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On April 6 2022, Blaise Compaore was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Thomas Sankara.

Earlier, a court in Burkina Faso’s capital indicted former President Blaise Compaoré for his role in the murder of his comrade, Thomas Sankara, on 15 October 1987.

The military court detailed Compaoré’s “complicity in the assassination”, the first time a court in the country has made such an accusation. Compaoré ruled the country until 2014, when he was forced to flee for neighbouring Cote D’Ivoire during a mass uprising.

The decision to try the former leader has been called a landmark moment. Sankara’s family has pursued justice for almost 34 years but while Compaoré was in power there was no possibility of bringing his murderers to justice.

The political history of Burkina Faso is one I have studied and written about extensively, with a particular focus on the circumstances leading to Sankara’s assassination.

It is important to unravel this event and its significance if a trial of Compaoré is to be understood (or to take place).

The Burkinabé revolution

Thomas Sankara was the president of the West African state of Burkina Faso when he was murdered at the age of 37. He was the leader of a bold initiative to transform a country trapped in a dependent relationship with the rest of the world, particularly France.

From the early 1980s, Sankara emerged as a challenger to the cynical class of post-independence leaders. Sankara was a radical army officer who became disgusted by the circulation of a self-serving elite in his country since independence in 1960. During prolonged military training in Madagascar in 1970s he read extensively and studied the history of the continent’s militant movements, and witnessed the toppling of the government in Madagascar itself by students and workers.

Sankara came to power in a popular coup on 4 August 1984. The Burkinabé revolution, as it became known, took place at the start of the age of economic austerity on the African continent. This arose from the structural adjustment policies demanded by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and from cuts to funding for public services.

Economic devastation  and the largely unreformed relationships of African states with former colonial powers formed a pattern which Sankara promised to break. He refused to accept that poverty in West Africa was inevitable, and offered a new kind of freedom.

Development projects imposed by the West had failed, and he saw the future in securing Upper Volta’s (as the country was known before 1984) separation from the exploitative linkages with France, the former colonial power. Sankara was an army officer who envisaged radical change instigated by a movement which could be directed from above, though with the mass participation of the poor.

Many of the reforms that were implemented under the brief period of Sankara’s rule were ambitious, and far-sighted. Sankara’s government launched a mass vaccination programme in an effort to eliminate polio, meningitis and measles. From 1983, 2 million Burkinabé were immunised.

Before 1983 infant mortality in Burkina Faso was at roughly 20% but fell in the period of Sankara’s presidency to 140 per 1000 births. These were vital and welcome initiatives, and they were introduced through state and community structures which had been introduced after the 1983 coup.

As part of the reforms, the Comités de Défense de la Révolution, an institution tasked with policing the revolution, charged themselves with translating instructions and government orders into reality, occasionally resorting to coercive measures. The work of these state sanctioned committees were not straightforward.

Sankara’s project was delivered from above to Burkinabé society. This isolated and weakened him.

Due to the political control of the Conseil National Révolutionnaire, the sovereign body of the revolution, with other parties and civil society organisations banned, Sankara was really vulnerable only to counter-coups from within the military – from forces who wanted to return, broadly speaking, to business as usual with French imperialism, and domestic interests who had profited richly from this relationship. Opposition, under Sankara’s instructions, had been marginalised or stamped out. This left him exposed, with only a small militant core by his side.

Sure enough, a counter coup came. It was ruthlessly planned and executed. Sankara was shot at the presidential residence by gunmen in military uniform.

Compaoré, who had been minister of state at the presidency during Sankara’s years, quickly denied involvement, claiming he was at home and sick. By the evening of the assassination, he was the new president. The new regime quickly returned Burkina Faso to its place in the global political–economic hierarchy – with little reaction from all the Burkinabé who had supported Sankara’s transformation ideas.

Sankara’s murder

There was no popular movement among the working class and the poor that might have resisted a return to the old state. Sankara had stripped himself of the ability to defend the transformation he had tried to achieve.

He had tried to substitute his popularity, charisma and oratory for a real movement that could confront the forces working towards his defeat.

When, in 1961, the Algerian revolutionary Frantz Fanon wrote about Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba’s murder and isolation, he was expressing the dangerous loneliness of the African radical intelligentsia, of which Sankara was a later representative:

‘Each time his enemies emerged in a region of the Congo to raise opinion against him, it was only necessary for him to appear, to explain and to denounce for the situation to return to normal. He forgot that he could not be everywhere at the same time and that the miracle of the explanation was less the truth of what he exposed than the truth of his person.’

With the possible arrest and trial of Compaoré for the murder of his comrade there might be a chance for justice. Compaoré delivered Burkina Faso and its great hopes for revolutionary change back into the hands of international power and French influence. For this he was overthrown by a popular insurrection in October 2014.


On the 15th of October 1987, the leader of the Burkinabe revolution was assassinated. Two years later, Sennen Andriamirado, editor-in-chief of Jeune Afrique and an acquaintance to the former head of state, published “He was called Sankara”. Here is an account of President of Faso’s last day.

When Mariam woke up, Thomas Sankara, who had finally joined her in bed, in his turn fell asleep. On her tiptoes, the president’s wife leaves the room and prepares to go to work.

She has to be there at 3 p.m. Sankara will sleep for another hour, this daily nap is the only time this night owl gets to recover. A break all the more important seeing as the afternoon and the night of the 15th of October, 1987, are going to be long.

At 4 p.m. he leads one of the three weekly meetings for his special cabinet.

On the agenda: a report from one of his advisers who has just returned from Cotonou where he was speaking with the leaders of the Revolutionary People’s Party of Benin and collecting documents on the “Beninese Code of Revolutionary Conduct”; the project to create an a newspaper of the CNR (National Council of the Revolution).

At 8 p.m. there will be a complicated meeting regarding the OMR (Revolutionary Military Organisation).

© First anniversary of the seizure of power by Thomas Sankara, August 4, 1984. Photo Marc Van Muysen / JA Archives

Around 3.30 p.m. Mariam Sankara calls him on the phone. “Daddy is in the shower”, answers her eldest son, Philippe, who was seven years old at the time. She calls back ten minutes later. The president, in sportswear since the morning- white T-shirt and red jogging trousers, is ready to leave.

“First I am going to my 4 p.m. meeting at the ‘Conseil de l’Entente,” he said. Then I’m going to sport at 5 p.m. Afterwards I’ll probably come home for a shower but you won’t be home yet. I won’t see you till after the 8 p.m. meeting. We’ll talk tonight.

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In the meantime, the members of the special cabinet have begun to arrive in one of the villas of the Cartel Council, which serves as the headquarters of the NCR.

