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Catalog Archive / Spring 2023

Letters, Kinship, and Social Mobility in Nigeria

Africa and the Diaspora: History, Politics, Culture
Neil Kodesh, Tejumola Olaniyan, and James H. Sweet, Series Editors

“Reading this was a joy. It is precisely the kind of book that will command attention not only among Africanists but in adjunct and cross-fertilizing disciplines and cultural contexts where tensions and contestations around kinship, filiation, and familism—moral and otherwise—persevere, giving modernist claims of isolated individuality a run for their affective money.”
—Ebenezer Obadare, author of Humor, Silence, and Civil Society in Nigeria

Why was letter writing so pivotal to the everyday experience of Africans in the modern world?

In 2003, Olufemi Vaughan received from his ninety-five-year-old father, Abiodun, a trove of more than three thousand letters written by four generations of his family in Ibadan, Nigeria, between 1926 and 1994. The people who wrote these letters had emerged from the religious, social, and educational institutions established by the Church Missionary Society, the preeminent Anglican mission in the Atlantic Nigerian region following the imposition of British colonial rule. Abiodun, recruited to be a civil servant in the colonial Department of Agriculture, became a leader of a prominent family in Ibadan, the dominant Yoruba city in southern Nigeria. Reading deeply in these letters, Vaughan realized he had a unique set of sources to illuminate everyday life in modern Nigeria.

Letter writing was a dominant form of communication for Western-educated elites in colonial Africa, especially in Nigeria. Exposure to the modern world and a growing sense of nationalism were among the factors that led people to begin exchanging letters, particularly in their interactions with British colonial authorities. Through careful textual analysis and broad contextualization, Vaughan reconstructs dominant storylines, including themes such as kinship, social mobility, Western education, modernity, and elite consolidation in colonial and post-colonial Nigeria. Vaughan brings his prodigious skills as an interdisciplinary scholar to bear on this wealth of information, bringing to life a portrait, at once intimate and expansive, of a community during a transformative period in African history.


Olufemi Vaughan, the Alfred Sargent Lee ’41 and Mary Farley Ames Lee Professor and Chair of Black Studies at Amherst College, is the author of Religion and the Making of Nigeria, among other works.




“By synthesizing a vast number of letters, Olufemi Vaughan reconstructs the trajectory of a class of Nigerians who were part of the colonial bureaucracy and sociopolitical system but were conscious of their filial responsibility not to allow the ties that bound them to break. . . . Innovative in its content and easily relatable for anyone interested in the development of modern literacy in Africa.”
—Toyin Falola, author of A Mouth Sweeter than Salt: An African Memoir



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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Foreword by Adesoji Adelaja

1 The Brothers’ Letters
2 The Matriarchs’ Letters
3 Ibadan CMS Men: Kinship and Yoruba Civic Public
4 The Gladys Aduke Vaughan Files
5 From Freetown with Love



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August 2023
288 pp. 6 x 9

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Cloth $79.95 S
ISBN 9780299344504
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