Originally Posted From April 2011 to January 20, 2012, by phoenix savage
As I wrap up my time here, I am trying to capture more images. Today, 1/16/2012, as with Saturday was a free day, in that the national protests that have been going on for the last week were suspended over the weekend so folks could get to the market and do chores in preparation for the coming week of protest. What are they protesting you may ask? I, not being a Nigerian could never fully explain. On one level it is the rise in fuel cost that took effect on New Year’s Day, with little warning, as these hikes in price were expected to happen in April. Fuel cost went from 65 naira per liter to 140 naira per liter. It sent the Unions in full strike mode and all other craziness has joined in. If you ask me, the story behind the images below is why Nigerian’s are protesting.
Death in the Community, my day began with a visit to a friend’s home who just a few days ago lost his wife. Not more than two months before I was visiting because his mother passed away. He is a twenty-something-year-old tailor and the father of a 2-year-old child. He had been married for 8 years. As far as he is aware his wife died of “sickness.” It is a common answer given when you ask the cause of a person’s death. I have to say as a Medical Anthropologist (my former profession before turning full-time to sculpting) I find this as sad as the reality of the death itself. The reason it strikes me as so sad is that by not being aware of the cause of death it limits any further exchange of information concerning illness, prevention, and family medical history. Not just for him but for other women in the family. It is true that maybe the answer provided-”sickness” is for the sake of maintaining privacy. However, I have gotten this answer so often from those directly impacted by a family member’s death and those more distant to the deceased. If you press the issue to try and understand what type of sickness, it is pointless. “Sickness” is the only answer provided, and there does not seem to be any desire for awareness of a need to know something other than the cause of death as “sickness.”
Yes, I am sure there are other cultural issues going on regarding their or the understanding of death. Like basic survival needs. My observations suggested that for many Nigerians that I have met, the only day is Today. Yesterday is gone, why talk about it, tomorrow has not arrived so what is there to say, and Today is what they are working with, so every action is about meeting the needs of that day. This is great for living in the moment, but not exactly. It lacks the ability to plan, to understand, to be in preparation for the next step, for progress.
While much of Nigeria may not be naming things as I am here. It is nonetheless an undercurrent of why they are protesting. They have no trust that what is needed for tomorrow will be there, that they will even be able to obtain it if it is somewhere to be obtained. It could be that the circumstances that force them culturally to accept a daily sub-existence with little belief in the day beyond the day they are living, brings no cause to understand why humans die, “sickness” is as good a cause as any other.
It was not my intent to photograph the woman’s freshly dug grave. Her husband, my friend pointed it out to me when I stepped out the back door, to just look and snap a few images of the building behind his home. He, on the other hand, was honoring his custom of not leaving the home for eight days, not even stepping out the back door or standing in a doorway. If during those eight days he was to see his shadow, then he too would be at risk of death.* It is a paradox, there seems to be little concern for tomorrow but yet one would go to great lengths to avoid the sun casting light upon your body for fear of death by shadow.
As for the photo of the grave, I found it interesting in that oddly there was a wooden cross like object above the grave by the street corner. I was struck by how close the grave was to the street side, and the cross like object that had nothing to do with the significance of the woman’s grave. It was simply left behind to be reused come Monday morning when the protesters will take to the streets, blocking roads and preventing daily life from proceeding. The protests were called off for the weekend. They seem to operate on banker's hours, 7-4 Monday- Friday until Union and Government come to a settlement over the price of fuel. ( 1/20/2012- update, the strike is over for now and fuel prices are set at 97 naira per liter-previous to the strike prices were 65 naira per liter and they jumped to 140 naira per liter and this sparked the nationwide protests in the streets.)
There are not many toys as we know them. Most that I have seen have been very cheap “made in China” plastic products that would last maybe an hour to a day before it needed to be considered useless by anyone other than a Nigerian who is less likely to throw away dirt. There are all types of repair shops, where the oddest items are fixed for reuse. One example I love is the mobile flip-flop repairman. Yes, just as you are thinking. The beach flip-flops that no matter what country you purchase them in, they are only designed to last but so long. Well in Nigeria, there is somebody that repairs them while you wait.
