Her Name in My Mouth

by: , June 25, 2022

Her Name in my Mouth (2017) is the first of a series of three works titled No Dance, No Palaver. The works were united in their exploration of an event, the Aba Women’s War, through archival material. The Aba Women’s War or, Riots, of 1929 is claimed to be one of the first anti-colonial protests in Nigeria carried out exclusively by women. Tens of thousands of women in districts across Owerri, Aba and Ikot Epene protested outside the offices of the warrant chiefs and district officers to halt the taxation of women and remove these functionaries of colonial rule (van Allen 1972: 173-4). In retaliation, the British sent police and soldiers to quell the uprising,

On two occasions, clashes between the women and the troops left more than 50 women dead and 50 wounded from gunfire (van Allen 1972: 174).

The government set up a commission of inquiry that sat in 1930 to hear evidence about the riots, establish who was at fault and how to assign blame. Some of the women involved testified and are recorded in the Report of the Commission of Inquiry Appointed to Inquire into the Disturbances in the Calabar and Owerri Provinces, December 1929. The report itself, held at The National Archives in Kew, is the archive material that No Dance, No Palaver is based on, with the title taken from a comment from one of the British officials at the Commission. The written report is the way in which this event is studied today.

In making No Dance, No Palaver I wanted to see how the women’s testimonies bound in the archive could be communicated in other ways—if it was possible for the testimonial to exist outside of the written form. On entering the archive, I was at first interested in capturing and keeping hold of all the ways in which my body responded to it, the flare of the nostrils when reading something absurd or that I disagreed with, or the smell of paper that had once been wet but had been dried out carefully over time. Knowledge elsewhere, more than just from the eyes. My entire sensual experience of archival material was in consideration, and it is through this that the encounter with the archive was to be visually represented.

I attempt to conjure the feeling of being in the archive to highlight those other sensory responses. In this way, I try to depict how it felt to touch the different textures of archives. The opening shot of the film is my hand touching Dutch wax prints, an omnipresent feature of traditional clothing worn across West Africa, I rub the material together and the sounds created are heard on the soundtrack. This shot is linked to me touching the paper of the Commission of Inquiry in the same manner, rubbing a finger down the page so a squeak can be heard, visually and sonically linking both the cloth and paper as material of archives. The middle section of the film is a documentation of archive research, filmed rostrum style, with the lens of the camera acting as my eye looking down at material. The sounds of handling the report, turning pages, or unfurling maps are prominent in the soundtrack throughout, again, to put the audience in the location of my encounter with the archive. Details of the report are edited as a selection of close-up shots in quick succession, to draw the audience to the partial manner in which I viewed the material, drawn to certain words or emblems. Again, reinforcing the particularity and partiality of the research. Pages are flicked by without being read and a wide shot of the pages of the report is blurred, foregrounding Glissant’s ideas of opacity, that ‘[t]he thought of opacity distracts me from absolute truths whose guardian I might believe myself to be’ (Glissant 1997: 192). So, this blurring dismisses the supposed importance of the material being viewed—its ability to tell us the truth of the matter.


Glissant, Édouard (1997) ,Poetics of Relation, translated by B. Wing, Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

van Allen, Judith  (1972) ,‘“Sitting on a Man”: Colonialism and the Lost Political Institutions of Igbo Women’, Canadian Journal of African Studies/Revue Canadienne des Études Africaines, Vol. 6, No. 2, pp. 165–181.

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