Fiction from Africa in English


Brian J. Worsfold


Maria Vidal Grau




June 2006















Acknowledgements …………………………………………………….…………2

List of figures ……………………………………………………………………….

Preface ………………………………………………………………………………

Introduction ………………………………………………………………………...

Part One – Reading Fiction from Africa in English

1. Approaching Fiction from Africa in English

The historical factor …………………………...…………………………………….

The language factor ………………………………………………………………….

Approaches to Literature from Africa in English …………….……………………..

[The geographical approach; The discursive approach; The ideological approach]

Degrees of coloniality …………………………………………………...…………..

2. The Legacies of European Colonisation in Africa

The failure of European colonisation in Africa …………...…………...……………

Elements of the legacy ………………...…………………………………………….

[Maps, borders, boundaries and frontiers]

The colonial legacy and the African writera ………………...……………………...

[The topic – something to write about]

International publishing houses …………………...………………………………...

Alternative formats …………………………………...……………………………..

Conclusion ………………………………………………...………………………...

3. European Aesthetics and African Literature

Early published works in English by writers from Africa ………………………......

Publication and genre ……………………..……………………………………...…

Towards an African aesthetics ………………………………………………...…….

The African writer …………………………………………………………………...

The construction of the post-Independence writer …………………………………..

[Writers from Africa and their readerships; The language question; The education question; African creative writing]

Global readerships ……………...…………………………………………………...


Part Two – Literatures of Coloniality

4. Romanticised coloniality

4.1 Sol T. Plaatje. Mhudi (1930) ……………………………………………

4.1.1 Sol T. Plaatje (1876-1932) …………………………………...

4.1.2 Mhudi (1931) ………………………………………………...

4.2 Sarah Gertrude Millin. God’s Stepchildren (1924) …………………….

4.2.1 Sarah Gertrude Millin (1888-1968) ………………………….

4.2.2 God’s Stepchildren (1924) …………………………………...

4.3 Daphne Rooke. Mittee (1951) …………………………………………..

4.3.1 Daphne Rooke (1914-) ………………………………………

4.3.2 Mittee (1951) ………………………………………………...

4.4 Conclusion ……………………………………………………………...

5. Realist Coloniality and Neo-Coloniality

5.1 Es’kia Mphahlele. Down Second Avenue (1959) ……………………….

5.1.1 Es’kia Mphahlele (1919-) ……………………………………

5.1.2 Down Second Avenue (1959) ………………………………...

5.2 Bessie Head. When Rain Clouds Gather (1968) ………………………..

5.2.1 Bessie Head (1937-1986) ……………………………………

5.2.2 When Rain Clouds Gather (1968) …………………………...

5.3 Alan Paton. Too Late the Phalarope (1953) ……………………………

5.3.1 Alan Paton (1903-1988) ……………………………………..

5.3.2 Too Late the Phalarope (1953) ………………………………

5.4 Athol Fugard. The Blood Knot (1963) ………………………………….

5.4.1 Athol Fugard (1932-) ………………………………………...

5.4.2 The Blood Knot (1963) ………………………………………

6. Pre- and Post-Independence Coloniality

6.1 Pre-Independence and Post-Independence Literature

6.2 Chinua Achebe. Arrow of God (1964)

6.2.1 Chinua Achebe (1930-)

6.2.2 Arrow of God (1964)

6.3 Charles Mungoshi. Waiting for the Rain (1975)

6.3.1 Charles Mungoshi (1947-)

6.3.2 Waiting for the Rain (1975)

6.4 Ngugi wa Thiong’o. A Grain of Wheat (1967)

6.4.1 Ngugi wa Thiong’o (1938-)

6.4.2 The evolution of Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s ideology

6.4.3 A Grain of Wheat (1967)

6.4.4 A Grain of Wheat – the plot

6.4.5 The significance of A Grain of Wheat

7. Post-colonial and post-neocolonial representations

7.1 Buchi Emecheta. Kehinde (1994)

7.1.1 Buchi Emecheta (1944-)

7.1.2 Kehinde (1994)

7.2 Sipho Sepamla. Rainbow Journey (1996)

7.2.1 Sipho Sepamla (1932-)

7.2.2 Rainbow Journey (1996)

7.3 J.M. Coetzee. Disgrace (1999)

7.3.1 J.M. Coetzee (1940-)

7.3.2 Disgrace (1999)


Part Three – Literature in English from Independent Africa

8. Introduction to Literature in English from Independent Africa

9. Custom and Tradition in Independent Africa

9.1 Flora Nwapa. Efuru (1966)

9.1.1 Flora Nwapa (

9.1.2 Efuru (1966)

9.2 Buchi Emecheta. The Bride Price (1976)

9.2.1 Personal experience in The Bride Price

9.2.2 The Bride Price (1976)

9.2.3 Buchi Emecheta’s personal experience in The Bride Price

9.2.4 Buchi Emecheta’s family as characters of her fiction

9.2.5 Buchi Emecheta’s mother as fiction

9.2.6 Buchi Emecheta’s father and brother as fiction

9.2.7 Elements of personal experience in The Bride Price

9.2.8 Conclusions

9.3 M.G. Vassanji. The Gunny Sack (1989)

9.3.1 M.G. Vassanji (

9.3.2 The Gunny Sack (1989)

10. Myth, Religion and the World of the Spirits in Independent Africa

10.1 Amos Tutuola. The Palm-Wine Drinkard (1952)

10.1.1 Amos Tutuola (

10.1.2 The Palm-Wine Drinkard (1952)

10.2 Elechi Amadi. The Concubine (1966)

10.2.1 Elechi Amadi (

10.2.2 The Concubine (1966)

10.3 Nuruddin Farah. From a Crooked Rib (1970)

10.3.1 Nuruddin Farah (

10.3.2 From a Crooked Rib (1970)

11. Modernity and Globalisation in Independent Africa

11.1 Cyprian Ekwensi. Jagua Nana (1961)

11.1.1 Cyprian Ekwensi (

11.1.2 Jagua Nana (1961)

11.2 Wole Soyinka. The Road (1965)

11.2.1 Wole Soyinka (

11.2.2 The Road (1965)

11.3 Bessie Head. A Question of Power (1974)

11.3.1 Bessie Head (

11.3.2 A Question of Power (1974)

11.4 Ama Ata Aidoo. Changes (1991)

11.4.1 Ama Ata Aidoo (

11.4.2 Changes (1991)



Literary map of Africa – English-speaking countries




List of figures


Figure 1 – Literary geography of Africa ………………………………………….…

Figure 2 – English in Africa ……………………………..…………………………..

Figure 3 – Independence for Africa ………………….….…………………………..

Figure 4 – The power of literature …………………………………………………..

Figure 5 – National discourse and type of textualisation ……………………………

Figure 6 – The phases of coloniality ………………………………………………...

Figure 7 – Stages of colonial history .…………..…………………………………...


















Fig. 1 – Literary Geography of Africa


















Fig. 2 – English in Africa


















Fig. 3 – Independence for Africa
























By reading the literature from Africa in English, one can learn a lot about Africa, about its people, their beliefs, their opinions and their aspirations. It is necessary to read literature from Africa because Africa is being recognised increasingly as a continent whose destiny is crucial to the future of the planet. An understanding of its ecology, bio-diversity and the condition of its people and their socio-political, economic and cultural institutions is becoming ever more fundamental to the advancement and consolidation of well-being, peace and tolerance in the world.

It is extremely important that the international community becomes informed about Africa and its peoples and sensitive to its condition. As African countries move further along their historical timelines, distancing themselves from the colonial and post-Independence eras, opportunities are arising for African countries to reassert their national identities and to try to unify their resources, their economies and their aspirations within the framework of a single continent. In July 2002, in Durban, South Africa, the African Union (AU), with echoes of the European Union, was formed to replace the now-jaded Organisation of African Unity (OAU). Some politicians and observers perceive an African renaissance in the making.

At the same time, Africa is also perceived by the rest of the world as a continent beset with devastating natural disasters and large-scale human misery. What is the truth about the human condition in Africa? One way of achieving a deeper insight is by reading the literature of African writers. We are able to do this thanks, paradoxically, to the legacy of European colonialism in Africa which brought about the extensive use of European languages throughout Africa. In this introduction to literatures from Africa written in English, the works presented, apart from being fine examples of world literature, inform the reader about aspects of life in Africa, thereby giving readers a better understanding of the continent and its peoples.

An introduction to the literature of a continent of this nature is constructed on the basis of a selection. When making such a selection of works of literature from Africa for inclusion, we must be mindful of the reaction of the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe when he saw how Africa had been represented in the works of some European writers. In an essay entitled “Named for Victoria, Queen of England,” he writes,

At the university I read some appalling novels about Africa (including Joyce Cary’s much praised Mister Johnson) and decided that the story we had to tell could not be told for us by anyone else no matter how gifted or well intentioned. (Hopes and Impediments. Selected Essays 1965-1987. p. 25)

But, while not Western creative writers, we too must bear in mind that we are Western readers and critics and that this fact, as we read the literature, will make special demands on our cultural and literary sensitivities. Given the cultural and geographical constraints, short of living in an African society and becoming integrated there, this is the very best we can do. For Europeans, reading literature from Africa is a necessarily cross-cultural activity. To read the literature of Africa is to learn about the peoples and societies of Africa. To this extent, therefore, reading the literature of African writers serves a didactic purpose. But the works chosen for inclusion here have not been selected solely on the basis of their informative merit; they stand as outstanding literary achievements in their own right, irrespective of their ethnic or ideological origins, and perhaps because of them.

