Rejoice Abutsa

Palaver (1926)

In one of the first scenes from Palaver (1926), it is highlighted that it was produced “with the co-operation of the Nigerian government”. To hover around the question of Nigeria’s cooperation on this film is to raise several complexities on the question of consent: In the first instance, Nigeria is an identity formulated by the British in 1914; secondly, during Palaver’s production and distribution, Nigeria was under the control of the British Empire. Therefore, rather than read the film as cooperation, its subtext which denies its black characters the autonomy of mind and body forges a strong correlation between fiction and the reality of black natives under colonial rule.

Recorded as the first feature film shot in Nigeria, Palaver (1926), thematizes native subjects and their religion as simpletons. It foregrounds the British extraction of mining labor and resources within the colony – and, exemplifies the cruelty of forced and unpaid labor on the colonized person. Although the aim of the film is to ‘civilize’ the ‘uncivilized race’, the issues above become visible.

Palaver is also defined by absences. The British actors featured therein are credited for their roles, while the black natives who have been considered “inexperienced” in several colonial newspapers are not given film credits. The British Film Institute’s catalog for colonial films provides the name of all the white actors involved in Palaver (1926), but it refuses to name the black actors. In the film itself, the director, Geoffrey Barkas avoids naming the black cast and gives only the first name of one of the actors, Yilberr as the “tribal king Dawiya”. His counterpart, “Yilkuba the witch doctor” remains unnamed, as do all black characters appearing in the film. In addition to this, Palaver erases black women by its use of camera angles that establish a distance from the only black female character. Eventually, her body becomes the site in which rape as extraction is fulfilled by the white man.

Director: Geoffrey Barkas (British Instructional Film Unit)
Year: 1926
Genre: Drama
Type: Feature