Showing posts from July, 2008

Finally I got the full Nigeria experience ...

... and unfortunately armed robbery is part of it.

Two nights ago chaps armed with cutlasses and rifles entered by hotel, (the advantages of bein short-sighted: I thought it was 'just' sticks until somebody told me otherwise afterwards! I'd probably freaked had I known the truth earlier!), broke into all the rooms and badly beat up some of the guests - I think I'm the only one they didn't physically touch.

So, in this sense I'm alright, so I'm still walking on thin ice, nerve-wise, despite hiding out at some Lebanese friends' place for the last two days. Its just been a bit too much for one week after my translator got beaten up for (as a Muslim) allowing me (a Christian) to snap pictures of the posters of local sufi sheikhs. - The problem didn't originate with the owners of the respective houses but some by-standers who followed him after we parted and beat him alledging I would commit sacrileg with these images once I'm back home - which is of course not the case.

So, I'm currently trying to take it slow for a few days ... and will let this particular strand of my research rest for the moment being. Too scared and what's the point without the camera anyway? I don't think there is a connection between the two incidents, as a colleague at the uni here suggested but better safe than sorry ... again.

Yeah, did I mention that, they took the camera and only after a long argument (almost got into a fight between each other in my room) drop (or rather threw in full flight) the laptop back into the room - too easily traceable by the police! I haven't got it working again since ... so that's the end of pics for you and my research until I work something out ... but my original funding doesn't stretch for a new quality camera and ... well, I don't expect any handouts from Kano Local Government who owns the place where I stayed, not really.

But apropro: a lot of other people have been extremely helpful with little hand-outs of money until I got my dad's new transfer, offer of accomodation and ... yeah, their ear to listen. Yesterday a Lebanese who hardly knows me picked me up crying at the roadside - the ice I walk on is thin enough for an argument with an achaba driver to break through it! - took me to his shop, made coffee for me, ordered breakfast, distracted and calmed me down and in the end send his driver to where I originally had intended to go (which was not where the achaba driver dropped me, not at all, which's what the argument was about) ... all very amazing, isn't it?

So, I'm kind of looking forward to leaving Kano, though not to getting back into a hotel or other rather public lodging. But I will have to see, a research colleague here in Kano suggested he might be able to organise me on-campus accomodation in Zaria.

So, yeah, still slightly shaking but ... yeah, lot's of wishes to everybody as I will be silent for a while I think, need to find a cheap and good-enough cafe in Zaria first ...
I have just come back from a day that started at Kurmi Market talking to sellers of religious posters. Personally I'm particularly interested in the older ones that have reportedly been imported from Cairo some fifty years ago as well as their locally produced reprints. They show portraits of sufi sheikhs, scenes from the old testament as well as from Muslim history.
I wonder to which extent they have informed a contemporary local discourse on visuals arts in which portraits of sheikhs (and to some extend politicians) can be found all over the town on posters, murals and stickers. But in order to make any such argument I need to know more about the history of these posters, the context in which they were produced, their original audience/consumers, the origin of their iconography etc.

In addition to my own interest I have also met a really nice and assisting local researcher, Nura Ibrahim from the Department of Mass Communication at Bayero University, who is interested in the history of these posters for his MA own research into contemporary posters and their semiotics.

Unfortunately we have not been able to learn to much about the history of these posters from the traders. They inherited their business from their fathers and all they know is what they've been told and that the posters were already available here in Kano before they took over.

Hence, if anybody out there might be able to advice us as to where to look for information on these posters or whom to talk to (probably via email/internet for the moment being) we'd be really grateful!!!

