Monday, February 26, 2007


AARGGHHH!!!! Forgive me Lord, for I have sinned. I have lied to my advisor, I have lied to myself, and I have lied on this blog. I am NOT almost done with my thesis

How can I be writing about intertextuality in Waiting for an Angel and have somehow neglected to read Kafka's The Great Wall of China until the night before I am hoping to turn in my thesis (actually a month after originally planned to hand in). It's so brilliantly relevant to everything I am writing about. Ohhhh, it's even relevant to how I'm writing. Every reference I check turns into another close reading so that "none knows more than" me "the absolute futility of" my mission--first I have " to get out of the innermost chamber with its thousands and thousands of courtiers impeding [my] progress, and after that there are a thousand outer chambers to traverse, still filled with courtiers; and though [I] am able to get out of these chambers (it will take years), how can [I] manage to elbow [my] way past the millions of people waiting in the courtyard?" (Waiting for an Angel 103) In other words, with so many millions and millions of words and thoughts and new insights each one blossoming out of the other into an eternal fountain of interpretation, how can I possibly every push beyond to hand it in---- I MUST deal with the Kafka... how can I have gotten this far without doing an extended reading of it's significance dab smack in the middle chapter of the book. Oh misery...

And, oh God, I want to go out and eat the butter shortbread cookies that someone brought to my house the other night not knowing that I have given up chocolate and all store bought sweets for Lent (and all others sweets too, except that I will be lenient in allowing myself to eat homemade, non-chocolate based sweets if someone offers them to me... how bad and wishy-washy of a Lenten resolution is that....!?!). But I shant.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Poetry and art of governance in Nigeria By Wale Okediran

Has been snowing all day here. An hour ago, the air was veiled in white. Inside, it is nice and cozy. In the meantime, here is a very interesting article, relevant to my thesis, "Poetry and the art of governance in Nigeria" by Wale Okediran published in the Vanguard; the only thing is that I can't seem to find the second page... (BTW, Has anyone else noticed Blogger dropping words/changing letters? My posts seem to be full of typos these days. I just had to edit this post because once it published Okediran's name was spelled Akediran... Maybe I'm just fumbling the keys...)

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Preparing to Pray

Outside, a blizzard is beginning. It is the fourth night of Lent. I listen with half an ear to Prairie Home Companion on NPR. Garrison Keiller is gently mocking poets. While procrastinating finalizing my thesis, I go through old photos, scanned in last year. I find this one that I took in a town an hour from Sokoto, an old woman, relative of my professor, preparing for prayer.

Friday, February 23, 2007

We are like crabs in a basket

Some things you cannot write about publically, so you quote other people who say similar things in other contexts. Perhaps that is why Lomba "plaigerized" poetry to send to Janice--those “message[s] in a bottle, thrown without much hope into the sea,” were for himself, "perhaps, written by me to my own soul, to every other soul, the collective soul of the universe" (38). He could not directly scream out against the prison, so he used other people's symbolism to indicate his position.

You feel hopeless, so you toss out the message, knowing there is nothing, really, that anyone can do about it, but it helps to have it out there, in the ocean, in the waves. Here's my quote for the bottle, from Helon Habila's Waiting for an Angel:

As soon as they [the state intelligence] were gone, Auntie Rachael left the bed and came and sat on the arm of my seat; she put her arms round my neck, resting her chin on my head..... Finally, she pulled back. There were tears in her eyes.

"Kela, my son, you must be careful. Never ever show them you are brilliant. They'll kill you. Don't you know that lightning only strikes the tallest tree?" Her eyes left me and went to the wall. And I saw it now: what I had missed all along. The soldier's picture was not on the table close to her bed any more. It was up there on the wall with all the others.

"Poor Davou. He was like that, too. He never learned to keep his head low. He was always standing up for something, for someone. He was among the very first to volunteer when the war broke out. They killed him." Her voice was low and whispery. Her print dress smelled of camphor. Her eyes were not red any more these days, and the tell-tale smell was totally gone from her breath.

"Go," she said, standing up, "and always remember, our land is a land of pygmies. We are like crabs in a basket; we pull down whoever dares to stand up for what is right. Always remember that."

As I left her, I recalled Joshua's words at the hospital: that some day I too would have to stand up for something. But did that mean I'd be pulled down when I stood up? I toyed with the question for hours, but I was unable to solve it. I finally abandoned it, deciding that perhaps I was too young to answer it. "Not all things must be understood immediately," Joshua had told me. "The important thing is to see and memorize all the faces and ideas and impressions, and one day they will begin to make sense to you."
(Pp. 186-187)

Habila, Helon. Waiting for an Angel. New York: Norton, 2002.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Delta Flights from Atlanta to Lagos

My brother just forwarded me some fantastic news. As of December 2007, Delta will be flying nonstop from Atlanta to Lagos. I've generally enjoyed flying through Europe, but since I rarely stop off for a few days, this should make things much cheaper and save a lot of time! Yay!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

I Go Chop Your Dollar

Nkem Owoh (aka Osuofia): Oyinbo-man I go chop your dollar. I go take your money disappear. 419 is just a game. you are the loser. i am the winner... You be the mugu. I be the master....

