The British Empire Library

Nigerian Tales Of The Colonial Era

by M. C. Atkinson

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by A.H.M. Kirk-Greene
Here is a Nigerian collector's piece which will be enjoyed by every ex-Nigerian who has a grain of Old Coaster's nostalgic romanticism left in his or her heart. Not so much 'Tales told round the campfire' as 'Anecdotes retailed over the pink gin', its well-achieved purpose is, in Mike Atkinson's words, "to amuse rather than to edify". "Do not expect uplift, literary merit or sequential logic", he cautions the reader. "If some at least tickle the fancy or the memory, the collection's objective will have been achieved".

In the 64 stories of varying length, a regional sensitivity has been nicely observed. The old Eastern Provinces are represented by the almost legendary adventures of the far from mythical Rusty-Buckle, surely as integral a character of Nigerian officials' folklore as the insatiable A.D.O. Bende, whose versified exploits are, perhaps diplomatically, excluded from this publication. A few tales are about 'Northerners', but the bulk come from the former Western Region. Those who served in Warri or Benin Provinces may have an advantage when it comes to identifying who was who. "Genesis in Pidgin English", "Master and Servant", "The Press" and "Mammy- Wagons and their Head-Boards" all have a wider appeal, while "Songs" (not so much those my mother taught me as lyrics my resident knew!) show, as I have long suspected, that West Coasters were just as witty versifiers as their Sudan colleagues but, unlike them, generally refrained from using the medium in official correspondence.

In any purposely mischievous hands of those without a sense of humour and lacking any understanding of context or chronology, some of this 'evidence' could be dynamite. To the other 99.9% of readers, it represents an amusing, affectionate collection of'Tales of All Our Yesteryears'. And for the Colonial Service historian, it is quite simply worth its weight in gold ten times over.

Review of More Nigerian Tales Of The Colonial Era
Readers who enjoyed Mike Atkinson's first collection and they were so many that he was obliged to triple the initial print run: the stock is now exhausted will know what pleasure lies in store in this follow-up volume. Here is another fine sample of that ever-ready sense of humour, all the way from dry and droll to downright delicious, which seems to have characterised the ethos of Britain's overseas civil services, whether they were Indian, Sudan or Colonial. Indeed, I have long suspected that some of our Tales are more pan-imperial than local territorial; certain characters, certain situations and certian bans mots constantly crop up from all those lands where the sun was alleged never to set.

So what do we get for an extra pound this time? Well, in the first place a further 20% in length. Then a superior quality of print. Next, fourteen themes against the original dozen. Finally, a whole new range of subjects, among them - importantly, with our capacity to believe the world started and ended with 'us' - the RWAFF, John Holt's and UAC. There are more "Mammy Waggon Headboard Headings''and more "D.O.s and A.D.Os", alongside fresh collections covering the Nigerian Press, "Master (Madam) and Servants", and a group of sequels to the previous Tales. The "Yempah Builders Litany" reminds me of the near-blasphemous version of the Creed and the Lord's Prayer recited by Nkrumah's Young Pioneers in the heady 1950s. The all-tootrue "Secret Circulars A and B" are, in fact, slightly misleading, in that only the former circular is given.

In paying well-deserved acknowledgement to the copious contributions sent in by Barry Cozens, coming from the East bank of the Niger, Mike Atkinson laments the paucity of contributions from the North. We all know that we were not without a sense of humour up there, so who will take up the West's challenge?

Review of Yet More Nigerian Tales Of The Colonial Era
Readers who enjoyed the two previous products of Atkinson's enthusiastic compilation of stories about the lighter side of Colonial Service life in Nigeria are assured of another entertaining round of anecdotes. Taking up the editor's regional challenge in the second volume, for the seemingly tighter-lipped North to prove that they too could compete with the rollicking West and rumbustious East when it came to a jolly sense of humour, one member of that Service responded with a mini- "Tales Told by the Turawa" for Atkinson to cull or cut; adding that pre-war it was apparently the North rather than the South that published all the volumes of verse - C. G. Adamu (1911), Woodhouse (1933), Dewar and Bryant (?1939).

The range of the present collection, again largely from south of the Niger, is as farflung and fascinating as ever, with a whole section devoted to the common and catchy medium of "Poems and Songs"; another to Barry Cozens' splendid 1944 "Rules and Regulations" of a small Niger village Society; and others to such ever-ready sources as Elder Dempster Lines, Royal Visits and, of course, that regular Aunt Sally, the Press. All in all, here is another must for your ex-Nigerian friends and family at Christmas time, to pass with the port and chuckle at with the cheese. And, for all their primary aim of amusing, these Tales equally reveal much to interest the serious student of colonial lore, leisure and social attitudes, whether he or she was there or was but a post-colonial latecomer.

Mike Atkinson declares this is positively his last collection of Nigerian Tales. There are, as they say in the best supermarket circles, just a few samples left of More Tales (over 300 of the original Tales, twice reprinted, were sold) now offered at the same price as Yet More Tales. These can also be obtained direct from Mr Atkinson.

British Empire Book
M. C. Atkinson,
The Author


Armed Forces | Art and Culture | Articles | Biographies | Colonies | Discussion | Glossary | Home | Library | Links | Map Room | Sources and Media | Science and Technology | Search | Student Zone | Timelines | TV & Film | Wargames

by Stephen Luscombe