Alouna Traoré and Paulin Babou Bamouni made a detour through the offices to the presidency just opposite; the others, Bonaventure Compaoré, Frédéric Kiemdé and Patrice Zagré, came directly to the council. Christophe Saba, the permanent secretary for the CNR, has been there since this morning.

© Thomas Sankara in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, February 26, 1987. Archives Jeune Afrique-REA

At 16.20, he decided to call the President who had not yet left his residence, where he was talking with another one of his advisers, the deputy director of the presidential press, Serge Théophile Balima. “We are here Mr President. It is late and we are waiting for you”.

“I’ll be right there,” Sankara replies. He sends Balima back and gets into a black Peugeot 205.

The President sat in the passenger seat, as usual. “I like to see the road, and from behind you can’t see anything,” he often has to explain.

In the back seat are sat two bodyguards. The car following them is occupied by three other bodyguards plus the driver, also a soldier. They are all dressed in sportswear, this Thursday afternoon: twice a week in fact, on Monday and Thursday from 5pm, the Burkinabè are supposed to do exercise. The president and his guards are therefore only armed with their automatic pistol.

Arrival at the Council

At the Council, the members of the special firm are also dressed in sportswear, with the exception of Patrice Zagré, who came in a Mao shirt. At 4:30 p.m., the President arrives. He got out of the 205, followed by four of his guards, who settled in the corridor adjoining the meeting rooms. The drivers parked the two cars in a nearby courtyard and took shelter from the sun in the shade of the tall trees, particularly the Neem trees, which lined the garden.

At 16.35, the chairman takes a seat at the end of the U-shaped meeting table. Warrant Officer Christophe Saba, Paulin Bamouni and Frédéric Kiemdé are seated on his right. On his left are Patrice Zagré, Bonaventure Compaoré and Alouna Traoré. Thomas Sankara, always late but also always in a hurry, opened the working session: “Let’s make it quick, let’s start!”.

© From left to right: Blaise Compaoré, Thomas Sankara and Jean-Baptiste Lingani, August 4, 1983, the day Sankara took power © Archives Jeune Afrique

Alouna Traoré, who the day before had left on a fact-finding mission in Contonou, begins his report: “I left Ouago the day before yesterday at 6 p.m…”. He stops, his voice suddenly muffled by the sound of a most likely a pierced exhaust pipe from an approaching car.

Shocked and annoyed, Sankara asks: “What is that noise?”, soon joined by Saba, who frowns : “What is that noise?”.

The noise gets louder, a car- “a Peugeot 504 or a covered Toyota”, says the only direct witness who survived. The car stopped in front of the small gate of the villa. Immediately, the noise of the engine was covered by the roar of Kalachinikov shots.

The seven men gathered in the room flat on the floor, hiding behind the armchairs. Among them, the only one to be armed since his guards remained in the corridor or in the garden,  was Sankara who grabs his gun which he had placed on the table, within reach.  From outside, someone shouts: “Get out! Come out!”

Sankara gets up, sighs loudly and orders his counsellors: “Stay! Stay! It’s me they want!”. He leaves the meeting room with his hands in the air.

© Thomas Sankara, president of the National Council of the Revolution (CNR), in March 1986 in Bobo-Dioulasso. Fabrice GUYOT / JA Archives

“He had barely stepped out of the door before he was shot” says Alouna Traoré. “The attackers had come to kill”.

The guards, the drivers and a biker from the police, Soré Patenema, who came by chance to bring mail to the CNR headquarters had all been shot in the first burst of gunfire. A former member of President of Faso’s guard, a man nicknamed Otis, who had since then been reinstated in the ranks of the para-commandos of Po (commanded by Captain Blaise Compaoré, who made him one of his drivers) – bursts into the meeting room, pushes the president’s collaborators towards the exit: “Out! Get out! Get out!”.

All those who obeyed were shot in turn. At the last moment, Patrice Zagré tries to take refuge in the meeting room, a shot in the back finishes him off.

Two fatal strikes to the head

Alouna Traoré, through sheer fear or survivorship, both perhaps, found himself lying on the gravel alive, bathed in the blood of his comrades, whose moans and sighs of agony he hears as if he was in a nightmare.

Four civilian members of the special cabinet (Paulin Bamouni, Patrice Zagré, Frédéric Kiemdé and Bonaventure Compaoré), eight soldiers, including Warrant Officer Christophe Saba, a poor police officer who was passing by, the drivers of the presidential convoy and four bodyguards. Alouna stepped over the PF’s body without even realising it.

Looking over his shoulder, he sees Thomas Sankara on the floor. Two shots to the head immediately killed him. He hears someone shouting: “There is one who isn’t dead! The one in blue! Let him get up!”. Alouna Traoré, the man in a blue tracksuit, stands up.

He was told to move forward and then lie back on the ground, between two other bodies, those of the two drivers.

He feels agitated. Covered in blood without a scratch on him. Around him, the commandos are still firing, but this time in the air, as if they wanted the outside world to believe that there was a fight going on within the walls of the Conseil de l’Entente; and with acrimony, as if they wanted to believe that they were really fighting and defending themselves.

This went on for a long time, perhaps thirty minutes, they used up all their ammunition this way.

The Conseil de l’Entente transformed into an execution field

Alouna is still on the ground. From the corner of his eye, he sees the driver-guard of Captain Blaise Compaorés body,  Hamidou Maîga, walking towards him wearing a blue mechanics overalls. He looks at Alouna at says to the others: “Leave it! I’ll finish him off!”

An officer (“I don’t know him, Alouna Traoré will say, his face was scarred”) objected and shouted. “Bring me the survivor”.

Alouna Traoré is brought to him, and he orders him to lie down again. The survivor tries to crawl and get close to the wall. “Stay still!” he shouts, “otherwise you’ll join the others”.

How long did he stay like that on the floor? “Two or three hours,” he says, without further explanation, until a soldier threatened him: “You saw everything. We can’t let you leave like that. You’re going to join the others!”.

Alouna doesn’t understand the situation he is in. He has gone beyond the stage of fear and has taken refuge in the world of absurd.

Ever since lying between the corpses, an image has haunted him: a photo of Mother Teresa, Nobel Peace Prize winner, in the middle of young miserable Indians, whom he had looked at for a long time that very morning. And for now, his only desire is to urinate. He is allowed to do so and he goes to relieve himself for a long time between the flowers of the gardens of the Conseil de l’Entente, transformed that very afternoon into a killing field.

