Shuga

Have you seen Shuga yet? The amazingly well-made MTV produced Kenyan series on love, sex, sexuality, youth culture and all things connected? Well, here I’ve gathered all episodes of Shuga for your viewing pleasure. They are up to date and I will make necessary edits when/if newer episodes are released.

Season 1

Season 2

TW: rape for episode 2

There are so many good things about Shuga. And I’m not talking about how stunningly gorgeous the leading ladies, Ayria and Vio are or the awesome soundtrack of the second season. Shuga talks about issues that were largely ignored when I was growing up in Abuja and still remain largely ignored today. And not only in Nigeria but in other African countries.

I think it’s best, or a very good choice, that the series is set in Kenya. I have previously written on my frustrations with how Nigerian media, Nollywood etc, portray sex, sexuality and rape. Shuga is definitely more balanced.

I really don’t have anything constructive to say, just watch and enjoy the series please.

ETA: I’ve embedded the latest episodes! Season two is now officially complete, I sincerely hope there’s a season three.

A Detailed Review of Aramotu; One Retelling of Yoruba Women in History

I wrote this essay immediately after watching the film Aramotu with a colleague from work, that was months ago. I delayed posting because I wanted to learn more about the gelede masks in Yoruba tradition (and I won’t lie, also because I grew distracted with other things).

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Aramotu
Aramotu is an amazing movie that has a lot to say not only about feminism and women’s rights among the Yoruba, but the film also manages to criticise colonialism and despotic leaders. Aramotu tells a great story and features wonderful acting that made my friend and I burst out laughing in the cinema at some of the things said that do not translate fully into English but were hilarious in Yoruba. Were I to summarise Aramotu in a sentence it would be; ‘popular uprising initiated by a woman, spread to the community through song and amplified by the supernatural forces surrounding Aramotu’s death’.

While watching the movie I kept on wondering about the gelede tradition, I finally wrote about my knowledge of gelede, which you can read here. Initially, when I learnt of gelede masquerade and how they are worn in celebration and praise of female elders, I assumed the gelede masks were worn by women. However, the truth is that gelede masquerades are men in women’s clothing, these men cross dress as women to praising womanhood and femininity, along with the ‘power’ that women hold.

Aramotu, the movie asks questions and seems to criticise the gelede and events surrounding the wearing of the gelede masks as allowing women to be praised and celebrated only within the patriarchal framework. Hence, while we have events that are supposedly in favour of women, concepts that supposedly empower women, they are actually thriving in an environment that seeks to limit and control women. As director Niji Akanni, says;

“Yoruba women from time immemorial are very hard working. They were actually the pillars of the society but being a patriarchal society, their contributions have always been underplayed, understated or even never acknowledged at all. At the same time, our myths give prominence to women. We venerate our women in myths but in actual history we tend to downplay their contributions to society, we tend to oppress them. So, that inconsistency between history and myth was what struck me about Aramotu. How can a culture venerate its women so much in myth, in stories but contemporary history tend to downplay them. Look at Moremi Ajasoro, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti and all that.

Osun, Yemoja, they were living human beings, they actually made immense contributions to the society at the period they lived but we tend to relegate those figures to mythical proportions. We never really acknowledge what they did. Even Moremi, she is known more as a mythical figure than the activist she was in her time.” Read more.

Aramotu, the eponymous character is a mother of two and a successful trader who regularly travels outside the village of Agesi to acquire goods that she sells in the marketplace. (Thus it is already clear that boundaries mean very little to her). She is married to a man, Akanmu who apparently cares for and loves her despite the taunts and jeers of his fellow men, women and family who believe that he is being cuckolded by Aramotu. He is called the ‘wife’ while Aramotu is called the ‘husband’, you can see glimpses of the way Akanmu is treated in the movie trailer (which sadly does not have English subtitles).

