My freshman year at University of Nigeria, Nsukka, or UNN, a guy almost raped me

Busola Dakolo

My freshman year at University of Nigeria, Nsukka, or UNN, a guy almost raped me. He threatened to bring out a gun, he slapped me, he said I could scream as loudly as I wanted, no one would come to help me. Apparently, unbeknownst to me, he had a reputation for being a rapist so “whoever went to his room was asking for it.” Years before then, I was still in high school, our family physician whom I called uncle, touched me up on his examination table. Years before then, I was in elementary school then, my mother’s cousin cornered me in the kitchen and squeezed my non-existent boobs. The UNN guy, let’s call him EE, is now some sort of ‘evangelist’ in Lagos; the physician is still practicing, somewhere in Europe; my mother’s cousin is dead. It’s been many years, but I’ve never forgotten. I also never told my mother until many, many years after the fact. People saying they don’t believe Busola Dakolo because she’s only now telling her story should take several seats behind. There are reasons why sexual assault victims in our society keep quiet. 

For one, ours is one where the culture of victim blaming/shaming is entrenched. To be raped is to become ‘damaged goods.’ EE raped with impunity because he knew the consequences, socially (and culturally), were worse for his victims than it would be for him. Victims found themselves in the uncomfortable position of protecting him so they could protect themselves. No one really expected justice from the authorities (school or police) in any case. Had he succeeded in raping me, I’d have told my brother (only so that my brother could organize to have him beaten up).Even if I had had the courage to walk around campus with the scarlet letter on my forehead, the shame we force rape victims to carry, I would have thought of reporting him to authorities as an exercise in futility. 

In the past days, I’ve read heartbreaking stories on my twitter timeline: a father beating his daughter for “allowing herself to be raped”; a mother beating her daughter for reporting that she was touched inappropriately by an older relative etc. etc. etc. I remember, a few years ago, reading of a man who forced his daughter’s rapist to marry her to “wipe away the shame.” 

Years ago, I took a break from Osuofia after I watched ‘Osuofia Speaks French’ where the character marries his rape victim (by whom he has a son), and her parents and friends, happy for her, tell her she’s no longer a “fallen woman” and “Now, your son is no longer a bastard.” That has long been the dynamics of rape in our society: the power to give and to rehabilitate rests with the criminal. 

However, things seem to be changing. It’s been heartening to hear stories of parents who’ve acted like they should; to see that there seems to be a movement determined to force offenders to answer for their crimes; that there is a new generation of Naija parents raising children to understand that there is no excuse for rape, and therefore the shame of the crime belongs ONLY to the criminal. Soon, we will break down the wall of undeserved shame that walls victims in and emboldens offenders. The future is bright #MeToo

(Photo Credit: Nigerian Tribune)

Why I no Longer Use the Term, ‘Game.’

Is it bushmeat or game? Who decides?

Years ago, I was enjoying my bushmeat in an Australian restaurant in Belgium and said as much when my dinner companion gently reminded me that what I was eating was “game” and not bushmeat, and I had been invited out to “enjoy game.” Apparently, bushmeat is what you get in a small, ramshackle affair by the roadside in Nsukka, paired with palm wine and most often eaten by hand, not meat carefully paired with a Pinot Noir or a Shiraz in a restaurant where the silverware is so shiny and so smudge free you can use it to fix your makeup.

This morning, I did a quick google search and found this:

“The term “bushmeat” refers to meat that comes from wild animals captured in developing regions of the world such as Africa. Bushmeat comes from a variety of wild animals, including bats, nonhuman primates (e.g., monkeys), cane rats (grasscutters), and duiker (antelope).”

“Game are wild animals and birds. Large native game animals living in America include antelope, buffalo, bear, deer, elk, moose, reindeer, and wild boar. “

Fact 1: bushmeat and game come from wild animals.

Fact 2: Antelope is bushmeat when in Africa but game once it crosses the ocean.

Question: Who does the naming?
Why does it matter?
What does naming say about the imperialism/hierarchy of cultures?

Naming is neither innocent nor neutral. Victors name the conquered, the wealthy name the poor. Think about why every westerner in Africa is an “expatriate” and Africans in the west are “immigrants,” and how the labelling influences the dominant narratives around these two groups. Think about why you are a cosmopolitan if you’ve travelled extensively (in the west) and speak a variety of European languages but not if you are Nigerian and have lived/travelled extensively across Africa and speak many African languages.

One of the stories my father-in-law (who taught history and French for many years) and my husband (who is a history buff) love to tell the younger generation (children and grandchildren) is how William the Conqueror influenced the names of (cooked) meat in English. When William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066, he gave land to the knights who fought with him and made them dukes and earls and etc. They did not work the farms or cook their own food but they named the meat which landed on their plates. The transformation from cow to beef (le boeuf), from pig to pork (le porc), from calf to veal (le veau) happened once the animals left the farms of the poor Anglo Saxon farmers and landed all ready to be devoured by the nobility.

Cultural imperialism of course goes beyond naming. It is also about what is framed as “civilized” and therefore desirable and what is not. It is about people turning up their noses at people eating eba with their hands and yet killing themselves to learn how to use chopsticks so they can “eat Japanese food the proper way.” It’s about people gagging at the thought of me enjoying goat meat (good thing it didn’t make it to the plates of the nobility or we would have been calling it chevon like the French or some other variant of chèvre) and yet ridiculing me for thinking that raw oysters are gross. It is people thinking that when the French speak English with their accent (including H-dropping), it is sexy but when a Yoruba does it, it is “bush.” It is people rolling their eyes at African superstitions yet believing that the position of the stars on the day they were born has an effect on their personality (and determines their fate). It is about people thinking that there is one single measure of civilization and that they calibrate it.

Years ago, I was invited to talk about my favorite pieces of classical music on a radio show in Belgium. I was upfront in my correspondence with the (producer?) about classical music not being my cup of tea. I think I said I wasn’t knowledgeable at all about it. Undeterred, she sent me a box of CDs of classical music, determined to bring me on the right side of “civilization.” She very thoughtfully labelled each CD according to its “mood.” I gifted the CDs to my husband (who does enjoy classical music). A few weeks later, I get a mail from the producer asking if I’d played the CDs. I lied and said I had. She decided I was ready to come on the show. Cut a long story short, I went on the show and the woman begins by talking about my ignorance of classical music before the show and then asks, ‘So, you had no culture of music growing up in Nigeria?” In proper Naija fashion, I answered her question with a question. I asked her what she knew of highlife (“Highlife? What’s that?”). I asked her what she knew of juju (she’d never heard of it.) I told her it didn’t matter to my father that she knew Mozart and Beethoven, if she knew nothing of highlife and juju, she was a cultural barbarian. She was appalled. She had not thought that there was a “musical culture” outside of the European tradition. Like my mother would say, I gave her homework.

In recent years, I have begun making a conscious effort to pass out such homework where I can. We all have a responsibility in challenging narratives that privilege other cultures/voices/stories over ours.

And that is why I no longer use the term, “game” for any kind of bushmeat.

 

(Photo Credit: Guardian / Issouf Sanogo / AFP / Getty)