Historical Changes of Chinese Enamel and Nigerian Household Containers

On March 31, 2022, the Institute for International and Area Studies (IIAS) of Tsinghua University hosted the first Sub-Saharan African studies lecture of the spring semester 2022. The lecture was entitled “Historical Changes of Chinese Enamel and Nigerian Household Containers”. It was delivered by Dr. Liu Shaonan, from the School of History, Beijing Normal University, and presided over by Dr. Xiong Xinghan, associate Professor at the IIAS. Doctoral students and researchers from the IIAS participated onsite while scholars and students at home and abroad joined online.

The lecture was divided into three parts. Firstly, Dr. Liu Shaonan showed rich images to the audience to present the traditional household containers including clay, gourd and brass containers in northern Nigeria in the precolonial era. He pointed out that traditional household containers composed an important part of marriage customs in Nigeria. On the wedding day and after the wedding ceremony, the new couple’s relatives and friends would visit the bride’s room, where the form and quantity of various containers was the reference for them to judge the bride’s economic strength and social capital. Secondly, Dr. Liu took the introduction of enamel during colonial rule as a starting point to show how the industrialization and localization of Nigerian enamel evolved from the spring-up to the heyday. He stated briefly that in the middle and late 20th century, enamel almost completely replaced traditional containers and dominated the household container market. Under the background of Chinese entrepreneurs establishing enamel factories in Nigeria, decreased price, localized production and design of enamel narrowed the gap between producers and consumers rapidly. Thirdly, Dr. Liu explained the origin of enamel as a symbol of Hausa women’s wealth and status from integration of enamel into local traditional culture and customs, the practical economic significance of enamel as female property and the role of enamel in Hausa men’s social occasions. He argued that enamel replaced local traditional containers on the functional level, but also became what it replaced on the social and cultural level. Hausa women were under the social pressure of buying, maintaining and updating enamelware for a long time since enamelware had become a symbol of the socioeconomic status of a bride and her family, as well as an important way of financial management to Hausa women.

During Q&A session, Dr. Liu had a heated discussion with online and offline audience on the reasons for the introduction of enamel into Nigeria, whether enamel is on the verge of being eliminated there and how to conduct research from a local perspective.

Dr. Liu Shaonan is a lecturer at the School of History, Beijing Normal University. He received his Bachelor’s degree in history from Sichuan University, master’s degree from the School of International Studies, Peking University and doctorate in African history from Michigan State University. His research interests include African history, history of China-Africa relations, history of overseas Chinese in Africa and the Atlantic slave trade. He has published multiple papers in authoritative journals at home and abroad including African Studies Review, Journal of Asian and African Studies, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, and Journal of Overseas Chinese History Studies. He currently teaches courses including African History, History of China-Africa Relations and Basic Theories and Special Topics of Modern and Contemporary World History.

Edited by: Dong Hui
Typeset by: Cheng Yao
Proofread by: Sub-Saharan African Studies research group