Aramotu is also a woodcarver, a profession that is forbidden for women to practice. Aramotu secretly carves wood usually in the middle of the night and in private room separate from the one she shares with her husband. Aramotu is centred on her craving a gelede mask to be worn by her fellow artist friend, Gbegiro for the festival in which the gelede masquerades dance during the Efe night. Aramotu is shown to be an innovative artist, she carves two faces onto her mask as opposed to the regular one face. Because of her innovation, she is chosen to become a member of the elusive yet powerful Cult of the Spider, a women’s secret society that is supposedly dangerous.

As the movie progresses, we see that things are not particularly good for women in the village. The men, spurred by the council of elders, have seized farmlands belonging to their wives so as to grow cash crops, such as banana and rubber, which they can sell to European traders. The women are distraught because they consider the farmland to be theirs to grow food on. The council of elders are only interested in generating wealth for themselves and though her husband warns her against it, Aramotu leads the women in a revolt against these self-serving ideas. Meanwhile, Aramotu’s husband grows frustrated with what he believes is his wife’s lack of submission to his authority, he takes another wife (a woman that Aramotu provides shelter for in her home due to her running away from her own home).

Along with her fellow artist friend, Gbegiro, Aramotu plans to use the gelede mask she is carving and selected songs to taunt the corrupt leaders of Agesi. She wants to use this vehicle to let encourage the leaders to do the right thing and to stop oppressing women in Agesi as Aramotu cannot openly challenge Iyalode who considers herself to be the voice of all the women in the village and represents them in the council of elders. Eventually, when it is discovered that Aramotu carves she is ostracised by her community. I found it extremely ironic, that a woman was severely punished for carving masks for a masquerade that is supposed to celebrate femininity and womanhood. I always had this image of gelede in my mind as something fascinatingly feminist in pre-colonial Yoruba culture.

While I could not see anything so abominable about Aramotu’s carving (I did not even initially understand why she crept out of bed with her husband to carve by a small flame in a secluded room), but of course society did. In the scene before Aramotu is killed for being a witch, she tells the Chief Priest that all she wanted to do was to utilise her God-given gifts, her arts to speak out on what she considered to be the ills of the Agesi society. She wanted to challenge the maltreatment of women within the community and provide a better life and education for the children. And the reply from the council of elders (all men and one woman) was, yes Aramotu’s intentions were honourable but were ultimately against tradition. She was accused of going against the Mother Earth when in only a few scenes earlier, she dreamt of the messenger from the Cult of the Spider telling her that anything she does was in line with the Mother Earth and would please Mother Earth. This raises questions, who had/has it right?

Gelede masquerades in action

I cannot help but think of traditions from other cultures that began as female only, these traditions were nurtured by women before tables turned and they became the domain of men. Examples include kabuki, a classical Japanese form of drama which started out as an all-female type of dance drama begun by a woman Izumo no Okuni. In the era of female kabuki, women played both male and female roles, eventually it was banned for being too profane and erotic. Women were banned from performing in kabuki plays and now kabuki seems to be entirely the domain of men who play both male and female roles (onnagata) today. Kabuki was introduced to me as an exclusively male form of stage play, thus I was really surprised to learn about Izumo no Okuni.

Interestingly, in Aramotu after the gelede mask with two faces appears and openly calls out the council of elders for their selfish and oppressive laws, the leaders outlawed the gelede festival. Even the villagers found it strange, the festivities surrounding the gelede masquerades had never been interrupted previously. Nevertheless the leaders, removed the masquerades that placate female elders to replace them with masquerades that drive everyone indoors and can kill on sight.

I wonder if gelede could have started out like kabuki. Women using masquerades to celebrate womanhood before it became men using masquerades to celebrate womanhood, while women were sidelined within the very communities and cultures that claim to celebrate them. Of course, I could be wrong and this may all be wishful thinking.