Helon Habila and Rewriting History

Here is an exerpt from part of my thesis on Helon Habila's novel Waiting for an Angel . Even though, I added the stuff from Measuring Time this morning, I'm afraid I'm going to have to cut it out or at least break it up (ie. my advisor's wise observation that I tend to distract myself with too many analogies...). Posting it on my blog keeps it in existence somewhere.... Here I am talking about Habila's use of intertextuality, but I think I sidetrack myself with the discussion of Measuring Time and placing multiple stories side by side... maybe not... maybe I need to just move it somewhere else.

Similar to the passage in The Man Died, where Soyinka requests books from the library, the character Lomba also requests books from the prison superintendent, who is extorting poetry from him. “He wanted Wole Soyinka’s prison notes, The Man Died; but when it came it was A Brief History of West Africa” (29). In openly referring to Soyinka as he also does in the words of his student demonstrators, Habila acknowledges the setting—as if he is in the same set that Soyinka reflected in his memoir, on which a different play is now being acted out. The actual events recorded and made into symbols by Soyinka are re-used by Habila. During his sojourn in prison, Soyinka devoured a dog-eared copy of the Letters of Queen Victoria, a seemingly ironic reference to the imperial past in which history is defined in the person of the queen and her perceptions of the colonies rather than by the experiences of the “natives” of those colonies. Similarly, the substitution of A Brief History of West Africa for Soyinka’s prison memoirs requested by Lomba not only ironically refers to the scene in Soyinka’s prison notes in which he had requested books from the prison library but also reinforces the idea of living in a story written by someone else. The title A Brief History of West Africa evokes images of colonial texts in which the story told of West Africa is that of the Victorian-era European explorers like Richard Burton and colonial governors like Lord Lugard, (Blog Note: or like this... heehee) as well as the critiques of novelists like Achebe on this telling of history.

At the end of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, as the District Commissioner thinks of including the story of Okonkwo in his book The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger, he considers writing a whole chapter on Okonkwo. Then he thinks better of it. “Perhaps not a whole chapter but a reasonable paragraph, at any rate. There was so much else to include, and one must be firm in cutting out details” (TFA 209). Achebe is, of course, ironically commenting on the effrontery of the colonizer who will write only a paragraph on a man whose story has been the subject of Achebe’s entire novel. The history that the colonial officers in Achebe’s Arrow of God read in order to “understand” the people they are ruling is this same book, in which the author has been so disciplined in subverting individual stories to his own narrative of “pacification.” In “cutting out details,” the author reinforces the idea of an authoritative version of history. The details, the individual stories, have no place in the narrative of the colonizer. As Habila illustrates with his inclusion of A Brief History of West Africa being substituted for the harrowing and detailed account of Soyinka’s imprisonment, neither have these individual stories any place in the narrative of the military dictatorships that followed official independence.

Similar to Achebe, Habila gives the details of the lives of ordinary people, those which would not normally be considered part of a larger history. Much of the power in the way he presents these ordinary lives is the way he references other literary works, indicating that not only are there multiple voices within his own novel but that his novel is only one of many novels voicing out protest against oppressive structures. In his second novel, Measuring Time, Habila’s character Mamo envisions a “true history” of Nigeria, in which “if the historian could capture these ordinary lives, including their recollections of their own family’s past, then he might come close to writing a true ‘biographical history’ of a nation; for when we refer to a nation, are we not referring to the people that inhabit that nation, and so isn’t the story of a nation then really the story of the people who make up that nation” (Habila, Measuring Time, 180). In Mamo’s subsequent attempt at this biographical history, he writes the history of his father the failed politician, and his aunt the divorced wife, alongside the less than glorious history of the mai, the traditional ruler, of Keti. Every story has it’s own place alongside the others. Mamo says: “I want to make the Mai’s biography simply a part of the other biographies I told you about…. [that] I will eventually compile to form a biographical history of Keti. That’s what history really is, people and their lives, no matter how we try to manipulate it. It is the story of real people with real weaknesses and strengths and… not about some founding fathers and … even if we want to write about the founding fathers we shouldn’t privilege them, we should place them on par with other ordinary folks…” (225).In his first novel Waiting for an Angel, Habila does much of Mamo attempts to do in his biographical history, placing the story of the inglorious prison superintendent alongside the stories of the imprisoned writer, the brilliant student turned prostitute, and the young boy from Jos exiled from his family for smoking hemp. Just as Mamo discovers the inherent weakness of the “powerful” Mai when he writes his history, Habila reveals the way the superintendent may be overcome by showing him as “just Man. Man in his basic, rudimentary state, easily moved by powerful emotions like love, lust, anger, greed and fear, but totally dumb to the finer, acquired emotions like pity, mercy, humour and justice” (41). The character of the prison superintendent is perhaps one of Habila’s most obvious appropriations from Soyinka’s prison memoir. It is as if the prison governor from The Man Died has been transferred to Lomba’s prison. (And I go on to illustrate this with quotes in which I illustrate the similarity of voice... but I imagine the blog reader will have been long ago exhausted by the length of this excerpt...)