Thirteen missing bodies

He was then taken upstairs to the floor of a villa where CNR agents were grouped together, who heard everything without having seen anything of the drama: the doctor-warrant officer Youssouf Ouedraogo, assistant to the warrant officer Christophe Saba, and the whole secretariat of the Laurent Kaboré, who also worked at the CNR.

In the middle of them, he was surprised to discover Bossobé, a guard of the president. Alouna Traoré’s blue sports outfit is soaked in blood. His hands, face and hair are bloody. He is told to wash himself and then to sit down.

Long after the sun had set, Alouna hears cars manoeuvring in the alleys of the Cartel Council. He risks a glance out the window. The thirteen corpses have disappeared; tankers are cleaning the scene of the drama with large water jets. He will spend the night behind the scenes, he won’t sleep. Turning over and over in his head is the same question: “What could the President have done to deserve this?”

Where are the alleged killers?

Relaunched at the beginning of 2015 by the transitional regime after the fall of Blaise Compaoré, the investigation into the assassination of Thomas Sankara is being conducted by the military examining magistrate, François Yamégo. Of the seventeen people he has charged, six are in pre-trial detention, including Gilbert Diendéré, Blaise Compaoré’s former private chief of staff. Two other indictees, accused of having played a major role in the case , are still at large in Burkina Faso and are the subject of an international arrest warrant: Blaise Compaoré and Hyacinthe Kafando.

Exiled to Abidjan, Compaoré is not expected to face Judge Yamégo any time soon as the Ivorian authorities seem reluctant to extradite him.

The second, former head of Compaoré’s close guard and leader of the squad that murdered Sankara, was summoned by the judge on the 22nd of June 2015. But the former MP never appeared before the military court. He fled the country without leaving a trace  and is also, according to our sources, a refugee in Côte d’Ivoire.

Several unsolved leads

Apart from Compaoré and Kafando, most of the suspects were trialed. Summoned twice in 2016 by Judge Yaméogo, Salif Diallo, the former head of Compaoré who died last August, denied any responsibility to do with the assassination of Sankara. He also added that Blaise Compaoré could not ignore what was being planned. As for Gilbert Diendér, he said he had not been informed of any operation against Sankara and that it was Hyacinthe Kafando who took the initiative.

Judge Yaméogo, for his part, is interested in possible foreign involvements, in particular French, Ivorian and Togolese. He has sent a letter of request to Paris, asking for the lifting of the defence secrecy on certain archives and the hearings of various people. The French authorities responded in May, saying that they have “no objection”  but that they first need to obtain a “certain number of clarifications”.

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The incredible story of Pablo Escobar was one filled with Hippos, Learjets, and Designer Prisons.

There are famous criminals. and then there are those whose crime turned into a full-blown empire. This was the story of drug king Pablo Escobar, a man that had managed to build a movie-like cartel and escape the authorities for more than three decades, turning into a highly-controversial legend. 

MIAMI, FL - MARCH 23: A bottle of anti-depressant pills named Paxil are shown March 23, 2004 photographed in Miami, Florida. The Food and Drug Administration asked makers of popular anti-depressants to add or strengthen suicide-related warnings on their labels as well as the possibility of worsening depression especially at the beginning of treatment or when the doses are increased or decreased.  (Photo Illustration by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Colombian National Police Public domain

By the time he was 20, he was dabbling in small-time crime to supplement his income. By his 30th birthday, he was the kingpin of one of the most notorious drug-trafficking cartels the world has ever known. This is the amazing and bloody life story of Pablo Escobar.

Getting Started

Escobar was born in December 1949, to a farmer father and a school teacher mother. The third child of seven, Pablo and his family grew up in poverty in the city of Medellin. He began his criminal enterprises young by stealing tombstones, sanding down their inscriptions, and reselling them. He also arranged fake high school diplomas and sold contraband cigarettes and fake lottery tickets. Soon enough, Escobar’s crimes escalated from petty—to violent.

MIAMI - MARCH 30:  Menthol cigarettes are seen for sale on a shelf at a Quick Stop store on March 30, 2010 in Miami, Florida.  Today in Washington, DC a public hearing began before a committee of outside experts that advises the Food and Drug Administration as they weigh the evidence of menthol

As a youth, Pablo performed armed robberies of banks in Medellín before dropping out of school and joining a gang. They would take cars, sometimes right in front of the drivers during the day, and quickly break them down into valuable parts, selling them for a lot of money. With the money they bribed local officials to give them new documents for the stolen cars, so he didn’t have to take them apart anymore.

Robin Hood Killer

One of the most famous incidents connected to young Pablo was attributed to the case of Diego Echavarria, a rich factory owner in Envigado, during the summer of 1971. Diego Echavarria was a respected man in wealthy social circles, but many poor workers in Medellín didn’t like him. This was because lots of them were losing their jobs in the local textile mills.

Diego Echavarria and his familt/Imgur

Also at that time, rich landowners in Antioquia were taking over land along the Magdelena River valley, and entire villages of farmers were evicted to the city’s slums. The unpopular factory owner was found dead in a hole not far from where Pablo was born. He was kidnapped six weeks earlier, and even though his family had paid a $50,000 ransom to get him back, he had been beaten and strangled to death.

Underage Bride

Maria Victoria Henao was just 15 years old when she married Pablo Escobar, a fully grown 27-year-old man. She was also, as far as her parents were concerned, a step or two above him on the social ladder. They may not have been worried by the age gap, but they certainly didn’t approve of the socio-economic difference.

A US one hundred dollar bill with Benjamin Franklin is seen amongst other bills in New York on Friday, February 19, 2016. The U.S. Treasury Dept. is proposing phasing out the $100 bill because the larger bills are

Of course, their daughter growing up with a lack of money was not something the Henao family ever really needed to worry about, but perhaps some other things that would come to trouble them instead. Pablo and Maria went on to have two children together; a son named Juan and a daughter they called Manuela.

His Biggest Supporter

Pablo Escobar’s wife Maria stood by him in everything he did. So much so, it was believed members of rival carters would seek to obtain recordings of Maria and Pablo talking so they could play them for their wives. The intention was to show their own wives how they would like them to behave, which was no doubt well received by all.

PARIS, FRANCE - JULY 28: Crowds gather in Paris to welcome the riders in the 21st and final stage of the 2019 Tour de France on July 28, 2019 in Paris, France. Columbian Egan Bernal of Team Ineos is the first Columbian to win the Tour and at the age of 22, is the youngest winner for 110 years in the 100th year of the Maillot Jaune or Yellow Jersey. (Photo by Kiran Ridley/Getty Images)

It’s believed this supportive attitude from Maria contributed to the other cartels choosing not to try and kill her and her two children. Maria did have one preference for Pablo’s behavior, however; she encouraged him to avoid violence where possible.