The selection criteria used here is as follows:

a) All the works presented here are by writers who come from Africa. Most of the works selected are written by authors who were resident in a country of Africa at the time of the publication of their work. Only in a few instances, for example, the Nigerian writer Buchi Emecheta and the Somali writer Nuruddin Farah, are the authors of the chosen works living outside Africa at the time of the publication of their work.

b) All the selected works have been written in English in their original format, that is, they are not translations into English from another language.

c) All the literary works presented here have been published, the earliest in the first decades of the twentieth century. While fine literary texts in their own right, they appear here as representative of their period and their genre, selected for their quality and their appropriateness for this introduction to the study of fiction in English from Africa.

d) It is noteworthy that the majority of works chosen for this presentation of fiction in English from Africa are novels. This is surprising, especially given that pre-colonial and colonised cultures in Africa were rooted in oral traditions so that ritual ceremonies (theatre) and incantations (poetry) were standard forms of communication within the traditional communities. However, with the colonial-driven spread of literacy, that is, reading and writing, the European novel and short story genres have become widely adopted by creative writers throughout Africa. In the general diffusion of other cultural artefacts, the novel has become an accepted literary genre and a fully-integrated, valid art form in African cultures. From a European perspective, the novel is among the most successfully diffused of all its cultural artefacts. But in the process of diffusion, cultural borrowings occur in both directions. While it is argued that the novel genre has been widely adopted by societies formerly colonised by European countries, in the postcolonial dispensation, the genres of the victims have been steadily taking a hold in the cultures of the former metropli, especially in the fields of dance, design, music and the performing arts.

* * *

Three hundred years of European colonisation have left their mark on African cultures and African mindsets, a mark that is still evident even today when the aftermath of the colonial era is fading into history. The fact is that most African writers have written and continue to write as victims of European colonialism while Europeans are perceived as the perpetrators of the scourge. Much of the literature published by African writers is representative of the formerly-disempowered writing about their relationship with the formerly-empowered. Such writers have power over their own fictive narratives, but language, genre and even format are not entirely without the taint of Western aesthetics. Those African writers who write pre-colonial or non-colonial texts implicitly and explicitly deny White hegemony and the power of their “other” in an attempt to take fuller control over the presentation of the African “self.”

This presentation has been written to provide readers and students of literatures from Africa in English with a theoretical framework with which to gain access to a body of literature that is growing and changing with the times. In 1986, the Nigerian novelist and playwright Wole Soyinka won the Nobel Prize for Literature, the first African writer to attain this achievement, drawing the attention of world readerships to literature from Africa. When the White South African writers Nadine Gordimer and J.M. Coetzee won the prize in 1991 and 2003 respectively, the significance of fiction in English from Africa was further enhanced and its quality further acknowledged. M. Keith Booker, author of The African Novel in English. An Introduction, believes that the role of the African novel in the restoration of African history and culture gives African literature a relevance and vitality such that Western readers should find the fiction stimulating. Moreover, the obvious influence of African literature on African societies and politics is evidence of the overall social and political significance of literature. Booker contends that, because African novels raise a number of formal and ideological issues that are different from those readers typically encounter in Western fiction in English, readers can attain a better understanding of Western literature and a deeper appreciation of the global power of literary discourses. Accordingly, readers of African fiction “will become familiar with one of the most powerful cultural forces in the world today. [...] They will also see their own cultures in new and exciting ways.”[1]



















Reading Fiction from Africa in English













Chapter 1

Approaching Fiction from Africa in English

The literature of Africa in English is the literature in English of the second largest continent on Earth, occupying one-fifth of the planet’s total land area and providing a home to about 650 million people. The size of Africa presupposes its diversity, rendering terms such as “African” too vague to be meaningful. Africa is a collectivity of multiple ethnicities, cultures, religions and languages, loosely bound together into national groupings, with tenuous common ties. How, then, can one approach the literature in English of this vast population which is characterised by its cultural diversity rather than by its cultural unity? Paradoxically, the European colonisation of Africa left behind two factors which cut across national and ethnic boundaries, making them common to almost all African countries. The first factor is the colonial experience of that country, the second is the colonising language, and the two are interdependent. It is no coincidence that those African countries colonised by Great Britain number English among their official languages today,[2] and that those countries colonised by France have Francophone literatures. These two factors – coloniser metropolis and coloniser language – make  it convenient to group together works of literature by a writer living in Zimbabwe, for example, with those of a writer living in Nigeria or Kenya.

The historical factor

Just prior to Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Caribbean during the last years of the fifteenth century, Portuguese seamen, in their search for a trade route to the Far East, were among the first Europeans to set foot on the shores of Southern Africa.[3] With the discovery of the New World, however, the main focus of European attention was on the newly-discovered territories across the Atlantic Ocean. Nevertheless, as the need for cheap labour to exploit the new “colonies” increased, especially since disease and illnesses introduced into the indigenous populations by the Europeans greatly reduced the numbers of native workers, the colonisers turned to West Africa for their workforce. In 1518, the first shipment of African prisoners was transported from West Africa to the Antilles, so beginning the infamous “trade triangle.” In order to sustain their colonising ambitions and the economies of the metropoli, European powers continued the transportation of African slaves from all parts of Africa to the Caribbean and to North and South America. This enforced migration, that came to be known as “the slave trade,” reached its height in terms of numbers during the eighteenth century, from which time onwards began a gradual decline during the first half of the nineteenth century thanks to legislation passed in 1807 in the British House of Commons which forbade British citizens to participate in the buying and selling of slaves. Nevertheless, other European countries continued trading in Black African people for years after.

But the slave trade apart, together with America, the Indian sub-continent and Australasia, from the late sixteenth century to the early twentieth century, a period of three hundred years, Africa underwent the process of European colonisation from which scarcely any part of the continent was spared. The European colonisation of Africa began effectively with the arrival at the southernmost tip of the continent of the Dutch navigator Jan van Riebeeck in the mid-seventeenth century. Later, territorial expansion was carried out by Afrikaner Trekboers, the commandos of Dutch farmers who travelled eastwards across the southern tip of Africa in search of new land to farm. The subsequent British annexation of African land followed the trail established by the Trekboers and by the Scottish explorer and missionary David Livingstone who, between 1841 and 1873, travelled from the interior of Southern Africa first northwards and westwards and then eastwards to discover routes to the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

The end of European colonisation in Africa in the twentieth century was common to all African nation states as they existed at the time, but European colonialism in Africa ended in a way different from that in North and South America, Australia and New Zealand. While in the Americas and Australasia, the European colonisers – the Spanish, Portuguese, British, French and Dutch – became permanent settlers in the colonised territories,[4] in Africa and the Indian sub-continent, the European powers gave independence to their former colonies, leaving indigenous leaders entirely in control, politically, economically and culturally, of their populations.[5] Furthermore, following the implosion of European colonialism that began with the First World War (1914-1918) and ended with the Second World War (1939-1945), at the Yalta Conference in February 1945 an iron-curtain was drawn across Europe to separate the capitalist and communist blocs. But no such curtain was drawn across Africa. The so-called superpowers, the United States of America and the Soviet Union, were left to defend and promulgate their respective interests in Africa as best they could, without the convenience of a fence running from north to south. Yet this is not to say that Europeans did not draw lines across Africa, lines which determine our perception of Africa today. European colonisation left a legacy in each of its former colonies, not least of which was the complete redrawing of the internal map of Africa.

The language factor

The European colonisers of Africa brought with them Afrikaans, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish, to take root in African communities alongside African languages such as Gikuyu, Hausa, Igbo, Krio, Ndebele, Pidgin Shona, Sotho, Swahili, Xhosa, Yoruba and Zulu, among others. Furthermore, the lines drawn across Africa reflected the way Europeans, not Africans, perceived the tribal, ethnic and linguistic community divisions. Independence was granted to countries whose boundaries had been established by European colonisers. Countries were created and independence conferred on them For example, it was Flora Shaw, the wife of Sir Frederick Lugard, the colonial Governor General of Nigeria, who invented the name “Nigeria” that appeared for the first time in an article in The Times of London. In fact, Flora Shaw was referring to the territories of the Royal Niger Company and she was suggesting the amalgamation of the territories of West Africa into a single state. Today Nigeria is Africa’s most populous sovereign state and, owing to its vast oil resources, it is known as “the African giant” or the “Texas of Africa,” being the second largest economy in Africa after the Republic of South Africa.

But of equal importance are the language frontiers established by European colonialism. For example, the following African countries all have English as one of their official languages: Botswana, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, The Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Mauritius, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sierre Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.[6] In their teaching and evangelising practices, European missionaries and their institutions difused and consolidated their respective languages across Africa. Furthermore, the African communities themselves, with their appreciation of the value of Western education, have promulgated and perpetuated much of the content of the education and the languages in which it was taught from the colonial period through the post-independence era up to the present day. Today, many African writers use the language of their former colonisers in order to communicate their “response” to the colonial “statement” that their forefathers had lived through. In South Africa, for example, well before the end of apartheid in the early 1990s, Black South African writers voiced their implict protest against the racist laws and institutions in literary works written in English. Indeed, South Africa’s new Constitution which is based on racial, sexual and religious equality is written in English.

Approaches to literature in English from Africa

What has been the affect of the colonial experience on the writing of the colonised? What parameters will serve for reading and studying their literature in English? Among the options are a geographical approach, a discursive approach and an ideological approach. Which of these approaches is the most appropriate and useful?

The geographical approach

Africa is a vast network of political spaces that are marked out by geopolitical lines. The geographical approach conceptualises the literature in terms of location or setting. In general, literary works in English from Africa have a strong sense of place and their narrative topics relate directly to historical and socio-political aspects of the communities from which they come. There is, therefore, a strong argument for discussing the literature in terms of its geographical specificity. Aesthetic, cultural and ideological concerns of African writers frequently derive from personal experience, from upbringing, family circumstances and education. For this reason, much creative writing from Africa is firmly rooted in location, with a strong sense of time and place.