Only certain kinds of womanhood and femininity are celebrated within a patriarchy, in the movie the character of Iyalode represents the celebrated woman. Aramotu is the woman that challenges tradition and mores, she symbolises change that the oppressive elders/leaders are scared of. On the other hand, Iyalode does not challenge anything or anyone. Iyalode is the leader of all the women in the community and she has some power as the only woman to sit in the council of elders with other men. She does not challenge her fellow power holders, she too seeks to benefit from the gains they will achieve. It is not until Aramotu is dead and her restless spirit brings omens upon the community that Iyalode is exiled from the community along with the other corrupt elders.

However in reality, when innovative people are wrongly killed there is no magic to bring justice to them and to ensure that their visions are upheld. Aramotu ended on a somewhat positive note as before Aramotu died, almost as if she knew she was going to be killed, she hid her wealth and instructed the women of Agesi to take all the fortune she had amassed in her life.

Sometimes watching a Yoruba movie feels like reading a work of speculative fiction. A lot of Nigerians I know seem to detest the ‘supernatural element’ in several Yoruba movies, in fact I came across a review of Aramotu that basically said the movie would have been great if not for the distressing inclusion of the supernatural element. I love watching Yoruba movies where things caused by magic happen and in which evil is resolved by priests of the traditional religion. Excluding the fact that movie centres around masquerades, Aramotu includes such gems as The Ritual of the Death Wish, the Cult of the Spider, the Ritual of Appeasement…I enjoyed watching the movie doubly because of things like this. The masquerades really, I didn’t know about the Oro mummers, ‘the masquerades that sometimes kill’ my colleague whispered to me in the darkness of the cinema. I mean I always thought masquerades beat and kill people but the only Yoruba masquerades I know a few things about are the gelede.

In addition, in the Malian film Taafé Fanga, there was a certain buzzing sound that announced the coming of the Albarga masquerade. This buzzing sound was also present in Aramotu and announced the coming of the Oro mummers, so that people would have ample time to run and hide in the their homes. I found this fascinating.

The acting was superb, Idiat Shonibare who played Aramotu delivered her role excellently. It was due to her acting that I found Aramotu’s character even more inspirational. Though Idiat Shonibare is apparently a newcomer, there are other faces in Aramotu that any Yoruba movie aficionado would recognise such as Ireti Osayemi-Bakare and Kayode Odumosu.

Despite my obvious love for Aramotu, I have the same old issues with this movie that I have with other Yoruba historical films that are otherwise awesome. While the special effects were nothing to write home about, they were not tragically horrible.

The clothes worn in the movie were pretty awesome. There was aso oke and some outfits made with wax print which makes sense considering the history of Dutch wax prints in West Africa. It comes as no surprise to me that Aramotu won an award in the ‘Best Costume Design’ category at the African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA). I also adored Aramotu‘s depiction of men playing ayo to pass time and to joke around. Furthermore, there was a scene in which Aramotu was using a washboard, this may seem insignificant but I think it is awesome as I believe that scene challenges the notion that everyone in pre-colonial Africa washed at the stream instead of in the convenience of their homes.

Despite the awesomeness of the costumes, I was not too pleased with the setting and also the hairstyles of the female characters in a movie that is set in Yoruba history. I am not going to get tired of bringing up this lack of creativity with natural or otherwise ‘local’ hairstyles in African historical fiction and movies, until it is resolved. At the same time, I understand that it may not be easy finding a Yoruba-speaking actress (or actresses for that matter) that have the kind of natural hair that can be styled like those old-school hairstyles in images such at the one on the right.

Click image for source

The use of wigs and hair extensions will usually solve this problem. To be honest, I would prefer even thread to the all-back and chuku they like to give female characters in the Yoruba historical movies I have seen. Igbo historical movies seems to have more creativity on this side.

The houses shown in Aramotu had corrugated iron sheet roofs…my colleague rightly said that people are still living like that today. At first I wondered if Yoruba villages in 1909 had roofs made of corrugated iron but a quick search online let me know that it was possible (corrugated galvanised iron was invented in the 1820s). While I cannot speak much on the history accuracy on this part, I can say that if houses from villages that stand today were used in shooting Aramotu I would be dissatisfied.