Grim Unicorn

Like many young girls, Manuela Escobar once asked her loving father for a horse. However, it wasn’t a simple pony on this hopeful daughter’s wish list, she wanted a unicorn. A simple matter of those creatures not existing wasn’t going to stop Pablo Escobar’s little girl from getting what she’d asked for.

CAMAJUANI, VILLA CLARA, CUBA - 2019/03/19: An unicorn which is part of the

Escobar brought in a horse and had a cone stapled to its head. He also had wings stapled to the animal for good measure. Amazing for Manuela, not so much for her horse. Not only must it have been in severe pain at the time, it later developed an infection and died.

My Life and My Prison With Pablo Escobar

However, if Maria was Escobar’s biggest supporter, it was not always the case the other way around. In fact, the now 57-year-old widow was only 12 when she fell in love with the drug baron and didn’t know what was expecting her when she married him two years later.

ANGOLA, LA - APRIL 23:  An inmate holds onto a fence during the Angola Prison Rodeo at the Louisiana State Penitentiary April 23, 2006 in Angola, Louisiana. The Angola Prison Rodeo, opened in 1965, is the longest running prison rodeo in the nation. The 10,000 seat arena was built entirely by inmate labor. The prison holds approximately 5,000 male inmates, 68 percent of whom are serving life sentences.  (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

In her memoir My Life and My Prison With Pablo Escobar, she opens up about her marriage and moments of intimacy with the worldwide criminal and recalls a traumatic event from when she was only 14 years old. Escobar caused her to abort her baby, forcing her to lie down in an insalubrious clinic while a woman was placing plastic tubes into her womb.


And Pablo Escobar wasn’t always the most faithful husband as well. In 2007, the Colombian journalist and author Virginia Vallejo wrote a memoir titled Amando a Pablo, odiando a Escobar (Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar) in which she detailed a romantic relationship with the cartel leader.

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 26:  Psychologist Alejandra Vallejo Nagera presents

Similarly, the “Queen of Narco-Trafficking”, Griselda Blanco, who helped distribute the cartel’s products, may also have had romantic connections to the famed criminal, and wrote a diary in which she referred to Escobar in the endearing yet quite scary nicknames of “Coque de Mi Rey” (My Coke King) and “Polla Blanca”.

Plan A and Plan B

Pablo didn’t only stray from his relationship with his wife, but he also ignored her advice for than once. Maria tried to persuade her husband against violence but, like many husbands, he didn’t always listen to his wife’s advice. When arrested for possession of 39 pounds of cocaine in 1976, Escobar dabbed in taking the non-violent road and offered the judge a bribe.

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 25: Drug users prepare cocaine before injecting, inside of a Safe Consumption van set up by Peter Krykant on September 25, 2020 in Glasgow, Scotland. Peter a recovering heroin addict and former drugs worker, has set up the drug consumption van where addicts can inject safely and take drugs under supervision. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

When his buy-off attempt was rejected, however, Escobar chose to have the arresting officers murdered rather than take his punishment. This proved to be horrifyingly effective for him, and it was a tactic Escobar would become well known for in his career.

Body Count

In fact, by the time he died, Pablo Escobar had something of a large body count. Though he continued to employ bribery when it was appropriate, Escobar understood violence and murder were often the most efficient way to get the results he wanted.

NAPLE, NAPLES, CAMPANIA, ITALY - 2021/03/15: (EDITORS NOTE: Image depicts death.) The body of Antonio Volpe, Camorra boss, was killed with gunshots in via Leopardi in the Fuorigrotta district. (Photo by Salvatore Laporta/KONTROLAB/LightRocket via Getty Images)

More than 4000 people are believed to have been killed at the hand, or by the order of, the King of Cocaine. Around a quarter of these were public officials, including police officers, journalists, and government workers. Judges were particularly targeted by Escobar; over 200 are believed to have been included in his tally of murders.

Big Business

At the height of his operations, Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel were so successful it was believed four in every five lines of cocaine consumed around the world had come through their hands. Escobar himself was believed to be earning $21.9 billion a year. No other criminal has ever earned this much money.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 22:  A South Korean banker carries US dollar bank notes at the Korea Exchange bank on February 22, 2005 in Seoul, South Korea. The South Korean won jumped to its highest intraday level in more than seven years in domestic trade on Tuesday, boosted by strong foreign equity buying and exporter deals. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
Chung Sung-Jun/GettyImages

To put this into context, Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk today earns around $2.2 billion a year. Of course, the drug trade is a much shorter and less secure career than the electric car industry but, even taking this into account, it’s fair to say Pablo Escobar was phenomenally successful.

Unusual Expenses

Pablo Escobar worked in a cash industry and, like Walter White’s storage locker in Breaking Bad, it meant he had some unusual problems he needed to solve. Fortunately, he could afford the solutions, and put his impressive finances and criminal mind to work, with rather interesting results. 

A Gates Learjet 25 executive jet on the tarmac at the Farnborough Air Show, 1st September 1974. (Photo by George W. Hales/Peter King/Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Fox Photos/GettyImages

Escobar had so many notes to keep in order that, at one stage, it was estimated Escobar was spending $2500 every month on rubber bands. Transportation was an issue too. Escobar found buying a private Learjet was the most efficient way to move his mountains of cash from one place to another.

Wheels of Commerce

Aviation was an important part of Pablo Escobar’s business in general. Constantly searching for efficient and undetectable ways to move contraband products across long distances and international borders, Escobar and the cartel discovered a new place to store their checked baggage.

396531 05: A U.S. Navy Landing Signal Officer (LSO) helps land an F/A-18
U.S. Navy/GettyImages

Distribution teams would fill plane tires with bricks of cocaine before a flight’s departure. These would then be removed and emptied by a team at the destination, and the product moved on for local distribution. It’s understood this tactic was worth around $50,000 a day to the cartel.

Elected Official

It might seem strange to see a career criminal in an official government position, but that’s exactly what happened to Pablo Escobar. In 1982, with plenty of help from, his vast fortune, Escobar won the election to the Chamber of Representatives as part of the Liberal Alternative movement.

WASHINGTON - FEBRUARY 05:  The U.S. Supreme Court is shown February 5, 2009 in Washington, DC. It was announced today that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had surgery after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Win McNamee/GettyImages

This high-profile side-job had brought with it several important advantages. Most importantly, it granted the cartel leader a diplomatic visa and judicial immunity. It also made him responsible for community projects such as creating football fields and building houses, this improved his image amongst the Colombian public a great deal.

