An African Christmas
An African Christmas .
London : Francis Lincoln / African Books Collective (dist.), 2005. $15.95,
Note: It's Christmas time, and Afam has decided to create and dance his own masquerade, just like the big celebratory Mmo (masquerades) which he sees performing at festivals.
Ifeoma Onyefulu is an imaginative children's story writer and an excellent photographer. Her past works, including CABA winner _Here Comes Our Bride_ (Lincoln, 2005), show her creativity and her ability to use pictures to capture and enhance the essence of her stories. In _An African Christmas_, she follows the same motif quite succinctly. The storyline is easy to follow. A child expresses excitement as he prepares for Christmas together with his sister and other family members. Like many children the world over, little Afam and the other children in this story are preoccupied by thoughts of Christmas. The moment of rapture in Afams story is when he finally completes his Mmo masquerade costume and actually wears it to the local festival to celebrate Christmas just as the other masqueraders perform with their own more elaborate costumes.
In the introduction to the book, Onyefulu describes the Mmo custom: In Igboland, the part of Nigeria I come from, the word Mmo (pronounced moor) means masquerade or spirit, the spirit of our ancestors. It has other names in other parts of Africa. Dancing in Mmo masks and costumes at festival time is a way of remembering our ancestors. What Onyefulu does not say is that this way of celebrating Christmas does not in any way resemble what occurs in many other parts of Nigeria, let alone, Africa. More importantly, her title, _An African Christmas_, is misleading. It is an exaggeration of the sociological and geographical limits of the story. For many cultures in Africa, this kind of Christmas is completely alien. Wearing a masquerade mask of any sort at Christmas would be taboo in a Yoruba community in Nigeria because it would be regarded as blatant syncretism. For the Yoruba, Christmas is generally considered a Christian celebration and the masquerade is a quintessential image of the traditional Yoruba religion. To mix the two would be insulting to Christians and disrespectful to traditional worshippers.
_An African Christmas certainly has universal appeal. In addition to the familiar Christmas theme, children (maybe adults as well) will learn that refrigerators, soft drinks, fans, sun glasses, cardboards, beautiful dresses for girls and nicely tailored attires for boys, etc., etc., are items common in many Nigerian homes.
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Reviewed by: Michael O. Afoláyan (firstname.lastname@example.org), Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Southern Illinois
Subject: West Africa / Nigeria / Christmas / Urban setting / City and town life