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Ola Rhodes speaks of her life and work:  I have lived in so many different parts of the world and led such an unusual life, I love to introduce a common strand of humanity in my writing, and use my experiences to mould the ‘other’ into the familiar. 

The title of my book is The Tribe of One and it will be ready for publication at the end of this year (2012). My main intention with my writing is to inform and inspire my readers. My readers often empathise with the very human
characters in my work and are drawn into the stories through my unusual and often comical observations of life, regardless of my characters’ culture and background.

Pam to Ola:  Have you balanced personal memories and research in writing your book, or is it based primarily on your own experiences?

Ola to Pam:  The Tribe of One is mostly composed of my own memories and life experience during my childhood. I am lucky enough to have a vivid long-term memory dating as far back as being two and a half and Iooking forward to my third birthday. I consider this a great asset with my writing.

I do a fair bit of research on the Internet regarding icons and trends of the
seventies and eighties, often just to jog my memory and add texture to my
writing. I also speak to some of my friends’ parents with Nigerian background, as I need to understand more about the culture in Nigeria during my Mother’s childhood. So I guess I use a combination of everything, but mostly I rely on my memory and how I felt at the time.

Pam to Ola:  What in your opinion is the most common misconception Westerners have of Nigerian culture?
 
Ola to Pam:  I think one of the easiest misunderstandings is the tendency to ascribe otherness to Nigerians as a people. When I first arrived in Nigeria from England at the age of twelve, I barely spoke a word of Yoruba (my parents’ tribal language).  Walking down the street and eavesdropping on strangers’ conversation was pointless; all I heard was gibberish. As I learned the language, I grew to understand that people in Lagos were having exactly the same kind of
conversations as people in London or people in New York: I heard young adults in deep conversations about the latest fashion or pop star. Adult men and women were discussing politics and how the youth of today don’t show respect anymore, how things were so much better when they were young etc.

Pam to Ola:  How is the Nigerian idea of a witch different than our Western concept?

Ola to Pam:  Witches exist as frightening yet distant characters safely held within the concept of fairytales for Western children. Also witches are not always evil: from The Witches of Eastwick to Harry Potter, there are many instances where witches are no more than human beings with special powers that they often use benevolently to fight evil.

In Nigerian culture a witch is perceived as a tangible person, possibly a stranger
on the street, or a neighbour, or even a relative. Superstition and fear are deeply interwoven within the fabric of the culture, especially within semi or uneducated communities. Some of the worst insults are based on calling someone a witch: -
Iya Aje (Mother of witches), being the most popular.

There are different types of witches, for example the Abiku (born dead) is a child or baby witch who is seen as being sent down by the gods and then taken back. This manifests as a miscarriage a stillbirth or a child that dies in infancy. When a woman has several miscarriages, there is a thought that it is the same child being born and dying over and over again to play a trick on its parents. If a child eventually survives and ‘decides’ to live, he or she is seen to have special powers. Like the power to put a curse on whomsoever they wish.

Pam to Ola:  Does the legal process in Nigeria generally support the persecution of witchcraft, or punish it?

Ola To Pam:  The official legal system in Nigeria is rooted in Western, specifically the English Judiciary system; even the judges wear the same wigs. . My father, who is barely mentioned in The Tribe of One, studied at Oxford and became a Judge in Nigeria. The official judiciary system treats people who persecute others by branding them as witches very harshly, especially in recent years.

Pam to Ola:  In your experience, how does the use of fear to control children originate and play out in Nigeria?
 
Ola to Pam:  One of the main themes in The Tribe of One is the brutality towards children within Nigerian culture.  People in the West only get to see the extreme cases of child cruelty, such as children that have been accused of being witches and tortured and ostracized from their communities. But this is the extreme end and that level of brutality comes from somewhere, its not as if everyone is lovely to kids and suddenly there this tiny pocket of child abuse that has mushroomed up from nowhere. I feel that within many Nigerian homes there is an incredible amount physical brutality. Parents pick branches from trees and beat their children for not doing their chores to a certain standard, or falling behind with their homework. Rather than encouraging confidence and self-discipline there seems to be a culture that these qualities need to be beaten into a child.