The child with the wheel was playing the child’s game of rolling a tier or wheel-like object with a stick and running behind it. It is an interesting interaction to watch. However, when the child saw me taking pictures he picked up his tier and ran. Again I cannot account for the seemingly shy behavior of having your picture taken. It is not that many will not pose for you, but who wants a posed image? The only thing I can think of is that posing provides an opportunity for the consent of their image and candid shots do not. Now how children are aware of that I cannot account for, therefore, my theory is moot.
Laundry is mainly done by hand. I have seen laundry services, but upon investigation, it is a human endeavor. I wash my own by hand. Not that there are not washing machines, I just have not seen one. I have even used a laundry service on campus, but it too was by human endeavor. At times they added other people’s clothes to mine and when you figure that you are paying 100 naira per washed, dried and folded item of clothing, why pay for somebody else when it is not even going to fit you. If you want your clothes ironed it is an extra 50 naira that would make it about a dollar per item. It adds up, so I have taken to doing my own. I just liked this house with the clothes strung out in front. What I have concluded about this type of stately built homes, ok in comparison to the homes that are of mud or board and corrugated tin and falling to one side. it is stately). But my conclusion, be it right or wrong, is that at some point a family member was flush, purchased some land, and built a sizable home for his/her family. At the same time at some point whatever wealth allowed for the building of this home, has been depleted, and present-day family members are no longer able to maintain its upkeep. My other theory about these homes is that for some of them they were once occupied or owned by colonial rulers, or those favored by the colonial rulers. And when you think that colonization of Nigeria ended only 50 years ago then it is reasonable to believe that some of these homes are cast offs from that era. Interesting in most parts of Africa, once a person buys land, builds a home it is theirs. There are few places that have taxes such as property tax. The land and the home just pass on to the children. While this, as in the U.S. can cause a family feud or two, at least nobody is suffering from 30-year mortgages, while paying off a home at 5 times its cost or value, while those funds generated from interest rates, put the banker’s children through Harvard.
I love this picture for one reason. Since the day I have arrived I have wanted to capture the amazing feat of a trillion people on one bike. In this case, it is only three, the driver and his two passengers. But I have seen four or five, depending on the size of the passengers. I have seen the driver holding small children while 3-4 people sat to the rear. I see passengers carrying loads of god only knows, from anything you would find at a Home Depot to beer and soda glass bottles stacked 3-4 crates deep. It is amazing. So this is a mild task to transport these two young women. The streets of most Nigerian cities are filled with these bike drivers that have no other means of employment. Somehow they get a bike or maybe renting the bike. I have no idea. But they make ends meet by serving as the taxi to the average Nigerian. They clog the streets, the exhaust fumes from the bikes is choking and they are dangerous. But they are there and cheap and will get you to where you are trying to go within local distances. None are on highways for the most part anyway. Nigerian Highways are said to be a death trap, in particular, the stretch that runs from Ibadan to Lagos and perhaps that part that goes from Ibadan to Ife. I have had doctors who tell me I am lucky that I have not come down with cerebral malaria and I have had friends that tell me I am lucky because I have not been killed on the highway. May my luck hold out forever and ever. E se o!
When you live in one of the top oil producers in the world, should you really have to perform tasks of this nature to boil eggs? (see images below) I was sitting in a car, watching this woman chop wood, for her nearby fire. I marveled at the club like tool she used to chop the wood and the manner in which she was chopping the wood towards her body and her bare feet. I took the images through the car window as she went about, fueling her fire. Life is in some ways a un-cried series of grueling tasks in Nigeria. I never hear people complain, or say that they are sad and if they do, as in the case of my friend who lost his wife. Today he said he was “not happy” but followed this statement immediately with “I thank God though.”
Yes, people are protesting and rightly so, life is not easy for the average Nigerian and this image is proof of that fact. Keep in mind that Nigeria is the most populated African Country, it is like the India of Africa. So the concept of the Average Nigerian really means most of the people suffer every day, they tote water and chop wood on a regular.
