Olatoun Williams, founder of Borders Literature for All Nations, is one of those rare individuals who comes into your life and stays. Her friendship is unwavering, her support is steadfast, and her love is encompassing. Olatoun is a gatherer of knowledge and shares these gems to the world. But, her passion is literature and her commitment is to promote reading in Nigeria, regionally, and Africa, broadly. Take a look at her website, there are interviews, podcasts, book reviews to name a few. The literature selected is as diverse in subject as the authors who tell them. My story is one of the first to have been featured under Africanist Global category, which has been updated recently. I am humbled to have a place among such distinguished honourees.
Olatoun’s voice champions African literature. Borders Literature for all Nations is the founder of the Borders SDG Book Club and in addition, a founding partner of the African Chapter of the UN SDG Book Club African Chapter. Here is Olatoun:
November 25, 2019: The final day of filming about the story of the lost heritage of Masagá glassmakers. Front row: Singing Tree Film crew. Second row: to the right and left of the HRH Etsu Nupe, Masagá glassmakers.
The delayed production of the film took its toll on everyone. Two elderly glassmakers died during the year 2020. With great sadness, they will not see themselves in the documentary. However…against all odds, the documentary will be released mid-April 2021.
It has been over two weeks. Coming to grips with the senseless event that took place on the afternoon of December 28, 2020 in Bida, Nigeria has taken time to process. Abdullahi (Allah yar harmu) sat outside of his workshop, as he does every day, when a motorcycle jumped the curb and struck him. He was killed instantly. This random, tragic event brought acute sadness not only because of life’s cruel twist but also because Abduallahi was the star of the soon to be released documentary, “The Lost Legacy of Bida Bikini”, filmed in 2019. Because of the pandemic and other delays, Abdullahi would never see his work and accomplishments on the screen. To snatch this joy away from a man who toiled from childhood to eke out a living by making glass beads and bracelets is a cruel end.
This video is of Abdullahi making one bead. (Other craftsmen are Alhaji Abass Umaru, Nda Umaru Azumi, and Abdullahi’s son operates the bellows.)
I first met Abdullahi in 2015 in Bida at his workshop where he and other Masaga craftsmen spent every day in front of a mud furnace fuelled by forest wood. The heat in the workshop can be 43 degrees Centigrade and above, particularly during the dry season. Yet every day they are seated around the furnace twisting iron rods making glass beads and bangles. Producing glass objects are crafted everyday; the craft their fathers and grandfathers taught; the techniques conveyed by their ancestors from Egypt.
Every year for six years, I journeyed to Bida to research and document the glass heritage of the Masaga community in Nupeland. I learned from Abullahi and the craftsmen. In September 2019, I received permission from the Etsu of Nupeland and the Masaga guild to film a documentary about the lost art of making raw glass. It was during the month of filming that Abdullahi’s character and gift for acting developed within the first days. Our film director, Remi Vaughan-Richards, commented that Abdullahi didn’t shy from the camera and was the person she chose to lead the others. We would tease Abdullahi that he had found a new calling and would soon be well known throughout Nigeria. He would beam with pride.
I hope that when the documentary is released that anyone who is reading this obituary will take the time to watch it. Abdullahi stars in it! Please email me if you are interested in receiving the link of the documentary at its release.
All Photographs and text are under international copyright laws. No re-use without the permission of Lesley Lababidi 2021.
The late Shaba Nupe (Allah yar harmu) was the second in command (meaning Shaba) to the current ETSU NUPE, Alhaji Dr. Yahaya Abubakar CFR (here). Shaba Nupe was the crown prince of the Emirate, the maternal uncle to the ETSU NUPE.
On November 7, 2019, before filming the documentary about the Masaga Glassmakers of Bida was set to launch, Shaba Nupe was one of the members of the royal family that I visited to ask for his blessings. He granted his blessing for the documentary to commence and wished me and the project a good outcome.
We pray Allah to grant him Mercy and Aljannah Fridaus.
Alhji Mohammed Abubakar, Allah Yar Hamu- May his soul rest in peace, passed away a few days ago in Bida, Nigeria. He was a small man with kind, steadfast eyes. He had a tribal scar on both sides of his face and carried a brass kettle filled with kola nuts that would be distributed throughout the day.
I knew him for only a few hours that day. He took his position near my side in confidence and pride. I depended on him. That afternoon when we stood together to take a photo, I knew we would never meet again. Today, when I heard of his death, I remember Alhaji Mohammed Abubakar in deep gratitude for his presence.
Thanksgiving, in every culture from antiquity, is a time to take a breath and accept what one has. It may not be pretty or it may be fabulous but most likely, it is a moment in time to remember moments lived in joy, grief, and relief… and hopefully, there is space to celebrate thankfulness…
With gratitude to Dr. Abidemi Babatunde Babalola whose EMKP grant gave the opportunity for me to showcase an element of the Masaga glassmakers’s story. Dr. Babalola took my project under his wing and along with his archaeological work in southern Nigeria, we collaborated on this article, “Rituals, Religious practices, and glass/glassbead making in Ile-Ife and Bida, Nigeria”. Read the article HERE.
Memories of the past are attended with a certain pain called nostalgia…Nostalgia is a kind of growing-pain, psychically speaking. It occurs to our sorrow when we have decided that it is time for us, marching to some magnificent destiny, to abandon an old home, an old provincial setting, or an old way of living to which we had become habituated. – John Crowe Ransom
Oxford Handbook of History and Material Culture, p 30.
The above describes how I feel when organising a drawer of family photographs, browsing in a vintage shop, or, in Cairo, meandering through the (now demolished) Friday Market. The Friday Market once crammed with what many would describe as junk, but for a material cultural enthusiast, those objects were treasures…objects of ordinary life.
Objects tell stories: the interaction of those who made them, received them, used and sold them, even worshipped them and of those who collected, conserved, and curated them. There is a relationship between objects as a primary source material and how we understand history. History is formally based on words of academia while objects bring to light histories of those marginalised—working class, ethnic minorities, women.
The following photographs of tin cut outs depict musicians, dancers, villagers, and a bird were collected over years of living in Cairo. Some I found from the Friday Market, some were purchased from an art collector, and others from an antique shop near Khan el-Khalili. These tin cut-outs, each approximately 60 centimetres in height, were said to be made from recycled tin sheeting in the Delta area during the 1920s-30s and sold to decorate walls of coffee shops. But this information cannot be confirmed. Yasmine Dorghamy, founder of Rawi Magazine, states, “Judging by the artistic style and the style of the bellydance suit I would place them in the 60s or 70s.. You don’t see that puffy skirt with the slit all the way to the top before then… this design is iconic of the ’60s in fact.”
I am in search of information about these objects. If anyone has information, please leave a comment and I will add it to this post.
October 7, 2020: Laura from London says, “I remember buying a set of tin dancer + music team (flute, tabla, male dancer with stick etc.) from a souvenir shop in Alexandria in 1980s. Unfortunately, I gave it away as a present. I thought it was a delightful present – I have not seen these tin figures since.”
The Emir of Zazzau and Chairman, Kaduna State Council of Traditional Ruler, Alhaji Shehu Idris, passed away at the age of 84, Allah Yar Harmu. Alhaji Shehu Idris, the 18th Fulani Emir of Zazzau was appointed on 15th February, 1975 and spent 45 years on the throne.
The Zazzau, also known as the Zaria Emirate is a traditional state with headquarters in the city of Zaria, Kaduna State. Read about the 2015 Zaria-the Zazzau-Durbar : Here