Sunday, 16 March 2014


26 years ago, her quest for answers brought her face to face with the dreaded goddess of the creeks of Nigeria’s riverine areas. Her voyage into the intangible world of myth ,belief, and fear of the super natural led to the creation of her fascinating 1987 documentary ‘Mammy Water’ and her book The Water Goddess in Igbo Cosmology’. In April, Sabine Jell-Bahlsen found herself back in the creeks of the Niger Delta where she marvels at the changes that have taken place since her memorable encounter with the goddess of the creeks even as she gives her take on the dazzling comparison between Nollywood’s AMAA awards and the Oscars:

‘In April 2013, I was honored by an invitation to Nigeria to attend both, the grand African Movi Academy Awards, AMAA ceremony and the Bayelsa Book and Craft Fair. Both were rewarding experiences in their own different ways. AMAA was just fantastic, taking the format of the American Oscars, but in its own distinctly unique way. For one, while the Oscar is a rather stiff male, the AMAA trophy is a dancing woman whose enlarged image was projected turning at times partially veiled in smoke in front of a full moon. The nominations came in different categories, four each for nomination of best short film, best documentary, fiction, screen plays, original story, actors, actresses, directors, Diaspora films, life time achievement awards and many more, all exclusively from the African continent. The nominations had previously been determined in Malawi, while the eventual awards covered artists from many different African countries, and the award ceremony itself took place in Nigeria, the home of Nollywood. AMAA was founded by the event’s executive director, Peace Anyiam-Osigwe in 2005. I was greatly impressed by the film clips, professional presentation, light show and live music and dance interludes, and enjoyed this outstanding event very much. I hope I’ll be able to see more of the nominated and awarded films, perhaps at the New York African Film Festival or on European TV.

The Bayelsa Book and Craft Fair took place in conjunction with AMAA, but was very different. I had been invited by this year’s event organizer, Mr. Onyeka Nwelue, a young film maker and author of The Abyssinian Boy. Mr. Nwelue has strong ties to Oguta and was very impressed with my anthropology research in that area resulting in my book, The Water Goddess in Igbo Cosmology; Ogbuide of Oguta Lake (Africa World Press, 2008). He had invited me to Yenogua for a public conversation with Ropo Ewenla, an author and intellectual cultural personality from Lagos. Unfortunately, many invitees including Mr. Ewenla did not show up at the event or canceled last minute, like Shoba De from India, due to security concerns over the location and venue: Bayelsa as well as Port Harcourt, location of the nearest airport, have unfortunately lately become known for kidnappings of not only foreigners, but also wealthy or well-known Nigerians. In view of these last minute cancellations the book fair program turned out rather chaotic. Half of the panels including mine did not take place, neither did scheduled film screenings. Despite disappointment about the absence of those who didn’t make it and the resulting program disruptions, there were readings from Achebe’s latest book–always an asset. I read from the chapter on the role of “the Intellectuals in Biafra” about Kurt Vonneguth’s agony after his visit and about my own late mentor, Stanley Diamond who later published “Who Killed Biafra?” in the New York Review of Books, reprinted in Dialectical Anthropology 2007.

The Bayelsa Book and Craft Fair was very rewarding for me personally: There were admittedly some hick-ups, but I met wonderful young artists, actors and authors whose books I am reading now and with whom I keep contact. A breakfast conversation with Gabriel Okara was also a real highlight for me, since I’ve been carrying some questions about The Voice in my heart for years and cherished the opportunity to finally meet and discuss with Mr. Okara in person. What a wonderful experience! Another highlight was the Prof. Alagoa Library. We were invited to a wonderful lunch in their garden under very heavy security–I have never been in a space with so many armed men and women! Several authors including myself donated their books. The library was established with the aid of an NGO, the Community Defence Law Foundation, whose goal is to bring books to rural Nigeria, and who can assist with shipping costs for donations. Very impressive, as were the Art and Craft presentations in the Ijaw Center. The whole Bayelsa Book & Craft Fair event was an excellent networking opportunity. The positives by far outweighed whatever little mishaps there were. Yenogua is not an easy location, but people from the cities need to see that all is not as rosy and easy everywhere as they are used to. Everything went fairly smoothly though, and most importantly, nothing bad happened. As far as I know despite some glitches everybody reached their homes safely.

Last not least, I want to thank the Bayelsa Tourist Board for their hospitality. Bayelsa has a lot to offer: I remember traveling the delta creeks to Nembe in a speed boat during my Mammy Water documentary film production in 1987 and 1989; how serenely beautiful these creeks were, and how beautiful the music and performances of the local people were! The Niger Delta could be such an interesting sight for tourists and naturalists. The craft fair offered a glimpse, and the Manatee poster on the Tourist office wall was a nostalgic reminder. The area’s current oil production is a known disaster–environmentally as well as economically, politically and socially for the suffering and resisting local population. I am very sorry for the current situation of so much insecurity and destruction. Hoping for a better future.

Sabine Jell-Bahlsen
Germany and Brooklyn, NY.

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