Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Nigerian home videos,the erosion of reading and a deep malaise

Reflecting on my earlier post about Pacesetters, the popular African street literature series had me wondering whether home videos have taken the place that novels used to have in Nigerian popular culture.

The very popular Nigerian home video industry is an example of enterprise that has grown from nothing to a huge behemoth now said to be worth millions of dollars with the films watched all over the world. I had thought that it was a purely Nigerian market but now understand that it's a pan-African thing.

I remember reading an article in an international magazine not too long ago describing a journey across Tanzania in a bus where the on board entertainment was a Nigerian home video, and I understand that they sell like hot cakes in Ghana and South Africa and Kenya. I've seen the films on sale on the streets of Washington DC and in Brixton and Peckham in London. For many, the films have become a way of keeping in touch with home.....and for others a way into a world they have never been to....pretty much in the way books have led me into countries and cultures that I have never visited.....

Now there are huge shops selling these films in many Nigerian markets, and people exchange the newest videos with their family and friends, but years ago they would have been exchanging novels and there would have been large bookshops selling these books in the markets. Now all they sell are textbooks, motivational books and religious texts of the "How to Possess your God Destined Wealth" variety.....

I'm not suggesting that all Nigerians read high literary fiction-it varied quite widely. For the women, you had the frothy Barbara Cartland romances, the Bertha M Clay books with improbable titles like Beyond Pardon and for the slightly more highbrow, Denise Robbins whose romances were slightly meatier than Cartland's and unlike Cartland's were not always set in fairy tale castles......Later the Mills and Boon series intruded.

For the men, it was more action stuff- the epitome of which was the novels involving Nick Carter, a sort of implausible James Bond figure who was always armed with "Wilhemina-his trusty Luger" and a stiletto whose name now escapes me

Then there were the James Hadley Chase crime novels which virtually could be found in every home. They tended to have a bad reputation because of the rather racy covers which usually had a combination of a bikini clad blonde and a weapon and the covers often bore no relation to the plot, but obviously must have boosted sales hugely. I remember having to wrap the book covers or even ripping them off so that adults didn't suspect that you were reading a racy James Hadley Chase

The more sophisticated children read books from the Ladybird series- books that I hold responsible for my rather deep knowledge of the largely irrelevant minutiae of the lives of various English monarchs, as well as the Enid Blyton books and then there were a whole series of books by Nigerian authors commissioned by publishers like Heinemann and Macmillan for the Nigerian children's market- including Chinua Achebe's Chike and the River, Cyprian Ekwensi's The Rainmaker and other stories and Anezi Okoro's excellent Tales out of School and More Tales Out of School

And then there were the African Writers Series which published Achebe and Soyinka and Ngugi and a whole host of African writers.

These days, when I go to Nigeria, I visit houses of fairly well-off, well educated professionals in which there is not a single book. Where there are books, they are often motivational or religious. But there are almost invariably rows and rows of home videos. And the story is the same in many Nigerian homes here in the UK.

Which isn't in itself a bad thing, but puts the lie to the story that the withering away of reading is purely economic- perhaps it's something to do with a deeper malaise, probably not divorced from the crass materialism that pervades Nigerian society today.......

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am reading this 16 months later. How true. Had this discussion with friends sometime last year.

I feel lucky that I grew up in a house filled with books. Fired up my imagination !