Literary manuscripts in Nigeria

It appears that there is a disconnection between the impressive literary culture of Nigeria, on the one hand, and the absence of literary manuscripts in Nigerian institutions, on the other.

A new National Library of Nigeria is being built, and should be opened in 2015, but it is not clear that its collecting mandate includes literary papers. Similarly, the University of Ibadan Library does not appear to have a section for manuscripts or archives. Neither does the University of Port Harcourt Library (both these universities have close connections with the playwright and novelist Elechi Amadi). There is a collection of Arabic literary manuscripts in Bayero University Library (described here: http://www.loc.gov/rr/amed/afs/NigerianSurveyTour2007/NigerianSurveyTour.html), and Arabic manuscripts may present a rather different story.

The National Archives of Nigeria has a small number of collections of private papers, but none of them appear to be literary collections. The eight catalogued collections are these:

Individual and Family Papers

CLINTON: J.V. Clinton (279 files)
HOLT 1-2: John Holt (58 files, 1897-1900)
HUNTER 1: Mr Hunter collection (4 files, 1825-1902)
IKOLI 1-3: Ernest Sesi Ikoli (49 files, 1939-66)
JAJA 1-5: King Jaja of Opobo
OKE 1-3: Rev. G.A. Oke (264 files, 1891-1961)
LFP 1-11: Lijadu Family papers and Records of the Missions of Evangelist, Ondo, Western Nigeria (468 files, 1878-1879)
COKER 1-4: J.K. Coker Family Papers and Records of the African Church Organization, Agege, Lagos (1,099 files, 1915-37.

In his 1995 book Long drums and canons, Bernth Lindfors describes his own actions in connection with the Amos Tutuola manuscripts and his attempt to place them in the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas. Reporting to a conference in Ibadan on the probable Texan purchase of these papers (with money for the elderly Tutuola and prestige for Nigerian literature), he was disappointed to be heckled by the audience and to be told that Nigeria’s literary heritage belonged in Nigeria. He says that he now agrees with that view, but asks:

Has any Nigerian institutional library or archive started collecting literary manuscripts? If not, why not? Are there no literature department chairmen, deans, or vice-chancellors in Nigeria who are prepared to devote a portion of the university funds they administer to the preservation of Nigeria’s literary culture? If not, why not? Please forgive my monotonous aggressiveness. I’m only asking the questions that your posterity will ask of you.

It is not clear that very much has changed since 1995. The Amos Tutuola collection is now indeed in the Ransom Center (see http://norman.hrc.utexas.edu/fasearch/findingAid.cfm?eadid=00131), while the papers of Chinua Achebe are in Harvard and the papers of Wole Soyinka are divided between the Universities of Harvard and Leeds. Literary specialists at Harvard have worked very closely with Nigerian authors. See this blog entry on Achebe’s death:
http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/houghton/2013/03/23/chinua-achebe-1930-2013.

SLA and the Diasporic Literary Archives Network would be happy to co-operate with Nigerian colleagues in order to make possible the establishment of literary collections in Nigeria. The work we have done with Namibia over the past three years may provide some encouragement that such an initiative would be worthwhile.

David Sutton
Chair / Président of SLA

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