ADVERTISEMENT
2023 General Election Count Down!
00
Days
00
Hours
00
Minutes
00
Seconds
Invalid date
Election Day!

Meet the Nigerian man that gave the world the famous 'Hymns'

Nigeria's most famous leper is being neglected even in death.

ADVERTISEMENT

The management of the Uzuakoli Leprosy Centre is hoping that the 40th anniversary of Whyte's death on the 25 and 26 November will rekindle peoples interest in his work and enable gain them more support on the education of leprosy.

The disease is now completely curable, detecting symptoms early prevents deformity, and there is no longer any need to stigmatise or isolate sufferers unlike during the time of Whyte.

Ikoli Harcourt Whyte was an Igbo hymn composer. He was born in Rivers State in 1905 and later diagnosed with leprosy in 1919.

He was sent to be an inmate at the Uzuakoli Leprosy Colony in South-Eastern Nigeria from 1932 where he remained even after being cured in 1945.

At the Leprosy Colony, he set up a choir made up of lepers with whom he travelled with around Nigeria to perform. Whyte also performed for British dignitaries visiting colonial Nigeria.

He wrote music with the stubs of his thumb and index finger which was slow and tedious. It would take at least an entire day to write just one page of music.

He died in a car accident in 1977 leaving behind a legacy of over 200 hymns.

Whyte's activism was against stimatization of people with leprosy and helped lead the Methodist missionaries to establish the Uzuakoli Leprosy Centre in 1932 where he was amongst some of the first inmates.

This was after he had been receiving treatment at a Port Harcourt hospital in Rivers State which at the time had a leprosy ward until local authorities tried to forcefully evacuate them.

Whyte had insisted that an alternative location should be provided for them to move to after being evacuated.

Also, even after being cured of leprosy he refused to leave the leper colony to prove a point that leprosy was not to be stigmatized.

Whyte met a British missionary and medical doctor, Thomas Frank Davey, in Uzuakoli who cultivated Whyte's interest in music.

According to Achinivu, a friend and protégé to Whyte, "Dr Davey taught him everything he knew about music, that he acquired by studying the Methodist hymn book."

As Dr Davey travelled to villages to treat leprosy patients he recorded the traditional music of the people and encouraged Whyte to compose songs that sounded more like that rather than like ones in the Methodist hymn book.

Soon after Whyte formed a choir at the center and made books of hymns that were being sold in different churches across the region, and choirs from around Nigeria were visiting the leprosy centre to listen to and learn from him.

Tales soon spread about his music and abound of the reach and impact of his music, most of which was written in his local Igbo language and focused on hope despite the trials and tribulations he had faced.

Whyte's 85-year-old son Godwin Harcourt, said that, "He didn't want instruments with his music so that they wouldn't overshadow the message."

Some say that the Queen of England also became aware of his music, and once requested his hymns to be played by the BBC on Christmas Day.

And, during the Nigerian civil war when leaders of the Igbo ethnic group attempted to secede and form a different country called Biafra, Whyte's songs were popular as a source of courage and hope.

After Whyte had passed away, 4 years later Ola Rotimi was commissioned to produce a play for Nigeria's 21st Independence Day anniversary on 1 October, 1981.

Rotimi decided to use Whyte’s life as an inspiration and approached Achinivu who was once a protégé and friend to the composer but is now a professor of music.

Achinivu was asked by Rotimi to provide the music for the production he had titled Hopes of the Living Dead. The professor assembled a choir that worked hard to learn dozens of Whyte's songs in preparation for the performance.

When the choir arrived in the then capital city of Lagos for rehearsals ahead of the independence day, a director at the Nigerian ministry of culture did not like Rotimi's plans.

The performance was cancelled as he was reported as saying that “we couldn't be presenting lepers to the world on Nigeria's 21st independence anniversary.”

JOIN OUR PULSE COMMUNITY!

Unblock notifications in browser settings.
ADVERTISEMENT

Eyewitness? Submit your stories now via social or:

Email: eyewitness@pulse.ng

Recommended articles

'Shanty Town': RMD speaks on scene with Nancy Isime, says friends want to 'touch things' like him

'Shanty Town': RMD speaks on scene with Nancy Isime, says friends want to 'touch things' like him

Tribunal sacks Adeleke as Osun Governor

Tribunal sacks Adeleke as Osun Governor

Osun: Adeleke breaks silence, reveals next move after sack

Osun: Adeleke breaks silence, reveals next move after sack

32 passengers kidnapped in Edo train station attack

32 passengers kidnapped in Edo train station attack

Here are ways to naturally enlarge the male organ

Here are ways to naturally enlarge the male organ

'Domitilla: The Reboot' teaser invites you into the dangerous, intriguing lives of sex workers

'Domitilla: The Reboot' teaser invites you into the dangerous, intriguing lives of sex workers

Obi makes surprise visit to Boko Haram-ravaged Southern Borno

Obi makes surprise visit to Boko Haram-ravaged Southern Borno

4 things to do if you have a higher sexual drive than your partner

4 things to do if you have a higher sexual drive than your partner

Kenya and Tanzania tear down 23 trade barriers hindering their commercial relationship

Kenya and Tanzania tear down 23 trade barriers hindering their commercial relationship

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT