8. How do you help students analyze these documents?
I ask them what they think the testimony is for and what do the Europeans think it[s] for and what do the Africans who are testifying think its for. I ask them what they think the main concerns of Europeans are. They tend to skip the part where the Commissioners asking the question, but that in some ways is very important because thats structuring the terms in which this interaction takes place. So I encourage them to go back and think about whats being asked and what is the space here for bringing up anything that women want to bring up.
Then I ask them what they think womens major concerns are. I ask them to look for differences of opinion which there are within this testimony, tremendous differences, even between the women, about what should be done about their situation. And then also between women and men.
Nwanyeruwas husband is called to give testimony. They grill him about this issue of customary law. The Commissioner says, You know they all went to Okugos house? And the witness says, Yes, sir.
Did you go there too?
No, sir, men did not go.
Did you approve of your women going?
I am not a woman.
The Commissioner says, But you are the husband of two wives. Dont you approve or disapprove of what they do? And the witness says, They had been excited by Emeruwa and therefore they went to sit on him.
The Commissioner says, Did you feed in the middle of the day at your home with your wives? And Ojim says, My women were in their houses. I prepared food myself and ate it together with my children.
The Commissioner says, Is it usual for a man with two wives to prepare his food? And the witness says, I have not seen that done.
The Commissioner says, You have never seen a big man with two wives preparing his own food? and the witness says, No, sir, you may ask anybody in this hall.
But you made us believe just now that in the middle of the day you prepared your own food. And Ojim says, It was in the evening. There was no one in the compound. My women could not be got at.
And so you prepared your own food?
I had to do it with my children because the women were all busy sitting on Emeruwa.
And so again this idea about whats customary, whats acceptable. Do you ever cook your own food or not? No. I never do that, except on this occasion I did. And part of it is a problem of translation. They want a very fixed answer and I suspect the witnesses are not giving that kind of a hard and fast answer. Its also a different understanding here about what tradition or custom means.
I actually have them stand up and replay the dialogue with Ojim and the Commissioner over whether he ever cooks for himself to get the sense of how much theyre talking past each other. And also the dialogue where the guys saying did you break custom because of this and she said we didnt break anybodys thing. Just to realize exactly how problematic the translation is. Were not getting a pure, unmodified set of words from these women. Theyve gone through numerous filters: translation, transcription, what the women think they can say in a courtroom, what they think the colonial officials will understand. I get them to think about the context in which this whole interaction is taking place as well as the content of the testimony itself.