Tracking down the white smiths

Last Saturday I took Sara a friend of my Kenyan friend and VSO volunteer Eunice at Sa’adatu Rimi College of Education to Kurmi Market, the oldest of all the markets in town – established by the 15th century ruler Muhammed Rumfa – and during the 19th century certainly one of the most important markets in the Western Sudan thanks to the trans-Saharan Trade. Anyway, we were taken around by another friend of mine, Nura Alee. Nura is a cap designer and has himself two shops at the market; hence he knows his way around and a lot of people.
While we were hunting for silver bangles in the Tuareg Style we came across a beautiful vase, supposedly produced in Cairo.
I’m not an expert of Egyptian arts and, hence, cannot really verify this information but given Kano’s close trade links with the Maghreb and the fact that an abundance of North African produce specifically at Kurmi market has already been remarked upon by 19th century European travellers the vase might actually be from Cairo. However, moving on in our hunt for jewellery we came about another set of vases, some of them in a style kind of reminiscent of the ‘Cairo vase.’ However, those, the trader assured us, were produced locally. Unfortunately though, local white smiths stopped producing these kinds of work a long time ago, roughly during the time his grandfather ran the shop. So, he estimated, the vase might be about a hundred or two hundred years old.
Now I have read in an article by M.U. Adamu that during the 19th century Arab migrants set up factories producing a particular kind of large tongued slipper (lantami) for export across the Western Sudan and Tripoli. Soon afterwards local leather craftsmen started producing similar wares and, in fact, improved on the designs. (In: Kano Studies 1968, Vol. 1,4, p. 44) Similarly, local white smiths could have started copying from imported Arab metal products, such as vases, couldn’t they? On the other hand, this was a trader’s information and, after all, isn’t a traders main objective to sell, even if this means he might have to bend the truth a bit?
Well, in the end I decided to buy one of the small one of the vases, mainly because it showed residue of colouring in the engraved designs. And with the vase and accompanied by a good local friend I went on the search for who might have produced it or similar pieces.
In fact, only a close distance from the market we were directed towards a group of old men who we were told used to produce pieces like mine. In fact, they had but stopped about forty years ago. And my own vase, they suggested, was clearly of Arab produce – so it seems information given by traders really needs to be taken with a pinch of salt!
Anyway, I’m not really angry. After all I really like my little vase – and being able to show it around really helped us in finding the old white smiths. However, none of them is actually engaged in the production of similar pieces any more. It appears that the majority of their customers were not local people but expatriates, or so they told me. So when these stopped patronising them about 40 years ago and the raw material, brass, significantly increased in price local white smiths stopped producing them. Instead they now engrave prefabricated aluminium spoons and kettles. This, however, means that a new generation of local white smiths don’t learn the techniques of producing pieces like my vase from the scratch. The men I spoke to claim to still be able to do a similar product for me or even a completely different design – provided I supply the raw material. (I’d love to commission one but for the money …) However, they are in their late 60s and early 70s and it has to be feared that this knowledge will die out with them. (Of course, there are centres of white smiting, especially brass casting, in other parts of the country or wider region where an interested youth could learn the trade. But how are they ever to consider this if they don’t know about it in the first place because nobody does it locally?) At the same time I have seen pieces similar to my little vase or intricately decorated brass bowls in the houses of some of the more well of citizens of Kano – only that they go them from Dubai.

D Lorry Painters in Sabon Kwakwaci

During the last two or three weeks I finally got around to approaching lorry painters – don’t get me wrong I have tried before. Then my point of departure was the address on the back of a lorry I saw and photographed right during my second day in town. However, it took forever to figure out where exactly the place mentioned there was. My local friends, I have to say, were not of great help either. ‘Kwakinachi, D/Tofa, Kano’ it read.

First time around, nobody had heard of the place at all. Then Ibrahim came up with the suggestion that the place might be misspelled and actually referring to Kwakwaci. Alright, so where then is Kwakwaci? Sabon Gari I was told, not far away from where I lodge, I was told. By more then one person. So, I got onto a bike and went there. And, I really found one guy who claimed to paint lorries. But then, for some reason I couldn’t help it but suspect he didn’t really know what I was talking about – paintings on lorries? Well, he’s doing signs, so this must be what I’m talking about. Something along those lines. However, even my helpful achaba driver was irritated by the guy’s lack of comprehension of my (admittedly basic) Hausa. (He understood me alright.) So, I chose to get a translator.

Getting Ibrahim to actually turn out somebody took another week or two. (see Salisu below to the right, on the left is Garba who assisted us a lot, himself a lorry painter) During which I developed major doubts about the guy I met at the Kwakwaci in Sabon Gari. I kept on asking people what D/Tofa could actually mean. Nobody came up with anything. Until, by chance, I myself came about a mention of Dawakin Tofa Local Government in some article. And there it clicked. The moment I mentioned this to Ibrahim he remembered that there are actually three Kwakwaci in Kano and one of them Sabon or New Kwakwaci in Dawakin Tofa local government, 30 mins – 1 hrs journey on a minibus (depending on traffic and how often they stop for passengers to get on and of).

Turns out this was the right track, finally after almost 6 weeks. In fact, as we discovered this week after three unsuccessful journeys there to meet whom we thought to be the third of two masters residing there we found out that there are about 20 or so workshops at the place. In addition the guys down there pointed us towards three other workshops, two of them on the town’s ring road, one at yet another Kwakwaci further in town. And, as most of the painters were actually were willing to answer a few questions I think I got quite a bit of information to go through and summarise during the weekend. And lots of pictures, some of which I’ll upload.
(Impression of Sabon Kwakwaci)
The only disappointment were two painters who didn’t talk to me. One of them had us come three times to see him and me wasting a whole eve to translate my questions into Hausa and neatly write them down for him. All this just to tell us the third time around (after we spent over an hour waiting for him to turn up for our appointment) that he couldn’t talk to me. – Supposedly, because I didn’t have a permanent office in Kano! A researcher at BUK suggested that might be a lie to cover up something else. It might well be that somebody told him I was a spy or reminded him not to trust a white person or something like that. It’s only too sad, in fact, very annoying: we were referred to him as one of the oldest painters at the location and one of the trainees of the guy who originally introduced the craft in Kano. The other one of the two, I don’t really know what happened. Twice he had just left when we arrived to see him (in one case to still find the open paint tins in front of an unfinished work) and was not to be expected back any time soon. Now it appears he resettled with his workshop in Jos, a few hours drive southeast. Well, as the town’s home to one of the oldest and most famous workshops in the northern region I will have to go there anyway and then we’ll see whether he ‘just’ miraculously resettled in Kano or what!

(a Christian motif, on a lorry probably coming from the south ... even with reference to the particular psalm in the bible, unfortunately they don't state the workshop where it was done ...)