One way to divide up those countries of Africa where English is an official language into areas that are discrete in terms of literary corpus is as follows:[7]


Africa South Botswana, Lesotho, Mauritius, Namibia, Republic of South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe
Africa North Egypt
Africa East Kenya, Seychelles, Tanzania, Uganda
Africa West Cameroon, The Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierre Leone
Africa Central Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda
Horn of Africa Somalia, Ogaden region


However, there are dangers in such an approach. Geographical spaces are also geopolitical spaces. Map-drawing is a device used for managing space and for controlling populations which occupy that space. For the deconstructionist literary theorist, textualisation is the constructor’s tool; language and words provide the building blocks of colonial and neo-colonial constructs. In geographical terms, borders presuppose an inside and an outside, an interior and an exterior. In geopolitical terms, there is national and foreign, inclusion and exclusion, “self” and “other.” As Edward Said wrote, “Culture is always a system of discriminations and evaluations and, consequently, a system of exclusions” (Edward Said ?. ?). Moreover, maps are fluid and borders are in a constate state of flux. For example, the horn of Africa is highly fragmented. It is made up of Ethiopia, the Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, the Ogaden, Western Somalia, British Somaliland and Djibouti. Disputes over the territorial divisions are on-going and have generated some of the most extensive land warfare to be found anywhere in the world in recent decades.[8] Recently, there have been calls for the reinstitution of British Somaliland.

It is possible to list the authors and their works on the basis of the country they come from.[9] With literatures from other continents, the cultural identity of a literary work is usually evident from the language in which it is written. In the case of Europe, for example, one can speak of French literature, German literature, Italian literature, and so on. However, in the case of literatures from Africa written in English, a language-based categorisation is not possible. It is not possible to classify literature written in English coming from an African country as “English literature.” Nor is it usually adequate to speak of “Nigerian literature,” that is, using the category devised under colonialism, when referring to works by an Igbo or a Yoruba writer. For this reason, the literary map of Africa is a necessary and useful tool for reference purposes.

Having said this, the categories “African literature” or even “African literatures” are not useful. Literary works from Africa are so diverse in their creation and inspiration that the geographical parameter is not scientifically appropriate, even though written in the same European language. Just as it is not particularly helpful to assert that Spanish and German literatures are “European literatures,” even when read in translation, to say that a literary work is by a writer from this or that part of Africa, or from this or that country in Africa is of limited help in any literary analysis. It is better to speak of “literature from Africa” or “fiction from Africa;” it is more satisfactory to approach works of literature from Africa in English not in terms of region of provenance but, instead, in terms of historical reference or topic, that is, discursive significance. Notwithstanding, in respect of source, it is noteworthy that most literary works from Africa in English are by writers from the Republic of South Africa and Zimbabwe in Africa South, and from Nigeria and Ghana in Africa West. Above all, Igboland, Western Cape, KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng are the main foci of literary production in English on the continent.

The discursive approach

An alternative way to approach literatures in English from Africa is on the basis of their discursive significance, that is, their topics as contributions to regional or globalised discourses. Certain discourses such as conditions under apartheid, female circumcision and child soldiers are regional while others, such as poverty, the environment, wars, AIDS, cultural renaissance, corruption and migration are universal, that is, not limited to specific areas within borders. In general, however, the profiles of distinctively African discourse topics are ill-defined. As the world becomes increasingly globalised, so discursive literary contributions become less regional and more universal in their frames of reference. On the other hand, literary works that contribute to the construction of national and global discourses are representations of ‘culture’ in that they are creations of members of specific societies and, therefore, cultural referents of those societies.

A Western literary theory that recognises the connection between social context and cultural representations is New Historicism. New Historicism complements the discursive approach and is useful and relevant for the study of literatures from Africa. Works of literature from Africa are cultural constructs, that is, textualisations of regions, of peoples and of issues that contribute to regional and global discourses. It is as elements of discourse that literary works achieve their significance, their authority and their power. Authors from Africa who communicate their ideas in English write with an agenda – political, social or ideological – and it is the author’s agenda that is the starting point of the process by which ideas are communicated and discourses empowered.[10]

New Historicism permits an inter-disciplinary approach to literary theory, bracketing together “literature, ethnography, anthropology, art history, and other disciplines and sciences, hard and soft” (H. Aram Vesser 1989: xi). All readers of literatures from Africa, irrespective of the language used, need to know something of the ethnicity of the writer and the cultural space that is being textualised. To understand the meaning and determine the significance of literary works from Africa in English, readers need to know the physical and historical setting of the narrative and aspects of the author’s ethnic and cultural background. For example, readers of Things Fall Apart need to know that Chinua Achebe is an Igbo writer and that Sipho Sepamla, author of Rainbow Journey, is a Black South African who lives in Gauteng. Some writers underline their ethnicity for discursive reasons –


Fig. 4 – The power of literature

readers of A Grain of Wheat are made aware of Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Gikuyu roots. It is also necessary to know if an author is writing from exile or is living permanently outside his or her country of birth. For example, the Somali novelist Nuruddin Farah observes his home country from exile while Buchi Emecheta, an Igbo, left Nigeria voluntarily in the 1960s and has made London her home.

Finally, it is also necessary to know if a writer has been educated outside the country of his or her birth. Both Wole Soyinka and Ngugi wa Thiong’o undertook postgraduate studies at the University of Leeds in England, for example, while Black South African writer, critic and academic Lewis Nkosi left apartheid South Africa in 1961 on a one-way exit permit to take up a fellowship at Harvard University in the United States of America.

The ideological approach

Given that African writers write with an agenda, much of the writing by authors from Africa is discursive, that is, their works contribute to their respective regional or national literary discourses. Their fictive narratives are constructs, construed in such a way as to articulate an opinion or to make a point that is normally political, cultural or ideological. The development of characters and narrative technique are pragmatic, dynamic elements, used to make the construct function. In this sense, the literary works are political and have ideological significance. In Tasks and Masks. Themes and Styles of African Literature (1981), Lewis Nkosi makes the distinction between “tasks” and “masks” by which he categorises African literature into two types. For Nkosi, “masks” are literary works by African writers who perceive African societies as inherently traditional and who invoke oral language forms, cultural activities and historical referents. On the other hand, “tasks” are works written to achieve non-literary objectives, to report on conditions and record opinions in an effort to goad their societies on through the postcolonial period into decolonized, independent dispensations.

Furthermore, in Home and Exile and Other Selections (1965), Lewis Nkosi sees two phases of writing by victims of colonialism and neo-colonialism. He posits that during the first phase of the liberation struggle throughout Southern Africa, writers attempted “to capture in their pamphlets, poems, novels and plays, the revolutionary impulse of which they are inalienably a part” (161). Then, in a second phase, the writers present “not only the pains and joys of national rebirth,” but their works also begin “to constitute an important source of critical consciousness for the nation” (161). Schematically, these two phases can be presented as follows:


First phase

Second phase

Type of nation state

Colonised nation state

Independent nation state

Authorial agenda / Objective of national discourse

Liberation struggle

National rebirth

Type of textualisation

Revolutionary literature – reportage

Literature that constructs the national consciousness

Fig. 5 – National discourse and type of textualisation


In Postcolonial Imaginings. Fictions of a New World Order (2000), David Punter goes further by suggesting that the post-colonial writer, which includes the African post-Independence writer, is driven by a feeling of guilt for not having fought hard enough against the oppressor. According to Punter,

The guilt at the root of this postcolonial cultural narrative is perhaps obvious – the need to suppose that, despite all the reterritorialisations, the partitions, the redrawing of boundaries for imperial convenience, something rocklike remains, something that has survived the violence and exploitation and thereby demonstrates the salving possibility that all can be made whole again, that new maps can be drawn on fresh paper, that the legacy of domination can be erased. (2000: 34)

The ideological raison d’être for many narratives by African writers is a complex matter and, as soci-political, cultural and environmental events have overtaken preconceptions, writers are having to work hard to keep up with events on the ground in any ideologically meaningful way. The aim of the writing – “task” or “mask,” the restoration of tradition or the building of a nation, the erasure of the colonial legacy as an assuagement of guilt – all is being overtaken by the tide of post-modernism and the globalisation of literary discourses.

Degrees of coloniality

Owing to the great territorial, political and cultural diversity of the continent, the geographical, discursive and ideological approaches to the study of literatures from Africa in English are of limited adequacy. The geographical categorisation of literatures from Africa invokes maps and borders established in large measure by the colonisers, the discursive approach identifies discourses which are becoming increasingly globalised and less distinctively African, and the ideological approach raises political and cultural dichotomies which are fast becoming outmoded. Nevertheless, African countries do share one common factor – the experience of European colonisation hangs like a backdrop behind most literary works from Africa. For this reason, it is proposed here to present this feature in common as a basis for analysis – the works of literature from Africa in English presented here will be classified according to the type and degree of coloniality with which each work is imbued.

However, while the colonial legacy is significant to all African cultures and while the colonial process constitutes an underlying common factor for all African countries, it should not be overstated. In The African Novel in English. An Introduction (1998), M. Keith Booker observes that, while postcolonial African literature reacts against decades of European colonial rule in Africa, it also challenges the negative representations of the continent and its peoples that for many years have been characteristic of European and American writing. While it is true that most literary works from Africa written in English reflect to a greater or lesser degree the colonial experience, the works are also significant achievements of creative writing and have artistic value in their own right. The presentation of features of coloniality is part of the act of creation so that each work is a fusion of creativity and coloniality. For this reason, some works have a higher degree of colonial referents – coloniality – than others. The degree of coloniality, therefore, may serve as a parameter for analysing fiction from Africa in English. Classification of literary works from Africa in terms of degree of coloniality, that is, the extent to which they are imbued with the colonial ethos, is useful, at least for the post-colonial period.

In terms of subject matter, discourse topic, genre, characterisation and style, colonial referents may be more evident in some works than in others. While some texts are imbued heavily with the colonial ethos, others are imbued with the ethos of the colonised, that is, the victim. Given these variables, it is possible to place works of literature in English from Africa on a continuum, running from “heavily imbued with the colonial ethos” to “total absence of colonial referents.” For example, at one extreme, that is, “heavily imbued with a colonial ethos,” we might place Doris Lessing’s The Grass is Singing and Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country, while at the other extreme, that is, “total absence of colonial referents,” we might place Amos Tutuola’s The Palm-Wine Drinkard and Flora Nwapa’s Efuru. This type of classification is work-based, not author-based. In the case of Bessie Head, her first novel When Rain Clouds Gather is an example of a work that is clearly “heavily imbued with a colonial ethos” while, by contrast, her last novel A Question of Power has a low degree of coloniality and, therefore, must be located at the other extreme of the continuum. Likewise, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is neither “heavily imbued with a colonial ethos” nor is it entirely devoid of reference to the colonial process, hence requiring that the novel be located some way along the continuum, between the two extremes. This type of classification, while not reflecting directly the aesthetic quality of the respective work, will mean that, when dealing with the literature of the Republic of South Africa, most works by White South African writers like Nadine Gordimer, André Brink and J.M. Coetzee, who have focused on conditions under apartheid and post-apartheid, will be classified as being “heavily imbued with a (neo-) colonial ethos” while works by Black South African writers like Sipho Sepamla, Njabulo Ndebele and Zakes Mda will be located towards the other extreme of the continuum.

Reasons for these differences are rooted partly in the coloniser/colonised, oppressor/victim dichotomies, but they also derive from the nature of the colonisation experienced. Indigenous populations on continents like Australasia and the Americas, for example, were subjected to a process of ‘total’ colonisation by European metropoli, a type of colonisation that results in permanent settlement. In Africa, however, demographic constraints resulted in a process of ‘partial’ European colonisation by which, at least under the British, local leaders were empowered by the coloniser administrations to represent their communities within the colonial dispensation. The type of colonisation applied by the colonising power – ‘total’ or ‘partial’ – is reflected in the degrees of coloniality present in the literature. The presence, nature and quantity of associations with and references to colonialism in literary works are determined by historical factors, as has been pointed out, and more specifically the colonial experience. In general, works from West and East Africa demonstrate a low degree of coloniality, a factor which decreases still further as the countries move away in time from their dates of independence. However, in Southern Africa, in particular in the Republic of South Africa and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), the aspirations of ‘total’ colonisation inherent in the neo-colonial systems of apartheid and the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) respectively, prolonged the coloniser status quo. Consequently, many White families have lived in Southern African for centuries and consider themselves to be indigenous populations. The South African writer J.M. Coetzee has identified the community of White South Africans and White Zimbabweans as “White Africans” and, as he indicated in White Writing. On the Culture of Letters in South Africa (1988), he has labelled their literature “White Writing” (11). It is not surprising, therefore, that this literature has a much higher degree of coloniality than that evident in the literary works of Black South Africans and Black Zimbabweans. Again, as the Republic of South Africa distances itself from the end of apartheid (1994) and Zimbabwe from its date of Independence (1980), so the degree of coloniality in the literature coming from these countries can be expected to diminish. However, the degree of coloniality will undoubtedly diminish more slowly in the literary works of White African writers than will be the case for works by Black African writers.

Such a conceptualisation of literature from Africa written in English cuts across classificatory criteria such as author ethnicity, cultural and religious divides and geographical and geopolitical boundaries, at the same time highlighting the discursive significance of the respective works. While works “heavily imbued with a colonial ethos” are generally characterised by the juxtaposition of coloniser (White) characters with colonised (Black) victims and focus on the interstices where White and Black meet, where ‘the Self’ meets ‘the Other,’ works devoid of the colonial ethos contribute to truly African discourse topics. Moreover, a conceptualisation based on coloniality also cuts across perceptions such as Lewis Nkosi’s ‘tasks’ and ‘masks’ and his ‘revolutionary impulse/national reconstruction’ dichotomy is also embraced.

Literary works that register a degree of coloniality will be further classified according to the aesthetic nature of the colonial discourse they contribute to. The types of colonial discourse are sub-divided into “Romantic coloniality,” “Realist (neo-)coloniality,” “Pre- and post-Independence coloniality” and “Post- (neo-)coloniality.” Those literary works which do not register any degree of coloniality will be assigned to the category “Independent.”




















Chapter 2

Legacies of European Colonisation in Africa

Most colonies in Africa gained their Independence from their respective metropoli following the Second World War (1939-1945), a watershed that represented the total collapse of European hegemony across the planet. Between the Independence of Ghana in 1957 and that of Swaziland in 1968, all the British colonies and protectorates in AfricaBotswana, The Gambia, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia – entered their post-Independence periods.[11] However, there were three exceptions, Zimbabwe, which became Independent in 1980, Namibia, which was administered by South Africa under a United Nations mandate and gained full Independence in 1990, and the Republic of South Africa which freed itself from the shackles of proxy-European colonisers who had created the apartheid state when all-race democratic elections were held for the first time in 1994. Today, Africa is a configuration of fifty-four sovereign states, all self-governing and, with the exception of the Western Sahara and the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, many democratic and all free from European colonial domination.

The failure of European colonisation in Africa

Leaving aside the obvious demographic imbalance, the attempted European colonisation failed in Africa due to the the struggle between the aspiring European metropoli that it unleahed. European industries were hungry for raw materials with which to feed their own industrial revolutions and the so-called “scramble for Africa” – the Europeans’ grab for the resources of the African continent and the economic, strategic and military dominance that such gains brought with them, caused the European powers to turn inwards on themselves in a bid for dominance and supremacy within Europe itself.

The Berlin Conference of 1884-5 signalled the beginning of the European nations’ unashamed scramble for Africa. Between November 1884 and February 1885, representations of Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden and Turkey, together with the United States of America in observer status, met in Berlin and divided up Africa into colonies, redrawing the map of Africa in what has come to be known as the “Partition of Africa.” But with the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War in South Africa in 1899, the members of the Berlin Conference found themselves at loggerheads with each other.

The Anglo-Boer War lasted from 1899 until 1902 and was fought between the British and the Afrikaners (Boers) for control of the gold mines in the Transvaal Republic. The Afrikaners were supported by Germany, amongst other nations, and the war took place entirely in South Africa. However, just twelve years later, Great Britain found itself at war with Germany in the European theatre. In 1914 the First World War broke out and lasted until 1918. Then again, in 1939, Great Britain declared war on Germany whose army was systematically invading and annexing eastern Europe in an attempt to forestall what it perceived as Soviet Communist expansion. As the fascist forces of the Third Reich entered Poland, Great Britain presented Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party with an ultimatum. In this way, the Second World War commenced, total warfare that was to last until 1945.

Disempowered and incapacitated by the two World Wars, the former European colonisers could only stand by and watch as the United States of America and the former Soviet Union fought for strategic and territorial control throughout Africa, trying to win the hearts and minds of the former European colonies with their principles of capitalism and communism respectively. This was effectively the swan-song of the Europeans’ process of colonisation that had characterised the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Referred to as “the Cold War,” this period came to an end with the fall of the Berlin Wall at the end of 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is not a coincidence that the disintegration of the Soviet Union took place at the same time as the disintegration of apartheid in South Africa; the former signalled the end of Soviet-style communism, the latter the end of fascist-style, institutionalised racial oppression in Africa. The world had opted for a New World Order, according to George Bush, President of the United States of America at the time, which would champion globalised democracy, free trade and human rights, which for Africa meant that it would be left alone to achieve these universally-accepted guidelines. In this respect, following the Anglo-Boer War, the two World Wars and the Cold War, Europe lost out in Africa, unable to repeat its American and Australasian successes. In the power vacuum following the Cold War, African states have been encouraged by the United States of America to try to resolve their own problems within the framework of the African Union. However, in recent years the emerging economic powers, China and India, have been increasing their business activities throughout Africa.

South Africa was the last attempt at America- or Australasia-style colonisation by proxy-European colonisers, but it failed. Throughout the apartheid era, South Africa had been governed in a way similar to the colonised countries of the Americas, that is, by the coloniser ex-patriates or settlers. The difference in South Africa was that at the time of the end of apartheid Black South Africans outnumbered White South Africans by about 10:1. In 1991, there were about 22·5 million Black South Africans, 5·25 million White South Africans, 3·3 million Coloureds and about 1 million Asian South Africans.

Following the end of the Cold War and the events of 11/09/2001 in New York and Washington DC, the post-colonial era has also come to an end.[12] The ideology of the New World Order is articulated in Cartesian terms – for or against terrorism, for or against market economy, for or against privatisation, and so on. This ideology, which is determining politics and economics on a global basis, is driven by the United States of America. All the countries in Africa are affected and cannot ignore the forces of globalisation and, in this sense, globalisation has become the ideological successor of European colonialism across the continent.

Elements of the legacy

The European metropoli had first scrambled for and then abandoned Africa. The colonial administrations packed their bags, recalled to their respective European capitals, and they left behind them a legacy – logistical and administrative infrastructures, commercial networks and practices, hospital and medical services, their systems of education and, above all, their languages. Metropolis-language teaching had been carried out, literally, with missionary zeal, and the African communities, with their great appreciation of the value of education, have perpetuated much of the content of the education and the linguistic mediums of education from the colonial period through the post-independence era into the contemporary age.

In their need to participate in globalised political and economic systems, post-Independence dispensations in Africa have tended to consolidate and perpetuate institutions and systems imposed on them by their colonisers. Independent African governments have adopted their coloniser’s legal and political systems. Former British colonies perpetuate parliamentary systems following the Westminster model and the English system of statutory laws. Somewhat ironically perhaps, post-apartheid South Africa has chosen to remain a republic, a form of government introduced into South Africa in 1961 by Hendrick Verwoerd, the architect of the neo-colonial system of racially-based segregation and discrimination known as apartheid. Also, the colonisers’ languages are included among the official languages of many of the former colonies, among them the English language.

