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