Extract from ‘The Journey’: Responses to the archive


She sits on a excessive stool beside the stage, studying a contrived story of itinerant ghosts in a Nigerian hinterland. On the stage a younger woman is pacing, forwards and backwards, forwards and backwards, holding a lamp, switching it on and off, on and off. The sunshine directly obscures and illumines the sector of my imaginative and prescient. Your entire theatre is sort of a unhealthy digicam obscura. Types flitter, pictures of the dancer and the woman. In every sequence, she stands from her studying stool and walks behind the younger woman.

A barrier comprised of translucent baggage obscures her from view. Behind the barrier, within the fierce redness of vivid gentle, her physique turns into amorphous, with out form — and but I can see it remodel from form to form. Generally it looks as if water overflowing its banks, as if she is tempestuous sea. Generally she turns into a snake, crawling on her stomach. Generally her arms, immediately seen, flail in protest, as if struggling to breathe in a roiling sea. Generally her physique tumbles just like the wave of an enormous blanket, masking a complete body of sight — momentary blindness from an excessive amount of gentle.

Main CT Lawrence, Bornu (Borno State), Nigeria, 1903. (Photographer unknown)

On 15 October 1925, a report by the Aeronautic Analysis Committee in London relayed the next: Flying-Officer Edgar Thomas O’Neil Hogben, RA, who died on 5 October at Kohat, India, as the results of an aeroplane accident on 2 October, was the son of Mrs Hogben, Elmwood, Harrogate, and of the late Edgar Hogben, MD, MRCP, and youthful brother of SJ Hogben, of Katsina, N Nigeria. His age was 26 years.

On the time of Edgar’s dying in India, SJ served the British colonial administration in Katsina. The character of his function is unclear, however in 1930 he printed The Muhammadan Emirates of Nigeria, a historic survey of northern Nigeria. Who is aware of what wayfaring ambitions had been handed from brother to brother? How lengthy did they stand daydreaming with fingers traced alongside an atlas, mentioning one colony or one other, speculating on which new tropical city was extra conducive for British life? And maybe, when SJ, already employed within the overseas workplace, introduced dwelling a gazette saying open slots within the air pressure cadet programme, how did Edgar handle to suppress the premonition already filling his thoughts?

What I do know for positive are these two paragraphs in SJ’s introduction to his e book: “With the opening of the 20th century got here the British Occupation. Distasteful although it might have been to the ruling lessons, it saved them from the destruction from inside which was awaiting them, and saved the majority of the inhabitants from the depressing uncertainty of slave-raids and the barely much less depressing certainty of extortion and oppression.

“The nation has to this point stood up properly to the drastic purification it has undergone. The shock of the operation, nonetheless, has been nice, and the tissues have to be given time to heal. One can not depart the affected person to stroll unaided for some little time to return. We don’t anticipate an toddler to point out gratitude to a surgeon for saving its life. We do, nonetheless, hope that when the toddler grows to years of discretion he’ll realise that although the surgeon attracts his charges to make a residing, it’s his expertise and recommendation alone which have put the affected person on his legs once more, and that till the remedy is everlasting it’s as properly to have the physician shut at hand.”

I’m intrigued by the metaphor he makes use of to ascertain his argument: a affected person, an toddler and a surgeon; the sick, the unlearned and the expert. It’s past my creativeness what life experiences he drew from to consider Nigeria as a patient-child present process surgical procedure and “drastic purification”. I can not appropriately presume, though I desperately need to, that the dying of his brother, just a few years earlier, knowledgeable the notion of placing a “affected person on his legs once more”. His brother might have survived the crash, dying after weeks of relapse. Maybe SJ lived for the remainder of his life guilt-ridden for bringing dwelling that gazette. Oh Edgar, he grieved every time he remembered: I pointed you to your dying.

Nigeria, c 1922-23 (Picture: WF Hackman)

Fathers and sons, I presume, pictured in mid-movement. They carry out a dance: holding, being held, circling, making rhythm. If it’s a dance, then discover a hint of happiness within the incline of their our bodies. Something lowered to a hint is momentary; something momentary would possibly recur. Such because the glint within the eye of a person seeing a son for the primary time. It’s the similar glint as when the boy returns dwelling from enjoying, his knee grazed. The person picks up his son. Dinmkpa, he says. Grown man, robust man.

Nigeria, c 1922-23 (Picture: WF Hackman)

In Nyanya, a suburb of Abuja the place my brother and I usually visited associates of our household, within the weeks between college phrases, at any time when the soakaway was clogged, it was behavior to rise earlier than sunup to defecate in a garbage dump beside a well-liked byroad. Generally the deserted rest room nonetheless served its goal: as an alternative of sitting on the bowl, you positioned a plastic bag on the ground, and stooped over it. Then carried your waste within the cowl of darkness, and flung it right into a sea of decay.

Some years earlier, additionally in Nyanya, when my household nonetheless lived in Abuja, armed robbers visited us. My father had simply returned from the US. On the night time they got here, it rained. Hours earlier my mother and father had returned with a stack of money for a scheduled surgical procedure. It’s you we wish, Madam, they advised my mom. They requested her to level out the place the cash was hidden.

Nobody was harm besides my father. They struck his face when he knelt, maybe sleepy-eyed, to wish (Father, forgive them, for they have no idea what they do). His bloodied face would shortly be avenged. Days after the theft my mom was invited by the police to establish the robbers. She recognised one of many males’s legs, however declined to level him out. She apprehensive that he would search revenge when he was launched. Solely that he wouldn’t. That afternoon, the police killed all the lads that they had arrested.

City of Gesai, southern Bornu, Nigeria, c 1920-29 (Photographer unknown)

Within the 12 months I entered college, I went to go to Uncle Gabriel, my father’s good friend, and his household in Onitsha. Uncle Gabriel and his spouse have been ministers of their church. Throughout my go to, on a sure Wednesday after the midweek fellowship, Uncle Gabriel, unusually in a rush to depart, was one of many first worshippers to enter the automobile park. A stealthy younger man approached him with a gun and requested for the keys to his automobile, a beat-up Peugeot. One factor led to a different, issues turned aggressive. The person shot at Uncle Gabriel, the bullet grazing his stomach. He let loose a shout. The shooter fled.

A crowd of worshippers set off in pursuit and apprehended the younger man. He was handed over to the police. When Uncle Gabriel went over to present a press release, an officer of the Particular Anti-Theft Squad requested him to verify if the younger man was, in truth, the villain. Sure, corroborated Uncle Gabriel. The officer was gleeful. He stated the younger man wouldn’t see tomorrow. Certainly, the subsequent morning, when Uncle Gabriel visited the police station, he was proven a bloodied concrete ground within the means of being washed.

This essay  is excerpted from The Journey: New Positions in African Pictures, edited by Simon Njami and Sean O’Toole (Goethe-Institut/Kerber Verlag). The e book is offered at Bridge Books.