Monday, February 19, 2007

In defense of Nigerian film

This post is a comment I wrote in response to Jeremy Weate's post on African cinema in relation to Nollywood video-films, in which he claims that "One sometimes despairs that while the rest of Africa is producing fresh and innovative painting, photography and film in the face of enormous existential challenges, Nigeria languishes in the laziest and most unsubtle forms of creative expression." I figured that since I spent about 20 minutes of my thesis writing time writing the comment (arghh), I should also post it on my own blog. Keep in mind that this is off the top of my head and not quite as well thought out as it should be. But rather than spend another hour polishing it, I'm going to post it and get back to my thesis!

1) Confession. I have actually not seen enough English Nigerian films to be able to make a sophisticated and example-filled defense of them. But my knowledge of literary history makes me suspicious of blanket condemnations such as the one you made in your last post. I am suspicious of critiques that privilige "high" art as intrinsically more valuable than "low" art. Who makes these decisions? And aren't there many historical instances of one generation of "high art" critics misjudging the value of their own generations's cutting edge experimentation? Here is one relevant example: The knee-jerk negative reaction of the Western-educated elite to Nigerian films reminds me of earlier reactions to Amos Tutuola's _The Palm Wine Drinkard_. He appropriated older oral structures to write what appeared to be an embarrassing "misuse" of form to those critics trained to recognize Hardy and Hemingway as great literature. Tutuola was not necessarily following any specific genre; he, in fact, was creating his own form. So, first of all, in relation to Nollywood films, in a desire to see Nigerians make films "on par" with more Western-influenced form, do we risk throwing out great storytellers like Tutuola? Secondly, Do we risk imposing Western literary/artistic aesthetics for judgment on an art forms that owe as much to indigenous art forms as they do to Hollywood/Bollywood/Hong Kong film? Thirdly, Is the technologizing and mass exportation of orality not innovative?
2) Although I have not seen enough Nigerian English movies to give you a lot of examples, I do admire how the trickster motif has been transferred from oral literature to Nkem Owoh's films such as Osuafia in London, Bus Driver, Ukwa, etc. These may not be as subtle or "sophisticated" as Francophone African films, but they do provide entertaining continuations of orality--both of oral tales and indigenous forms of theatre.
3) I am much more knowledgeable about Hausa films, which I haven't yet decided whether to class a part of Nollywood or not. So, here is a more extended defense of "Kanywood." A) I find the appropriation of Bollywood style song and dancing rather wonderful on an aesthetic level as well as a symbolic addition to the meaning of the text. Just as Nkem Owoh's films continue an older trickster tradition, the Hausa filmmakers are innovatively continuing older oral structures in which the use of song marked important junctures of the story. Of course, as with any film tradition, some are done much better than others. B) Since most of the camera work, directing (etc) is self taught, it may not fall within conventions of visual storytelling developed in other traditions. It may not appear as "sophisticated" or as "artistic" to a Western trained eye. What I'd like to argue is that the self-taught filmmakers are developing their own conventions of visuality, according to their own self-selected education of watching Indian, American, and Chinese films, as well as according to massive amounts of audience feedback.
C) Off the top of my head, here are a few Hausa films I find thoughtful, thought provoking, and innovative: Zazzabi directed by S.I. Belaz; 2) Albashi directed by Abbas Sadiq; 3) Sanafahna directed by Nura Sheriff; 4) Bakar Ashana, directed by Aminu Bala. This list is certainly not exhaustive. Like I said I'm writing off the top of my head, and I know I have left a few off whose names I cannot remember.
Anyway, I'm sorry for taking up space on your blog, but I get a little defensive when I hear people pooh-poohing emerging art forms because they don't fit with their expectations of what make "great art." This is in no way a denigration of the fantastic celluloid African cinema, but an urge to consider the Igbo proverb, "Where one thing stands, another thing will stand beside it." To enjoy one does not mean you have to throw out another.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Holding my breath

Finally writing again. My whole problem with finishing this thesis is the transitions. I feel good about my first chapter and the last chapter, but the middle is a big muddle: I'm not sure exactly how to re-form my material so that it transitions my argument from point A to point C, although I can easily write down the argument in brief. I've been telling it to my writing center tutor for the past month. She knows my argument as well as I do; it's just that the details get in the way. ('Well, it's a very complex, sophisticated argument," she says comfortingly. I'm sure what she's saying under her breath is that the best thing to do would be to uncomplexify it a little bit; i just can't bring myself to simplify...) So, as I am working through it I cut and paste and colour my text red and blue and grey. I start working on one transition around 7pm. It turns into a close reading of Lomba's "bowdlerization" of Sappho's ode to Janice. I tie most of the last nine lines of the poems to other lines in Lomba's diary, and use it to make my point about the hidden "political" power of the love poem: the metaphoric prisoner of "love" is used to indicate the presence of the literal prisoner writing behind bars. What I haven't quite figured out yet is how to make the transition to the larger more "external" use of intertextuality that is crucial to my overall argument. I find myself holding my breath as I write. The next time I look at my clock it is 9:30pm.

