Purple Hibiscus

3Fifteen-year-old Kambili’s world is circumscribed by the high walls and frangipani trees of her family compound. Her wealthy Catholic father, under whose shadow Kambili lives, while generous and politically active in the community, is repressive and fanatically religious at home.

When Nigeria begins to fall apart under a military coup, Kambili’s father sends her and her brother away to stay with their aunt, a University professor, whose house is noisy and full of laughter. There, Kambili and her brother discover a life and love beyond the confines of their father’s authority. The visit will lift the silence from their world and, in time, give rise to devotion and defiance that reveal themselves in profound and unexpected ways. This is a book about the promise of freedom; about the blurred lines between childhood and adulthood; between love and hatred, between the old gods and the new.

Fusion of the Worlds: An Ethnography of Possession among the Songhay of Niger

2This ethnography is an academic upgrade to Stoller and Olke’s In Sorcery’s Shadow, which was their well-received memoir of Stoller’s 10-year apprenticeship to a Songhay (Niger) sorcerers. Unlike the previous work of personal experience with more solitary sorcerers, Fusion of the Worlds attempts to show one spirit possession troupe’s ability to operate in many different Songhay “worlds.” That is, Stoller wants to show his readers how possession troupes often facilitate a variety of practices. These include the relationship between the individual and the group, remembering the past, engaging in political dialogue, relating Songhay religious practices with Islamic ones, and even negotiating rainfall. Possession troupes, like his from Tillaberi, Niger, are much, much more than performers–they are creating, maintaining, reflecting, identifying, mocking, celebrating, critiquing, and changing the Songhay world. Stoller claims they are fusing the world of the possession troupe and its performances with the rest of Songhay life. It is a mutually beneficial relationship, one which is actively and continually constructed by the troupe and its audience.

Stoller uses large sections of quotation, either from tape-recorder transcriptions or field notes, and he argues that this is really the best way to understand the Songhay. This may be true, but it makes appreciating Stoller’s thesis much more difficult. The long sections of stories can be enjoyable, but it can also be laborious for those of us who many read this book without a desire to learn the intimate details of Songhay life. It delays academic discussions to privilege the many stories that help show the troupe’s activities. This is fair in one sense, but it fails to provide a strong narrative thread for readers to follow. When Stoller has theoretical contributions, they are often short or delayed until the Epilogue. While some readers may be thankful for this, it was a more serious problem for me.

For instance, there are many useful implications of Stoller’s suggestion that Songhay possession theater is much more than the framework for theatrical presentation of cultural history. However, when he argues that we should look to the “inner space” that is cultivated by these performances, readers should instantly recognize the cultural dilemma inherent in any interpretation he offers. Even as an initiate, the troupe’s performances were never directed at him, and therefore the only access to the inner life of the Songhay is through language. Stoller musk ask, and his participants must answer him. Thus, the entire work is one of translation where Stoller does his best to make sure that his translation is recognizable to BOTH the Songhay (for accuracy) and his English-reading audience (for intelligibility). When he claims that more is going on inside, we should be aware that his translation has now moved into interpretation and theorizing. This isn’t a bad thing–after all it is most scholars’ goal to say something meaniningful–but it may mean that the very idea that possession might act as a “microcosm of Songhay culture” is closer to what an observer (and not a participant) would say.

Is this nitpicking? No. The integration of interpretation and transcriptions has been achieved with better results by others authors. If reading about poession is your thing, I encourage you to reader Stoller. However, if you want a BETTER book about possession, I encourage you to read Mama Lola instead.

The Brutality of Nations

1Paralleling the alleged recent blocking by the Ethiopian government, for political reasons, of international famine-relief efforts, Jacobs, author of What More Can Be Done for Children in Armed Conflict, and former executive director of the Committee for Nigeria-Biafra Relief, charges that supplies for the starving Biafran refugees during the Nigerian civil war of the late 1960s were similarly impeded by major nations, notably Britain. According to this detailed and shocking expose of cynical international power politics, by 1968 12,000 persons a day, mostly children, were dying while Red Cross access to Biafra was hampered by Nigerians supported by the British, who hoped that a Nigerian victory would secure their oil and other interests. Both Britain and the U.S., the author notes, feared that a weakened Nigeria would encourage a Soviet presence in West Africa. He suggests that greater coordination of efforts between private agencies under international conventions could more effectively combat the inertia and genocidal policies of nations.

Kingdoms of the Yoruba

This third edition of what has been described as “this minor classic” has been extensively revised to take account of advances in Nigerian historiography.
The twenty million Yorubas are one of the largest and most important groups of people on the African continent. Historically they were organized in a series of autonomous kingdoms and their past is richly recorded in oral tradition and archaeology. From the fifteenth century onwards there are descriptions by visitors and from the nineteenth century there are abundant official reports from administrators and missionaries.
Yoruba sculpture in stone, metal, ivory, and wood is famous. Less well-known are the elaborate and carefully designed constitutional forms which were evolved in the separate kingdoms, the methods of warfare and diplomacy, the oral literature, and the religion based on the worship of a “high god” surrounded by a pantheon of more accessible deities. Many of these aspects are shown in the drawings and photographs which have been used—for the first time—to illustrate this distinguished work.

A Month and a Day: A Detention Diary

This is the extraordinary and moving account of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s period of detention in 1993, and is also a personal history of the man who gave voice to the campaign for basic human and political rights for the Ogoni people. It was fear of his success that made Saro-Wiwa the target of the despotic Nigerian military regime. Arrested on 21 June 1993, ostensibly for his part in election-day disturbances, he describes in harrowing detail the conditions under which he was held. He writes of his involvement with the Ogoni cause and his instrumental role in the setting up of the movement for the survival of the Ogoni people.

Nigerian Pentecostalism

This book presents a multidisciplinary study of how Nigerian Pentecostals conceive of and engage with a spirit-filled world. It seeks to discern the spirituality of the charismatic religious movement in Nigeria in relation to issues of politics, national sovereignty, economic development, culture, racial identity, gender, social ethics, and epistemology. Nimi Wariboko describes the faith’s core beliefs and practices, revealing a “spell of the invisible” that defines not only the character of the movement but also believers’ ways of seeing, being, and doing. Written by an insider to the tradition, Nigerian Pentecostalism will also engage outsiders with an interest in critical social theory, political theory, and philosophy. Nimi Wariboko is the Katherine B. Stuart Professor of Christian Ethics at Andover Newton Theological School, Newton, Massachusetts.

Nigeria Revisited: My Life and Loves Abroad

In 1962, when twenty-one-year-old Catherine Onyemelukwe launched her two-year adventure with the brand-new Peace Corps, she had no idea what the African country had in store. Nigeria, where she was assigned, was newly independent. Full of excitement, anticipation, and curiosity about the unknown, this young Midwestern woman set out to make the world a better place. But she didn’t realize that Nigeria was instead about to make her a better person.
Catherine’s heartfelt memoir revisits her two years overseas that become twenty-four, during which her experiences brim with friendships, students, travels around the country, and love. It recalls how her future Nigerian husband contrives to meet her, their falling in love, and their controversial wedding that becomes world news with their photo in Life Magazine.
Catherine’s memoir follows her journeys between America and Nigeria and the resulting relationships, hardships, dangers, surprises, and ultimately the unbreakable bond that develops between her and a complicated country she continues to love to this day. It’s a passionate story of multiculturalism and family that readers won’t soon forget.
It is also a deep look into the coups and war that force their family to leave the city and live in her husband’s village, without electricity and running water, where they struggle to keep their children safe and healthy. When the hardships of war become overbearing, she flees to Europe and then the United States to await the war’s end, only to be greeted with scorn for her mixed-race children.
This story of adapting to a new culture, taking risks, surviving, and embracing differences will inspire the reader to venture beyond perceived horizons and see the world in a whole new light.
Catherine holds degrees from Mount Holyoke College, California State University, and Yale’s School of Management. As a Peace Corps volunteer she taught German at Federal Emergency Science School and English and African History at Awori-Ajeromi Secondary Grammar School. As a new mother she taught at the American International School. She founded and ran a fashion company, co-founded Nigerwives (a group for foreign women in Nigeria married to Nigerian men), and was president of the American Women’s Club in Lagos.
After returning to the U.S. she worked as a fundraiser for non-profits, including the Westport YMCA, Bridgeport Child Advocacy Coalition, and the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility. She lectures on Nigeria’s history, cultures and customs. Catherine is an advocate for cross-cultural understanding and racial justice.

Vigilant Things: On Thieves, Yoruba Anti-Aesthetics, and The Strange Fates of Ordinary Objects in Nigeria

Throughout southwestern Nigeria, Yoruba men and women create objects called aale to protect their properties―farms, gardens, market goods, firewood―from the ravages of thieves. Aale are objects of such unassuming appearance that a non-Yoruba viewer might not register their important presence in the Yoruba visual landscape: a dried seedpod tied with palm fronds to the trunk of a fruit tree, a burnt corncob suspended on a wire, an old shoe tied with a rag to a worn-out broom and broken comb, a ripe red pepper pierced with a single broom straw and set atop a pile of eggs. Consequently, aale have rarely been discussed in print, and then only as peripheral elements in studies devoted to other issues. Yet aale are in no way peripheral to Yoruba culture or aesthetics.

In Vigilant Things, David T. Doris argues that aale are keys to understanding how images function in Yoruba social and cultural life. The humble, often degraded objects that comprise aale reveal as eloquently as any canonical artwork the channels of power that underlie the surfaces of the visible. Aale are warnings, intended to trigger the work of conscience. Aale objects symbolically threaten suffering as the consequence of transgression―the suffering of disease, loss, barrenness, paralysis, accident, madness, fruitless labor, or death―and as such are often the useless residues of things that were once positively valued: empty snail shells, shards of pottery, fragments of rusted iron, and the like. If these objects share “suffering” and “uselessness” as constitutive elements, it is because they already have been made to suffer and become useless. Aale offer would-be thieves an opportunity to recognize themselves in advance of their actions and to avoid the thievery that would make the “useless” people.

Faith and Politics in Nigeria: Nigeria as a Pivotal State in the Muslim World

As the most populous country in Africa and a major oil producer, Nigeria has long been recognized as the dominant force in West Africa. But its standing within the broader international arena, especially its comparative position within the Muslim world, has been less well understood. Indeed, does Nigeria’s influence extend beyond the region?

In this concise volume, John N. Paden answers this very question, contending that Nigeria is globally significant for a multitude of reasons, not least of which for the political resiliency it has demonstrated despite its complex ethnolinguistic and religious diversity. He argues that Nigeria, with a population that is almost evenly divided between Muslims and Christians, could serve uniquely as a model for interreligious political accommodation and as a bridging actor in global politics between the West and the Muslim world. He concludes by calling on the United States to formulate better engagement strategies in the region and to support Nigeria’s political resilience by strengthening social, cultural, and economic ties, and by showing greater understanding and diplomatic tolerance toward the country.

Faith and Politics in Nigeria offers timely, clear, and astute analysis that will be valued by students and scholars of Islamic and African studies and provides keen recommendations for policymakers and conflict-management practitioners.

Groundwork of Nigerian History

Filling a gap, this study presents a comprehensive history of Nigeria’s diverse peoples. The first two chapters provide a geographical and archaeological background. The main body of the work is divided into three sections: Nigeria Before 1800; Nigeria in the 19th century: and Nigeria in the 20th century. Contributors cover a multitude of different issues andregions such as the Benin Kingdom, the trans-atlantic slave trade, nationalist movements, and Borno in the 19th century.