Memories of Yesteryears
Akpandem James succeeds in this book in taking the reader on a journey through a not too distant past in Nigerian history, creating a bridge between social history and literature in a refreshing and engaging manner. His setting is South Eastern Nigeria in the 60s and 70s; his main weapon is memory, recollections, reflections, evoking the memory of places and places of memory. The book is an effort “in remembrance of things past”, or as that book by Marcel Proust was later titled, a composition “in search of lost time”.
It is instructive that the author wrote the sketches during a transitory period in his life. He had left his job as a newspaper manager and as spokesperson for the 2014 National Political Conference, and took a vacation, to his state. Bored, not having much to do, he embarked on a trip to the past, a trip to past experiences and places; and what we have as end product is delightful reminiscences.
Those who lived in the period covered by these recollections will embrace them with great excitement. James covers a wide expanse of private, public and cultural memory: the photographer of old and the arduous ceremonies of old style photography, advertising methods that were popular in the rural communities of the 70s, the dresses, hairstyles, dance steps, music and musicians, school environment, masquerades, community life, transportation, growing up, class relations.
The various recollections are vivid and imagic in a manner that triggers our senses. We see. We feel. We empathize. There is humour. There is clarity. And the characters are memorable:
The Ajasco Boy, Nkereuwem alias Adekunle, the Ngwongworo,Rockefeller-de-Shoe-Shiner, Akonjom, the village clown; A.U. Umoh, the new principal; Ndifon and his new motorcycle.
The topography of memory is infinitely revelatory; journeying through lost times, James takes us through a labyrinth of places, events and characters: it was the time of war, the Nigerian civil war, but it was also a time of innocence and simplicity when a house constructed with blocks and corrugated iron sheets was “a rare spectacle”, when children and families ate rice and chicken twice a year, during Easter and Christmas, or well, may be on Empire Day; when plantain leaves were used as plates, when a ride in a mammy wagon was a source of excitement.
It was also a time of a completely different Nigeria: in the yesteryears of this book, Nigeria could boast of cocoa, rubber, oil palm plantations, and development corporations and it is easy to make a leap and lament how these have disappeared due to the curse of oil that has since inverted the trajectory of the Nigerian experience. New realities have swept away the old in a revolutionary manner, the sub-text is that of change: and indeed, those who lived in that old season cannot fail to notice how so much has changed, from the setting of the barber’s shop and his implements, to advertising, to music, to hairstyles and dance styles, and transportation.
James may be accused of a certain unmistakable romanticism of the past, an obsession with nostalgia, a throwback to childhood moments, but he does not erect this as an Edenic state, perhaps, rather as a compensation for present frustrations. It is frustrating for example that there was once a country where waterway transportation was active and organized, and there were such things in the South Eastern axis as ferry services and pontoons, and that across the country agricultural productivity was encouraged. Today, Nigeria looks different, technological advancements may have brought many changes and definite progress, but there are many deficits: of meaning, purpose and cohesion.
Akpandem James’ recollection of things past and lost time, is in every regard a kind of testimonial writing. But he does not wring his hands, wielding the pen. He brings to the assignment his skills and experience as a reporter; he paints the pictures and leaves the value judgement to the reader. I find no egotism in his recollections as he refrains from using the first person singular, his interest being a description of a certain time in a general, communal experience even if there is that autobiographical underlay which we suspect, but which he cleverly suppresses.
This is clear though: his attachment to the place of his upbringing. But it is an experience that we all share, those of us who grew up in the period of his narration. Some of the images literally make you jump up in excitement: the Saturday Night talcum powder, the Phillips and Sanyo turn-tables; the barber’s swivel chair and clippers, the Afro hairstyle, the mini, Honda Benley motorcycle, the 5-ton Bedford, Austin and Mercedes Benz lorries, boy-girl relationship and the writing of love letters, Michael West dictionary.
New generations can only experience the narrative vicariously and wonder whether this was the age of the dinosaur, but that was life as lived by their parents long before the coming of the internet and all things post-modern; and in capturing this, James juxtaposes the past and the present and constructs a perspective and an identity of the past that we are compelled to remember, and discuss.
Time passes. Things change. For good or ill, life goes on. Sometimes, Akpandem James’ Reminiscences sounds like a requiem on the past; in some other pages, it reads like a celebration. But it is altogether, an escape from boredom into the past that is worth the effort. He’d be glad he wrote this book, and the reader should be happy reading it.
Abeokuta, February 2016.
- Advertising of Old – The Ajasco Boy
- Dresses, Hairstyles and Dance Steps
- Remembering the Photographer
- Disco – Thrills and Frills of Dance Party
- Bands in the Yesteryears
- Visiting the Barber
- Rice and Chicken Had Honour and Glory
- Toasting Back in the Day
- Experiencing Secondary School
- The New Principal and His Style
- Football Rivalry in Secondary Schools
- Treading the Minefield
- Crossing the Cross River
- Long Road to Travel
- Many Rivers to Cross
- Trailing the Masquerades
- Akonjom the Village Clown
- Pranks in the Church
- The Village Mammy-Wagon
- Ndifon and His New Motorcycle
- Barbing Implements
- Hairstyles of the 60s
- A Typical Barbers Board
- Household Items 216
- Other Household and Fashion Items
- Common cars of the 60s and 70s
Mr. Akpandem James
Akpandem is the immediate past Managing Editor/Chief Executive Officer of Independent Newspapers Limited. He worked for The Punch newspapers before moving to Independent Newspapers Limited. Akpandem holds an MBA in Leadership Studies from the University of Liverpool, United Kingdom; a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Arts from the University of Uyo; and a National Diploma in Mass Communication from The Polytechnic, Calabar (now Cross River State University, Calabar. He is a member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors as well as the Governing Board of the Nigeria Institute of Journalism, Lagos, and Special Media Adviser/Honourary Consultant to the National Cancer Prevention Project. Born on June 29, 1962, Akpandem hails from Ndukpo-Ise in Nsit Ubium Local Government.
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