Nollywood at the Borders of History: Yoruba Travelling Theatre and Video Film Development in Nigeria

By Olayiwola, Abiodun | Journal of Pan African Studies, September 2011 | Go to article overview

Nollywood at the Borders of History: Yoruba Travelling Theatre and Video Film Development in Nigeria


Olayiwola, Abiodun, Journal of Pan African Studies


Introduction

Film had its first stroll into Nigeria in August 1903 via the instrumentality of the Indian Lebanese merchants (Omatsola, 1999) whose sole motivation was economic rather than cultural (Okome, 1991). Opubor, Nwuneli and Oreh (1979) note that "the medium of film was itself still new in those days, and still technically in its infancy; content was largely documentary". But in spite of this, Okome (1991) reports that it was the magic of the moment for people to see moving pictures, and for many years "films continued to be shown to full houses in Lagos, and ... was commended for relieving the monotony of Lagos life through interesting and innocent entertainment" (Opubor and Nwuneli,1979).

The first moving flick in Nigeria came through the Balboa and Company, a Spanish firm, in 1903 and toured West African countries. It was a silent film that predated The Jazz Singers, the first of the talking pictures. The success of this exhibition encouraged other merchants, notably Stanley D. Jones and Albuerio based in Lagos. At this period, cinema activities were limited to Lagos before it spread to other parts of the then Western Nigeria; Ibadan in 1921 and Ijebu ode in 1929 (Okome, 1991). Ekwuazi (1991) observes that film has evolved from three crucial socioeconomic stages in Nigeria: the colonial/independence period; the post independence period; and the post Indigenization Decree period.

The colonial period enjoyed the combined efforts of the colonial government and the church. The colonial government established the colonial film unit (CFU) during World War II with the sole responsibility of producing films for the colonies with the objectives of: showing/ convincing the colonies that they and the English had a common enemy in the Germans; to this end, about one quarter of all the films made by the CFU were war-related to encourage communal development in the colonies (Village Development is representative of this group); and to show the outside world the excellent work being done in hearten parts under the aegis of the Union Jack (Daybreak in Udi) (Ekwuazi 1991). And the missionaries, on their own, were motivated by the passion for evangelical/religious films with the aim of integrating or acculturating their converts into the Christian fold.

Hence, film exhibition in Nigeria took two forms. First the government and the church operated through the mobile film units (a van), a 16mm projector, a reel of 16mm film, and a motion picture screen. And second, commercial distributors operated through showings in the big halls and film theatres with films brought in through the British Council in London and the Crown Film Unit. These films were meant to condition the audience to "civilization" (Obioha, 2001). Thus, films during the colonial era were used to entrench the influence of the colonialists in the name of "civilization" to the detriment of indigenous cultural development. And the church missionaries used film as a religion enforcer to push Christianity down the throats of the people, creating a chaotic situation in which the new religion attempted to swallow up the indigenous religions (Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart intelligently reports on this devastating effect of Christianity on African religions and culture).

Correspondingly, the 1960 independence ushered in a new phase in film development. With the indigenous government still in place, there was an increasing need to re-define the geographical entity called Nigeria and build a new national consciousness, detached from the colonial framework on which the nation had previously been pivoted. Conversely, a film division was established under the Federal Ministry of Information and funded to produce documentary films about post-independent Nigeria for distribution within and outside the country. And as a result, regional and state governments joined the crusade, which gave birth to a host of "home-grown" documentaries in contrast to the pre-colonial, mainly imported films.

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