I take another breath.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Zanoba - Sudanese Song - Ethiopian Singers

Currently trying to get a paper ready to submit to a conference. Was due yesterday. So, what am I doing on you tube? Anyway, thought this video was fascinating--esp. the switch between the veils and the sexy outfits.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Fragments--Dearth of Reading Culture by Safiya Dantiye in the Daily Trust

I am copying this article in its entirety here, as often one cannot access articles after they are archived. The columnist bemoans the loss of reading culture. She speculates that one of the reasons youth are no longer "reading" is because of the proliferation of Hausa novels: "Another thing that also leads to the lack of reading novels in Hausa communities among our youth is the proliferation of Hausa novels or more aptly novellas. Some will read them, but will not touch English novels, this is more so for those that attend government schools, thinking that they are too sophisticated for them." So, is the columnist saying that reading Hausa novels is not "reading"? Is there something inherently bad in preferring Hausa novels to English novels? What does this say about "education" and how people are being taught to think about their own cultural property?

(I thank the H-Net Hausa listserve for bringing my attention to this article.)

Fragments - Dearth of Reading Culture
Daily Trust (Abuja) COLUMN
February 2, 2007
Posted to the web February 2, 2007
By Safiya I. Dantiye

Reading is simply a way of learning by yourself, and I am not referring to textbooks or notes taken in classes.

Rather I am referring to reading outside the classroom, where you will hone your writing skills and learn more about different topics and different parts of the world.

In the early 80s you would see students reading a lot of popular fiction like Mills and Boon, James Hardly Chase, Pacesetters, among others. And instead of the novels to distract them from concentrating on their studies, the students learn new words, phrases and expressions to write impressing essays and letters to their friends.

Nowadays students don't read for leisure. Instead they watch films and play video games all the time. A video game may have its educational relevance, but it cannot be relied upon to take the place of reading outside the classroom. Therefore parents should not allow their children to play too much game, while they neglect their books.

Also computer games and chatting make some youngsters to become so engrossed to think of picking up a book to read.

Years back, I was in a forum where the deteriorating culture of reading was discussed. Some believed it was caused by high cost of books as with everything else over the years. And some believed it was just that the interest was not there. Whatever may be the reason, I find it quite surprising to see somebody who doesn't read novels, or even newspapers and magazines for that matter. To them if they listen to news over the radio, it is enough, they don't care for details.

As far as I am concerned the key to being brilliant is through reading outside the classroom, that is why when I was admonishing some young girls on their poor result, I told them to go and read novels. At least it would make them to write correct sentences and learn direct and indirect speeches. Since from all indications they were not taught in the government secondary schools they attended

Another thing that also leads to the lack of reading novels in Hausa communities among our youth is the proliferation of Hausa novels or more aptly novellas. Some will read them, but will not touch English novels, this is more so for those that attend government schools, thinking that they are too sophisticated for them. Besides, they can't even read them even if they want too. This shows the shortcomings of our government schools where you will find all kinds of negligence there; the students can hardly read and write. There was a time I helped my friend in marking some English papers of junior WAEC, which made me very unhappy to see that form three students didn't really know their subject well enough to write comprehensively. It was all like unintelligible jargons.

I used to believe that teachers take pride in imparting knowledge and seeing their students competing to do their best, so I wonder what those types of teachers feel when all their students perform pooly, because it could not be the fault of all the students. If I were such a teacher I would resign because I have failed. It is better than to keep producing failures forever attached to my name and reputation.

So how could anyone expect such students to read novels, in any case, they should be praised if they can read in Hausa.

Thereafter, the proponents of reviving the culture of reading have a lot of problems to tackle. Sadly I don't foresee a positive change in the near future. That is unless the government schools are improved. Also parents can encourage their children to read. Though novels and other books may be expensive, but you can find second hand ones very cheap. The idea is to read and learn more, or else you will find that you don't know a simple thing that you ought to know, especially if you find yourself among readers. Which is a very uncomfortable feeling.

Copyright © 2007 Daily Trust. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Ahmad S. Nuhu da Hafsat Shehu (daga Yayee)

Ahmad S. Nuhu tare da matarsa Hafsat Shehu a fim dinsu: Yayee (2006).

Ahmad S. Nuhu with his wife Hafsat Shehuh in their film Yayee (2006).

Allah ya jikansa. Allah ya sa ya hutu. Allah ya ba ta hakuri. May he rest in peace, and may God bring her comfort.

This clip gives me chills. Wayyo Allah! Bani da kalma cikin bakina sai wakoki da na karanta.

Sonnet 73
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self that seals up all in rest.
In me thou seest the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
---William Shakespeare

1. Hazimul lazzati mutuwa
Baktatan ta ka zo wa kowa
Ba (notice) koko sanarwa,
In ta zo maka ba musawa,
Wai ka ce ba za ka je ba.

15. Mutuwa ba ta kulawa
Saurayi ko 'ya budurwa,
Yanzu ta mai she su gawa,
Babu sauran shak'atawa,
Ba ko za ta jira biki ba.

16. Mutuwa bara ya shaho,
Ta buge yaro da tsoho,
Ta kade kuturu makaho,
Wani ma tun kan a haiho,
Zai mace ba ko da wai ba.