However, they rarely complain of their circumstances. They generally admit that it is not easy, but they counter this reality with a “we must adapt to whatever is happening” perspective. I will take a risk and say that it is perhaps to me a perplexing state of mind as it was to the white slavers and the Northern interlopers to see the “singing slaves.” It was beyond the slaver’s comprehension to understand that from the position of humanity the enslaved person knew they were human and thus may have been prone to singing and thus came the stereotype of the “happy slave.” please do not misunderstand I am not comparing Nigerians to “happy slaves” but I am suggesting that the issue of their sense of humanity deserves acknowledgment and in their willingness to “adapt” they are in fact singing. Only now they are protesting so I guess they have gone from adapting to demanding. E ku E Se O!!!! (well done O!)
My day ended at the Obatala Shrine. I have been here before, and only once did I enjoy the experience. For all the peace-loving virtues of Obatala, those in and around this shrine are not so gentle. A horrid encounter with horrid children ended my day. I do not even know how to describe how annoyed they made me. I really do not believe in hitting little people, but honestly, they needed a spanking. It all seemed innocent at first. I was waiting for someone to come from the Shrine. I continued taking pictures. I saw that this action interest them, no problem. I can understand that. I tried to engage them in a friendly way with the camera. I snapped their picture after allowing them to view what I was photographing and I showed them their image on the camera.
Again all innocent but shortly thereafter, they began demanding that I give them money. “Give us money- “we are hungry” “Give us money Now!” “You are from London, give us money”, they would point at my purse, somewhat aggressively, as if they wanted to snatch it. I did not want to appear distrusting so I did not make harsh movements to protect my bag. They just kept yelling at me to give them money. Should I tell you that their mother was not more than 2 feet away? She said nothing; in fact, it appeared as if she were encouraging the children. There were about 8 of them 5 were hers. I continued to talk to the children to explain that I was not obligated to give them money and was not going to do that, mainly because I thought they were rude. One child had a large kitchen knife, and while I was not really sure that he would use it, he was becoming less and less-playful in his demands for money.
There is this bizarre concept that as a non-Nigerian you are somehow obligated to provide something to them. From where this stupid concept comes, and why it persists in spite of any reality is a great topic of discussion among anybody who is not Nigerian and has traveled here and encountered this behavior. And trust me you encounter it from the plan to the train. (No there are no trains per se in Nigeria)**. Earlier in the day while at the Shrine three young men came to the car where I was sitting. The first one said he just wanted to greet me. I replied to his greeting. But he had no boundaries, he and his pals, then proceeded to ask for money. They always say they are hungry. But news flash, so am I. I under eat because I am not too happy with my food options. In truth, they too could be hungry as I suspect folks under eat for other reasons. But the point is, no tourist is the cause or cure for their poverty, hunger or any other deficit. Why some Nigerians take on a beggar mentality cuts across all logic of humanity, common sense and self-dignity. Their direct willingness as if it is divinely ordered that they should beg you, throws a monkey wrench into the whole observation of their sense of humanity and pride-fullness. They are one of the most ethnocentric people I have ever met. Therefore how they justify the begging in juxtaposition to their arrogant pride is a wonder. I will say that it is a very arrogant type of begging in that you are supposed to not only understand your obligation to fulfill their needs, but you are expected to perform your role willingly, often and often and often without hesitation or reservation. These are the undercurrents that are present in the begging process. I am surprised when they become surprised when I fail to comply. I always wonder why they are so surprised. ki lo fe, ki lo se, ki lo de- O!!!!!
This is a topic that I could exhaust for 99 years. It is a behavior that is so pervasive, so off-putting and downright annoying, not to mention insulting. It debases the potential common human connection and reduces the forced giver of money to an object of dispensary action for the benefit of an unknown, unwritten obligation to which really does not exist at all. It is a very surreal encounter that requires a sci-fi novel to explore it fully. Anthropologically speaking it is unexplained, while many of us have theories.