Los Extraditables

“We prefer a grave in Colombia to a prison in the United States,” was the motto of Los Extraditables, a group of Colombian drug lords in the 1980s, of whom Pablo Escobar was one. These individuals faced the potential of extradition to the U.S. and they united to try and prevent it at a constitutional level.

CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 04: A Chicago police officer guards the perimeter of a crime scene where six people were found slain inside a home on the city

In 1985, a guerilla organization known as M-19 stormed the Colombian Supreme Court in protest of extradition to the U.S. They murdered around half of the judges and destroyed all the files relating to Los Extraditables. It is widely believed Escobar was involved in planning and supporting the event.

Clean Slate

Force Wasn’t the only method employed by Pablo Escobar to try and avoid facing trial and imprisonment in the U.S.A. In another attempt the weaponize his wealth, he had offered that in exchange for changing the country’s extradition laws, Escobar offered to pay off Colombia’s entire national debt. It must have been a tempting offer, but it was refused.

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA, AUGUST 14: Detail as a worker lays out the 500 Argentine peso note sheets before sending them to the cut and packaging machine at Casa de Moneda on August 14, 2020 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  To cope with one of the world
Ricardo Ceppi/GettyImages

Today’s Colombian government may wish their predecessors had taken a different attitude though, since while at the time Escobar made his offer, the total national debt was around $10 billion, today it is close to $166 billion.

Forbes List

Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bernard Arnault, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg. These are the five names at the top of the Forbes Rich List for 2021. The most widely recognized wealth list in America has also had some more interesting names on it over the decades.

The Fifth Avenue headquarters of Forbes Magazine in New York. (Photo by James Leynse/Corbis via Getty Images)
James Leynse/GettyImages

In 1987, Pablo Escobar was included in the list for the first time and he remained there until his death in 1993. His position peaked in 1989 when he was ranked as the 7th richest person in the world. Escobar may have enjoyed the acclaim, but the notoriety wasn’t exactly ideal for a person working in a trade that relied on a certain level of anonymity.


While authorities would have to wait until after Pablo Escobar’s death to seize most of his possessions and estate, they did get their hands on a “small” amount of the cartel’s fleet of vehicles and infrastructure in the late 1980s. The amounts they got a hold of were absolutely insane.

MUGLA, TURKEY - OCTOBER 19: Eclipse, the private luxury yacht of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, anchors at Hisaronu Bay in Marmaris district of Mugla, southwestern Turkey on October 19, 2015. The 163-meter-long Eclipse, world
Anadolu Agency/GettyImages

Colombia seized 142 planes, 20 helicopters, 32 yachts, and 141 homes and offices – basically enough to establish and defend a whole new town. Drug dealing might not seem like a real “business” to many people, but the administration of Escobar’s logistics department alone must have been complex enough to rival many legitimate corporations.


There are many ways to move drugs around the world; over land, in the sky, or sailing through the waves of seas and oceans. While there is always a way to escape detection, authorities have long since been developing ways to combat these movements.

A Soviet Kilo class patrol submarine underway on the surface, 1989. | Location: in the ocean. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Pablo Escobar used all these ways, but he also pioneered a new form of movement that looks like it came straight out of a movie. In an effort to evade detection by U.S. authorities, Escobar bought two remote control submarines. An ingenious solution and one that is still used by many drug traffickers today.

Huge Loads

The biggest single shipment of cocaine Pablo Escobar is known to have sent to U.S. shores was weighed at an incredible 25.5 tons, an amount so big that it is almost hard to believe that he was able to pull it off. To put that into perspective. that is the equivalent of eight elephants, or, in financial terms, about $40 million wholesale.

ALMADA, PORTUGAL - MAY 31: View of impounded bales of cocaine in front of the captured sailboat as high-ranking officials from the Judicial Police, the Navy and the Air Force hold a press conference in the Lisbon Navy Base on
Horacio Villalobos/GettyImages

It’s believed that, at the height of the Medellin Cartel’s operations, around 15 tonnes every day was being distributed. That’s almost 5500 tonnes per year – which is over 1700 elephants and well, an awful lot of dollars. Enough to inspire even modern distribution giants like Jeff Bezos.

Robin Hood

Pablo Escobar led a bloody and criminal regime, and there is no denying the horror and damage he caused to ordinary people around the world and the headaches he gave to authorities in Colombia, the U.S, and beyond. However, that didn’t stop him from pursuing an image as something of a “Robin Hood” figure.

Sean Gallup/GettyImages

Escobar, in a very contrasting manner, when considering his other activities, worked hard to improve the lives of those living below the poverty line in his home country. This included establishing food programs, donating to hospitals and churches, building football stadiums, developing parks, and regenerating neighborhoods.

What’s in a Name?

Don Pablo (Sir Pablo), El Padrino (The Godfather), El Patrón (The Boss), The King of Cocaine, The King of Crack, Matar Pablo (Killing Pablo), Paisa Robin Hood – these are just a few of the names Pablo Escobar went by during his career as a drug lord.

LIVORNO, ITALY - FEBRUARY 01: An officer of the Guardia di Finanza shows the complex way to seal the bricks of cocaine with DG (Dolce & Gabbana) luxury fashion logos on them, containing codes serving as mode of communication for drug dealers, are displayed on February 1, 2019 in Livorno, Italy. Black backpacks containing 644 kg of cocaine, worth in the region of over 130 million euros, were found in a container in the port of Livorno. The cocaine was found on January 15, 2019 by the 2 Compagnia of the Guardia di Finanza di Livorno in a container on a ship over some sacks of coffee and is one of the biggest drug seizures ever occurring in Italy and Europe. The cocaine was divided into 582 bricks and hidden in 23 black backpacks placed inside the container.  (Photo by Laura Lezza/Getty Images)
Laura Lezza/GettyImages

His parents had named him Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria, but when you’re head of a bloodthirsty cartel, image is important, so it’s good to get a little creative. Which names Escobar himself came up with, and which were thought up by groveling minions or fearful enemies, is unknown.

Lost Money

How much of your savings could you afford to lose each year before it started to have an impact? Two percent? Five percent? One of the hazards of Pablo Escobar amassing such a huge wealth in cash was that he was forced to write off around ten percent of his earnings simply because the actual cash was lost or damaged.

UKRAINE - 2020/08/26: In this photo illustration one hundred US dollar banknotes are seen on display. (Photo Illustration by Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
SOPA Images/GettyImages

The King of Cocaine had to find so many hiding places for his money it was impossible to make sure all were completely secure. Some money became too water damaged to spend, some was simply lost, and some was eaten by rats. In total, Escobar is estimated to have lost around $2.2 billion a year in this way.

