IRCALC - Essays in African Writing
Ayi Kwei Armah: Provincialising Old Centres and Remaking the African Myth
by Divine Neba Che
FOREMOST revisionist African mythologists like Cheikh Anta Diop and Chinweizu have successfully debunked the Western collusion in Black inferiorisation. They are joined by Ayi Kwei Armah, a dogged revisionist mythologist who in the novel Osiris Rising attempts to demythologize the racist maxim that the black world is "forward never, backward ever" by resuscitating the African past as a means of restoring her lost values. This process of resuscitation, recycling and integration may not totally erase assimilated or hybrid values, for Africa owes a debt to the modern nation states and vice versa, but is simply a process of bringing into limelight what has been rejected or ignored for
centuries: the ancient Egyptian myth of Osiris and Isis and the building of the image of a vibrant Africa via literature.
Our premise is that decentering former spheres of influence gives birth to new provinces where each province has a defined autonomy enabling it to operate with little constraint within the global milieu. Although this may not allow for a protracted study of Amah's works as a whole, it traces the history of a severed continent in Two Thousand Seasons and its regenerative ability in Osiris Rising using the ancient Egyptian myth of Osiris and Isis with the intention of rebuilding the image of a vibrant Africa. In both novels Amah’s proposition on the question of provincializing the modern nation states includes reconstructing or mending the dismembered past by making Africans more aware of their history.
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Issues in Ola Rotimi’s Drama
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The Miriam Makeba Story
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Crisis of Identity in Chinua Achebe's A Man of the People
by Smita Jha
WHEN we talk of identity crisis in African writing it is a kind that is both individual and territorial in character and does have strong social, political, religious or cultural implications within the continent. Through a century of colonial governance Africa lost much of its traditional and cultural identity to artificial nation state and ideological formations. The violence inscribed upon the continent imposed by the colonizing power has witnessed traumatic physical and psychological conditions that affect generations of African peoples and cultures. For the first generation of modern African writers led by Senghor, Achebe, etc., it was a daunting task to seek to restore belief in the lost and maligned traditions of Africa through their writings.
Achebe’s search for innate human qualities takes an ironic manifestation in A
Man of The People wherein he portrays two well-rounded characters immersed
in their own rationale of success and achievement and proves that western
cultural invasion together with the infiltration of material luxuries poses a
serious threat to tribal African values and amidst such confusion the society
lost its way.
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and Palimpsestic Time in Ben Okri’s Famished Road
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New Kenyan Writers: The Narratives of Binyavanga Wainaina and Yvonne Owuor
by Jonathan Fitzgerald
KENYA elected a
new leader, Mwai Kibaki, in December, 2002, after 24 years under the
presidency of Daniel Arap Moi. This was not only a major change in Kenyan
politics; it opened the door for a major shift in the lives of all Kenyans
and especially the nation's artists. It was not long, however, before the
new administration faced accusations of corruption and business as usual,
but the spark had already been lit under a burgeoning artist community;
change was on the horizon.
“Genealogies of the Spirit”: Ancestral Reclamation in the dramas of August Wilson
by Shirley J. Carrie
CONTEMPORARY Black intellectuals and artists like August Wilson often signify
the historical dispersal of peoples of African descent in a redemptive narrative
that suggests that diasporic body can be re-born through the restoration of the
dead. More importantly, the commemoration of the ancestor figure anchors the
diasporic subject to their own uncertain present by enabling them to redeem the
past. This cultural reclamation of an African origin and/or roots is often tied
to the solemn remembrance of the Ancestor. Thus, the demand for the humane
treatment of the ancestral dead is viewed as having both social and psychic
consequences for the generations that follow.
Black artists throughout the Diaspora, the aesthetic recovery of African origins
often serves as a way to bridge those ruptures that exist between the uncertain
present and the elusive past. As the renowned African American playwright August
Wilson articulates in The Ground on which I Stand, “all of art is a
search for a way of being” (46). For Wilson, the stage serves as symbolic space
of cultural rebirth—it is a way of being, which he views as being invested with
the strength of his African ancestors (19-20).
