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Hustling Is Not Stealing

Stories of an African Bar Girl

This book can be downloaded and read in Apple Books on your Mac or iOS device.


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

From Publishers Weekly

Oct 20, 2003 – Chernoff, a longtime student of Ghanaian drumming and author of African Rhythm and African Sensibility, met the pseudonymous Hawa in Ghana in 1971 and started taping her stories in 1977. Born in Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) in the 1960s, three-year-old Hawa lived with various relatives after her mother died, eventually joining her father's family in Kumasi, capital of the Ashanti region of Ghana. At 16, she refused an arranged Muslim marriage and started making her own life. Moving to Accra, she became an "ashawo" woman variously described as a hustler, bar girl or "pay-as-you-go" wife. When economic conditions deteriorated in Ghana in the early 1970s, Hawa migrated first to neighboring Togo, and then to Upper Volta, when anti-Ghanaian sentiment mounted in Togo. While emigration was a survival tactic, Hawa also viewed it as an opportunity to see how other people lived and hear their tales. Indeed, there's a restlessness that pervades Hawa's stories, whether she's describing her girlhood, her girlfriends, the men she's lived with or people who've tried to get the better of her. In Chernoff's admiring eyes, Hawa is a classic trickster, cleverly resourceful at manipulating bad situations for her own ends. Her story is a "giddy celebration of her will to dignity." Hawa and her ashawo friends are poor, but they're "not about to let their poverty spoil their life completely." Chernoff follows his lengthy and insightful introduction with hundreds of pages of transcriptions of Hawa's somewhat repetitive anecdotes as well as a glossary. A second volume, Exchange Is Not Robbery, will chronicle Hawa's travels after Togo.
Hustling Is Not Stealing
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  • $33.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Social Science
  • Published: Feb 11, 2013
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Seller: Chicago Distribution Center
  • Print Length: 496 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: This book can only be viewed on an iOS device with Apple Books on iOS 12 or later, iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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