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Documentary recalls 30,000 killed with clubs, machetes over 3 days in Nigeria in 1966

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A new documentary called “The Disturbances,” produced by the Baptist Center for Ethics, recalls the mass killing of 30,000 people in tribal warfare over three days in Nigeria in 1966. The film features interviews with U.S. missionaries who were working in Jos, Nigeria at the time, including Bill and Audrey Cowley of Vestavia Hills. “The worst thing I saw were the bodies, the corpses of those that had been beaten to death,” said Bill Cowley, who was the principal of Baptist High School in Jos, Nigeria from 1960-73.

“The weapons were clubs and machetes,” Cowley recalled in an interview with AL.com. “The days of the actual killing were two to three full days, with episodes popping up here and there. In our city and 10 miles down the road, we estimated 10,000 were killed.” Across Nigeria, at least 30,000 and as many as 50,000 were killed. “When they killed someone, they let them lie where they fell,” Cowley said. “Several days later a detail was organized to collect them and bury them in a mass grave.”

Missionaries from various denominations helped members of the Igbo tribe — who were targeted for killings by members of the Hausa and Fulani tribes — go into hiding, find safe areas and leave the area. They also volunteered to provide medical assistance for the victims. “Missionaries would go and bind up wounds and provide food,” Cowley said. “After the fighting stopped, we were trying to get life back to normal,” he said. “You just did what you saw was needed. We don’t want to claim to be heroes in any sense.” He recalled driving his two daughters, Carol and Karen, to the Hillcrest School for missionary kids, while there were dead bodies lying in the roads.

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