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Hustling Is Not Stealing

Stories of an African Bar Girl

The prospects of a sixteen-year-old West African girl with no money, education, or experience might seem pretty depressing. But if she’s got a hell of a lot of nerve and a knack for finding the funny side in even the worst situations, she just might triumph over her circumstances. Our heroine Hawa does, and she did. In the 1970s, John Chernoff recorded the story of her life as an "ashawo," or bar girl, making a living on gifts from men and her own quick wits, and here presents it in Hustling Is Not Stealing, one of the most remarkable "autobiographies" you will ever encounter.

What might have been a sad tale of hardship and exploitation turns instead into a fascinating send-up of life in modern Africa, thanks to Hawa’s smarts, savvy, and ear for telling just the right story to make her point. Through her wide-open and knowing eyes, we get an inside view of what life is really like for young people in West Africa. We spy on nightlife scenes of sex and deception; we see how modern-minded youth deal with life in the cities in villages; and we share the sweet and sometimes silly friendships formed in the streets and bars.

But mostly we come to know Hawa and how she has navigated a life that few can even imagine. The first of two funny, poignant volumes, Hustling starts with an in-depth introduction by Chernoff to Hawa’s Africa. From there the book traces her remarkable transformation from a playful warrior struggling against her circumstances to an insightful trickster enjoying and taking advantage of them as best she can.

Part coming-of-age story, part ethnography, and all compulsively readable, Hustling Is Not Stealing is a rare book that educates as thoroughly as it entertains.

"You can see some people outside, and you will think they are enjoying, but they are suffering. Every time in some nightclub, you will see a girl dressed nicely, and she’s dancing, she’s happy. You will say, ’Ah! This girl!’ You don’t know what problem she has got. Some people say that this life, it’s unto us. It’s unto us? Yeah, it’s unto me, but sometimes it’s not unto me. When I was growing up, I didn’t feel like doing all these things. There is not any girl who will wake up as a young girl and say, ’As for me, when I grow up, I want to be ashawo, to go with everybody.’ Not any girl will think of this."—from the book

Winner - 2004 Victor Turner Prize in Ethnographic Writing

496 pages | 2 maps | 6 x 9 | © 2003

African Studies

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Sociology: Urban and Rural Sociology

Table of Contents

Excerpt from "Junior Wife"
Preamble: Stories and Their Critics
Africa: The End of the Earth Where the World Began
The Politico-economic Techno-philosophical Socio-historical Global-Developmental Backdrop
The View from Ground Level
Cities as the Heavens of This Earth
Commodity Traders
Digression on the End of the World
Ethnography to the Second Power
The Brer Rabbit School of Feminism
Procedures to Protect Identities
A Note on the Text

Part 1: Into the Life
1. Not Bad as Such
Like a Letter
The Village of Don’t-Go-There
More Aunts
A Brief Adolescence
Junior Wife
2. The Life
Paradise Hotel
Cheap Money
The Price of Tea
Janet’s Baby
The Problem of Being Small
Married without a Ring
Reflections: After the First Year as Ashawo
3. Problems of Self-Empowerment
Repaying Rough with Rough
The Lebanese Twins
Deviant Sex
Really Deviant Sex
What No Girl Says
Butterfly Wings
The Man with Four Noses
Case Histories

Part 2: With the British in a Provincial Capital
4. The Chief of Bagabaga
Nigel’s Courtship
The Two Wives of the Chief of Bagabaga
Jack Toronto
Roads Not Taken
5. Fucking English People
William and Abena
Reflections: Property and Family
Power Show for Cigarettes
Nigel’s Mouth
A Beating among Friends

Part 3: Into the Life Again
6. Avoiding the Life
A Ghanaian Boyfriend
Reflections: An Independent Life
7. With Jacqueline
Into the Life Again
At Podo’s House
The Turkey-Tail Man
8. A Bad Sickness
The Treatment
Love and the Banana

Part 4: Juju
9. The Sheer Ubiquity of It
Issahaku’s Medicine
Christmas for a Juju
The Keta Girls and the Seaman
10. Witches
Babies as Strangers
The Witchcraft of the Senior Mother
Belief in Witches
Befriending a Witch
Interlude: A Special Child
Befriending a Witch (Conclusion)
Revenge of a Bedwetter
11. Child of the God
A Wonderful Man
Pennies in the Hair
Interlude: Village Playtime
Return to the Village
From Frying Pan to Fire
Reckoning with the God
12. Black Power
Calling the Lost People
The Master of the Dwarves
Showing the Power

Part 5: The Life in Togo
13. A Fast Boy
The Rich Biafran
Frankie and Antonio
Frankie’s Game
14. A Nice Prison in Togo
Django and the Fucking Germans
Interlude: The Maidservant’s Tale
Louky’s Problem
Prisoners for the Lions
If All the Prisons Were like This
Fish from the Sea in Vaginas
15. I Remember Mama
The Trouble with Three Friends
Quarreling in Secret
Killer Girls from Ghana


Society for Humanistic Anthropology: Victor Turner Prize for Ethnographic Writing

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