his honor by the Igbo will encourage African Americans to find out more about their own family histories. "My research suggests that perhaps 60 percent of black Americans have at least one Igbo ancestor," he said.


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April 21, 2005 1:59 PM