Modernity rejected? Marketing schnapps gin in West Africa, 1945-1970

  • D Van den Bersselar


Following World War II, references to progress and modernity were frequently used in West Africa to sell policies, politicians, commodities, and services. During the 1950s and 1960s, advertising for a diverse range of products, including cigarettes, cosmetics, air travel, banking, beer, whiskey, and schnapps gin, evoked connections with an international world that was modern, successful, and ambitious. By 1970, however, marketing for schnapps gin specifically had changed to allude to African tradition and a link to the traditional status of chiefs and elders. This paper examines why producers chose the language of modernity to sell schnapps gin in West Africa, why African consumers rejected the claim that schnapps gin was „modern‟, and why they responded positively to advertising that positioned it as „traditional‟. This exploration provides insights into the various ways in which the concept of „modernity‟ was used and interpreted on a day-to-day level during the decolonisation era. The sources used for the paper include local Nigerian and Ghanaian newspapers; oral history interviews with consumers in Ghana and Nigeria; as well as the company archives of distillers. The paper contributes to our understanding of the cultural history of the decolonisation era, and to a developing literature on marketing and consumption of imported commodities in twentieth-century Africa.

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 0075-7640
print ISSN: 0075-7640