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Vintage 'Africa' (pt.4): Nigerian Pulp Fiction

Looking at the representations of women in Nigerian Pulp Fiction aka Onitsha Market Literature, and comparing that to women in Nollywood today.


Before Heinemann’s African Writer’s Series and Macmillan’s Pacesetter Series, there was Nigerian pulp fiction, or, as it’s more commonly known, Onitsha market literature. The sensational stories, paper-bound in Hollywood-inspired covers, grew in popularity in the decade before Nigerian independence, and the years immediately following it. Their appeal wasn’t limited to Onitsha, the city where they were written and printed. Before the demise of Onitsha’s printing presses in the Nigeria-Biafra War (1967-70), the group of independent publishers concentrated there churned out thousands of pamphlets which were distributed across the Nigeria and Anglophone West Africa.

Much like today’s self-appointed self-help gurus, many of these writers saw it as their duty to dispense moral advice on topics ranging from casual sex (avoid) to business success (pursue). The weight and optimism of Independence is everywhere in the pamphlets, which grapple with the contradictions of becoming moderns or ‘new Africans’ (who Nkrumah memorably conjured in his 1957 Midnight Speech), without sacrificing too many of the old ways in the process. They contain a palpable enthusiasm for city life, moneymaking, self-creation and self-improvement.

Like many of his Onitsha contemporaries, author Cyril Ummunah promises to make his readers intimates of the rules of modern love. As the title suggests, ‘They Died in the Game of Love’ is a cautionary tale: lovers Thony and Cathy heap tragedy on their own (and everyone else’s) heads by engaging in pre-marital sex. Cathy dies, Thony finds another lover who also dies, and the whole thing ends in the type of bloodbath more readily associated with a Tarantino film. But there’s hope - Ummunah promises his male readers that they’ll find love, 'regardless how ugly you are’.

Here as elsewhere, the figure of wayward youth, and the wayward woman (ashewo, harlot, schemer, manipulator), features strongly. She recurs as a stock character onto which anxieties about money, poverty and the hardship of city life, are routinely projected. Across the genre, worried men warn other, presumably equally worried, men away from the jeweled arms and made-up face of the gold-digger (à la Yeezy). Naturally, the minute we meet Mabel of ‘Mabel the Sweet Honey that Poured Away’ we know the terrible truth about her: ‘It took her seven minutes to take her bath’, she uses ‘two different pomades’ and ‘pencilled her eyebrows and eyelashes’. Powerless to warn our young hero, we brace ourselves for the havoc she’ll inevitably wreak. Onitsha author C.N.O Money-Hard puts it best: “You know women are pests and they are bent on sucking the man until he becomes tired...”

But this archetype is not just a product of 1950s pulp fiction. She also appears in many of the revered ‘village to city novels’ that Heinemann went on to publish (Cyprian Ekwensi’s ‘People of the City’ is a classic example, while Buchi Emecheta’s ‘The Joys of Motherhood’ complicates the second-wife 'golddigger' figure considerably). What is clear though, is that women were considered parasites of the new wage economy, schemers who given the chance, would exploit love for material gain.

If the stories display the suspicion with which she was once regarded, it's worth noting how deeply this wayward woman's manicured nails are embedded in the Nigerian popular imagination. She continues to show up today, even as the country embraces and contributes to global consumer culture. Nollywood is often hostile terrain for the unmarried woman and narratives that purport to tell her story often mock or punish her for her consumption ('Glamour Girls', 'Blackberry Babes', perhaps the more oldschool Domzilla is an exception?).

The continued existence of this archetype in representations of Nigerians by Nigerians (both Onitsha market literature and Nollywood films are pioneers in that regard) suggests that Nigeria’s fixation on wealth accumulation, and rightful anger over economic inequality have thickened in the years since independence. That some of this anger is expressed through strong popular protest is exciting; that it also continues to be projected onto women, who are held up as examples of everything that's wrong with consumer culture, is more troubling.

*

That’s the end of our series! We hope the trip through the archives has been yielded some food for thought. Does the term post-Africa pass muster? Or should it go the way of African post-feminism and post-black? In the coming year we’ll be interested to see how the meanings of ‘Africa’ continue to morph, both in how its understood and artistically rendered.

Read Vintage ‘Africa’ Part I: Representations of the Motherland and Otherlands here.

Read Vintage 'Africa' Part II: Postcolonial African Films here.

Read Vintage 'Africa' Part III: Pan African Songs here

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Introducing OkayAfrica's 100 Women 2020 List

Celebrating African Women Laying the Groundwork for the Future

It would not be hyperbole to consider the individuals we're honoring for OkayAfrica's 100 Women 2020 list as architects of the future.

This is to say that these women are building infrastructure, both literally and metaphorically, for future generations in Africa and in the Diaspora. And they are doing so intentionally, reaching back, laterally, and forward to bridge gaps and make sure the steps they built—and not without hard work, mines of microaggressions, and challenges—are sturdy enough for the next ascent.