As a lover of most things related to African history, especially fiction and films, I long for the days that African historical movies on the level of say my favourite Korean historical dramas, Queen Seon Duk or Hwang Jin Yi, will come into existence. In those productions, it is pretty clear the amount of care that was taken into building settings and wardrobe (costume and hairstyles). Perhaps if more money was spent on Aramotu the people working behind the scenes would have produced an elaborate story, this backed with a good storyline, excellent moral message and a healthy does of magic in the ‘supernatural element’ would be awesome.

Aramotu is a film that attempts to understand the tendency to erase strong women in Yoruba history, relegating them and their contributions to myths. The film tells the story of a female woodcarver with forward thinking ideas and the price a patriarchal society forces her to pay for thinking and acting ‘out of her place’. While few issues detract from the film, overall Aramotu is a movie with a very important message.

Taafé Fanga (Skirt Power)


Taafé Fanga is a film about a group of Dogon women who, with the power of a mask, manage to subvert gender roles in their mountainous village. Taafé Fanga has elements of comedy (which may not translate well outside a West African audience) yet, the heart of Taafé Fanga is female empowerment.

The film begins in a room crowded with children, women and men gathered round a television, watching a black and white Hollywood musical. A griot enters the room and switches off the television before taking his seat before his audience and placing his harp before him. As the griot wonders what kind of story to delight the audience with, a beautifully dressed woman enters the room and searches for a place to sit. She decides on a spot but a man stands up to tell her that women are not welcome to sit there, ‘Women and children sit over there’, he points. When the woman ignores his comment, he tries to hit her and she overpowers him to sit among the men. The griot then decides to tell the tale of a Dogon village, Yanda, where women lived as men for a while.

In the 18th century Dogon village of the griot’s tale, it is pretty clear from the onset that women are not faring well. There is unbalance between the genders and thus there is an unbalance in the world. Elderly Aunt Timbé is depressed due to her equally elderly husband, Ambara’s incoming second wife. She works hard to fetch firewood for him but he is uncaring of her old age and orders her to fetch some more wood because his bath is not hot enough. Yayemé and her daughter Kuni are relatively happy with Agro, Yayemé’s husband. Agro is willing to help out with the household chores, however this is before the other men in the village, Yanda start making fun of him for doing ‘women’s work’.

When Aunt Timbé borrows some firewood from the younger Yayemé, there is not enough wood left in Yayemé’s home but Yayemé is not bothered because she believes her husband will bring some wood on his return home. Agro returns without the firewood, he orders Aunt Timbé to return the wood she has borrowed but Yayemé refuses. I believe he hits Yayemé at this point and in a fit of anger she decides to go out to fetch more wood by her self even though night is falling and the elves and Andumbulu, the spirits roam about the plains at night.

Agro explains to Kuni that the Andumbulu are spirit ancestors of the Tellem the indigenous, cave-dwellers that originally inhabited Yanda and its surroundings. The Dogon invaded Tellem territory and engineered the Tellen Massacre though the Tellem still live on in Dogon folklore as elves who command the power of the Andumbulu spirits (masquerades).

Of course Yayemé encounters the spirits in a celebration while chopping some wood. At first she is frightened and tries to flee, when that proves futile, Yayemé manages to knock one of the spirits out. She eventually steals the mask of the spirit she wounded. I wondered why Yayemé thought to steal the mask in the first place and it struck me that while running from the spirits, Yayemé lost her skirt. As she forces the mask off the elf, she says that she ‘needs proof’ and much later on when she returns home, sneaking in by scaling the back wall, her husband beats her presumably because she returned home without her skirt (and may therefore be having an extra-marital affair). As Yayemé runs towards Yanda with the mask in her possession, she is warned that her actions will bring death and destruction to her village.