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African Mythic Context and Postmodern Philosophy in Aminata Sow Fall's Le Jujubier du patriarche
by Médoune Guèye
IN THE wake of the announcement of the death of grand narratives by
postmodernism, postcolonial critics announced the death of such
“essentialisms” as race, nation or even gender in their works.1Aminata
Sow Fall's Le Jujubier du patriarche2 illustrates that
deconstructive vein of postcolonial literature with a discursive strategy,
underwritten by the interaction of genres. Le Jujubier du patriarche opens
in the mode of novelistic fiction and closes through that of epic poetry.
Constructed in a dialogic relationship between the novel and the epic, the
work transposes one genre, which is tied to the African oral tradition, into
another, which emerges from the Western literary tradition.3 The
novel's structure is characterized by the weaving of traditional
mythological elements into a contemporary fictional text. This literary
strategy allows the author to produce a narration written in the fiction of
orality4 by creating a framework of oral enunciation via the
technique of alternating voices. By achieving a collage of traditional
speech within her novelistic discourse, Aminata Sow Fall makes Le Jujubier
du patriarche emerge as the prolongation of the myth, which she installs at
the core of the real.5 Here we examine the novelistic and epic
styles of the work and the discursive implications that convey an
ethno-nationalist counter-discourse on Senegalese society.
Rethinking Feminism and the African Woman’s Identity in Tess Onwueme’s Tell it to Women
by H. Oby Okolocha
Onwueme is a playwright for whom drama serves a feminist purpose. Like the majority of contemporary women writers in Nigeria, Onwueme continues the literary and dramatic tradition of feminist concern for women’s issues. Her plays demonstrate a commitment to exploring the challenges facing modern women in changing times. Thus drama, for her, is an excursion into the issues of gender, feminism, identity, race, history, national and international politics, specifically as they affect women. In Tell it to Women she makes statements on the nature of feminism as practised by educated women in Nigeria; she provides an insider’s exposition of the identity of the African woman and gives a participant’s evaluation of the benefits and consequences of feminism as an ideology adopted by educated Nigerian women. This woman’s point of view, dominant in Onwueme’s writing and in the creativity of contemporary women writers, is a perspective that has not been adequately provided in the literary output of male writers.
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“Global flows”: Ethnographic studies of the Hindi Movie in Africa
by Anjali Gera Roy
THE celebration of Bollywood as a culture of globalization to illustrate the reverse flows from the non-west to the west is juxtaposed against the long history of transnationalization through which Hindi cinematic texts were incorporated into African cultural practices to assume African ethnic or national identities. Attention to the difference between the subaltern audience of Hindi cinema in the past and the cosmopolitan consumers of Bollywood in the present also point to an alternative narrative of subaltern cosmopolitanisms through which cultural exchanges took place between ordinary folks in the process of trade and travel.
The global flows of Indian images to Africa must be framed against oceanic flows of images between Africa and India in contact zones of the past forged through travel and trade. Positing “the coastline of Benin Republic and Togo as a vortex, incorporating items and ideas from across the sea into its littoral”, Dana Rush focuses on one such “vortextual phenomenon”, that is, the incorporation of India − via chromolithographic images (mostly Hindu) − into the eternally organic religious system of Vodun (2008: 150). While the Vodun imagemaker Joseph Kossivi Ahiator, who incorporates Indian items into his own images, claims to have been inspired by his spiritual journeys to India, Rush provides a rational explanation of the travels of Indian images to Africa through the arrival of chromolithographs to Africa as early as 1891 when the first colour reproductions were executed in Mumbai (Rush 2008: 59-60).
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Can the Subaltern Speak? Language and the Crisis of Identity in Nadine Gordimer’s July’s People by Sura Khrais
IN July's People, Nadine Gordimer depicts the transformation of a white family when its old certainties are progressively broken down the moment the Smales are forced out of the dead shell of the past into an uncertain present as they flee riot and violence in the city to find shelter in their black servant’s village. Critics have long discussed the implications of the transformation of the white bourgeois culture represented by Maureen and Bam, the white mistress and the master, and their children, when they are exposed to a new class structure that of July’s native people and to which they try to adjust. The linguistic relationship between the white heroine (Maureen) and the black hero (July) reflects three different phases of linguistic communication which undermine a crisis of identity defined by in the postcolonial binary opposition of the Self / the Other.
