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Don Ohadike, prominent scholar of African and West African history, dies at age 63

Don Ohadike
Don Ohadike, shortly after his appointment as director of the Africana Studies and Research Center in 2001.

Don Ohadike, the prominent Cornell University scholar of West African history and former director of Cornell's Africana Studies and Research Center (ASRC), died Sunday, Aug. 28. He was 63.

Ohadike, who joined the ASRC as an assistant professor in 1989, had served as associate professor since 1996 and as director of the center from 2001 to 2005. Prior to joining Cornell, he held academic appointments and prestigious visiting and postdoctoral fellowships at several institutions, including Stanford University in 1988 and Northwestern University in 1988-1989; University of Jos in Nigeria as chair of the history department from 1984 to 1988; and as lecturer at the School of Humanities, University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, from 1977 to 1979.

Ohadike earned his M.A. degree in 1977 and Ph.D. degree in 1984 in history from the University of Birmingham, England, and the University of Jos, respectively; and received his B.A. degree in history and archaeology from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, in 1975.

Born Oct. 4, 1941, in the city of Jos, Ohadike was considered to be among the best and most productive scholars of his generation in the field of African history and, more specifically, West African history. In the field of African and Diaspora history, Ohadike represented the uncommon combination of an active scholar, a committed teacher and a good citizen of the university and the profession. His scholarly work covered several areas, including slavery in Africa; anti-slavery and anti-colonial resistance movements in Africa and the African Diaspora; disease, epidemiology and food security in Africa; and Nigerian history.

Ohadike authored several books and articles in scholarly journals. His published books include: "The Ekumeku Movement: Western Igbo Resistance to the British Conquest of Nigeria, 1883-1914" (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1991), "Anioma: A Social History of the Western Igbo People" (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1994) and "Pan-African Culture of Resistance: A History of Liberation Movements in Africa and the Diaspora" (Binghamton: Institute of Global Cultural Studies, Binghamton University, 2002). He also completed a manuscript on resistance movements in Africa and the African Diaspora, tentatively titled "The Sacred Drums of Liberation: Religions and Music of Resistance in Africa and the Diaspora." He was working on the manuscript just a few days before his passing, according to his colleagues. An indication of Ohadike's highly regarded status in the field of Igbo history and culture was the invitation by Heinemann, the original publishers of the famous "African Writers Series," to write the introduction to the 1996 edition of Chinua Achebe's masterpiece "Things Fall Apart."

"Don was an outstanding and exemplary teacher," said Salah Hassan, current ASRC director. "His commitment to teaching and to bridging his scholarship and practice in the classroom was clearly illuminated in the record of highly innovative courses that he taught at the graduate and undergraduate levels."

Hassan said Ohadike's course on African Cultures and Civilizations, which he taught for 14 years, attracted more than 100 students per semester.

"Don also was known as a great storyteller, and students often left his classroom with smiles on their faces," Hassan said. "Over the years Don had gained the reputation among his former students as a passionate, compelling teacher and a highly respected mentor."

In Igbo society, a person's greatness is measured by "earned titles and by a concurrence reached with the guardian spirit called chi," said Ayele Bekerie, assistant professor of Africana studies. "Don had them both. In his passing, the Africana Center and Cornell University as well as the Ithaca community that he wholeheartedly embraced have certainly lost an extremely generous colleague and a very wonderful human being. His memory is going to stay with us for a long time to come."

Ohadike is survived by two daughters, Ophelia Ohadike of Washington, D.C., and Sandra Ohadike, of Silver Springs, Md., and two sons, James Ohadike, of Jersey City, N.J., and Azuka Ohadike, of Lagos, Nigeria, and wife Veronica Ohadike, and five grandchildren.

Calling hours will be held Friday, Sept. 2, from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Herson Funeral Home, 110 S. Geneva St., Ithaca, N.Y. Funeral services will be Saturday, Sept. 3, at 11 a.m. at St. Paul's United Methodist Church, 402 N. Aurora St., with the Rev. Kenneth I. Clarke Sr., director of Cornell United Religious Work, officiating. Burial will be in the Pleasant Grove Cemetery, with a reception to follow from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Africana Studies and Research Center, 310 Triphammer Road, Ithaca.

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