The children are posed neatly below, the image belies their aggressive rude behavior. God bless them! Disclaimer the child walking by the green building really was innocent. The image of him precedes the wicked*** children’s demands for my money.
Posted on December 15, 2011 by phoenix savage
Roasted Frog Seller-Osogbo, Nigeria
While I came to Nigeria on a Fulbright Fellowship to study the Yoruba concept of Ori and its influence on my own ori, it is difficult to fully explain what is Ori. To provide the simple version, in fact, is a disservice to the dynamic concept of Ori. Yet it would be unfair to say nothing. So with all due respect to the complexity of Ori I will provide the pedestrian version of its meaning.
The word Ori is operationalized to mean head. Yet it is more than that. Head as in the human head, head as in the lead role, at the top, and to mean inner head, consciousness, destiny. There are levels to Ori, Ori the head, the soul, the Ori that remains in Orun and rolls before God when the Ori on earth prostrates itself at early morning hours to honor their relationship with destiny. It is believed that each human selects their Ori before birth, and once an Ori is selected it then selects a destiny that will journey to the visible world with the human being. It is said that when a person is successful, that person selected a “good Ori.” However, it is possible to have a good Ori, but fall out of alignment with your destiny and in so doing a person is unable to access the goodness of their Ori.
At this point, it gets even more difficult to explain, but let’s say you fall out of alignment with your destiny, what would you do? In the case of Ifa it is understood that you are not lost, things can be corrected. It is expected that you will lose touch with your destiny. How can you recall what agreements you made before birth? Some of us cannot recall yesterday’s agreement. I being one who frequently forgets, I appreciate that there is a source I can access to recall and get back on track. Let’s call it a date book. So it is with Ifa. When a human being is off track, they can have a conversation with their Ori via a Difa. A Difa is a formal means by which to communicate, in which an Ifa Priest or Priest of an Orisa will divine for you. In so doing they are reconnecting you with your astral date book, bringing you up to speed on prior agreements and means and ways for you to get back on track.
The following images are the early stages of a project in process. While here I got the idea to photograph contemporary means of Ori. In most parts of nations where a great deal of denied development takes place, people employ their heads in manners not often seen or engaged in say the United States. I cannot account for why that is. It could simply be that we have different carrying devices, shopping carts maybe. But no matter why, it is still interesting to me to see how people use their heads to carry their loads, who knows, perhaps we in the West should try it. It just might put the therapeutic community out of business, because what we carry in our heads is far more damaging then what others carry on their heads.
At any rate, documenting via photography is a suspicious ordeal, to say the least. I often wonder how much we have Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher to blame for this. But in all fairness to their beautiful photographs of Africans and all things African from postcards to calendars- it is not too likely that the average African is aware of Beckwith and Fisher’s massed produced commodities from their Africa Adornment photos, any more so than the average Black American is aware of the Tuskegee Experiments. Yet, one cannot help but notice that there must be some form of collective consciousness in regards to exploitation that informs the minds of both groups to be cautious nonetheless.
While I had an escort**** as interpreter it was not easy to get people to pose with their loads on their heads. And while I can never show you, those who refused to be photographed were far more interesting to me than those who agreed. Not because their loads were more visually interesting, but more so because of their reaction to the request. Their physical/spiritual body language evoked readings of centuries of dubious behavior upon their likeness. I greatly appreciate the people who agreed to pose, but I have a greater appreciation for the ones that refused my offer.
It is not clear what will be made of these images or how successful I will be in rendering this project any further, but I learned a great deal from my innocent/artistic desire-albeit of no gain or importance to the persons in the images.