Extreme Measures

On November 27, 1989, Avianca Flight 203 exploded over the Soacha area of Colombia. All 107 people on board were killed, as were three more on the ground. Pablo Escobar had instructed two men to board the flight carrying a suitcase and sit directly above the main fuel tank. Just before take-off, one man left the flight. The other had been told he was carrying a recording device and, once the flight was in the air, he should turn it on to record any conversation between two passengers nearby.

Anadolu Agency/GettyImages

Of course, it was a bomb, not a recorder, and Escobar’s man unwittingly killed himself along with everyone else when he flipped the switch. Escobar’s target had been a single person, the presidential candidate Cesar Gaviria Trujillo. Trujillo was not on board and was elected to office the following year.

It Wasn’t Me

Four years after Avianca Flight 203, Pablo Escobar was accused of orchestrating a bomb attack on New York City’s World Trade Center. A truck bomb was detonated beneath Tower 1 with the intention of collapsing it completely and bringing Tower 2 down with it. Had it succeeded, 50,000 or more people could have been killed. It failed, but it did take the lives of six people, including a pregnant woman.

402285 02: New York City firefighters, police and others search the debris field March 13, 2002, at the site of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks in New York City, a day after the remains of 11 firefighters and two civilians were recovered in an area that was the south tower. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Spencer Platt/GettyImages

Before the true perpetrators were discovered, the finger of suspicion was pointed towards Escobar. The cartel leader was enraged. He sent a letter to the U.S. Ambassador to say he would never do such a thing, after all, the people in those towers were his customers.

Anything But America

The reason Pablo Escobar was so determined to take out Cesar Gaviria Trujillo was the potential president’s policy on extradition. Trujillo had declared that, if elected, he intended to pass a law that would allow drug traffickers to be extradited to face trial, and potentially jail, in the United States.

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 09:  New York Police Department  tactical police officers stand guard near the New York Stock Exchange on September 9, 2011 in New York City. Officials are stepping up security in New York and Washington D.C. a day after U.S. officials received a credible but unconfirmed terror threat to utilize car bombs on bridges or tunnels in New York or Washington.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Justin Sullivan/GettyImages

As you can probably tell by now, that was the thing Escobar feared most in the world. If he were imprisoned in Colombia he could still bribe officials, run his business, and look after his family. None that would be possible from an American jail cell.

La Catedral

On August 18, 1989 cartel hitmen assassinated the politician Luis Carlos Galán after he publicly announced support for extradition to the U.S. This prompted Cesar Gaviria Trujillo to take action. Rather than risk the violence escalating, Trujillo made Pablo Escobar an offer.

HELSINKI, FINLAND - OCTOBER 07:  Finnish man and women dance on the dance floor of Studio 51 nightclub on October 07, 2005 in Helsinki, Finland. Most of the nightclubs in Helsinki are located in the city center.  (Photo by Yoray Liberman/Getty Images)
Yoray Liberman/GettyImages

The deal was that Escobar would hand himself in and halt all criminal activity, in exchange, he would not only be able to serve his punishment in Colombia, but he would also receive a reduced sentence, preferential treatment, and he would be allowed to build his own prison. Escobar took the deal and built La Catedral, a prison that featured a casino, a nightclub, and a spa.

No Deal

Pablo Escobar may have said he agreed to all of Cesar Gaviria Trujillo’s terms, but his actions were different. Yes, he gave himself up and allowed himself to be incarcerated in his own luxury prison. The bit about ceasing all criminal activity, however, he was less willing to comply with.

MARIANNA, FLORIDA - CIRCA 2016: (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been shot in black and white. Color version not available.) The now shuttered Dozier School for Boys, a jail for youth in Florida, is a notorious site where many kids died and were buried in unmarked graves, as seen in 2016 , in Marianna, Florida. (Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)
Andrew Lichtenstein/GettyImages

When authorities learned Escobar was still running the cartel from inside La Catedral, they began making plans to move him to a standard prison. Of course, Escobar found out and the deal was off completely. He escaped and remained officially on the run for the rest of his life.



Joined Forces

Pablo Escobar’s escape from prison was the last straw for the authorities who had sought to bring him to justice for around three decades. This was the moment when the Colombian police had teamed up with U.S Special forces in order to put an end to his crimes once and for all.


CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - APRIL 09: A fence surrounds the Cook County jail complex on April 09, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. With nearly 400 cases of COVID-19 having been diagnosed among the inmates and employees, the jail is nation’s largest-known source of coronavirus infections. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Scott Olson/GettyImages

A joint unit was constructed featuring members of Central Spike (Intelligence Support Agency), Delta Force (Army Special Ops), and DEVGRU (Navy Seals). Escobar remained in hiding but, with this sort of power and commitment amassing against him, he must have known his days as a free man were numbered.



Los Pepes

It wasn’t only the authorities who had lost patience with Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel. Troubles had begun to bubble from within, and as the drug gang leader remained on the loose, a vigilante group formed and began carrying out increasingly violent actions against members of the cartel.


SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - JUNE 06: A man mourns at the gravestone of a relative who died during the Korean War on Memorial Day at the Seoul National Cemetery  on June 06, 2022 in Seoul, South Korea. South Korea is marking the 67th anniversary of Memorial Day, in tribute of people who died during military service in the 1950-53 Korean War.  (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
Chung Sung-Jun/GettyImages

Los Perseguidos por Pablo Escobar (People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar), who were largely funded by rival cartels and former associates of Escobar, destroyed property and killed anyone they could find connected to Escobar. Associates, lawyers, and family were all murdered in a bloody campaign which resulted in more than 300 deaths.



Fuel Bills

Similar to the laws of supply and demand, one of the most simple economic rules is that the more of something you have, the less it is likely to be worth. That was certainly the case with Pablo Escobar’s cash. With more available money than he could possibly spend, each paper note was of far less consequence to Escobar than it might be to you or me.


HONG KONG, CHINA - 2020/09/01: Paper money being burnt during the festival.
According to local tradition, the Hungry Ghost Festival is marked believing that the gates of hell will open for the month (July of the Chinese lunar Calendar) and ghosts would roam the streets. (Photo by Miguel Candela/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
SOPA Images/GettyImages

This was demonstrated when Escobar’s daughter became ill while the family was hiding out in the Medellin mountains in 1992 and 1993. She needed to be kept warm and the most combustible material to hand was cash, so Escobar burned around $2.2 million to generate the heat the family needed.


