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Reviewed by:
  • Counting the Tiger’s Teeth: An African Teenager’s Story by Toyin Falola
  • Dawn M. Whitehead
Falola, Toyin. 2014. COUNTING THE TIGER’S TEETH: AN AFRICAN TEENAGER’S STORY. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. 328 pp. $69.70 (cloth).

In Counting the Tiger’s Teeth: An African Teenager’s Story, Toyin Falola, holder of the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker chair in the humanities and a distinguished teaching professor of history at the University of Texas, shares a unique personal story, with historical and postcolonial trappings. This memoir is a sequel to his first memoir, A Mouth Sweeter Than Salt: An African Memoir, also published by University of Michigan Press (2008).

Falola is a prolific and a distinguished author, who serves as a series editor for several publishers, including the University of Rochester Press and the Palgrave-Macmillan Division of St. Martin’s Press of New York. His published books include The Power of African Cultures; A History of Nigeria; and The Political Economy of a Pre-Colonial African State: Ibadan, 1830–1900. Apart from being honored nationally and internationally with honorary doctoral degrees by notable academic institutions (in addition to his earned PhD from the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria), he and several of Nigeria’s other distinguished authors—including Wole Soyinka, a Nobel Literature laureate; and Chinua Achebe, author of Things Fall Apart—belong, as fellows, to Nigeria’s Academy of Letters.

These memoirs provide fascinating details about indigenous Nigerian—albeit Yoruba ethnic—life-teaching episodes that have bordered on what may nowadays be considered terrorist acts, qualifying an entire generation (or even nation) to be put on the terrorist list of several Western nations, including that of the United States. These events include the Agbekoya rebellion, an armed-peasants-reject-poverty event (1968–70), which Falola witnessed as a teenager, and rebellions of rural farming communities in postcolonial Nigeria. This memoir, like its predecessor, extensively recalls ancestors that the author reveres and shows that, in Yoruba enclaves of Nigeria, the dead are not easily forgotten. The contents, in a variety of ways, help make oral history a reality, worthy of appreciation.

Both of Falola’s memoirs highlight Yoruba cultural traditions, especially as they thrived in the 1960s, the era of Nigeria’s early national independence and subsequent republican status. Indeed, Counting the Tiger’s Teeth tells a lot about traditional religions of Africa, with a particular emphasis on those of Nigeria, and touches on Christian and Islamic ways of life, coupled with incredible polygamous encounters. Nigeria is both an Islamic and a Christian nation, and its governments are made up of Islamic and Christian personnel. Falola, with a sharp eye for historic detail, thus narrates the story of how a cow was slaughtered, amid the moaning of the animal and a steadfast Islamic prayer: [End Page 82]

Only Muslims could slaughter cows for sale—the prayer they offered cleansed the animal for all to eat; without that prayer, one would be consuming a cursed animal. After a short prayer seeking forgiveness from Allah for the sin he was knowingly committing, he cut the cow’s neck open and blood gushed out. Professional butchers descended on the dead cow, cutting it into pieces with competence and elegance. The parts were divided up, and the dealers took the portions they had paid for. It was time to move the flesh and the bones to the streets and the markets. Boys my age, working either solo or with a leader, worked on commission to sell the beef in open wooden trays or covered wooden boxes carried on their heads, which they hawked around the city, stopping for customers who called them. I could do this job, learning to be a butcher and selling meat for a fee, earning enough to take care of myself for the time being, and promote the alliance between my hands and my mouth. I approached a meat dealer, and I got the job in an instant.

(p. 326)

Most certainly, there is a lot to learn from Falola’s second memoir, including details from varied spheres of life, such as agriculture, education, and the ethics of the working...


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