About the Project
Between Memory & Modernity is an open multimedia initiative under the Institute’s Personal Histories, Collective Memory programme. We have an exciting line up of story-telling activities for all to take part in, with different ways for you to contribute every week! Look out for our activities on Facebook & Twitter.
Why we tell stories
We have all heard about Nigeria in the ‘good old days’ – an illustrious period when Zapas’ city buses ensured hassle-free transport, an hour without electricity prompted public outcry and a decent pair of Bata shoes from Kingsway Stores cost no more than two naira. In isolation, these recollections can come across as no more than tired stories: mere moments of indulgent nostalgia or the usual warped disappointments of previous generations that we accommodate so as not to offend our elders. Even when our interest is piqued by fascinating revelations, it can be frustrating not being able to corroborate the details of their accounts with photographic and other concrete forms of evidence. A well-told story, single photograph or hand-written letter often leaves a far more vivid impression than a formal essay on the same subject. Why? Because stories, whether personal or shared, effectively capture the moments in life that make us fully human. Peculiar anecdotes breathe life into the typically flat descriptions gleaned from history textbooks and offer a more nuanced way to engage with the notions and experiences that connect us as people. We all lean forward because we are able to identify empathetically with the difficulties of personal battles, the joys of small victories, and wonder of unexpected coincidences. We are drawn too by the opportunity to see our world cast in another light – one that gives us clues of how the customs and places we now frequent came about and changed over time. Even those who witnessed the past events in question are themselves drawn to crisp renditions of vague memories and astonished when revisiting things remembered differently. In effect, stories are not just a powerful means to deepen understanding. They can also inspire awe and deliver a sense of authenticity and reality to otherwise abstract notions.
The Memory Booth
You may be surprised by the power of a single conversation. Whether it is how you fared during the June 12th riots of 1993 or best impression of Daddy Showkey, our stories provide a multi-faceted account of the moments that shaped Nigeria in living memory.
To spark conversations this year, the Institute joins forces with ‘a Whitespace, Lagos to realise the #memorybooth at BIG 60. We have an exciting line up of story-telling activities, polls and content-sharing opportunities for all to take part in, with different ways for you to contribute every week. Stop by to share a memory or join the conversation online.
This event runs from 6th December, 2014 until 26th January, 2015 at 58 Raymond Njoku, off Awolowo Road, Lagos.
The Best (and Worst) Secondary School Punishments
The #memorybooth opened with a bang at BIG60’s Block Party on Saturday Dec 6th, 2015. Its opening question – what was the worst punishment you faced at school? – triggered a colourful array of often ridiculous responses. Answers ranged from creatively difficult tasks, such as “sleeping under the bunk bed”, to impossible feats like “looking for a pregnant mosquito”. The most memorable punishments were brandished by official and unofficial authorities. Conversations spun off into the informal but very real social order that governed the typical Nigerian secondary school. In this ecosystem, teachers roamed the halls as titans, seniors morphed into demi-gods and new-coming juniors were mere mortals at the bottom of the food chain. Curiously no one mention bullying, despite the well-known senior’s errand to buy an item more expensive than the money given – and bring back change. Rather than cower at the painful memories, the ubiquitous response was of subtle laughter matched with an appreciative undertone – an understanding of the respect culture that is quintessentially ‘Nigerian’.
See here for more of the punishments mentioned at the #Memorybooth.
The Golden Years of Advertising
Advertising is said to be as old as man. Traditionally, towncriers played an important role in dispersing messages on cultural and civil events, such as a birth in the royal family or the start of a festival period. Print advertising in Nigeria also has a long presence in the country and can be traced back to 1859, when Rev. Henry Townsend started the newspaper, ‘Iwe Iroyin’. The modern practice of advertising came with the birth of the West African Publicity Limited in 1928, an offshoot of UAC, set up to cater to the marketing needs of colonial masters across West Africa. A year later, it was later transformed to an advertising agency named Lintas, with two other subsidiaries Afromedia and Pearl/Dean diversifying the scope and content of the industry. The most decisive turn in Nigeria’s advertising industry came in the 1970s, largely prompted by the indigenisation policy of 1972, which sought to kick start industrialisation and retain a larger share of profits for local business men by transferring majority ownership and control to Nigerians.
Despite its mixed review, some of the most memorable adverts were created in the 70s and 80s, as local manufacturing increases and new Nigerian brands emerged. Foreign influx didn’t stop of course, and some of the most popular brands, including PZ Cussons, Lever Brothers (now Unilever) and Cadbury were a sharp reminder of vulnerability of local goods in a globalising market. At this time, advertising was in many ways a testing ground in the discovery of contemporary Nigerian tastes.
Nigerian Breweries, the country’s first and largest brewing company, only added Gulder in 1970, and Maltina in 1976 to its portfolio which was formerly solely occupied by Star Light Lager. Its ad campaigns featured its version of “the good life”, beautiful women in bathing suits topping up glasses by the pool. Nigeria was still smarting from its Biafran experience and the need to create a brand identity for its new products was in many ways part of its nation-building exercise. FESTAC ’77 and its cultural infrastructure were the official apparatus of recrafting that story and relating it to African and Black realities at large. But the boom in oil production not only meant new revenue streams for the such flagship public projects – it also attracted foreign investment and lead to a rise of disposable incomes. Nigeria was to be a modern nation, cleared of its former amateurish transgressions, and what we spent our spend our time and money on was to reflect this.
The second experience at the #memorybooth was a reminder of the cultural ideals and commercial energy of that time. We remembered the catchy ‘la-la-la’s Tandi Guarana, the mesmerising Joy Girl, Star’s debonair ‘shine shine bobo’, and Planta’s cheerful choir – Nigeria’s own von Trapp family.
Bread & Butter Baskelebe
What games were you obsessed with as a child? Did you prefer Ruth or Raquel in ‘Secrets of the Sand’? When did Mr. Biggs first open? Think speed dating with a delightful twist. We invited you to swap stories and the revisit the old school moments that defined some of the best years of our lives, helped along by our lucky dip of questions. It was a highly interactive day for the Between Memory & Modernity, with lots of laughter and playful antics on display. See here for more pictures from the day.
We also asked you what your favourite thing about growing up in Nigeria was. Here’s what you said.
Time Travel with Us!
Whether you’re simply curious about your grandfather’s mischief as a young lad or how aunty Ngozi set up her clothing line in the aftermath of Biafra, there are many compelling stories of ordinary people who lived through some of the most historic events of Nigeria’s early modern history.To kickstart the project, we’re asking everyone to join in. Here’s how! If you could travel back in time to any moment between 1960s-80s, what year would it be and why? Can’t find the right image? Here’s another way to take part: Pose the question to an elder relative, family friend or acquaintance and share their response on our Twitter feed @NsibidiInst with the hashtag, #iremember followed by your answer. Similarly, finish off with the estimated year or decade (#70s or #1963) that the event took place.
Constructing a Family Tree
Family Portrait of Matriarch Veronica Asabi Alonge with sons, grandchildren and daughter-in-law Margaret Gusah. Source: The Nigerian Nostalgia Project
Despite being a rich and important resource, constructing a family tree can appear a daunting and near-impossible task. We’ve put together a few guidelines to give you a boost as you get started. You may be surprised at how enriching and valuable an exercise it is.