Counting the Tiger’s Teeth narrates a crucial turning point in Nigerian history, the Agbekoya rebellion (“Peasants Reject Poverty”) of 1968-70, as chronicled by Toyin Falola, reflecting on his firsthand experiences as a teenage witness to history. Falola, the foremost scholar of Africa of this generation, illuminates the complex factors that led to this armed conflict and details the unfolding of major events and maneuvers. The narrative provides unprecedented, even poetic, access to the social fabric and dynamic cosmology of the farming communities in rebellion as they confronted the modernizing state. The postcolonial government exercised new modes of power that corrupted or neglected traditional forms of authority, ignoring urgent pleas for justice and fairness by the citizenry. What emerges, as the rural communities organized for and executed the war, is a profound story of traditional culture’s ingenuity and strength in this epic struggle over the future direction of a nation. Falola reveals the rebellion’s ambivalent legacy, the uncertainties of which inform even the present historical moment. Like Falola’s prizewinning previous memoir, A Mouth Sweeter Than Salt, this engagingly written book performs the essential service of providing a way of walking with ancestors, remembering the dead, reminding the living, and converting orality into a permanent text.
“With this book Toyin Falola joins a band of distinguished and special historians who participated in the making of history they narrate…I found this book as enjoyable as Trotsky's history of the Russian Revolution. While the scale of the two historical incidents are different, the writing is as close to the guts and as stirring of the senses as any personal history can be. This book also distinguishes itself as a modern classic in which one culture (Yoruba rebellion) is successfully written in the language of another (English). A unique reading experience.”
“Chronicles the cultures and traditions of Yorubaland of the 1960s, including the predominance of African traditional religions; Christianity; Islam; polygamy; agriculture; education; work ethics; and sacrifice . . . a must read for scholars of African life-writing, history, sociology, economics, politics, and gender studies, as well as those interested in African, Diaspora, comparative studies and the autobiographical genre.”
—Adetayo Alabi, University of Mississippi
“‘When an old man dies, a library is burned,’ said the late Hampate Ba. Book by book, Toyin Falola is building a library for Africa and the world, fashioned from his memories, wit, and wisdom. His are the tales of a generation who came of age at the same time as their nations. The tales are compelling, fierce, and funny, to be read and cherished.”
—Aminatta Forna, author of The Memory of Love
“Counting the Tiger’s Teeth shines astonishing light on a major rebellion so poetically as to make the reader relive the experience with the author. Toyin Falola’s indelible memory makes the story fresh and no doubt a unique mirror of a particular teenager with a sharp sensibility.”
—Tanure Ojaide, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
“I read A Mouth Sweeter Than Salt with my mouth agape at its mesmerizing storytelling. In his new memoir, Falola again enters the house of amazing tales and emerges with a narrative that is at once captivating and deeply riveting. Counting the Tiger’s Teeth is proof that we not only survive to tell the tale, but that stories keep us alive.”
—E. C. Osondu, Winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing
Illustration: Agbekoya, oil on canvas, by Moses Ogunleye, 2013. Collection of Toyin Falola.