Nationhood, Otherness in Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born by Sarah Anyang Agbor and Edwin Ntumfon Tangwa
IN postcolonial context, the term nationhood acquires significance beyond the dictionary definition of “a group of people, who believe themselves to constitute a nation, have things in common with each other and share a sense of nationhood” or as “an imaginary community where people believe themselves to have some sort of link, or commitment to others in the nation, most of whom they will never meet” (Harrison and Boyd 48). In Africa and elsewhere it is rather by the bulwark of independence struggle that the sense of nationhood was strengthened by “otherness”. The relationship between the colonised and coloniser was that of the “self”’ and the “other” in a state of perpetual opposition. The “link” and/or “commitment that existed among the colonised in their common goal was the prime motivation for independence which was synonymous to the quest for nationhood. Harrison and Boyd go further to argue that, in order to have meaning, “nationhood… must be closely associated with the desire for self-government and the creation of a state to express that desire” (40). ...
The Ghanaian novelist Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Beautyful Ones Are not Yet Born (1968) may read as an allegorical story of the failure of an African ruling other Africans from colonial inherited precepts and the transformative capability of a new man emerging from the state of near-hopeless opposition. The protagonist is an anonymous railway office clerk, simply called "The Man," who struggles in the slums against poverty on one side and material greed on the other. He is pressured by his acquisitive family and fellow workers to accept the norms of society: bribery and corruption in order to guarantee his family a comfortable life. His virtues go largely unrewarded; his wife thinks him a fool. At the end of the novel, the moral strength of "the man" is contrasted to a once-powerful politician who has been deposed in a military coup. Independence in Ghana, like in most African countries becomes an avenue for a new kind of colonisation.
Sindiwe Magona: Interrogating Black Township Life in Apartheid South Africa by Dianne Shober
SOUTH African author Sindiwe Magona was only five years old in 1947 when she was forced to leave the safety and security of her idyllic rural Transkei childhood for the squashed environs of Guguletu township in Cape Town. Her enforced relocation was not unlike many other black children of her era. Magona describes her poignant farewell to family and friends, realizing even as one so young that making such an important transition to the big city meant leaving childish ways, meaningful traditions and loved ones behind, some of whom she would never see again.
Her father collected his three young children from Gungululu in 1947, a fortuitous moment in the history of the nation. Should he have attempted to do so just a year later, the legislations implemented by the new Afrikaner government would have made such relocation impossible and the family would have been forever separated, the steely apartheid policies locking blacks in their respective geographical prisons.
In her first autobiography To My Children’s Children written while living in America in the 1980s and apartheid restrictions limited images of township life for most global readers, not only does Magona seek to bridge the geographical divide but also the ignorance that time creates when the memory of location housing is distant and obscure. Her gaze jerks across time from that of a wide-eyed child to a critical adult as she narrates their two day train journey to Cape Town from her rural roots, the scenes from her train window shifting from the opulence of white homes to “less impressive buildings” to squalid shacks haphazardly arranged in an area devoid of trees, but nevertheless teeming with life (20).
‘Imperfect Sympathy’: Naguib Mahfouz and the Portrait of the Nubian by Sophia I. Akhuemokhan and Abigail O. Eruaga
A study of the Nubian in the works of Mahfouz may not be absolutely considered postcolonial in that the Arab presence in Egypt cannot be strictly equated with a colonizing Western power, and in turn the Nubian cannot be categorized as a subaltern. Nevertheless, postcolonial theory has directed our focus to a number of realities in the Arab/Nubian situation, such as the tenor of Arab leadership, the potential of discourse to disseminate racial stereotypes convenient for the prevailing power structure, and the need for a counter discourse to at least expose, if not rectify, the error. Postcolonialism has so sensitized Third World researchers to racist presumption that even a renowned postcolonial writer like Mahfouz is not exempt from attack.
