Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa, former David Lewis Andrew Rice, was born in Omaha, Nebraska, however his ashes now touch the sky on the summit of famed Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain. Mondo joined the ancestors in March, passing at the maximum-security Nebraska State Penitentiary where he was serving a life sentence for the 1970 bombing murder of an Omaha policeman.
At a memorial service in Omaha, held at Malcolm X’s birthsite, Mondo’s friends and relatives thought it would be a fittng tribute to Mondo to have his cremated remains sent to Africa, the homeland Mondo never saw. Donations were made to film Mondo’s final journey to the land he loved.
Pete O’Neal, the former head of the Black Panthers in Kansas City, now exiled in Tanzania, offered to help with the passage for his old friend. Mondo was a leader in the National Committee to Combat Fascism in Omaha and was targeted by J. Edgar Hoover’s counterintelligence COINTELPRO operation. O’Neal, himself a fugitive facing a four year prison sentence for transporting a shotgun across a state line, understands the clandestine forces that deprived Mondo of a fair trial.
Mondo denied any role in the death of Patrolman Larry Minard, Sr. and was in Kansas City at a rally supporting O’Neal when Omaha police decided to search Mondo’s house where they claim they found dynamite. Before his death Mondo spoke about his fateful trip to visit O’Neal.
“Sometime in the course of the week I was asked to go to Kansas City to give a talk to raise moral and financial support and so forth for Pete O’Neal who was facing some federal gun charges. So there is a hell of an irony in this whole business. He winds up in Africa and I wind up in prison.”
O’Neal put out a call for a volunteer to climb Mount Kilimanjaro for Mondo. Emmanuel Mollel, better known as Emma Maasai, stepped forward to make the climb. Accompanied by noted hiker Athuman Juma, the pair carried Mondo’s ashes to Uhura Peak where they were released to the wind, surrounded in every direction by the vast landscape of Africa below.
Mondo identified with Africa and studied the history and culture of the continent as best he could from his tiny prison cell. While in prison, Mondo decided to abandon his birth name as an artifact of slavery and adopted his own new name from four African languages.
“My name, Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa, is from the Kwanyama, Gikuyu, Ibibio, and Hausa languages which means Wild Man Child of the Sun. In African languages, typically there aren’t first and last names as in English. Though since colonialism, this has become a feature of many of the languages.”
Mondo was once written up with a disciplinary ticket in prison for violating a ban on jewelry. Mondo had fashioned a simple necklace with string and cardboard in the shape of Africa. Mondo showed his respect for his adopted homeland he would never see. Mondo carefully stepped around a puddle, shaped like Africa, that formed when it rained in a depression on the sidewalk between his cellblock and the dining hall.
Mondo saw African communalism and the role of the community in ones life as a guide to the future. Mondo stated, “In this day and time, the cultivating of traditional African values and a sense of loyalty to and love for our African communities may very well be crucial for our survival.”
Freed only by death, Mondo left behind his co-defendant, Edward Poindexter, who is still imprisoned at the prison where Mondo died. Poindexter, like Mondo, insists on his innocence, the victim of a wrongful conviction. No doubt shaken by the loss of his best friend, Poindexter still hopes for exoneration and freedom. Poindexter has said, “I honestly believe that I’m going to get justice eventually.”