Teachers in schools often walk into class clutching a stick and wearing a smile. I
attended an all girl school in Nigeria between the ages of twelve and seventeen.
A majority of the teachers were male and at least 60% of all the teachers seemed to take great pleasure in whacking young girls on the back and behind with the same type of sticks that are used on cattle. At other times a teacher would strap about ten rulers together and use the edges as weapon on the outstretched knuckles of students, literally coming within an inch of breaking the victims' fingers. I remember on one occasion my fingers got so swollen from this
particular punishment that I was unable to bend them enough to hold a pen and
therefore could not sit an exam.

We would often be forced to kneel down in the sun with our eyes closed and our arms stretched out above our heads for hours on end in the baking African heat. Or told to stand in a half squat clutching on to the lobes of our ears for some bizarre reason. Often these punishments were meted out for the most trivial of misdemeanours; I recall an incident in The Tribe of One, during a Home Economics class when the teacher gave one of my fellow classmates twelve of the best for using a metal rather than a wooden spoon to fold a pastry. My most sincere belief is that this kind of treatment towards children has been going on for too long and after much research, I believe that the psychological affects of this abuse has a profound effect on the way Nigerians treat each other as adults. I feel as if a vast percentage of the population are experiencing posttraumatic stress syndrome. 
 
Pam to Ola:  In your experience, what are some of the more positive aspects of Nigerian culture?

Ola to Pam:  There are many wonderful things within Nigerian culture. One of the main things I remember from my time there was the amount of unofficial charity. Nigerians really know how to celebrate and at every wedding I attended, the amount of food happily given to beggars on the street almost matched the amount that was consumed at the reception itself, and may I add this was fresh food, not leftovers.

Another wonderful thing is the Nigerian sense of humour, which in many ways runs parallel to the English sense of humour. Nigerians are the first ones to laugh at themselves and the eccentricities within their own culture. However beware if you cross the line and insult their hospitality, which is generous to a fault. 

Another wonderful thing about Nigerian culture is the food. Nigerians have a way of mixing spices and herbs and adding flavour to a food that, for me, is
incomparable; but maybe I’m biased. Lastly I have to mention how profoundly
creative and intelligent Nigerians are as a race; wonderful entrepreneurs,
artists, musicians and doctors are often overshadowed by their counterparts with the same skills who have decided to invest  their intelligence in the dark arts of people trafficking, fraud and corruption.

Pam to Ola:  What factor do you believe is most important to the healing of abused children?

Ola to Pam:  I feel the factor most important for healing an abused child is the need to be heard. The need to have someone acknowledge the pain, hurt feelings and humiliation that sits deep within children and adults who have been put through abuse during their formative years. There needs to be an open dialogue within Nigerian, and I believe African culture in general, as to why it is seems so necessary to use such intense violence towards the young and what the resulting effect of that kind of abuse is during adulthood. 

Here is a link to Ola's blog:  http://olarhodes.wordpress.com/ where you can follow her work.

10/31/2012

Pam & Ola, what a great discussion. I'm quite fascinated by Nigerian culture. Because I have several close friends who are Nigerian, I've had a peek into some of the tribal cultures. By the same token, some of the deeper, darker things about Nigerian culture (some of which you've mentioned, Ola) frighten me. I hope to muster the strength to read your book; however, I don't do well with abusive treatment of children. Thank you for a great interview. I'll check out your blog, too.

Reply
10/31/2012

Hi, Nancy!

Thank you for stopping by. I'm not happy with abusive treatment of children, either. That's why I moved on this opportunity to interview Ola--I wanted to do what I could, however limited, to address this injustice. Here in America, we would all be fooling ourselves to think that the issue is only pertinent to "other cultures." I appreciate your comments!

Best blessings,
Pam

Reply
10/31/2012

Thank you Nancy. Please don't let the subject matter put you off reading the excerpts on my blog I inject the whole thing with my wicked sense of humour and I have done my best to avoid writing a 'misery' memoir.
It's just an interesting story; a mixture of many things...

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