Posted on December 15, 2011, by phoenix savage
Nothing in Nigeria goes undone. Nothing goes un-recycled. Many times things are more than recycled, even the recycled are recycled. I am often amazed that there is trash in Nigeria, but there is a lot, there seems to be very little consciousness towards not littering and or maintaining a clean environment. The cleanest city I visited was Illorin in the Northern part of the country.***** Human hands do many tasks in Nigeria, and it makes me think that if stable electricity were to land in Nigeria, the number of people that would be out of work. If you think, homelessness in the US is out of control- (yes I contend that one of the contributing factors to American Homelessness is the lack of continued need for the human body in the labor market.) While there are billions of people who live in Nigeria the exact number of people that make a living performing manual labor is high. I suspect economist and those living off corruption would prefer to keep stable electricity from the lives of many Nigerians, as I am pretty sure there is no plan of action as to what to do with the massive numbers of underemployed that such a basic act of modernity would cause.
The following images are a few that caught my attention that are indications of labor in Nigeria. Women sweep sidewalks, highways, and courtyards daily to provide a fresh look to the environment. In Ilorin a city in the North the University of IIorin employees former motorbike taxi drivers to contract out these three-wheel taxis. The three-wheel taxis were originally introduced in Lagos as an economic scheme to promote small business. The name, Keke Napep is indicative of a trait that is common in Nigeria, to name an item after a person or occurrence that becomes associated with the object. Another example of this naming scheme is seen in a beautiful yellow-flowered weed that is named for a politician that refused to give up his office, the weed's tenacity was seen as equal to the politician’s stubbornness.
To the naked eye, this may appear odd. But look close through the palm fronds and what you see is a host of communal prayers, spoken by attendees of the Oyo Ifa Festival, into the heart of Kola Nuts that pile up as they are cast to reveal the outcome or most favorable or non-favorable energy that supports the outcome of the individuals' prayer.
Prior to casting the Odu these men sat ready with their Opon Ifa trays and sacred Akin in their pots.
The images gathered above may seem unimportant, and it may be years before the full significance of what these images reveal comes to light. And as a disclaimer let me say that I am not even able to fully explain all that needs to be said. Suffices it to say that in Ile-Ife, Nigeria, annually in June devotees of Ifa hold a festival. Shortly after the main festival, another gathering is held at the Ooni's Palace, the King of Ife. There, these men gather (They hold positions as the top ranking Ifa priest in Ile Ife, Nigeria and each cast the Odu, Ejiogbe. One after the other the very same Odu, Ejiogbe is cast. Casting Ejiogbe is significant because it is the first Odu of 256 possible Odu’s. I was not able to understand why they cast this, as if this is on purpose or if this occurrence was an anomaly. It is not common that it falls and it is further uncommon that it would fall seven times in a row, cast by seven highly respected Ifa Priest of Ile-Ife. I did note that the King sent a messenger to investigate the occurrence.******
This is a view from the top of the Olumo Rock in Abeokuta, Ogun State Nigeria. The 3-5 hour drive from Ife is worth it. First Abeokuta is a major trading spot for hand-dyed cloth commonly called Adire, but hold on, it is mostly wax resist cloth that is really beautiful. True Adire is a past resist only visible on one side of the cloth. Furthermore, Cheap imports have caused true time-consuming Adire to be very expensive. Some of the cloth sold in town looks like Adire, so be careful, bargain and enjoy. As for the Rock, it is AMAZING. There is an elevator, but the climb up the steps is more fun. And when you get to the top you look out to the view of the town. Olumo is where “suffering ends” there were some wars in time back, a few refugees made it to this rock, after the fighting ends, they cast Ifa and were told to remain living in the caves of the rock. They were further told that they had been provided this rock as a haven where their suffering had come to an end. People remained living on the rock, but today only women live there. I can not explain why that is, only that it is, and that the rock itself is highly magical.
This woman is one of the devotees to the deity Igun who is said to live under the rock and offers its devotees great blessings. Igun is worshipped by these women, and while men do visit, as in this hair stylist, it still remains a woman only dwelling place. The king comes once a year and is allowed to enter the inner sanctuary of the shrine.
