Podas podas: Vehicles of cultural meaning

All over sub Saharan Africa from East to West, mini buses have a special name. In Kenya it is Matatu, in Nigeria – Danfor, Ghana – Tro-tro, Guinea – Magbana and in Sierra Leone – Poda poda.

These are public minibuses which ordinarily are just modes of transportation, but interestingly they are dynamic modes of cultural meaning. The drivers adorn the vehicles with popular cultural expressions in a range of forms, from idolizing their favourite music stars like Madonna, to religious sayings “God is great”, to icons from popular English Premier Teams like Arsenal and Chelsea, to classic American icons like Winnie the Pooh, to political messages about capitalism and corruption.

These symbols of popular culture represent linkages to a number of cultural fields, including music, materialism, globalization, history, colonialism, identity, class, economy, media and technology.

At a popular stop for Poda podas on Campbell Street in the centre of Freetown, vehicles passed by with different messages. The most popular were religious sayings – Muslim or Christian – which one could argue reflects the country’s extreme religious tolerance. Asked about his decision to put “Allah is great” on the front of his minibus, Alieu Sesay, a poda poda driver, said, “I believe in Allah and he will protect me and my poda poda. I will make good business.”

Mohamed Gibril, a taxi driver, had a large Union Jack on the front of his taxi. When asked what motivated him, he said, “I like the British – they mean quality. I want my customers to think that I will offer quality service too.”

Full Article by Marisa Zawacki: