Hi girls (and boys, if any is reading this)
I have some concerns about my work that I would love to share with you and listen (read, better) any comments/suggestions you may have.
As you know, I am currently studying books and pamphlets published in Lagos between 1880 and 1921. This period of Lagosian history is known as Cultural Nationalism, and its production is often described as a nationalist response to the colonization and the ideological framework (racism etc) that was part of the process. So, according to some academics (and I will not quote them here) Europeans were saying that Black people, Africans or Yorubas were not as sophisticated as them, and this black intelligentsia decided to show, in writing, that this was not true. (I know I am simplifying it, but this is supposed to be an easy post to read AND write). Some others go forward and say that more than nationalism, these intellectuals were living a struggle between modernity (European) and traditional (Yoruba) and their writing is a way of conciliating both worlds (I have argued that in my masters!).
I will (try) to argue that there is much more than that in these publications. The nationalist facet is exactly that, a facet of a much more plural and interesting production. The focus on the nationalism, I argue, came from the 60’s, when academics of the recently independent Nigeria want to show that colonization was just a night in African history. And the struggle between modernity and tradition – that I am not saying it never happened – can also be a projection of our own dichotomised way of understanding African history (Cooper’s style).
I looked for inspiration in grand…, I mean, Barber’s work:
“Even the earliest Yoruba writers of history cannot be seen simply as scribers, “writing down” authentic oral traditions. On the contrary, they did research. […] They consciously and explicitly interpreted their findings, proposing readings of the past and its relation to the present that were forged in new circumstances and required new genres to articulate them. […] Rather than thinking of the work produced by these writers as something halfway between authentic oral traditions and modern, professional, academic historiography, it may be more useful to see it as contributing to the creation of a distinctive early West African civic society that had print culture at its core.”(Barber, 2009 – my highlights)
to show this ‘plural and interesting’ production I have collected I don’t know how many publications (374 was the last count, still have a few to add to the list) and now I am reading them (I tried to get away without reading them all, but Steph didn’t let me, of course).
I am having loads of fun! They are beautiful and funny (sarcastic). Sometimes they can get a bit specific on details about some wars or line of succession of kings, but I don’t mind. And yes, I can see the nationalism jumping out of some pages. But I can see many other things too. They go from criticisms to the ‘traditional doctors’ to ‘we have to acknowledge that herbs are actually good for this disease’ kind of thought on the same chapter. It is clear now how easily one could just say: “yeap, modernity vs traditional struggle right there!” But I think there is more, and I have not figured out (yet) how to talk about this ‘more’.
I have been identifying some topics that were quite common and in some occasions started debates that jumped from books to the newspapers, and back to pamphlets etc. Polygamy, for instance is a nice one. Is monogamy a Christian dogma or a European cultural trait? Some thought it was part of Christianism, therefore every Christian should be monogamist. Others argued that it was part of an European life style, thus Christian Yorubas could be polygamists. And the way this debate was weaved (stealing the expression from Barber) is really interesting! But I am still stuck in how to write about this without falling on all the traps I mentioned before.
Have you got this far on the post!? Thanks, girls! I don’t expect you to answer me with a solution. Writing about it here was already a big help. I think I need to read more about print culture, so if you have any suggestions they are really welcome =)
PS: just in case, I was kidding, I always planned to read them all…someday…
Categories: Research, Studies, Teaching