A weekend spent reading ...

Two weeks only and these infamous English (London?) draughts (why don’t London landlords understand that there is no use in having double glazed windows if they don’t properly close?!) have taken their toll on me already. Here I was spending the weekend in bed trying to contain my first cold of the season. There is not internet at the house, no TV in my room and I couldn’t’ get myself to make the 15 mins walk to the next shop to get the weekend papers. So I ended up rereading last week’s review section. And, to my embarrassment of having missed that during my first reading, I discovered that the Guardian Book Club is having a short series on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun. That’s one of the two books I bought at the airport just before boarding my plane to Nigeria last year … alright, two years ago. Loved it. So it’s a huge shame that I didn’t notice John Mullan’s discussion of the book when I read the paper last week – even more so, as Adichie was available for a discussion with Mullan, a professor of English at London’s UCL, last Tuesday. Shame I missed it!

And as the review section didn’t last me the whole weekend, I also ended up reading the whole of Margaret Mama’s (it’s Mama not Mamaki, right?) The Jacaranda Children. I got the book from the library because I was hoping to get a bit of light background reading about her experience of setting up and running Jacaranda pottery. But in fact only seven of the book’s 196 pages are concerned with the pottery. (p. 100-107) And, even here I don’t find anything particularly useful as background to my own research and writing. Yes, she hints at a close connection, at least at the beginning, with the arts department at Ahmadu Bello University but that’s not explored in any particular depths: The whole enterprise is inspired by a recent ABU graduate looking for a workshop to practice as a potter. An (unnamed) English expatriate teacher from ABU, who had at one time worked with Micheal Cardew, builds the pottery’s first, two chambered wood kiln.[1] After the graduate who inspired the whole enterprise suddenly turns his back upon them, another ABU graduate, Jokay, takes over the workshop, trained many workers and expanded production. And, yes, there is some background information that makes clear how things have changed since: Gas was cheap. So when production expanded they built additional gas kiln. And, yes, between the lines one gets a glimpse of the pottery’s major customer base: expatriates (who having visited on one of the days when Jacaranda’s small health centre is open, donate money to the health project). But as far as the pottery is concerned this is about as much as I could extract. Not much really.

But then, in all fairness, the book was never advertised as the story of Jacaranda pottery. In fact, the very title Jacaranda Children hints at the primacy the author gives to the health project she has been running from, I think, the early 1980s until her departure following the year 2000’s Shari’a riots. And, you know what? Mama’s story makes for good reading. Granted, it won’t tell you anything any Nigerian (and expatriate) having lived through these times wouldn’t already know. Granted, there is little depth to the analysis of the political events that shape Mama’s time in Nigeria and little historical background is provided. This is basically an expatriate’s tale of her life in Nigeria. And, yes, this might account for some of the fascination the book had for me: Admitted, I kept on wondering whether with all my background in area studies and postmodern thought and stuff, my perception of my Nigerian surroundings during the year I spent there was really that different from hers? And, could I have done that? Honestly, was I made of the right material to spend such a long time in Nigeria? And, a part of me is still dreaming of just that.

But beyond that, to be honest, I’d have been more interested in her husband’s tale. Before the riots he ran Lafiya Hospital in Kaduna and along the way treated some of Nigeria’s political and business elite. Few days before the riots he had given an interview to James Audu of Meeting Point, a Nigerian internally renowned television producer. There, asked about religion he apparently reasoned that ‘a God of love would accept all good people as one, regardless of their religions’ and added ‘that many of his favourite relatives were Moslems and indeed, his only daughter married a Moslem.’ (p. 193) - What an interesting point might that have provided from which to narrate and discuss the development of Nigeria from independence to the year 2000’s Shari’a riots! This is of course me, the disinterested researcher primarily caring about knowledge and intellectual understanding speaking such. And, outside the world of academia, this is certainly considered heartless and egoistic. And rightly so. After all, when the riots broke out he got trapped in the hospital which was located in a predominantly Muslim part of the town, getting rescued by riot police that had come all the way from Zamfara. And, Mama indicates that her husband never fully recovered from the shock of these experiences. But what I stand by is that, interesting as an expatriate’s tale might be, in the end there is limited value to this. [2] It’s once more, us in the West asking for a translator rather than listening to the original voices.[3] Kind of the opposite of what Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun suggests. There, after pages and pages of knowing that Richard, an English expatriate author, works on his story of Nigeria we eventually find Ugwu, the young Igbo house boy, to be the narrator.

Oh, and a last word to the editor: Its Pidgin English not pigeon English!

And, finally, just in case you wondered: Yes I did use some of my bedridden time to work on my thesis. Just not all. Come on! It’s been the weekend!

[1] Might that have been him?

[2] Don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe there is a value to expatriate versions of local histories. I got to say that! I’m a German based at a British university writing about contemporary arts in northern Nigeria (remember, I use it in a geographical sense). But the value here lies in the outsider/expatriate acknowledging and, indeed, using the emotional distance that her/his position provides her/him with to analyse structures and events from a different, more disinterested point of view.

[3] On this note, if you read German you might want to get irritated by this story. - As if a German (white) investigative journalist (not very convincingly) dressed up as a Somalian living in Germany for a year had more to say about the experience of racism than Germans whose appearance, accent or surname might have away their migration background (even if its three generations down in history) could tell us. It’s just a matter of whom you allow to talk, whom you choose to listen to, whom you give credibility, isn’t it?


  1. As I'm currently trying to write down my discussions with one of the potters participating in the British Council/Prince' School of Traditional Art project, Sadiq Abubakar Aliyu, and incorporate them into a wider discussion of issue regarding patronage for the arts or the lack thereof here a few links:

    A discussion of Micheal Cardew's Time at Abuja Pottery Training Centre, now Ladi Kwali Pottery:


    An Interview with Micheal OBrien who took over APTC after Cardew left in 1965 (transcript/audio files downloadable):


    And this is a nice site to serve for some background information (nothing great, nothing too scientific)on studio potters in Nigeria (among others Cardew, OBrien, Ladi Kwali, Stehen Mhya, Danlami Aliyu ...):


    As an addition to the rather limited info I found in Margaret Mama's book. I'll add more if I come across something interesting ...


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