Maps, borders, boundaries and frontiers

The map of Africa as it is known today is also the legacy of European colonisation. Borders, frontiers and boundaries established under colonial régimes cut across the religious, ethnic and linguistic divisions of the peoples of Africa and, politically, post-colonial Africa is a European construct. With its proliferation of political borders and cultural boundaries, post-Independent Africa is an amalgam of “frontier societies” and “frontier communities.” Borders and boundaries criss-cross Africa. In Postcolonial Imaginings. Fictions of a New World Order, David Punter observes that the reader of “post-colonial writing” is presented with “a whole panoply of maps, a treasure chest of charts, piled in heaps, lapped one over another, imaginary geographies” (2000: 33).

The textualisation of binary concepts such as “Western” and “African” is in itself a construction of border or frontier. But borders do not only mark off one geopolitical space from another. Borders can mark divides between geocultural spaces, geospiritual spaces and geolinguistic spaces, between urban and rural, between metropolis and colony, between wealth and poverty, and the separators between different mindsets. Furthermore, borders signify mobility – borders exist because people cross them. In Africa, people are forced to cross the multiplicity of borders that surround them in their everyday lives. For example, the border between tradition and modernity, between palm-wine and Coca Cola and between western medicine and herbalist remedies. When Europeans read works of literature from Africa, even though it is written in a European language, we cross borders and become what Lewis Nkosi has called a “cross-border reader.”[13] Moreover, as Homi Babha maintains, this is a moment in history when “a transnational, ‘migrant’ knowledge of the world is most urgently needed” (1994: 214).

Frontier societies are by definition ‘on the edge,’ socially, culturally and politically marginalised, perpherical and far from the centre, the metropolis. The Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart (1958) aptly uses W.B. Yeats’ lines from The Second Coming as a metaphor for the effect of European colonialism on societies in Africa:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

(W.B. Yeats “The Second Coming” lines 1-3)[14]

The centre of European colonial power overreached itself, rendering the edge increasingly unstable. In post-Independent Africa, societies border on each other, with no centre, no metropolis, mobile, dynamic, critical, unpredictable, at risk, vibrant and vital. For this reason, borders in Africa are intrinsically multiple. Every time an individual crosses a border in Africa, he or she crosses many boundaries – boundaries separating mindsets, languages, political systems, economic systems, belief systems, value systems, ethnicities, tradition from modernity, rural from urban, regional from national, home from the unknown. The dilemma of the African migrant is crystallised in the last line of Charles Mongoshi’s novel Waiting for the Rain (1975) in which he sums up Lucifer’s attitude as he leaves his rural Zimbabwean village to go to Europe – “Lucifer leans back [in the car] and tries to look at his country through the eye of an impartial tourist” (180). For Lucifer, the only way to confront crossing the multiple frontiers is to minimalise it all into a single concept – tourism.

The colonial legacy and the African writer

For African writers, European colonialism brought two things – a medium of universalised communication and a topic, that is, something to write about and to communicate to global readerships. In an interview with Lee Nichols published in 1981, Bessie Head, a South African writer living in Botswana, acknowledged this indirectly when she said,

I would never fall in the category of a writer who produces light entertainment . . . My whole force and direction come from having something to say. What we are mainly very bothered about has been the dehumanizing of black people. And if we can resolve our difficulties it is because we want a future which is defined for our children.[15]

The traditional literary form for many creative artists in Africa is oral. The publication and widespread distribution of written texts is principally a European tradition which began with the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century. The difference between oral expression – orature – and written expression – literature – is fundamental and constitutes a distinctive feature of cultural representations. The fact that writers from Africa choose to express themselves in English or another European language and choose to do so in prose is a result of the colonisation process and the on-going process of globalisation.

Together, missionary education in the nineteenth century and the current process of globalisation have introduced and perpetuated the act of writing in English and the publication and distribution of literary works in English by African writers throughout the English-speaking world. Missionary education trained indigenous populations in the use of English to a comparatively high standard so that, with the end of the colonial era, writers found themselves well-equipped linguistically not only to write about their “colonial experience,” but to draw their opinions and perceptions to the attention of coloniser readerships in addition to their own countrymen and women. For this reason, writers from Africa are frequently committed writers who write not for entertainment but out of a need to express their ideas and to contribute to on-going national discourses that are frequently rooted in the colonial experience. Lewis Nkosi took this a stage further when he pointed our that, within the context of apartheid, there was no justification for South African writers to write on anything else except that which pertained to the horrors of life under apartheid. (Reference ?)

The topic – something to write about

African countries have passed through a number of phases of history, largely together and in unison. They have moved from a pre-colonial phase which was characterised by tradtion and custom, through a colonial phase characterised by the imposition of European values and moraes, followed by independence and post-independence which has been labelled “post-colonial” by the West --


Pre-colonial  ?  Colonial  ?  Independence  ?  Post-Independence [Post-colonial]


Fig. 7 – Stages of colonial history

Works of literature focus on the interstices between the phases of history – the watersheds, the points of transition, the moments of change. For example, Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s A Grain of Wheat (1967) is centered on the Uhuru ceremony, the moment of Kenya’s independence in December, 1963.

In the post-Independence phase, African nation states have witnessed the collapse of the European and Soviet hegemonies and a corresponding increase in the dominance of the West, principally the United States of America. In response to this, some African writers have attempted to resuscitate the past, to reconstruct the pre-colonial phase, with its custom and ethnic traditions, other writers prefer to look towards a new African world-view and nation-building, while still others find themselves somewhere between the two positions. Whatever the writer’s position, the truth is that there is no turning-back to pre-colonial times, with its traditions and customs. Some institutions like kinship and marriage systems will be retained for as long as possible, but it will not be possible to reconstruct pre-colonial society. For this reason, post-Independence will be followed by an era of integration into the New World Order, a situation some African leaders, such as Thabo Mbeki, President of the Republic of South Africa, see as laying the groundwork for an African renaissance.

International publishing houses

In fact, most publications in English by African writers are not targeted at national readerships in Africa, but at global readerships. The works of African writers in English are usually published by international publishing companies, a situation which, although regretted by some writers like Ngugi wa Thiong’o, is the only way for writers from Africa to survive on incomes from their literary works. Local or national readerships are not sufficiently large as to enable a writer or publishing house to exist financially, with certain noteworthy exceptions such as Zimbabwe Publishing House, East African Publishing House (Kenya), Tana Press (Nigeria) and Vivlia Publishers and Booksellers (South Africa).

However, by far the largest publishers of writing from Africa in English are the multinational companies Heinemann, Longman, Oxford University Press and Penguin Books, and of these Heinemann have made the greatest contribution to the publication of literary works by writers from Africa. In 1958, Heinemann Educational Books published Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. In 1962, Chinua Achebe himself became the first Editorial Adviser of Heinemann’s African Writer Series, a collection which has provided an international outlet for writers from Africa. Between 1972 and 1984, two hundred and seventy works were published in the African Writer Series. Eight million copies of Things Fall Apart have been sold and the novel has been translated into thirty-two languages. There is no doubt that the Series has helped writing from Africa to become established among the world’s post-colonial literatures and has given an identity to African literary aesthetics. In recent years, selected works from the series have been re-issued as Penguin classics, forming what might be construed as a canon of African writing in English.

Alternative formats

If Africa has taken advantage of colonial legacies such as the publication of literary works in English, the New World Order with its accompanying development of globalised communications and information technology is opening up new possibilities and options for the continent. In addition to literary publications, film, music and dance are diffusing African values, beliefs, ideas and perceptions across international borders. Theatre audiences across the world are watching the drama of African playwrights and dance performed by dancers from Africa, the creations of African choreographers. Western discothèques and concert halls are filled ever more frequently with the rhythms and instruments of Africa. Through music, painting, sculpture, dance, drama, fashion and literature, the universalised public is gradually internalizing the sounds and feelings of African people.

But unlike African dance and music, literature from Africa in English continues to depend to a large extent on the narratives of the continent’s colonial legacy for genre, language, theme and coherence. It is a paradox that three hundred years of colonial oppression have made it possible for universalised readerships to engage with most of the literature from Africa in a way unthinkable for literatures coming from other continents, and for the indigenous peoples of the continent to address global readerships freely, without constraint or censure.








Chapter 3

European Aesthetics and Fiction from Africa

Together with the languages and the topics, European colonisation also left an aesthetic legacy – several distinctive literary genres. While oral poetry and theatre have been traditional forms of artistic expression throughout the continent, the novel and the short story are formats that are not readily associated with the cultural traditions of the peoples of Africa. The fact is that creative writing in English prose and its publication was started only comparatively recently in the history of literature.

Publishing in Africa began several centuries ago, the works published not in English but in Arabic. Islamic scripts were available in markets in the Horn of Africa in the seventeenth century. However, with European colonisation a need for educative texts and reading skills arose by which missionaries would spread their faith and instill codes of moral behaviour in their students. Publication facilities were also required in order to publish the Bible in indigenous languages. The first mission printing press to be set up was in Nigeria in the middle of the eighteenth century. This was followed by the establishment in South Africa of the Lovedale Press of the Church of Scotland Mission at Alice in Eastern Cape in 1861 that published in Xhosa, a press in Mariannhill in Natal province that published in Zulu, the press of the Paris Evangelical Mission at Morija in Basutoland, now Lesotho, that published in Sotho, and in 1887 of a printing press in Kenya.

Early published works in English by writers from Africa

The publication of literary works in prose by writers from Africa began in South Africa at the turn of the twentieth century. The reasons for this comparatively late start are varied and complex. Initially, the writings of Black South Africans were printed on the presses of Church missions such as the Lovedale Press and the Paris Evangelical Mission press at Morija. In fact, the missions themselves encouraged Black writers in the writing of novels, but novels advocating Christian morality. However, as the political and social climate in South Africa changed, particularly following the Act of Union of 1910, the influence of the mission stations was diminished in many ways and their presses could no longer keep up the publication of works by Black writers. Consequently, Black South African writers writing in English were forced to look for White South African publishers or publishing houses in England and North America. In more recent times, since the 1970s, apart from the well-established publishers AD Donker and David Philip, Ravan Press, the independent Black publishing house Skotaville Publishers and Vivlia have been formed which specialise in the publication of works by Black South African writers.