Mahfouz won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988, an award which brought him under the international spotlight. Prior to this time, however, he was the best known writer in Egypt and throughout the Arab world. His fame rested both in his artistic genius and in his moral message, which expressed poignantly Egypt’s pride of culture and its growing demand for freedom. A comment by Sonia Ghattis-Soliman is particularly enlightening because it itemizes the author’s objectives in a manner that has direct bearing on our argument: “In the eyes of the Egyptian, the Arab and the African, [Mahfouz] is the champion of freedom, whose integrity, dedication and hard work have won him the Nobel Prize” (11). It is significant that Ghattis-Soliman arranges Mahfouz’s preoccupations in the order of “the Egyptian, the Arab and the African,” placing the African at the tail of those who acknowledge his championship. She is registering a fact that some critics might miss in the fervour of the applause surrounding this celebrity, but which cannot be ignored. In as far as Mahfouz is concerned, the freedom of the Arab comes a long way in front of the freedom of the African, whether the African is Egyptian or not.
Colonial Chattel, Postcolonial Whores: The African Daughters of Sefi Atta and Isabel Allende by Rosetta Codling
OPPRESSIVE tentacles stemming from the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade span further than the mere colonial shores of Europe onto the African and American coasts. The legacy of the atrocity of profiteering from the trafficking of human flesh spreads onto centuries and into the current millennium of processed ‘postcolonial’ thought. By far, the most enduring yoke of this historical period is to be seen in the enduring psychological constraint of the ‘colonial mentality’ (on the part of the oppressor and victim) to this very day. Black is still negative and White is still glorified. Betty Freidan in her monumental treatise, The Feminine Mystique (1997) on the state of the contemporary Post-Modernity female, omitted the African Diasporic female entirely. Such an omission was symbolic of the transparency of Black women in terms of recognition by the mainstream White female society. In short, the African Diasporic female didn’t merit a clause in the fight for securing rights for the Post-Modern female.
The novelists Sefi Atta (Nigerian) and Isabel Allende (Peruvian) sculpt African Diasporic female protagonists of different dimensions to illustrate the harsh reality of their lives. These tragic heroines provide authentic representation. The conflicts that the protagonists face in terms of ‘color hue’ racism are equally authentic.2 The staid, classical, Western female (tragic?) heroine is White and embroiled in battles against White males that attempt to marginalize her existence based, primarily, upon her gender and/or class status. But, for the African Diasporic female there are other challenges. These challenges extend beyond the borders of her breasts and genitalia.
Fiction as Praxis: Exploring Iyayi’s Marxist Aesthetics By Jude Agho and ‘Dele Bamidele
IN the 1970s and 1980s African writers saw the need to make specific initiatives that would situate the liberation struggle of Africa in popular culture and folk art. The result was that the writer became a cultural manager and promoter and subsequently a political activist.Festus Iyayi’s novels, with such critical intensity, explore the slimy, sleazy and seedy sides of life in contemporary Nigerian society and cohere with Chinua Achebe’s claim that “any African writer who tries to avoid the big social and political issues of contemporary Africa will end up being irrelevant” (78). Although Iyayi’s latest novel was published twenty four years ago, his art still finds relevance in contemporary Nigerian socio-economic and political reality, in particular, and Africa in general. Unfortunately, African social existence, instead of improving since Iyayi wrote his last novel has rather gone worse. The prophetic vision as espoused in his literature of change is not peculiar to him. The trend is replete in the works of other African writers like Ousmane Sembene, Ngugi wa Thiong’O, Ayi Kwei Armah, Kofi Awonoor and a host of others. Iyayi’s Marxist dialectics accepts that political and historical events are due to conflict of social forces caused by man’s material needs, and in this context, more by economic needs. But since a selected few appropriate the wealth of the nation for themselves at the detriment of the majority who are the working masses, then revolution becomes the path to liberty and freedom, and this, the ‘third army’ is set to do. Iyayi’s poetics is thus combative. His socialist ideology permeates his art and also identifies the tension between capitalism and socialism as the source of the contradictions that plague modern socio-economic life.