Remembering the Dead: Testimonial Narratives and the Politics of Memory in the Representation of Boko Haram Terrorism

Chijioke K Onah


This essay studies the memory constellation of Boko Haram terrorism in the aftermath of the Chibok Girls kidnapping in Nigeria. Using survivors’ accounts in Wolfgang Bauer’s Stolen Girls: Survivors of Boko Haram Tell Their Story, Patience Ibrahim’s A Gift From Darkness: How I Escaped with my Daughter from Boko Haram, and Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani’s Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree, the paper shows how the memory of this event is being constructed in the present. Drawing from Ann Rigney’s discussion of the inevitability of the principle of differential memorability in the formation of cultural memory, the essay argues that although this principle may be indispensable in allowing memory cultures to emerge, the Chibok case shows that cultures of remembrance risk perpetuating narrow perception and understanding of an event. The paper, however, foregrounds the affordances of testimonial narrative as a mode of narrative memory that embodies different voices and experiences without necessarily hierarchizing the victims of violence. In this way, it can serve as an antidote to the selectivity of our memory culture and the exclusion/silences within it. The paper concludes that it is by listening to the testimonies of survivors and attending to “traces” rather than just the “messages” in their testimonies that we can gain access to a more nuanced, and perhaps more complete knowledge of events in order to challenge the (dangers of the) single stories of our memory culture.


Boko Haram; Terrorism; Cultural Memory; Chibok Girls; Testimonial Narratives; Differential Memorability

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