SSoP Podcast Ep. 19 — Nigeria: Jollof Rice, Nigerian Pidgin, and So Much Hustle

SSoP Podcast Ep. 19 — Nigeria: Jollof Rice, Nigerian Pidgin, and So Much Hustle

Monday, 16 November, 2020

Located on the west coast of Africa, Nigeria is the seventh most populous country in the world — and one in six Africans is Nigerian. Its megacity Lagos is the hub of commerce for the country, and it’s also knows for its epic nightlife, bustling street markets, influential music scene, and Nollywood, the second-largest film industry in the world (to the tune of 1500 movies per year).

Most countries embody contradictions, but Nigeria takes it to extremes. There’s vast wealth (thanks to its oil reserves) right next door to poverty; one-third of the population lives below the poverty line. Devout religious beliefs rub elbows with government corruption.

Despite all that, or perhaps because of it, Nigerian culture is boisterous, colorful, and exuberant, shaped by both religions and tribal tradition. The population is split almost 50/50 between Christianity and Islam. And there are more than 250 ethnic groups in the country. The three prominent are the northern, Muslim Hausa-Fulani; the southwestern (and most West-aligned) Yoruba; and the Christian Igbo in the southeast.

English is the official language — Hello, British colonization! — but more than 500 languages are spoken in Nigeria. The shared language amongst most people is Nigerian Pidgin, a creole language that combines local dialects, slang, and English words. When someone asks, ‘How far?’ they want to know how you’re doing. And you can answer, ‘I dey.’ (Fine!)

In this episode, we explore Nigeria’s past and present, including the deliciously carb-centric and spicy food. Then we discuss five books that took us there on the page, including a sci-fi-noir novel, an evocative travelogue, a darkly comic story of sisterly love, a multi-generational family saga featuring Nigerian cuisine, and the tale of a village girl on a quest for an education.


Read the full transcript of Episode 19: Nigeria.

My Sister, the Serial Killer

buy | read review

Looking for Transwonderland

buy | read review

The Girl with the Louding Voice

buy | read review


buy | read review

Butter Honey Pig Bread

buy | read review

other books we mentioned


other cool stuff we talked about

  • Nollywood: The Nigerian film industry is the second largest in the world, churning out about 1500 movies per year. They’re known for being a bit over the top. You can watch lots of trailers on YouTube and enjoy a few here:
  • Afrobeat vs. Afrobeats: Don’t confuse the two — it’s a faux pas! Read all about the difference between these two music labels.

  • Lagos Street Food Tour: The Best Ever Food Review Show hits the streets of Lagos for puff puffs, Abacha (salad), plantains, and more.

  • BattaBox: BattaBox is a YouTube show made by Nigerians for Nigerians about food, news, entertainment, and more. Here’s an episode about how to make pounded yam:
  • Nigerian Pidgin: Wikipedia has lots of details about Nigerian Pidgin; here’s a list of 20 useful words and phrases in Pidgin; and you can visit the BBC News website in Pidgin. This article describes how the BBC is working to document what has been, until now, only an oral language.

  • Song Queen: A Pidgin Opera: In 2015, the first opera written in West African Pidgin was performed in Lagos. It tells the story of Mami Wata, a mermaid-like creature from African folklore. Here’s a lovely video of one of the songs, and this piece from the BBC has more details about the show and audio clips. _’ I went to the opera wearing my ankara,’ creator Jayne Isibor explained, indicating her jewel-bright Nigerian clothes, which caused a stir among the black-tie wearing opera regulars. ‘And I thought, actually, I’m going to pidgin this entire situation up!’

  • This should, perhaps, never have happened. A for effort?

  • Zorse! A zorse is the offspring of a zebra and a horse. Here are lots of photos.
  • Oyinkan Braithwaite: In this video, the author of our recommended book My Sister, the Serial Killer talks with the BBC Africa Book Club.
  • Noo Saro-Wiwa: The author of our recommended book Looking for Transwonderland delivers a TEDx talk that explores the impact of hierarchies. (This is also an excellent print interview with The Guardian.)
  • Abi Daré: A video interview with the author of our recommended book The Girl with the Louding Voice.
  • Tade Thompson: The author of our recommended book Rosewater talks to The Guardian about his novel and his other career as a doctor.

  • Francesca Ekquyasi: The author of our recommended book Butter Honey Pig Bread talks about her novel with the CBC and explains how food is the ‘punctuation between all the talking’.



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Top image courtesy of Alucardion.

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Poetry can cut to the heart of an issue like no other art form. It's both personal and universal, a way to shine a light on issues and how we relate to each other. Here are two works from Nigerian poets that we love.
Fact: Meat-on-a-stick is always the best meat. In Nigeria, skewered meat is called suya. Seasoned with garlic, ginger, smoked paprika, chili powder, cayenne pepper, and peanuts, it's street food you can make at home.
The energy of Nigeria is infectious and undeniable. It's a long way to travel IRL, but you can take a virtual trip to its street markets, fashion shows, and book clubs in Lagos and beyond via these stunning photos.
Jollof rice is a delicious staple of Nigerian cuisine. Seasoned with tomatoes, red pepper, and chiles, it's simultaneously spicy, sweet, complex, and comforting — much like the heroines of 'Butter Honey Pig Bread.'
Although Nigeria and its capital (mega)city of Lagos seem like the ideal place for more extroverted travelers, the books set in this West African country tell gripping, moving stories of humanity, hope, and family.

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