20 October, 2007


A thin veneer

One anecdote from the Telegraph obituary of the redoubtable David Muffett (with thanks to Laban for the link) which lingers in my mind is this one:
In 1960 he apprehended the Tigwe of Vwuip, a northern Nigerian tribal chief who had eaten the local tax collector. The Tigwe had apparently been so impressed by the man's ability to acquire money on demand that he had — understandably — decided to try to assimilate his powers.

It was not so much this particular misdemeanour that bothered Muffett; what really worried him was the fact that a UN delegation was due to visit the area, and "I wasn't about to have one of them eaten. I considered that it would be a highly retrogressive step."

The Tigwe, who was surprised to learn that the colonial authorities disapproved of his eating habits, was duly sent to jail — but only "until the delegation had departed beyond the reach of his culinary aspirations".

What sticks in my mind here is the year: 1960. This is not some tale from the semi-mythical halcyon days of Empire in the 19th century; this actually took place within my lifetime. In 1960, while this was happening in Northern Nigeria, I was a 12-year-old schoolboy in Manchester. The indiscriminately omnivorous Tigwe was a contemporary of my father or perhaps my grandfather. It shows my numerous Nigerian neighbours in a new light. No, I am not expecting to be kidnapped on my way to the station and placed into a cooking pot, but you do begin to wonder about the deep cultural beliefs of people who are only two, at most three generations away from this sort of stuff, particularly when taken in the wider context of other, ongoing, African beliefs like kindoki, muti killings and the like.

What are we letting ourselves in for?

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