The British Empire Library

The Jacaranda Children

by Margaret Mamaki

Courtesy of OSPA

Richard Barlow-Poole (Northern Nigeria 1947-68)
The background to this story is the happy and successful marriage of Dr Eli Mama and Margaret Nunn in February 1958 when both were students at London University, Eli at the Medical School. They have had three children and nine grand-children, all in good jobs.

Parallel to this but also in the background is the story of Dr Eli Mama, only the fourth student from Northern Nigeria at that time to become a fully qualified medical officer (the others were Dr Dikko, Dr Atta and Dr Audu, a specialist paediatrician, subsequently Vice-Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University at Zaria). Dr Eli's career was to be medically and financially rewarding.

But the book is mainly the story of Margaret, his wife from the time they met as students in London University in 1954. They married in 1958 (remember the fuss there was when Seretse Khama married Ruth Williams in 1948?) and when Eli qualified in 1960 and had completed his second house job they sailed for Lagos, arriving in January 1962. Her first experience of Northern Nigeria was to meet her in-laws in Bida (the CMS had gained an early foothold in Bida after the British occupation and Eli's father was an Anglican priest who had officiated at their wedding in London).

Eli had been appointed to the Government medical service of Northern Nigeria on arrival in 1962. Fresh from medical school, he felt frustrated by the conditions he found in the General Hospital and resigned in October 1962 to set up in private practice, a brave initiative. Even the fury of the Premier, the Sardauna of Sokoto, could not deter him.

Margaret was engaged in bringing up the children and teaching at the Capital School in Kaduna. In 1966 was the coup in which the Prime Minister of Nigeria and the Premier in the North were killed, followed by the counter coup of July 1966 and the Biafran War. The children were settled into schools in England when the age for schooling began.

But life changed for Margaret in 1981. Eli and Margaret had both enjoyed visiting the old Abuja Pottery built by the well known pioneer potter Michael Cardew. Eli evidently realised that with the children settled in schools in England Margaret needed scope for her energies. So he built a pottery 22 kilometres south of Kaduna. A British lecturer from Ahmadu Bello University who had at one time worked with Michael Cardew agreed to build a two-chambered wood kiln and the first pots were thrown in 1983. The pottery was so successful that in time to it were added a restaurant and a small menagerie. It was called the Jacaranda Pottery, because of the jacaranda trees they planted there.

The pottery led directly to the next and most important phase of Margaret's life. One day certain staff failed to turn up for work. When one of them did arrive he explained that a twelve year old who used to come and work at the pottery had suddenly died. Margaret, on impulse, decided to visit where he lived. She was shocked by the high rate of infant mortality in that and other villages. This led over the next years to visiting remote villages off the beaten track, sometimes on the back of a motor-cycle, doing wonderful work with the help of trained staff and medical supplies supplied by her husband's clinic (sometimes to the detriment of his own private patients). Children were immunised against meningitis. Rickets was diagnosed and children were subsequently immunised with oral polio vaccine. Where dysentery was found, polluted water was diagnosed as the cause, and the solution was the provision of decent wells (partly from pottery funds) by a Dutchman who also, very importantly, trained the locals in the art. Margaret found that she had the gift of dowsing and that proved an advantage. Margaret started a voluntary organisation called 'Hope for the Village Child', to which any profit or donations from the sale of this book will be given.

How all this wonderful work, medical on the part of Dr Eli and in the villages by Margaret and her team, came to an end in February 2000, leading to them leaving Nigeria to live in England, is vividly described in the book. It is therefore both a rewarding and at the same time a very sad story.

British Empire Book
Margaret Mamaki
Harmattan Press
1 900325 40 3


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