It doesn’t take Yayemé and Aunt Timbé, her confidante, long enough to know that they can use the mask’s powers to their advantage. They believe that the mask is in their possession only due to fate, and that Anma the god of justice must have seen the women of the village suffering and decided to intervene by giving them such power. Aunt Timbé convinces Yayemé that they can use the mask for good. In cooperation with some women in the village, a plot is hatched. Yayemé wears the mask and appears before the men of the village, proclaiming that she is a spirit sent by the god of justice and that men and women must trade roles. That henceforth, men must do all the activities that were previously set apart as ‘women’s work’ (cooking, cleaning, bringing water, take care of the children…all household tasks). The men are at first full of doubt that the masked person before them is truly Andumbulu, but then the masquerade points a leather and fur cane at a particularly energetic man and he drops dead. Thus, the men have no choice but to obey.

The women give the men their skirts, and they dress like men, in trousers and hats. They even take over the cave that was previously used by the men’s secret society. The women have fun lounging beneath the shades and imagining their lives as men. Soon, the tired men, frustrated at being forced to undertake tasks that they know nothing of, have to rebuff the sexual advances of their wives. The women do not seem to have similar troubles becoming hunters, bosses and enjoying their alcohol.

However, things do not remain idyllic for long. Despite their power, relations in Yanda are fraught with tension and the society remains imbalanced. The wife of the man who the whole village believes was killed by the Andumbulu is wielding a gun in her search for vengeance. Furthermore, to make matters even worse, Yayemé’s young daughter, Kuni, befriends a battered woman with backward feet who is looking for her mask.

It’s a world made by men, for men
A world full of confusion and suffering for the rest of us
In this world of uncertainty
peace and unity are empty words

Taafé Fanga follows women challenging patriarchy. There are Aunt Timbé and Yayemé mentioned above. Yayemé’s daughter, Kuni who also plays an important role as she is the person who ushers reconciliation between the men and women of the village, starting with boys and girls of her age group. I adored Kuni, she was so spunky and full of character, trading light-hearted insults with Aunt Timbé (a woman who really should be her grandmother), helping and befriending the strange woman with backward feet, using the ruse of the Andumbulu in the village to scare boys and men. In addition, there is the strange woman that Kuni saves, Yandju the Tellem.

You see, the night Yayemé encountered the ‘spirits’ they were in the middle of a celebration, the Sigi ritual held every 60 years in honour of the Andumbulu. Women, that is female Tellem, are bared from participating in and viewing such events. However Yandju does not like this tradition, so she steals the most powerful mask, Albarga the mask of social harmony and unity to attend the festival. Yandju did not foresee that the Albarga would end up being stolen but she needs to return it to her people before the mask runs out of power (and brings total destruction with it).

Thus, there are women fighting male supremacy in the Dogon village of Yanda, among the indigenous Tellem and in present day (recall the woman who decides to sit among men before the griot began his tale).

As the movie progresses and relations in the village deteriorate further, Aunt Timbé realises that it was not a good idea to encourage gender stereotypes in reverse. She confides in Yayemé saying that; ‘Men and women are here to complement each other. Let’s use our power now to bring equality among us. Let’s share everything: work, happiness and misfortune.’ Aunt Timbé envisions using the power of the mask to encourage equality and thereby irrigate the arid land they inhabit, making it fertile once more.

On the other side, the wife of the deceased man, believed to be murdered by the Andumbulu is still searching for her husband’s killer and Yandju desperately wants her mask back. Yayemé finds that her life may be in danger, as the vengeful women believe she had murdered a man. Yandju confronts her demanding that the Albarga mask be returned by Yayemé strongly refuses. To escape confrontation, she secludes herself in a hut in the outskirts of Yanda that seems to be left for menstruating women (and apparently as she is on her period, other women, including Yandju will grant her amnesty and not physically fight with her).