That the first novels of Black South Africans were prepared for publication on mission station presses goes some way towards an explanation of why the novels were written in English and not in the vernacular language of their respective authors. Works published on the mission station presses were intended for Black readers all over Southern Africa and English, even at that early stage in the history of the publication of Black writing, for the obvious reasons of colonial influence, was the lingua franca of Southern Africa and its use guaranteed the widest possible readership. As time went by, although some Black South Africans wrote their novels in their own language, notably Thomas Mofolo who completed the manuscript for Chaka towards the end of 1909 in Sesotho, most Black South African novelists chose the English language as their medium of expression. Mofolo’s Chaka, too, was translated into English in 1931 by F.H. Dutton. In the “Introduction” to his 1981 translation of the work, Daniel P. Kunene notes that thanks to Dutton’s translation not only European readers could get to know and appreciate this masterwork, but that African readers, too, were able to do so for the first time, and he adds that “[w]e often lose sight of the fact that translations of this nature facilitate communication within Africa as well” (xiv).

* * *

In practice, there are several factors that make it extremely difficult for the prose creations of African writers to be brought into print, among them selection of works for publication, choice of language, marketing and printing costs. On this last factor, as Daniel P. Kunene observes in his “Introduction” to Chaka, Thomas Mofolo’s son has commented that two chapters of his father’s work work were not published in 1925 in order make it shorter and, therefore, cheaper to print, “since in those days authors were expected to pay the costs of producing their own manuscripts, and the less bulky a manuscript was, the less costly it was to produce (xii).

Nevertheless, for some African writers these problems were surmountable and in 1928 Lovedale Press published the first novel in English by a Black South African writer, R.R.R. Dhlomo’s An African Tragedy. Set in South Africa, the narrative relates the experiences of a Black man as he moves from a rural to an urban location. Christian in its orientation, the novel reveals the tragic consequences for Black society in general when it is brought into contact with the ‘evils’ of the city and is influenced and corrupted by them. The general theme is one which is to dominate Black prose works for years to come. However, the importance of An African Tragedy lies chiefly in its historical value as the first novel in English by a Black South African.

Publication and genre

Traditionally in Africa, it has been relatively easy for poets and playwrights to communicate with their respective audiences. Performance artists – poetry readers and groups of actors – recite and act their works before local audiences. For this reason, poetry and plays, genres that are oral in their diffusion, are more closely associated with African cultures. On the other hand, prose writers depend on the publication business, marketing practices and systems of distribution. In fact, the activities of creative writing, publishing and distribution are interdependent. The printing presses in Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya that had been established by the beginning of the twentieth century, albeit initially with educational and didactic objectives in mind, made it possible for some prose works by African writers to be published, especially if they were written in English. Writers from Africa were given the means by which to communicate with global readerships. But this presupposes a certain conditionality in that it is the readerships who will determine the genre, that is to say, writers from Africa must articulate their ideas and feelings using an artistic form of expression that is marketable in the West. In short, given the dominance of the written text, in order to be heard African writers must write novels and short stories, in addition to poetry and play scripts.

This legacy of European colonialism is a determinant factor in the evolution of African aesthetics. In 1915, the Cosmopolitan Club in Cape Coast, Ghana, performed The Blinkards, a satirical play by Kobina Sekyi written in Fante and English and in 1928 R.R.R. Dhlomo’s An African Tragedy was published in South Africa. From these beginnings, writers in Africa have adopted the Western genres, moulding the formats to their artistic and communicative requirements.

Towards an African aesthetics

Although it is the aftermath of European colonialism that frequently determines African modes of artistic expression, the topics and nature of the discourses are distinctive. It is a platitude to say that, irrespective of genre, African and European aesthetics differ fundamentally. The challenge for the literary critic – to identify and describe those differences in the literature – is an important one because in these differences lies the problem of cultural centrism, raising the issue of Euro-centrism and the non-African reader of literatures from Africa in English.

The Black South African critic Lewis Nkosi has identified a difference between Western and African mindsets. In his short story “The Prisoner,”[16] Lewis Nkosi speaks of the European’s “well-conceived madness,” and he maintains that it is well-known that African people have never imagined a metaphysical system that separates matter from the spirit and for this reason they have never believed that the body is inferior to the soul. On the other hand, he argues that Westerners have always thought of the intellect and the spirit as being superior to the body and, by way of an example, he asks “Have you seen them dance? Most of their dances are an abstraction of bodily movement into a symbolic language” (Mphahlele ed. 1967: 299). Nkosi identifies in Western aesthetics what he perceives as an obsession with abstraction and the need to conceptualize and categorize behaviour and context. The sub-text of this is that, in African aesthetics, no over-intellectualisation separates feeling from expression. A clear and precise example of this difference is to be found in Cyprian Ekwensi’s Jagua Nana (1961). Freddie, the novel’s male protagonist, takes Jagua Nana to a reception at the British Council Club in Lagos and, when Jagua realises that Freddie is anxious about the attention his girlfriend is attracting amongst the White guests, she reproaches him and, at the same time, finds herself suffocated by the atmosphere of the Club –

‘Ah know wha’s wrong wit’ you, Freddie, man. You too jealous! You never like de men to look at you woman body. Don’ worry! All dose men in de British Council, dem got no bodies, dem only got brain and soul. Dem will not want to sleep your woman!’ The tears had welled up now and she sat down and began wiping them and sobbing aloud. She sat like a log, obstinate, this live bright thing that had been aglow only one moment ago. (Jagua Nana 7)

However, to say that literary creation in English by African writers is generally “straight from the heart” and that the mode of expression is spontaneous and unstructured is not true. Any artistic genre, like the novel, demands structure. In fact, in line with James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922), Wole Soyinka uses post-modernist techniques in his novel The Interpreters (1965) and Ngugi wa Thiong’o employs complex flashback techniques in his novel A Grain of Wheat (1963). However, the literary techniques of other African writers simulate those of orature; following traditional story-telling formats, the narrative will develop along an unbroken timeline, moderately paced to permit reflection and with limited dramatic physicality. The Black South African writer Sipho Sepamla’s The Scattered Survival (1989) and the Zimbabwean writer Charles Mungoshi’s Waiting for the Rain (1975) are novels that exemplify this kind of aesthetics.

Lewis Nkosi also infers that the Western contention that the mind is superior to the body is part of a strategy by which Westerners can control the world around them. Ironically, while Western writers are increasingly prepared to relinquish some of their authorial control, allowing their characters to develop as the narrative progresses and by inviting the reader to interact with the story-line, writers from Africa, sensitive to the constraints of the genre, usually maintain tight control over both their characters and the narrative line. The White South African writer J.M. Coetzee draws attention to this. In his Waiting for the Barbarians (1980), for example, the author appears to lose control over his protagonist, the Magistrate, whose relationship with the young, blind Barbarian girl is consumated only once they have left the colonised space.

In Waiting for the Barbarians, J.M. Coetzee presents the oppressor and his victim at the most human level. The action of the novel takes place in a frontier community in a nameless country at an unspecified moment in history, yet it is clearly an allegory of the human condition in the context of the process of colonisation. The Magistrate represents colonial power and the young Barbarian girl with whom he establishes an intimate relationship represents the colonised community. The attitude of the Magistrate towards the Barbarian girl is confused and in a constant state of flux and, using his protagonist as his mouthpiece, the author admits that he is on the poiunt of losing control of the relationship – “Not only that; there were unsettling occasions when in the middle of the sexual act I felt myself losing my way like a storyteller losing the thread of his story” (Waiting for the Barbarians 45). This White South African author is conscious of the fact that differences exist in the way control is exercised by the writer, to the extent that he has created a new term to distinguish those writers from Africa who are Western in terms of their aesthetics, as in the case of White writers from the Republic of South Africa and Zimbabwe, for example, and those African writers who are not constrained by Western aethetics. In order to accommodate elements of Western aesthetics of his writing, among them the forfeiture of authorial control, in White Writing. On the Culture of Letters in South Africa, J.M. Coetzee proposes the term “white writing,” explaining that the term does not necessarily “imply the existence of a body of writing different in nature from black writing” (1988: 11), and he goes on to explain that “[w]hite writing is white only insofar as it is generated by the concerns of people no longer European, not yet African (1988: 11).

The African writer

In Orientalism (1978), Edward Said argues that by means of their textualisations of histories and geographies, Western writers build cultural, political and economic constructs that permit the West to dominate other parts of the world. In his Postcolonial Imaginings. Fictions of a New World Order, David Punter takes this a step further by pointing out that “post-colonial” writers construct “imagined geographies [...] in which the root of power that has nourished them is in the slow process of being exposed” (33). In this way, Punter links the construction of location with power. While this is valid as a perception of the effect of “post-colonial” writing, the same cannot be said of writers from Africa who, far from being the perpetrators of the colonising mindset, are, with the exception of White neo-colonial Africans, the victims.

The agendas of writers from Africa do not include bids to dominate or control other parts of the world by means of the construction of hegemonic or imperial discourses. However, a sense of location is common to all narratives by African writers, locations which, in the words of Homi Bhabha, constitute “domains of difference” (1994: 2) that are separated by cultural interstices. Bhabha asks,

[h]ow do strategies of representation or empowerment come to be formulated in the competing claims of communities where, despite shared histories of deprivation and discrimination, the exchange of values, meanings and priorities may not always be collaborative and dialogical, but may be profoundly antagonistic, conflictual and even incommensurable? (Bhabha 1994: 2)

In other words, how do the locations of victim cultures transform themselves into centres of power? The answer is, they do not. Yet the sense and identity of location is significant for other reasons. Again according to Bhabha,

Social differences are not simply given to experience through an already authenticated cultural tradition; they are the signs of the emergence of community envisaged as a project – at once a vision and a construction – that takes you ‘beyond’ yourself in order to return, in spirit of revision and reconstruction, to the political conditions of the present: [...] (Bhabha 1994: 3)

In a system of overlapping “domains of difference,” location becomes a force for identity of re-emerging cultures such as the post-Independence societies of Africa that are in a process of re-emerging from the era of European colonialism.