17. Mutuwa in har ta sauka,
A gida wani za ta d'auka,
Ba ruwanta da masu son ka,
Yanzu ka ji ana ta kuka,
Wanda bai hana dauke ran ba.

18. Yanzu aya zan karanta,
'Yan'uwa kowa ya ji ta,
Ko na bayyana ma'anarta,
Yadda kowa zai fahimta,
Ba na bar ta dunk'ule ba.

19. Aina ma kuntum ku gane,
Yudrikumul mautu ku ne,
Ai walau kuntum mutane,
Fi Burujin can gaban ne,
'Yan'uwa ban k'arasa ba

20. Ma'ana Allahu ya ce,
Koina ne kun kasance,
Za ta zo muku kar ku mance,
Mutuwa Allah sa mu dace,
Kan ta zo mana duk mu tuba.
--Sani Yusuf Ayagi from Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino's novel Kaico!

Ran muturwar ki 'yar uwa
Sai da na sami damuwa,
Kai har ma da d'imuwa,
Na zama babu natsuwa,
Saboda son ki da k'auna.

26. Ranar na gigice,
Na kid'ime na d'imauce,
Saura k'is na haukace,
Don babu damar zance,
Da ke abar begena.

27. Bak'in cikin rabo da ke,
Ya sanya har kuka nake,
Kar ku zata batu nake,
Ciwon so ya mallake,
Ilahirin k'albina.

28. Cikin fushi da d'imuwa,
Tare da gigicewa,
Ya zam ina kokawa,
Ba damar jurewa,
Yau ba abar begena

29. Wayyo hoho ni ga ni,
Kauna ta kama ni,
Ta kuma gigita ni,
Kullum ina ta tunani,
A kan d'iya mai so na.
--Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino, from his novel Kaico!

I have rough translations of these, but they are so bad, that I think it is best to leave as is.

Friday, February 09, 2007

In memory of Ahmad S. Nuhu

The other day, I finally watched the (2006, I think) Ahmad S. Nuhu film Yayee that he directed and starred in. It made me sad to watch, because I kept thinking about how alive he was on screen. How his ghost is caught here forever, digitized, dancing, singing , forever cutting up for the camera as a crazy bleach-haired earringed “been-to.” He and his "real life" wife Hafsat sing "Cikin rayuwa kashewa Allah ke nan...." The story ended with the standard variation on the formula. “End of part one.” But there will be no part two—not unless he had finished shooting it before January 1, ranar hatsari. The movements in the film were stylized—the characters danced through their scenes, even when there was no musical background. A visual triangular motif that kept returning throughout the film. God, he was good, I kept thinking. I will probably write more on this later. But for now, I just wanted to post this picture that I took of him this summer and the journal entry I wrote a few days after I found out about his death. It’s funny how the mind works. I came back from Christmas break, thinking I had at least three or four good photos on film—but there was just this one in which his face can be seen. Here’s what I wrote in my journal:

6 January 2007, Friday, 2:47am

The knowledge of death follows you for a while after you hear of the death of someone you know. It comes filling up those quiet spaces between events and conversations.

After I found out about Ahmad Nuhu’s death, I could not write about my walk around the small Georgia town where my sister works, as I had been intending to do when I went to the library. Instead, I posted my initial thoughts and his picture, and then I walked back in the dusk to her little townhouse. I could not shake my sadness. I wished I had his film Yayee that I have been saving to watch—waiting for the right moment. Now, when I watch it, it will just make me sad.

Instead I sat down and read Ella Enchanted. I buried myself in the story, and then finished Jane Austen’s collection of juvenilia that I had picked from my sister’s bookshelf—a wickedly hilarious collection—in which she skewers every character with her cutting satire. These novels were not on my to-read list, but they distracted me well enough, and I’m glad I read them. I continued reading my advisor’s first book, and I am once again awed at how lucky I am to have him as an advisor. He’s being tough on me, but that’s a good thing. So, I read. I pushed my sister through the last of her grad school applications.

But in the empty moments, in the quiet darkness of riding beside my sister in the car, Orion rising over us, the sadness came over me. Why, I ask myself, am I so sad over someone I knew so little? In some ways it is similar to the sadness I felt over the death of the Sultan of Sokoto, over the death of my friend R’s mother in the plane crash--people whom I had met only a few times but who were loved by those I love. Much of it has to do with the loss to the Hausa film industry that I find myself so emotionally involved with. He was one of the biggest and the best—one of the trend-setters. A talented director, an amazing actor.

The sadness also has to do with my memories of our brief conversations--memories that are deeply emotional because they take me back to a time that was new and exciting and uncertain. I have not yet written much about my experiences with the Hausa film industry on this blog. I did not know how much I wanted to reveal, how vulnerable I wanted to be on the internet. But it will eventually be out there anyway. I found a html version of the FIM article in an online Hausa newspaper the other day.

