Karin Barber – Popular voices in the print culture of 1920s Lagos

Writing the Empire: Scribblings from Below

An international & interdisciplinary conference

Phillipe de Vigors, ‘Convicts letter writing at Cockatoo Island, New South Wales, 1849’
Reproduced by kind permission of the State Library of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Event Dates: 26 June 2010
Bristol, UK

Karin Barber (University of Birmingham)
Popular voices in the print culture of 1920s Lagos

In the 1920s, Lagos (Nigeria) experienced an explosion of print culture – five new Yoruba-language weekly newspapers and also several new English-language publications. This print culture was produced and consumed predominantly by a small educated elite, the core of which was the “Saro” – people repatriated from Sierra Leone after return from slavery overseas or rescue from slave ships. The Saro culture since the 1880s had been highly exclusive, protecting the elite’s distinctive Anglophile culture and affirming their proximity to the British colonial authorities.  But in the 1920s we see a shift, indicated in part by the creation of new Yoruba-language papers accessible to the large Lagosian constituency of primary-school educated people who could read Yoruba but who were less conversant with English. The 1920s newspapers set out deliberately to bring these people into the fold. This was (at least partly) in response to the advent of restricted electoral politics from 1920 onwards: the Lagos oligarchy had begun to realise how important it was to demonstrate to the British that they had a large popular following, even if, at that moment, most of their supporters were not yet enfranchised. The Yoruba newspapers of the 1920s emphasised their remit to educate the populace and explain the ins and outs of current political developments to them. The tone was often didactic. But at the same time, popular voices were incorporated – through letters to the editor, local events columns, and through the collection and inscription of popular genres such as topical street ballads, gossip, and fictional narratives set in lower-class Lagos. This paper will explore the changing class dynamics of 1920s Lagos through the Yoruba print culture.

Karin Barber, University of Birmingham, email
Karin Barber is Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Birmingham. Her main interest is African everyday culture, with a central focus on verbal texts, both oral and written, in African languages. Most of her research has been concentrated on the Yoruba speaking area of southwestern Nigeria, but she has also done broader comparative work on popular culture across sub-Saharan Africa and on approaches to texts in Africa and beyond. She is the author of many books and articles, including the prize-winning I Could Speak Until Tomorrow: Oriki, Women and the Past in a Yoruba Town (1991) and The Generation of Plays: Yoruba Popular Life in Theatre (2000) She is a Fellow of the British Academy, a past president of the African Studies Association of the UK, and the editor of Africa, the journal of the International African Institute.

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