The construction of the post-Independence writer

A writer’s reconstruction of identity following the Independence of his or her country involves serious consideration. Aspects such as genre, target readerships and publishers all require reassessment. But perhaps the key aspect demanding an ideological decision relates to the language to be used. For writers of newly-independent countries in Africa, the basic question was whether it is justified to continue articulating contributions to national literary discourses in the languages of former colonisers or to use an indigeneous language instead.

Writers from Africa and their readerships

On the one hand, in order to grasp the significance of a literary work by an African writer, the reader should be aware of where the work has been written, the place and date of publication, the ethnicity of the writer and whether the writer is writing from outside his or her country of birth. On the other hand, there are two types of readerships of literature from Africa – readers in the location of origin of the literary work and readers outside the location of origin. The distinction is an important one because writers from Africa must make decisions that take their prospective readerships into account, decisions that have primarily to do with topic and language of expression. The dilemma facing writers from Africa is that, in order to reach readerships beyond their locations they have little option but to write in the language of their colonisers.

For many African writers, the situation is clear; if their work is not in English, then it stands scarce chance of being published and reaching a readership of any size. In The Ordeal of the African Writer, Charles R. Larson points out that “[i]f we go back once again to the years before the publication of Things Fall Apart (1958), it is easy to understand Achebe’s decision to write in English. If he had written in Igbo, where would it have been published?” (2001: 43) For his part, Chinua Achebe believes that a writer should be free to choose the language of expression freely and without ideological constraints. In Morning Yet on Creation Day, Achebe contends that the English language is adequate for conveying the experience of writers from Africa, provided it is allowed to develop into “a new English, still in full communion with its ancestral home but altered to suit new African surroundings” (1975: 62).

Nevertheless, while everything should be done to retain linguistic diversity, the exigencies of globalisation are making the use of a universal language increasingly necessary. In many countries of Africa, this means the use of the English language. Ngugi wa Thiong’o disputes Chinua Achebe’s point of view on the question of language and now writes the original work in his native Gikuyu, subsequently translating it from Gikuyu into English himself. For Ngugi wa Thiong’o, schoolchildren and university students in African countries are victims of the language legacy of colonialism. For Ngugi, language and education are mutually dependent and self-perpetuating. The question of which language to use is closely linked with education systems which perpetrate the spread of the coloniser language by teaching children how to read and write in that language.

The language question

Ngugi wa Thiong’o has made his opinion about the use of English by African writers extremely clear. He has become well-known in recent years for his stand in respect of Gikuyu, his mother tongue. In Decolonising the Mind (1986), he said his “farewell to English.” Until that time he had written and published primarily in English, a practice that he began to perceive increasingly as counterproductive in his intent to record and document Gikuyu traditions and aspirations in the post-colonial dispensation of modern Kenya. For Ngugi, language is the medium through which people not only identify and describe the world around them, but it is also the medium through which a culture perceives, constructs, revitalises and perpetuates itself. According to Ngugi, the use of the Gikuyu language is essential for the reconstruction of Gikuyu culture in post-Independence Kenya.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o considers the use of the English language in Africa to be a threat to the survival of the country’s pre-colonial cultures. He perceives the continuing use of English in Africa as a “cultural bomb” in the sense that it destroys the collective memories of history and culture among the indigenous peoples and is a means of perpetuating the dominance of the former metropolis countries and of Western hegemony. Writing in Gikuyu, therefore, is a way of saving Gikuyu cultural identity. For Ngugi, a language is inseparable from its speakers as a community of human beings with a specific form and character, a specific history, a specific relationship to the world. The South African writer Es’kia Mphahlele agrees with Ngugi wa Thiong’o and has maintained that for African writers to write in English for an African readership is counter-productive. Mphahlele’s African aesthetics require that literature by African writers which addresses African readers should be in their indigenous language so that awareness of their political and cultural identity is enhanced and consolidated.

Charles Mungoshi is a writer who has also been at the forefront of efforts to promote his first language, Shona, in Zimbabwe. His first novel Makunun’unu maodzamwoyo (1970) is in Shona.[17] His second Shona novel Ndiko kupindana kwamazuvz was published in 1975. Independence for Zimbabwe meant that Mungoshi could redirect his creative energies chiefly towards writing in Shona. Since 1980, he has published a third novel Kunyarara hakusi kutaura? and several collections of short stories for children in Shona. He has also translated Ngugi wa Thiongo’s A Grain of Wheat into Shona.

For his part, Chinua Achebe has expressed his position decisively on the issue. In an article entitled “Literature of celebration. Extracts from the sixth annual South Bank Show lecture delivered on London Weekend Television”, he stated that,

( . . . ) anyone who feels able to write in English should of course follow his desires. But he must not take liberties with our history. It is simply not true that the English forced us to learn their language. On the contrary British colonial policy in Africa and elsewhere emphasised again and again its preference for native languages. ( . . . ) We chose English not because the British desired it but because, having tacitly accepted the new nationalities into which colonialism had grouped us, we needed its language to transact our business, including the business of overthrowing colonialism itself in the fullness of time. (West Africa. 5-11 February 1990. 167-168)

The education question

Apart from the language question, Ngugi wa Thiong’o has voiced strong opinions about the dangers of Western education for African children. Knowledge and information are communicated through a language, a process which unavoidably reinforces the language. For this reason, Ngugi strongly condemns missionary education for being a system that teaches African children more about Europe than Africa. With African history presented to the African child as a mere appendage of European history, the African child learns that history began with European colonisation. Ngugi believes that Western education is subversive; instead of giving children confidence in their abilities and a sense of control over their surroundings, it makes them aware of their inadequacies and mystifies them.

This attitude is echoed in Steve Biko’s comments on the depressed psychological state of Black South Africans when they suffered collectively as victims of apartheid. In the chapter entitled “We Blacks” in I Write What I Like, Biko attests that “[t]he logic behind white domination is to prepare the black man for the subservient role in this country. Not so long ago this used to be freely said in parliament even about the educational system of the black people (1978: 28), and he goes on to underline the iniquity of the system –

To a large extent the evil-doers have succeeded in producing at the output end of their machine a kind of black man who is man only in form. [ . . . ] the type of man we have today has lost his manhood. Reduced to an obliging shell, he looks with awe at the white power structureand accepts what he regards as the “inevitable position.” (1978:28)

Like Steve Biko, Ngugi wa Thiong’o also believes that European colonisation has indoctrinated the psyche of the colonised African and that, as a result, in order to restore their psychic normalcy once more, the colonised African needs to be mentally decolonised. According to Ngugi, this decolonisation can be brought about through a type of education which creates an interplay between man and his environment which would enable society “to grow with full intellectual and moral vigour.”[18] Ngugi believes that education should be “a process of demystifying knowledge and hence reality.” For this reason, Ngugi contends that African children who are educated along Western lines need to be demystified; for Ngugi education should be practical, with a direct relevance to local conditions and circumstances, establishing a relationship between the individual and his or her environment, thereby enabling the society to develop itself morally and intellectually.

African creative writing

Ngugi wa Thiong’o sees literature as being closely linked to the social environment in which it is written, that is, as having a regional discursive significance. As he explains in Homecoming,

[l]iterature does not grow or develop in a vacuum, it is given impetus, shape, direction and even area of concern by the social, political and economic forces in a particular society. The relationship between creative literature and these other forces cannot be ignored, especially in Africa, where modern literature has grown against the gory background of European imperialism and its changing manifestations: slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism.” (1972: xv-xvi)

However, regarding creative writing by African writers, Ngugi insisted on universal standards of excellence. He demanded that the budding African writer be subjected to the same rigours of judgement as his European and Asian counterparts. Sympathizing with the restrictive conditions under which South African writers under apartheid worked, he warned writers in independent Africa against imposing upon themselves similar disabling constraints, which could only impair artistic genius and vigour.

Today, in this post-Independence era, Ngugi is less the persistent critic of colonial and neocolonial regimes and is more concerned with the function of culture within a world dominated by financial capital, what he calls “capitalist fundamentalism.” He is conscious of the fact that in our efforts to decolonise our minds from the devastating effects of colonial and neocolonial control, cultures must begin to use all resources and means of imagination available to them. Ngugi believes that “technology” is one of the means available for the production of cultural representations, the languages of voice and song, of music and film. However, Ngugi is also aware that once this “technology” is ready for use, there is still the need to create the texts, the images, the songs, the films. For Ngugi, the ability of cultures to create its own cultural representations will depend on the degree of decolonisation undergone by the people of that culture, that is, the decolonisation of the languages of image and the languages of sound. For Ngugi, decolonisation refers to the ongoing process of moving a culture to the centre-stage, to be perceived from a reference point not in direct relationship to Western or European culture. For Ngugi, the task of the critical intellectual today is to enable communication or dialogue between languages, like Gikuyu, that have been marginalised by the perceived centrality of the West.

Global readerships

The reader will also be defined in these terms. The reader of literary works from Africa is frequently a cross-cultural reader. Having said that, any approach to Africa through fiction written in English by African writers will contain an element of Euro-centrism given that English is a European language and the language of the coloniser for many people in Africa. This makes it possible for global readerships to read African texts, but readers should never lose sight of the fact that, when reading literatures from Africa in English we are viewing Africa through “a glass darkly,” and that no matter how much the image is brought into sharp focus, the edges are impenetrably fuzzy.

In The African Novel in English. An Introduction, M. Keith Booker observes that, while African novelists use strategies and techniques that are closely associated with African cultural traditions, they also make extensive use of imported European forms. However, he also points out that, for Western readers, reading novels by African writers is not easy because they are different from European or American novels both in terms of their social and historical background and of their aesthetics and that, for this reason, the Western reader must be prepared to analyse and interpret literary works coming from Africa leaving to one side all preconceived ideas regarding Western literary aesthetics. Moreover, they should also bear in mind other considerations.