Abbas was the one who got me into it all. He had directed a film that I had written a paper on. I was thrilled to meet him, totally by happenstance. He talked to me, my digital recorder on, for hours, telling me about the industry, about the debates raging about Hausa film, about the market, tradition, everything. And then, he told me that I must agree to be in one of his films. I gave a sort of noncommittal answer and the next time I met him I discovered I had been written into a script. I said, “Oh… ok…” It was one of the most reckless things I had ever agreed to. But my curiosity, for once, was greater than my embarrassment. “But I’m not an actress.” I told him. “I don’t have any training.” The only acting I’ve ever done was a small role in my senior play in high school. I once audited a Theatre for Development class. “I don’t want to ruin your film,” I told him. “No,” he said. “It won’t be hard. Just be yourself.”

Thus began Talatu’s entry into the world of film. Last year my goal had been to make it onto a set to see how it was done, for “research,” but mostly because it would be really cool to be on a film set. But this level of involvement was almost unimaginable. One evening Abbas came to my house with another director. There was another film they wanted me to be in. Could I do it? I repeated my mantra. I’m not an actress. I have no experience. You will have to tell me exactly what to do.…. So, my debut was in Hannun Jari Ce 3. When they first started rolling the camera and told me to begin to act (improvise). I froze. They had to start it all over again. I was mortified and out of sorts. But by the end of the day, on a third scene, I was starting to get the hang of it. I was starting to really like it.

In Abbas’s film I was to be a naijawife. “And do you know who your husband in the film will be?” he asked. I did not. “Ahmad S. Nuhu,” he said. My eyebrows jumped up. I probably blushed a little. “Oh,” I said, feeling frightened and excited at the same time. Such a big name. And me? I spent the next week, getting myself into the part, imagining myself into the story.

The second day of shooting, Abbas came to the door and said my ride was here. I came out of the gate with my suitcase, and it was Ahmad S. Nuhu. I was suddenly shy and starstruck. The children were dancing around the car chanting, “Ahmad S. Nuhu. Ahmad S. Nuhu.” When I tried to get into the backseat of the car, Abbas made me sit up front, while he squeezed into the back with two others. Ahmad was driving. So, we drove off, me feeling as if I had been dropped into someone else’s story. Only it was me, driving off in a car full of movie stars, with the neighborhood kids dancing along behind us

Arriving at the garden set, there were about three other films shooting there. Abbas was stressed out. I felt gawky, stupid, and out of place. I was given a shirt to change into, which would have fit almost any of the other petite and dainty actresses there. On me, it barely came to my naval—and I ended up having to wear the most hideous flowered cordorory button down shirt—that looked like it came from the bargain bin at my mother’s favourite Dress Barn. Probably 60-70% of the Hausa film industry was in that park, hanging out, taking pictures together, jisting. And me, I felt tall, white, hideously dressed, and idiotic. What the hell was I doing? I normally never would have been caught dead in such an outfit, and here I was about to act in a movie in it. I wanted to die. I wanted to crawl under the bushes. I wanted to jump over the fence and run away. But instead I wandered about and sat with the older actresses who kindly told me about films they’ve been in and films they wanted to shoot. They warned me to hold onto the puppy I had gotten as a prop, as it would be stolen if I let it go. At one point Ahmad and some other actors were talking, leaning against his car. He called me over, and we chatted for a while. They said nice things about my Hausa, and we talked about Jos, where many of them were from, and where I had also grown up. He told me about the kind of films he wanted to make, rural ones--set in the countryside. I took a few photos. Later we did one very brief scene together.

Because of a scheduling problem the next day, Ahmad and I did not act together again. Abbas ended up simplifying the story. I was no longer going to be the wife of Ahmad in the story. It was probably better for the story—since it was already complex, but I was sorry, because I had spent so much time getting myself into character—and because I enjoyed talking with Ahmad and wanted to hear more about his views on the Hausa film industry. I saw him a few more times on other sets, but we never exchanged much more than greetings. I thought there was no rush to try to get an interview. I would be back...

After that, I did a few more films. The best fun I had on set was getting to act an idiotic American victim who came to Nigeria to try to get millions of dollars, in the Sheriff Ahlan movie 419-2.

But, I will always remember that morning when I came out of my gate and saw the children dancing. I will remember Ahmad’s kindness, his easy handling of his fame. It’s hard to believe that someone so full of life, so full of talent, so full of plans is not here anymore. He was a year and a half older than me, newly married, featured regularly on magazine covers. I suppose the films will go on without him, but right now it’s hard to imagine how.