In short, the women on this year's list are laying the groundwork for other women to follow. It's what late author and American novelist Toni Morrison would call your "real job."

"I tell my students, 'When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else."

And that's what inspired us in the curation of this year's list. Our honorees use various mediums to get the job done—DJ's, fashion designers, historians, anthropologists, and even venture capitalists—but each with the mission to clear the road ahead for generations to come. Incredible African women like Eden Ghebreselassie, a marketing lead at ESPN who created a non-profit to fight energy poverty in Eritrea; or Baratang Miya, who is quite literally building technology clubs for disadvantaged youth in South Africa.

There are the builds that aren't physically tangible—movements that inspire women to show up confidently in their skin, like Enam Asiama's quest to normalize plus-sized bodies and Frédérique (Freddie) Harrel's push for Black and African women to embrace the kink and curl of their hair.

And then there are those who use their words to build power, to take control of the narrative, and to usher in true inclusion and equity. Journalists, (sisters Nikki and Lola Ogunnaike), a novelist (Oyinkan Braithwaite), a media maven (Yolisa Phahle), and a number of historians (Nana Oforiatta Ayim, Leïla Sy) to name a few.

In a time of uncertainty in the world, there's assuredness in the mission to bring up our people. We know this moment of global challenge won't last. It is why we are moving forward to share this labor of love with you, our trusted and loyal audience. We hope that this list serves as a beacon for you during this moment—insurance that future generations will be alright. And we have our honorees to thank for securing that future.

EXPERIENCE 100 WOMEN 2020

The annual OkayAfrica 100 Women List is our effort to acknowledge and uplift African women, not only as a resource that has and will continue to enrich the world we live in, but as a group that deserves to be recognized, reinforced and treasured on a global scale. In the spirit of building infrastructure, this year's list will go beyond the month of March (Women's History Month in America) and close in September during Women's Month in South Africa.

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Burna Boy 'African Giant' money cover art by Sajjad.

The 20 Essential Burna Boy Songs

We comb through the Nigerian star's hit-filled discography to select 20 essential songs from the African Giant.

Since bursting onto the scene in 2012 with his chart-topping single, "Like to Party," and the subsequent release of his debut album, L.I.F.E - Leaving an Impact for eternity, Burna Boy has continued to prove time and again that he is a force to be reckoned with.

The African Giant has, over the years, built a remarkable musical identity around the ardent blend of dancehall, hip-hop, reggae, R&B, and afropop to create a game-changing genre he calls afro-fusion. The result has been top tier singles, phenomenal collaborations, and global stardom—with several accolades under his belt which include a Grammy nomination and African Giant earning a spot on many publications' best albums of 2019.

We thought to delve into his hit-filled discography to bring you The 20 Essential Burna Boy Songs.

This list is in no particular order.

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Davido's Fiancé, Chioma Rowland, Tests Positive For Coronavirus

The Nigerian musician made the announcement via a heartfelt Instagram post on Friday.

Chioma Rowland, the fiancé of star Nigerian musician Davido, has tested positive for the coronavirus.

The artist shared the news via Instagram on Friday, writing that he and 31 people on his team decided to get tested after returning back to Lagos from abroad. While he and the rest of his team received negative results, Rowland's test came back positive.

"Unfortunately, my fiancé's results came back positive while all 31 others tested have come back negative including our baby," wrote Davido. He added that they both showed no systems, but would be self-isolating as a safety measure.

"We are however doing perfectly fine and she is even still yet to show any symptoms whatsoever. She is now being quarantined and I have also gone into full self isolation for the minimum 14 days," he added. "I want to use this opportunity to thank you all for your endless love and prayers in advance and to urge everyone to please stay at home as we control the spread of this virus! Together we can beat this!"

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Juls Drops New Music Video for 'Soweto Blues' Featuring Busiswa and Jaz Karis

The Ghanaian-British producer heads to South Africa for the music video for the amapiano-inspired track.

Heavyweight Ghanaian-British producer Juls shares his first offering of 2020, and it does not disappoint.

The producer enlists South African music star Busiswa and London's Jaz Karis for the jazz-inflected "Soweto Blues," which also boasts elements of South Africa's dominant electronic sound, Amapiano. The slow-burner features airy vocals from Karis who features prominently on the 3-minute track, while Busiswa delivers a standout bridge in her signature high-energy tone.

"The song dubbed "Soweto Blues" is a song depicting the love, sadness and fun times that Soweto tends to offer its people," read the song's YouTube description. The video premiered earlier today on The Fader. "The energy is amazing, the people are lovely and I've found a second home — especially the vibrancy of Soweto," the producer told The Fader about his trip to Soweto for the making of the video "Jaz Karis is singing a love song, which is symbolic of my new love of Soweto and I'm honoured to have worked with Busiswa whom I have been a fan of for a long time."

Fittingly, the music video sees Juls traveling through the township, taking in its sights and energy. The video, directed by Nigel Stöckl, features striking shots of the popular area and its skilled pantsula dancers.

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