The Albarga mask rapidly loses it’s power and the men have discovered Yandju and they know that she is no ordinary human. Soon, the women’s ruse falls down and the men, along with the revenge-seeking women demand answers. Yayemé confesses that she was the one who wore the mask and ordered the reversal of gender roles. However, she insists that she did not kill the man who she believes died of a weak heart and in a gesture of supplication asks his widow to forgive her. Then a woman that has been heavily pregnant throughout the story goes into labour. It is up to Aunt Timbé, Yayemé and Yandju to help her while the entire village begin chanting and praying for the baby’s safe arrival.

Taafé Fanga ends with the birth of twins (a boy and a girl!) with the Albarga mask fully restored and Yandju vanishing. The men take control of the mask and with it comes the rule that no woman is to set eyes on the Andumbulu masquerade. Kuni and her mother, Yayemé watch the men retreat with the mask in their power and Kuni states; ‘It is not about power. it is about equality in our difference’.

In the modern time, the griot returns to sing, ‘Women, from the four corners of the world, fight for the right to be different and equal’. Meanwhile, back in the 18th century Dogon village of Yanda, a female griot sings; ‘We’ve experienced the taste of freedom and we will never forget! So beware!’

In conclusion, a word about the setting, I must say that while watching Taafé Fanga, I found the architecture and structure of the Yanda to be beautiful. The streets were wide, arching and maze-like. When I think of Yanda, I think ‘orderly and very clean’ contrary to the image of West African villages we see in any sort of media (even West Africa media). I guess this has to do with the geography of Dogon villages, you can see images of Dogon villages on Wikipedia.

Taafe Fanga
Forgotten Classics of Yesteryear: Taafe Fanga
California Newsreel: Taafe Fanga
Taafe Fanga/Skirt Power
Watch Taafe Fanga at The African Film Library!

On In-flight Entertainment

Before actually writing about my fun times in Western Asia, can I write about the process of getting there? I counted and in the past weeks I have boarded six planes. SIX. And I am not counting the two flights I had to catch from Abuja to Lagos because I went with Emirates (and came back with Qatar airlines). Considering this I had to really make us of the in-flight entertainment offered and I guess I am lucky, because both Emirates and Qatar offer amazing choices, i.e. choices that suit my taste. In other words those airlines have a wide selection of entertainment from Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe. When I visited the United States earlier this year I used British Airways and I pretty much had to use my laptop for entertainment, I remember I finished watching Sungkyunkwan Scandal in the air (and the person seated right next to me was into Korean pop music and dramas as well!). FYI, I usually cannot sleep while in airplanes unless I am extremely tired.

This post is dedicated to in-flight entertainment XD

I saw this article up on CNNGo on Qantas airs warning passengers on orgasms and flights due to in-flight entertainment. Well, I can certainly speak for the latter, I have cried due to watching movies while flying and so far the movies that have made me cry were Korean. I watched 하모니 and I cried and cried shamelessly, this was last year. This time I watched 마이 블랙 미니드레스 and the portrayal of female friendship, life after university and family relationship, just touched me so much I found myself crying. I don’t think I am someone who cries easily.

This aside, I watched some pretty good movies like Detective K and the Secret of the Virtuous Widow, De vrais mensonges (I love this movie, it made me laugh out loud in the plane) and 小川の辺 (which was slow but in a very good way). The list also includes Storm Warriors (*sigh* Aaron Kwok) and Mr & Mrs Incredible (which I sadly did not enjoy). I recall there was a time that Emirates offered Nollywood films as part of their in-flight entertainment, but I did not find any this time so maybe I imagined it in the first place.

After listening to the entire K-pop playlist more than once…remember, but six different planes…I had to diversify so I checked out the African and J-pop mixes, even checked out one of the Chinese playlists that featured artists singing in both Mandarin and Cantonese. When I discovered I had more free time decided to check out music I would have normally ignored, this was how I listened to the Russian mix which I enjoyed tremendously. By the return journey I had caught the Arabic pop bug so I browsed all the albums under the ‘Arabic pop’ menu and found some really good artists, I am still trying to sort out the Arabic pop I want to add to my library.