This is Agbonbon, the second highest ranking Ifa Priest in Ife, and if you subscribe to the hierarchy of the system he then becomes the second-ranking Ifa Priest in the world. While he looks so serious, he is really a lot of fun. Whenever I visit I love cracking jokes with him, albeit that neither one of us speaks the other’s language. Who knows, maybe that adds to the humor.******
In a town north of Osogbo I attended an Egungun Festival. This was one of the star attractions. The one thing that I will say is that, any person who has ever gone to a museum with a collection of African Art, and has seen these “costumes” may be behind protective glass or corded off with the velvet ropes, will find it hard to believe that these costumes are alive, with the spirit of the dead, no less. Museums are like photographs, in that they freeze an object or happening in time. While it is great to be able to see what is remote to our own world. It can also be a disservice to the realities of the world that is in view or has been frozen for our view.
One of many outdoor sculptures populating the grounds of the Art Department at Obafemi Awolowo University. Most of the sculptures on campus are made of cement either by casting or directly sculpting the cement. Very few are cast metal. There are some that are made from fiber cast and even more that are welded fabrications of very large sculptures. The majority are in keeping with the figurative traditions of Art in Ife. There are few conceptual and or non-representational sculptures in public places. This one reminded me of the Olmec Heads in Mexico, while not nearly as big but visually striking nonetheless.
I do not know the name of this performance group. They were the mid-morning entertainment during a break at a conference held at the University of Ibadan. I found their dancing with carpets unusual and reminiscent of childhood tales of flying carpets.
The esteemed Mojo Okediji . To say he was holding court would be a bit untrue, in that he graciously agreed to grant a colleague an interview while back home in Nigeria. He teaches at the University of Texas- Austin and is an acclaimed scholar of the art of the African Diaspora as well as being an artist. It was a delightful day in Ondo State and truly my pleasure to have sat all so briefly at his feet listing to his philosophical view on art and his artistic process. He used a term to describe where he is as an artist today as being a “privilege”. This is a word that I too have employed in my own understanding of being an artist. The truth of the matter is nobody needs art. One’s life will exist without it, thus it is a privilege on so many levels to be an artist. Surely I could be of more use to society as a lawyer? That is really a joke no offense to lawyers. But really from a class perspective, art is an elitist action. So couple that with being Black or underscored in any way in society and it becomes that much more a privilege to perform. So to say that I was merely delighted to engage a person whom I have cited many times in my own writings, but to also discover that we held similar philosophies regarding our art practices was refreshing.
These are cement vats used for dying cloth and are embedded at an angle into the ground. This method dates back hundreds of years. These particular vats are at the Nike Workshop in Osogbo, Nigeria. For a very nominal fee, anyone can attend classes in fabric design and wood carving. The next image is a student working on a carved wood piece. Traditionally wood carving was gender specific and that gender was not female. I applaud this sister for her efforts. She has moved on to attend classes in Fine Arts at Obafemi Owolowo University.
This is the entrance to the home of the late Susan Wenger. She was noted for her contributions towards a resurgent of artistic output in Osogbo. She herself was an artist and was instrumental in the artistic restoration of the Osun Grove, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and stage for an annual festival attracting thousands of devotees to the Orisha Osun deity of love and all things sensual. Wenger’s carvings inside are worth the visit. The room formerly the pallor of the home serves as a gift shop and one can find authentic paste resist cloth and other woodcarvings by the local artist.
* I learned that Tope my friend passed away sometime in 2014. His daughter is being raised by a sister-in-law.
** I am happy to say that there is now a train that runs from Lagos to Osogbo. I was not able to take a ride on my most recent visit in April of 2017 but I plan to when I return in 2019.
***In Yoruba culture; a heavily structured society based on age seniority; children that misbehave rudely are termed wicked.
**** Blessing was my interpreter and she has married and while I was there in April gave birth to a beautiful baby daughter. I am honored that she has my name as one of her 7 names.
*****During my most recent visit I notice there is a city-wide system of trash pick-up underway.
****** The Ooni that was in reign during my Fulbright passed away and a new Ooni has been installed.
******My dear laughing Agbonbon passed away December 29, 2013. I am ever grateful for his love, support, and prayers on behalf of Ire in my life. Adupe O mi baba.