Sunday, January 8, 2012

Victorian Lagos and Modernity


The quote below about an emerging elite class of Lagosians embracing modernity under colonial rule is from Michael J. C. Echeruo's Victorian Lagos: Aspects of Nineteenth Century Lagos Life , which uses archives of the Lagos Press from that period to reconstruct patterns of life and thought in Lagos during the second half of the 19th century.
These Lagosians were usually very conversant with events in Europe and America, especially with the progress and consequences of the American Civil War. They maintained close contact with friends and other descendants of rescued slaves on the West African coast. They had high hopes for themselves and for the Africa they were going to help civilize. They felt deep obligations to the hinterland, and yet considered the civilizing influence of British power sufficiently beneficial to justify the gradual control which Britain was gaining over Yorubaloand. They wanted good education for their children to be "refined," and so they frequently sent them to England. These children had to be in the smart circles of Lagos, so thay went into the right professions--law, medicine and the Arts. Educated Lagosians wanted to associate themselves with the usual recreations of a sophisticated Europe, and so went to the Races, to Fancy Dress balls, to the Gymkhana games, and to cricket. In the evenings, they went for "brisk walks" or for "short rides." On such ocassions, (as an advertisement reminded them), they called first on "their friend, the hairdresser. Everything will be done to your taste and profit and you will come again PRO BONO PUBLICO." (page 30)
The picture of Broad Street, Lagos, from 1951, comes from the diary of Margaret Jefferies, "A Trip to Nigeria, (1951)". The growing independence of the Lagos elite during this period and the change in the colonial equation from Britain as colonizer to Britain as source of the tools for modernization is captured  in the voice of Augustus Engmannin, A West African, narrating the 1950 British documentary, Here is the Gold Coast, about the modernization of Ghana. 

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