Final Showdown

Pablo Escobar remained on the run for 18 months after his escape from prison. Then, on December 2, 1993, he found himself cornered at a property in Los Olivos. Colombian police tracked Escobar’s location by using cell phone triangulation and a party of 8 officers stormed the building in which they believed Escobar to be hiding.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 23: Police investigate the scene of a shooting in Brooklyn on June 23, 2021 in New York City. New Yorkers are increasingly concerned about a rise in violence in the city with a 53.2 percent hike in shootings from last year so far this year. Eric Adams, a former New York City police sergeant, is currently in the lead for the Democratic nomination for mayor due to his tough on crime platform. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Spencer Platt/GettyImages

What ensued was a movie-style shoot-out leading to a climactic rooftop scene. After two other fugitives were killed, Escobar was dealt gunshot wounds to the leg and torso. The final shot that killed Pablo Escobar traveled through his ear. Whether this was done in the shootout, in a final execution, or was delivered by a cornered Escobar himself, is a matter of ongoing debate.

He Said He Would

The theory that Pablo Escobar turned a gun on himself once he knew the game was up has been perpetuated by his two brother’s events since that fateful day on the Los Olivos rooftop. Roberto Escobar and Fernando Sánchez Arellano released a statement saying, “[Pablo] had committed suicide, he did not get killed. “

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 10:  Wei Pang of China competes in the 50m pistol qualifying event on Day 5 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Shooting Centre on August 10, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Sam Greenwood/GettyImages

One of the brothers explained this by telling readers and listeners that, “during all the years they went after him, [Pablo] would say to me every day that if he was really cornered without a way out, he would ‘shoot himself through the ear’.”

Popular to the End

Despite the swell of public and political opinion against him, Pablo Escobar had remained hugely popular with many people in death as he had in life. Amazingly, his funeral was attended by more than 25,000 people.

WINDSOR, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 17: (EMBARGOED FOR PUBLICATION IN UK NEWSPAPERS UNTIL 24 HOURS AFTER CREATE DATE AND TIME) Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, Princess Anne, Princess Royal, Prince Andrew, Duke of York, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Peter Phillips, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, David Armstrong-Jones, 2nd Earl of Snowdon and Vice Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence follow Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
Pool/Max Mumby/GettyImages

These types of grand funerals are usually saved for beloved artists or world leaders, and Escobar’s policy of using his wealth and power to help the lives of Colombia’s poor had ensured he would be remembered in some quarters as a folk hero. A violent, bloody, and merciless folk hero for sure, but one who earned the love of those he helped nonetheless.

Pablo Belfort

If you’re wondering what it was like to be an “employee” of the Medellin Cartel, then you might want to re-watch The Wolf of Wall Street. Just like Jordan Belfort, Pablo Escobar was happy to spend huge amounts of his ill-gotten gains to entertain his loyal team members.

A US one hundred dollar bill with Benjamin Franklin is seen amongst other bills in New York on Friday, February 19, 2016. The U.S. Treasury Dept. is proposing phasing out the $100 bill because the larger bills are
Richard Levine/GettyImages

On some occasions, he was known to hire groups of beauty queens to eat insects, climb trees, or take part in sports car races – all while nude, of course. At other times, Escobar and his football-mad lieutenants would pay to fly in their favorite soccer players and organize matches for the cartel men to bet on. 


Of course, when authorities raided Pablo Escobar’s home there were many things they expected to find. Some, however, were quite a surprise. In Escobar’s book library, they found one particular title which may have explained his phenomenal success.

PRESOV, SLOVAKIA - APRIL 19: An unidentified man browses through the book in the regional Library of P. O. Hviezdoslav after it was re-opened under new COVID-19 measures allowing people to choose books directly from the open spaces of the library on April 19, 2021 in Presov, Slovakia. Slovakia has recorded over 374,000 cases of COVID-19 infections, over 11,000 deaths in total, in a population of 5.4 million residents. Certain shops, libraries, museums, hotels, Zoos, botanical gardens, swimming pools, and churches will be allowed to open their doors under strict regulations for people. Travel between regional districts will be allowed with a negative antigen or PCR test. (Photo by Zuzana Gogova/Getty Images)
Zuzana Gogova/GettyImages

On one of Escobar’s bookshelves was El Poder Del Pensamiento Tenaz, the Spanish translation of Norman Vincent Peale’s self-help book, The Power of Positive Thinking. How Peale felt about inspiring one of the bloodiest cartel leaders in modern history is unknown, but it seems at least his theories have been thoroughly put to the test.


Pablo Escobar built a private zoo at his Hacienda Nápoles estate in Puerto Triunfo, Antioquia. He imported giraffes and elephants, but it was his hippos that have made the longest-lasting impression. Escobar originally brought in four hippos. The animals were judged too difficult to seize and move after the drug lord’s death and were simply released into the local habitat.

25th July 1960:  Frank Meakins weighs Doreen and Julie, twin tiger cubs, born at the Whipsnade Zoo, in May.  (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

By 2014 they were believed to be around 40 hippos with the population doubling in size every few years. Today they are considered a real threat to the local ecosystem and need to be managed by a program of chemical castration.

Buried Treasure

Another way Pablo Escobar hid cash was to stuff it into plastic drums, which he would then bury. Most were buried in or around his many properties, but some were taken out into the countryside. 

KYIV, UKRAINE - MAY 30: A farmer shovel seeds on an agricultural land as the Russian attacks effect agriculture sector negatively in Kyiv, Ukraine on May 30, 2022. (Photo by Dogukan Keskinkilic/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Anadolu Agency/GettyImages

Unfortunately for both Escobar and the Colombian authorities who ultimately seized all his wealth, keeping records of where these drums were buried doesn’t seem to have been one of the Medellin Cartel’s strong points. Millions, if not billions, of dollars were never recovered and are assumed to still be underground somewhere in Colombia. A couple of spades and a plane ticket to Bogotá, anyone?

Escobar was but one of many successful criminals that left their mark on history, keep up to learn some more about those brilliant evil masterminds! 

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The origin of the Oriental Brothers International Band can be traced to a man, JOHN IKEDIALA. He’s a relative of Dan Satch, who himself is a founding member of the group.

Shortly after the Biafra War, a lot of Igbos faced hardship as a fallout of the War. Igbos lost homes, property, friends, and family. One such person was John Ikediala, a musician, who could barely survive and his music career was at a standstill. So, Dan Satch’s wife pleaded with him to help Ikediala resuscitate his band so that he could have a source of livelihood and not die.

Dan Satch, in his usual nature of benevolence, abandoned his job as a mechanic, to help John Ikediala to revamp his band. This however came at a cost to Dan Satch. Not only did he abandon his work as a mechanic, friends, and relatives mocked him for abandoning his work for music.