Thursday, February 08, 2007


The following is on the film Lumumba, a historical film based on the events surrounding Congolese independence and the murder of the first Congolese prime minister Patrice Lumumba. The film is directed by Raoul Peck, who ten years earlier directed a documentary on Lumumba's life, Lumumba: Death of a Prophet.
Near the beginning of Raoul Peck’s film Lumumba, as Lumumba and his political comrades passionately discuss decolonization, the hot-headed Mpolo exclaims in frustration, “We’ll eat them raw!” “Be careful,” Lumumba replies with an ironic smile, “They’ll take you for an anthropophage.” The idea of cannibalism that Lumumba invokes here is a joke, yet it also provides a potent historical metaphor that is subtly reflected in images throughout the film. These images of “cannibalism” allude to the larger cycle of violence and suppression that is shown as thematic of Belgium’s historical relationship with the Congo.
One of the stereotypes of Africa cultivated by the Europeans for centuries was that of cannibalism—the stock character of the missionary in the large black pot. In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness lauded as one of the “greats” of the Western canon, the narrator Marlowe calls the “natives” he sees, as he steams up the River Congo, “cannibals.” When Marlowe asks the “native” headman what they’d do if they caught one of him, the man says “Eat ‘im!”[1] However, if the stereotype was used by racist Europeans to indicate the “savagery” of their colonized subjects, it was also deftly turned into a metaphor for the brutality and exploitation characterized by slavery, colonization, and subsequent European meddling in African affairs. The 18th century Igbo writer Oluadah Equiano writes of his fears when taken aboard the slave ship and seeing the large copper furnaces he asks “if we were not to be eaten by those white men with horrible looks, red faces, and long hair?”[2] In Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s novel Devil on the Cross, he imagines a grotesque competition of thieves and robbers in which fanged politicians propose creating a pipeline of blood from Kenya to the West. The violence against and exploitation of fellow human beings for economic gain both in the colonial era and the neocolonial era is the cannibalism that they project upon those they exploit.
In the film Lumumba, images evocative of cannibalism are shown in association with the supposedly departing Belgians. Framing the film are images of a celebration over which Mobutu presides; white women in queenly hats clink wine glasses and cut into a slab of meat. This opening celebration is interspersed with old photographs of Congolese enslavement under Leopold II and the Belgians. Sad eyes in skeletal faces, naked chests. Chained hands. The image of cutting into meat is repeated when the two soldiers pull shrouded corpses out of a shallow grave, chopping into sheet covered flesh, sawing at it like tough meat. This hidden butchery symbolically provides the “meat” for the celebration. Although the celebration takes place several years after “independence,” the Belgians don’t seem to have gone anywhere. They continue to enjoy the “fruits of the land.” Moreover, by invoking Lumumba’s spirit, Mobutu cannibalizes his life and vision—using his death, which he had symbolically participated in, to provide the authorization for his own rule.
Mobutu merely continues in the structures (and cycle of violence) laid out for him by the Belgians. By refusing to allow Lumumba to do more than official “information gathering” until the official handover, the Belgians have effectively hamstrung Lumumba’s government. As the investors note during the meetings in Brussels, the entire civil service was Belgian—the Congolese had been deliberately been kept in inferior positions; with the departure of the Belgians, the system for the operation of the nation collapses. The investors in Brussels seem to delight in these visions of chaos. Not only do they set the newly “independent” state up for failure, the Belgians and their allies continue to undermine the authority of the new government. The outside advisors are patronizing to the new prime minister and president to their face, and behind their backs they make deals that ensure the collapse of the nation—with the leaders of Katanga province, with Mobutu. When Lumumba’s plane is diverted and Lumumba orders the pilot to turn around, the pilot maintains that he is Belgian and defies the prime minister, obeying the orders of his Belgian superiors to land. When Lumumba is being smuggled out of his house, the soldier who inspects the car mentions that he is “smoking American cigarettes.”
General Janssens maintains that the army will always be under Belgian control and tells the soldiers that any indication otherwise were merely the lies of politicians. The discontent of the soldiers ripple out from this scene: the rape and killing of Belgians who had remained behind, the invasion of the government house, the massacres carried out under Mobutu’s leadership, and the final abduction and murder of Lumumba and his comrades. The Belgian soldiers who beat Lumumba in prison before independence are echoed in the soldiers who beat him on the plane and the leaders of Katanga who beat him in prison right before he is murdered. But behind this seeming “native” unrest are Belgian “puppeteers.”[3] Janssens boasts seem calculated to rankle. The American CIA agent meets with Mobutu to assure him of American support. Belgians are present at the execution sight, and it is Belgian soldiers who saw into the bodies and dispose of them in fire. Just as the feast at the beginning was interspersed with photos of those who had been exploited by Belgium, Mobutu’s speech at the end of the film is interspersed with the images of the Belgian soldiers burning the bodies of the murdered leaders. In their prison cell before they are murdered, Lumumba and Mpolo laugh desperately together over Lumumba’s old joke about the “anthropophage.” They understand the futility of their own protest and the way in which they are being used—as Lumumba told someone over the phone before his arrest; they are “a sacrifice for the people of Congo.”
At the end of the film, Mobutu’s call for a moment of silence to remember Lumumba is metaphoric for the silence that was imposed upon the people of the Congo. However, the focus of the camera in the end upon the soldier indicates that though silenced, the truth is not forgotten. The soldier in the final shot resembles the soldier who took Lumumba into custody by the riverside. Lumumba had told him that he would regret participating in his arrest; and the soldier in the final scene stares at Mobutu with the knowledge of the truth in his eyes. The narrative device of Lumumba’s posthumous voiceover indicates that his voice cannot be silenced. Although the evidence is burned and Mobutu has “cannibalized” Lumumba’s memory to lend credence to his own rule, the people know the truth. And as the final voiceover indicates, “one day we will have a new history, not one written by Belgium, Paris, (etc), It will be our history.” The fire that the Belgians use to cover up the evidence of the murders can also be read as the fire of the communal imagination. The narrative device is self-reflexive. If there is to be a new history, then the telling of that new history has begun. The photos taken as trophies of Belgian occupation are used as accusations; the story of Lumumba’s murder is told; the “moment” of silence is over.

