Document of the Day – Using an Archive to Communicate a Human Rights message: the Maynooth University Ken Saro-Wiwa Collection

By Helen Fallon, Deputy University Librarian, Maynooth University Library

In 2011, Sister Majella McCarron (OLA) donated the death row correspondence she received from Nigerian writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa to Maynooth University Library. Saro-Wiwa was executed, with eight colleagues (The Ogoni 9) in November 1995. Twenty-five years later, the book A Man of Peace: Writings Inspired by the Maynooth University Ken Saro-Wiwa Collection, published by Daraja Press and edited by Helen Fallon, Deputy Librarian, will be launched by Dr Gemma Irvine, Vice-President, Equality & Diversity, Maynooth University on 10th December, International Human Rights Day.

Cover of the new publication

The twenty-one essays and forty-two poems by people from different parts of the globe, relate to human rights, environmental protection, climate justice, equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) and the role of the Library in preserving and promoting the Ken Saro-Wiwa and other Special Collections. There are contributions from those closely connected to Saro-Wiwa. His daughter, the renowned travel writer Noo Saro-Wiwa, shares her story of growing up in England with strong links to family in Nigeria, and the trauma of hearing of her father’s execution while at University. His brother Dr Owens Wiwa recounts how his older brother awakened and nurtured his awareness of the tremendous damage being wrought by Royal Dutch Shell to their homeland, in collaboration with the then Nigerian military dictatorship.   Sister Majella McCarron (OLA) reflects on the events that shaped her work with Saro-Wiwa in Nigeria and her subsequent efforts to save the lives of the Ogoni 9 and her more recent work on the Shell to Sea and other campaigns in Ireland.

Noo Saro-Wiwa with archivist Ciara Joyce in MU Library

Other essays explore topics such as the environmental destruction that Shell has caused in the Niger Delta, land rights in the global south, redress for communities adversely effected by Shell and other multinationals, climate justice, and various historic and current aspects of the Ogoni struggle. Library-related topics include open access, the cataloguing, digitisation, and subsequent use of the archive to support teaching and research, and the broader, often complex, issues of collection development.

The final essays, while inspired by Saro-Wiwa’s quest for equality and justice, reflect on aspects of an increasingly diverse Irish society. They include an exploration of relationships that exist amidst the intersections of race, gender and institutional positions, diversity training for library staff at MU, and the designation of MU as a University of Sanctuary.

Selection of documents from the Ken Saro-Wiwa Archive

The second section of the book contains poems by both established and new poets. The poems are preceded with a contextual essay by Irish poet and creative writing teacher Jessica Traynor, who has worked with the Library on delivering poetry workshops for schoolchildren and adults, both face-to-face and, more recently via Zoom. While the workshops grew from human rights violations in Nigeria, they sought to inspire people to write about their own life experiences. Read more on the poetry competition.

The concluding essay is by David Rinehart, who has worked with migrant aid and solidarity organisations for many years. He reflects on the poems in the collections for both their intrinsic beauty and as a tool for looking both inward and outward in order to better understand different ways of being, and the effect of our actions as a global community on the people we share this planet with.

Maynooth University has a long involvement with issues of inclusion and justice in Ireland and abroad.  This deep-rooted commitment is articulated in our University Strategic Plan 2018-2022, where a strategic goal is ‘to build on our achievements to date and become a model University for equality, diversity, inclusion and inter-culturalism, where social justice, addressing inequality and empowering people are central to our mission.’

The death-row correspondence of Ken Saro-Wiwa has been the catalyst for this collection, which I hope, will inspire archivists, librarians and concerned citizens to continue to use our archives to promote debate, dialogue and publications on the topic of justice and equality.

Learn more about the Ken Saro-Wiwa Collection.