Document of the Day -The Ken Saro-Wiwa Audio Archive

Helen Fallon, Maynooth University Library, explore-campaign_identity
Dr. Anne O’Brien, Kairos Communications

Audio archives offer opportunities to explore and promote Special Collections and Archives in different ways. This blog post tells about the Ken Saro-Wiwa Audio Archive, created by Maynooth University Library
and Kairos Communications

Creating the audio archive was an interesting journey of discovery on many levels. There was extensive learning for both myself and Anne in the process; for me as a librarian, it was a journey of discovery into the world of sound; for Anne as a media producer, it was a journey through the fascinating world of Special Collections and Archives.

Ken Saro-Wiwa (1941-1995)

The archive contains extensive recordings of people connected with Nigerian writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. The most recent voice added to the archive is Noo Saro-Wiwa recorded when she visited MU Library  on 10th November 2015 to launch the Ken Saro-Wiwa Postgraduate Award


Background to The Ken Saro-Wiwa Audio Archive

Sister Majella McCarron (OLA) donated the death-row correspondence she received from Ken Saro-Wiwa – smuggled out of military detention in food baskets – to MU in November 2011. These letters are now part of the Ken Saro-Wiwa Archive

The audio archive aims to complement the letters, poems, artefacts, photographs and other items.
Perhaps the most unique feature of the audio archive is that it contains recordings of three of the people who were closest to Saro-Wiwa and the issues he died for. These are his daughter Noo Saro-Wiwa, his brother Dr Owens Wiwa, and Sister Majella McCarron.

Noo Saro-Wiwa views an Ogoni bible, part of the Russell Library collection, on a visit to Maynooth Library. 10 November 2015

The interview with Noo Saro-Wiwa was recorded on Tuesday 10th November the 20th anniversary of her father’s execution. Born in Nigeria, Noo grew up in England, returning during summer holidays to her father’s home village, Bana in Ogoni. In the recording, she portrays an interesting picture of her father as a family man as well as a political activist. When she was in second year at Kings College London, Noo’s mother broke the news of her father’s execution to her. Her award-winning book “Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria” tells of her return, in 2008, to the land of her birth. She reads an extract from the book on the audio archive.
Listen to Noo Saro-Wiwa

Owens Saro-Wiwa
Dr. Owens Wiwa

In his interview, recorded during his November 2013 visit to Maynooth University, Dr Owens Wiwa, brother of Ken Saro-Wiwa, speaks about growing up in an extended family in Ogoni; the growing realisation of the environmental destruction of the Niger Delta; his brother Ken’s efforts to organise non-violent protests against the international petrochemical industry and the hostility he and the Ogoni people experienced from the Nigerian military dictatorship. Dr Wiwa gives a firsthand account of his visits to Ogoni villages including Ka, which were destroyed during the hostilities. He recounts his efforts to save his brother’s life; going into hiding in Nigeria and subsequently moving to Canada; the identification of the remains of his brother and the eight others who were hanged with him and his gratitude that one part of his brother’s is going to be preserved in the Maynooth University archives. He read two poems written by his brother.

Listen to Dr Owens Wiwa

Sister Majella McCarron

Sister Majella McCarron talks about her childhood in rural Fermanagh; her education; her missionary work in Nigeria, the events that brought her to Saro-Wiwa and her campaign work to save the lives of the Ogoni Nine. Hearing her story told in her own voice offers an insight into her personality and character. Moreover, hearing her voice first hand, with the intimacy this creates in recounting events in Nigeria leading up to Saro-Wiwa’s death, provokes a compelling intellectual and emotional awakening to the horror of the environmental abuse and destruction of Ogoni that she experienced firsthand.

Listen to Sister Majella McCarron

There’s an old saying ‘the pictures are better on radio.’ In the case of the Ken Saro-Wiwa Audio Archive, that saying holds true. People listening to the recordings can construct mental images of the lives of the key characters in Ken Saro-Wiwa’s story and understand better the roles they played in his life. There are no actual pictures to distract the imagination and so the listener can create their own landscape in an imagined Ogoni. But listeners don’t just think in terms of pictures; audio allows the user to access the part of the mind that generates dreams, to conjure more than a three-dimensional picture of Ogoni. Audio allows the listener to smell, feel and taste the world it creates. Listeners to the Ken Saro Wiwa audio archive can smell the gas flares, taste the polluted water and touch the oil-encrusted land. In so doing they can clearly understand why Ken Saro-Wiwa created the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). The audio archive brings home the fact that it was, and is, the survival of the people that was at stake.

The Ken Saro-Wiwa Audio Archive is an example of how libraries can develop and extend Special Collections and Archives. Through collaborations, such as the MU Library collaboration with Kairos, libraries can maximise the visibility and use of archives. Increasing the visibility of such resources may help to acquire funding for new special collections, and may also encourage people to donate collections knowing that the library is open to exploring avenues to widely promote such collections.
For more information contact Helen Fallon,

SP team with Noo BW
Noo Saro-Wiwa and Deputy Librarian Hellen Fallon with staff from Special Collections & Archives,  on a visit to Maynooth Library to view her father’s letters. 10 November 2015


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