[1] Joseph Conrad. Heart of Darkness. Planet PDF p. 82 Downloaded 8 February 2007
[2] Oluadah Equiano. Interesting Narrative. “Boarding a Slave-ship.” Downloaded 8 February 2007.
[3] There are a series of repeated images that mirror pre-independence with post-independence. A recently beaten Lumumba looking out over the airfield as he descends the plane in Brussels for independence negotiations; and a recently beaten Lumumba looking out over the airfield as he descends the plane into captivity. The Belgian soldiers beat him in prison; then the Congolese soldiers beat him in the plane and in prison.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Mad Astronaut alert

Ok, I haven't really been commenting on much news. But this is such a bizaare story, that I had to join the tabloid trash to gawk. The woman wore DIAPERS on a cross-country trip to kidnap and murder a woman she believed was romantically involved with another astronaut she fancied. This is the stuff of great science fiction thriller novels. I bet someone is already writing one.

Here is Lisa Nowak, astronaut and would-be-murderess (so they claim) with the object of her affection, the dashing William Oefelein. (Photo credit Times Reporter)

Poor woman. Imagine all the teachers who will be scrambling to take her photo off of the list of "great women" posted in elementary school classrooms. In keeping with the spirit of this post, I'll end with a good cliche: The higher you fly, the further you fall.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Here is a poem I wrote years ago when I was on a fellowship as a "younger poet" at the Stadler Center for Poetry at Bucknell University. It's not a very good poem. While I was at Bucknell, I realized that my thoughts probably lend themselves better to prose than to poetry, and I've written very few poems since. But, I was recently reminded of it and pulled it out of an old file.


Megan got in line behind the Amish family
at Wal-Mart so she could see
what they would buy, “It was fishhooks, toilet paper
and lots and lots of lightbulbs. I looked.”
We puzzled over lightbulbs. “Maybe
they are for a chicken incubator,” I said,
saw the two girls in their sunbonnets
like me at seven in my homemade dress
and long braid. The women in halter tops
stared at mother’s hair bun and smiled.

In the car, I confessed,
“My grandparents are Holiness
which is like Mennonite in dress except
for the head covering.”

“Holiness,” said Jessie, tapping cigarette,
“What a pretty name for a religion.”

I tried to list reasons, spoke like an anthropologist
explaining belief.

Once in Wednesday night prayer meeting
I knelt on hardwood, face pressed into pew.
I tried not to squirm, felt guilty
about not shouting “Hallelujah!” or answering alter calls.
When I was nine, I wrote
“Never drink beer, whiskey or wine
or great is your judgment in heaven divine.”

Memaw told me, “We aren’t religious. We’re Christian.”
He brought me out of the deep miry clay
He put my feet on the solid rock to stay.

That night we read poetry and drank chardonnay.
In an old journal, I found a letter from myself at eleven
to twenty-one. “Is your hair still long?
Please remember you’re a Christian. Don’t backslide.”
I sat on my bed in shorts, looked out the window
at the spider I had left
to spin her beautiful web.

A bird cry faded as it flew away.
Outside the door, my roommates spoke of the Amish.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Hausa video Jamila and "amputation"

This morning, our phone line went down (perhaps because of the hellishly cold weather?), and our internet has been spasmodically been in and out. I borrowed a neighbor's cell phone to call the phone company, and I got a completely automated message. Apparently a repair person will come sometime before Tuesday. This is a little alarming--and since I was borrowing someone's phone, I couldn't just keep calling back till I got an operator. I'm not sure why our internet is still working since it is DSL that comes through the phone line, but I'm grateful. It has been a bit spotty, and this afternoon when the internet was down too, I kept feeling as if I were missing a part of myself, as if an essential part of myself had been amputated. This is how I feel my first week or so when I go back to Nigeria and have to go to an internet cafe to get internet. Eventually, the obsessive compulsive need to be on the internet subsides and you can be a normal human being, going three weeks at a time without checking email. I wonder... are we making ourselves into cyborgs--giving ourselves a sixth sense, instant access to knowledge, this boundaryless communication?

At any rate, here is the song that has been going through my head for a while--a particularly excellent Hausa song and dance number. Sani Danja and Mansura Isa with _Jamila_.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Dare art Alade's Fuji

ok, i think i'm going to write a paper about the objectification of women in Nigerian music videos, but gotta say I LOVE this music. Dare is great. Tonight I was listening to some cds I picked up last time I was in Naija, and I've become obsessed with this fantastic feminist Christian rapper, B.O.U.Q.U.I. I couldn't find any You Tube videos of her, but she's the only solo Nigerian woman contemporary artist that I know of (i'm sure there are scads that I don't know about), and her lyrics are tough and catchy--with some obvious influences from Queen Latifah and Lauryn Hill. In a male dominated field, which uses women as seductive back up singers or dancers, she's remarkable. I think I shall write a paper on her...

Basketmouth on Naija movies

Basketmouth re-enacts murder scenes from American films, Indian films, Chinese films, and Nigerian films. I needed this break.... Now back to the thesis. I WILL finish it this weekend.