And so, the journey to the great Oriental Brothers International Band started, without their knowing it. Dan Satch assembled musicians, those he knew and those that were brought to him. Among these musicians were Tony Awoma, Kabaka, and Warrior. Actually, Kabaka came to replace Awoma, who in his usual nature was not a stable person and had gone even before anything too serious had begun. It was because he was always coming and going that Dan Satch actually brought Kabaka to replace him. (Awoma returned in 1977 to replace Kabaka when he too left in 1976).

Warrior himself also came to replace the first vocalist. At this time, Dan Satch could only play xylophone and nothing else. He left the xylophone when Aquila joined since Aquila was good at percussions and conga. Dan Satch then started teaching himself how to play the guitar and bass. Finally, a band was formed for John Ikediala with Warrior on vocals, Kabaka on guitar, Dan Satch on bass, Ichita on drums, and Aquila on percussions.

In search of greener pastures, the band moved to Kano around 1970/71. However, the move turned out to be a disaster. John Ikediala became selfish and didn’t take care of the band. According to Dan Satch, the band members had to endure serious hunger, with Kabaka quitting the band.

By 1972, the boys couldn’t bear it any longer and Dan Satch appealed to those who were left that he had a sister in Lagos and that they should move there. So the band landed in Lagos and stayed in Ikeja. They initially were playing in hotels and joints. Dan Satch began searching for Kabaka again and eventually brought him back to the band. However, according to Dan Satch, Kabaka was very reluctant to come back. He had to send important people to him with some cash to persuade him to come back. Kabaka eventually returned but was rumoured to have given Dan Satch one condition: that he be appointed band leader. A request Dan Satch granted.

Kabaka, Warrior and Dan Satch on the cover of their 1997 reunion album, Anyi Abiala Ozo

They continued as a band in this fashion without a name, not to talk of the Oriental Brothers International Band they are now famously known. Dan Satch started visiting record companies to secure a recording contract. He first went to EMI where the band was rejected outrightly. This was because Sony Okosuns who was the A&R Manager at that time allegedly blocked them. From there, they went to DECCA/Afrodisia where they were also initially rejected due to comments also allegedly made by Ebenezer Obey, but the receptionist, a man at the studio who was Igbo, pressed a few buttons for them. Miraculously, DECCA officials sent a message to Dan Satch that they were coming to the hotel where they were based to audition.

Warrior and Dan Satch on the sleeve of Obi Nwanne album

Dan Satch got the boys ready including buying polo t-shirts for each of the members so the band could look clean and professional. The band played Ìhè Chi Nyere for the audition. It was a simple setup with Warrior on vocals, Kabaka on lead guitar, Dan Satch on bass, Ichita on drums, and Aquila on percussion. There was no rhythm guitar part for the song and Kabaka had to keep playing non-stop throughout the length of the song.

Fortunately, DECCA was somewhat impressed and the boys were invited to the company to sign a contract in 1973. It was at the point of filling out the forms that the name ORIENTAL BROTHERS came about. This was how the Oriental Brothers International Band was born.

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Image caption, An artist is behind a project to revive the story of Nangeli

The story of a lower caste woman who cut her breasts to protest against a discriminatory “breast tax” in British-ruled India is being revived by an artist wants to recognize her sacrifice. BBC Hindi’s Divya Arya reports from the south Indian state of Kerala.

The story of Nangeli may never have been known, but for a chance discovery.

Four years ago, artist Murali T was flipping through an in-house magazine of a local bank, when he stumbled on a small report about Nangeli, written by a native from her area, Cherthala.

Intrigued by the story, he made his way to the small sleepy town.

“I spent a lot of time with the local people of Cherthala and even found the locality where Nangeli is believed to have lived over 100 years ago.

The house that stands where Nangeli was born
Image caption, The village Nangeli comes from is called Mulachhipuram or the land of the woman with breasts

“It was called Mulachhipuram or the land of the woman with breasts, named to remember Nangeli’s great sacrifice against the breast-tax,” he told the BBC.

It is a village tale that is not officially recognised in any of India’s historical accounts.

But the story of Nangeli is much loved by her local villagers – and now Murali T hopes to document it and have it recognised as part of Kerala’s history by the government.

Reinforcing caste structure

The “breast-tax” had been imposed by the king of the erstwhile State of Travancore, one of the 550 princely States that existed in British ruled India.

Women from lower castes were not allowed to cover their breasts, and were taxed heavily if they did so.

“The purpose of the breast-tax was to maintain the caste structure,” said Dr Sheeba KM, an associate Professor of gender ecology and Dalit studies at the Shri Shankaracharya Sanskrit Vishwavidyalaya in Kerala.

Social customs on clothing were tailored to a person’s caste status, which meant that they could be identified merely by the way they dressed.

Image of Nangeli

Nangeli belonged to the Ezhava caste. Her community was required to pay the tax along with other lower castes like the Thia, Nadar and Dalit communities.

But, villagers say, she decided to protest by covering her chest without paying the breast-tax – a brave move in the early 1900s for a woman of lower caste status.

Our auto rickshaw driver Mohanan Narayan takes us to the neighbourhood where Nangeli lived.

“When the tax inspector heard she was refusing to pay the tax, he went to her house to ask her to stop breaking the law. But she still refused to pay the tax, and cut her breasts off in protest instead,” he says.

According to local villagers, Nangeli died of excessive blood loss, while her distraught husband committed suicide by jumping into her funeral pyre. The couple had no children.

Her relatives moved out of Mulachhipuram to nearby towns and hamlets.

Recognising sacrifice

Maniyan Velu, her cousin’s great-grand-son, says he feels upset that Nangeli’s story is not more widely known.

“Her act was selfless, a sacrifice to benefit all the women of Travancore, and ultimately forced the King to roll back the breast-tax,” he says.

An old man, Maniyan owns no land, and his children work as farm labourers. But he is not looking for charity, only some recognition.

“We feel so proud that we are her family. All we want is that more people should know about her sacrifice. It would be befitting if her name was made a part of this region’s history,” he tells the BBC.

Murali T hopes to make that happen.

He was so moved by Nangeli’s story and the absence of any visual documentation that he decided to paint a likeness of the violent act she brought upon herself.

“I did not want to depict it as a bloody event; instead my aim was to glorify her act as an inspiration to humanity, a representation that would command respect,” he said.

His three paintings of Nangeli have now been published in his book, Amana – The Hidden Pictures of History, this year.

He has also held 15 exhibitions of his paintings across Kerala and now plans to hold one in a public place in Cherthala.

“If I can get the people of that area to take notice, that may help convince the government to include this important act as part of our official history.”

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