One of these aspects is related to the classification that Western crirical theory makes of this type of literature and the terminology employed. In some texts, as in the case of The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures (1989), the authors Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin include within the term “post-colonial” all the literary works written in English that come from societies that have been subjected to the influence of European colonialism. This term clearly accentuates the tragedy that the colonisation of much of Africa represents and the negative connotations of the perception of the continent and it also underlines the the condition of victim. In “Notes on the ‘Post-Colonial’,” Ella Shohat refers to “the deceptive political meanings [of the term ‘post-colonial’] that sometimes eludes to clearly opposed intentions of the theorists who use it” (1996: 322). The problem with the term is that it constantly recalls the fact of that peoples have been colonised. On the other hand, the term ‘post-Independence’ is a positive concept that points to the future, suggesting resistance to oppression and victory in the struggle for freedom and national reconstruction, thereby restoring in part the dignity of the victim. As Wole Soyinka wrote in “The Writer in a Modern African State,” “It is this dignity that many African peoples almost lost during the colonial period and it is this dignity that they should now recover.” (1968: 17)

As has been pointed out previously, a writer’s personal experience and the location of writing is important; the degree of hybridisation and the skew of the balance one way or the other, with stronger Western or Euro-centric bias than ethno-centric bias or vice versa, will be determined by the location of the creator and his or her personal experience and formation. For this reason, one further aspect that should be taken into account in any appreciation of a literary work by an author from Africa is the presence and degree of hybridity. As has been inferred previously, a novel written by an African writer is, by definition, a hybrid creative work in that it derives from both European and African cultural traditions. In The African Novel in English. An Introduction, M. Keith Booker argues that “the African novel is a hybrid of African and [...] Western literary conventions” and he goes on to suggest that a “[p]roper appreciation of the hybridity of African novels is one of the most important and daunting tasks facing Western readers who must resist the temptation to read African literature either according to strictly Western criteria or as exotic specimens of cultural otherness.”[19]  Furthermore, the fact that the writer has been educated in another country will have a bearing generally on the degree of hybridity displayed in the work. For Homi Bhabha, hybridity is advantageous because it offers “a space of translation” . . . “where the construction of a political object that is new, neither the one nor the other, properly alienates our political expectations, and changes, as it must, the very forms of our recognition of the moment of politics” (author’s italics, 2001: 25). For Bhabha, “[t]his is a sign that history is happening” (author’s italics, 2001: 25). It is the factor of hybridity that augments the complexity of a literary work, bringing together different cultural, aesthetic, linguistic and discursive principles. The cross-cultural reader must remain constantly aware of the degree of hybridity present in the text and be knowledgeable of the author’s biography, the geographical setting and the socio-political context in order to be able to identify those moments in the narrative when mindsets overlap. It is at these discursive interstices that hybridity is most evident and the fragments of coloniality are revealed. As time passes and the achievement of Independence retreats further into the past, the degree of hybridity in an increasingly globalised world may be sustained and even intensified. The question that readers and literary critics should address, however, is in what instances and to what degree does coloniality diminish?










Literatures of Coloniality













Chapter 4

Romanticised Coloniality

European colonialism was a bundle of different things to different people. For the European powers, colonialism was an imperial strategy whose objectives included the increase and consolidation of the political and economic power of the metropolis. But such an increase and consolidation meant a consequent decrease and degradation of political and economic power of the .lcolonised peoples. The grand imperial designs of European powers in the last four hundred years of the second millennium led to the construction and reconstruction of certain fundamental dichotomies, namely, North and South, oppressor and victim, “Self” and “Other.” In the case of literatures from Africa, they are the writings of the South, the writings of the victim and, from a Euro-centric perspective, the writings by “the Other” about “the Other.”

It is not surprising, therefore, that the first textualisations of the colonial or imperial experience in Africa should be written by the colonisers. It is also not surprising that the first fictionalised narratives in English should have regions of Southern Africa as their settings, given that by the middle of the nineteenth century, British imperialism was well on the way to full consolidation in South Africa and David Livingstone was making a name for himself in the mother-country as a hero as he ventured up into the interior of Africa. Just fourteen years after Livingstone had reached Nyangwe on the Lualaba River, the most westerly point in Central Africa reached by any European at the time, H. Rider Haggard (1856-1925) published his popular work King Solomon’s Mines (1885).

The imperial fantasies of H. Rider Haggard, an Englishman who spent just eight years in Southern Africa, captured the public imagination in imperial Britain in the same way that Livingstone’s travels had done a few years earlier. King Solomon’s Mines, its sequel Allan Quatermain (1887), She (1887) and Nada the Lily (1892) established a model of adventure writing set in Africa which was to be taken up by writers such as John Buchan (1875-1940), a Scotsman, whose Prester John (1910) is set in Southern Africa, Stuart Cloete (1897-1976), whose first novel Turning Wheels was published in 1937, G.A. Henty (1832-1902), whose stories for boys have popularised imperial male role-models to this day, and more recently, Wilbur Smith (1933-) whose novels which make up his Courtney Saga, notably When the Lion Feeds (1964) and its sequel The Sound of Thunder (1966), continue to reconstruct White masculinity in African settings.

Such literary works in English, written by writers whose cultural identities are rooted in Europe, constitute a common perception of the coloniser, the imperialist and, by definition, the oppressor. Such writers do not hesitate to present White heroes in African landscapes with Black African manservants. The settings are expansive, threatening and filled with mystery and the unknown. The protagonists are heroic and characterised by their daring, prowess and bravery. In short, the imperial writers of the metropolis presented a romanticised vison of the colonised territories of Africa.

Works such as Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines and She, John Buchan’s Prester John and, more recently, Wilbur Smith’s Courtney Saga constitute a romanticisation of colonial Africa. This early romantic tradition in literatures from Africa led to the writing of novels in English by African writers. In 1928 R.R.R. Dhlomo’s An African Tragedy, said to be the first novel written in English by a Black South African, was published and, two years later, Sol T. Plaatje’s Mhudi appeared, continuing the tradition, though with an added discursive edge.

It can be of no surprise that the romanticised perception of colonialism is perpetrated largely by White South Africans. Romanticising coloniality is clearly left to the whims of the colonisers, not their victims. Sol T. Plaatje is the noteworthy exception to this because, as a politician who had worked with the British forces during the Siege of Mafeking, he had come to trust in the moral integrity of the British and did not believe they would sell Black South Africans down the road. Unfortunately, he was to learn later, together with all Black South Africans, that his trust had been misplaced. Mhudi presents the perception of the victim, but despite that it is not entirely devoid of hope for the future.

Sol T. Plaatje (1876-1932) – Mhudi (1930)

Solomon Tzhekisho Plaatje was born in 1876 on a farm near Boshof, about fifty kilometres east of Kimberley, South Africa and died of pneumonia and bronchitis in Nancefield on 19th June 1932. One of the outstanding minds in the South Africa of his time, he was educated at the Pniel Lutheran Mission School. In 1894 he became Court Interpreter and Magistrate’s Clerk in Mafeking, a post he held during the famous Siege of Mafeking. This occupation introduced him to politics and, in 1912, Plaatje became a founder member of the South African Native National Congress, to be renamed later the African National Congress (ANC).

Pamphleteer, newspaper editor, journalist, diarist, linguist, translator and social worker, Sol T. Plaatje was a man of many parts. He started to write Mhudi in 1914 during a visit to England; as member of a Congress diputation, he had been was sent there to lodge a complaint with the British government about the Natives’ Land Act of 1913. The novel, which was written between 1917 and 1920 and published by the Lovedale Press in 1930, is recognised today as a milestone in the history of fiction written in English by Black South Africans.

In his other great work Native Life in South Africa (1914), the author reveals himself as the most ardent and articulate critic of White racial discrimination in South Africa. An appeal addressed to readers in England, Native Life in South Africa is a work of protest, written with compassion and bitterly condemning the White government of the Union of South Africa for its treatment of Black people at that time. Like Native Life in South Africa, Mhudi is a political narrative. While in Native Life in South Africa, Plaatje explicitly condemns the Natives Land Act of 1913 which rendered large numbers of Africans throughout the Union homeless and caused untold hardship, in Mhudi the author tries to prescribe the neighbourly co-habitation of different ethnicities and the peaceful sharing of available resources.

* * *

Like Thomas Mofolo’s Chaka, which was written in Sesotho and published in English in 1931, Mhudi is an historical nove1. Poetic in inspiration and related in the tradition of Bantu oral literature, Mhudi tells of the wars between the Matabele and the Barolong tribes which took place in what is today Free State and Gauteng in the area of the Vaal River during the years following the Mfecane (the crushing), the ethnic cleansing carried out by Shaka’s Zulu army of impis between 1822 and 1836, and the Great Trek, the Afrikaner migration into the South African hinterland that occurred in 1836. The novel is at once an epic romance, containing idyllic scenes of the traditional life-style of the Bechuana peoples, and also a serious comment on the periods of contact between three ethnic groups, Mzilikazi’s Matabele tribesmen, the Barolong tribesmen under the chieftainship of Moroka and the group of Afrikaner Voortrekkers under the command of Sarel Cilliers, at a time when South African traditional societies were at a crucial stage of transition.

Mhudi is about migration and contacts made between South African societies at a time of great social mobility; it is also about relationships between groups and individuals that are born of these contacts. The groups concerned are the Barolong, the Matabele and the Boers; the individuals concerned are Ra-Thaga, de Villiers, Mhudi, Umnandi and Hannetjie. Mhudi is the main protagonist and the centre-point of the structure; she develops a deep friendship with Umnandi, Queen of the Matabele, and a significantly weaker friendship with Hannetjie van Zyl, who is an Afrikaner. The character of Mhudi permits Plaatje to present a balanced, seemingly unbiased view of the relationships between groups and individuals; the Boers as a group show themselves to be cruel racists, but are saved by the open, unprejudiced character of de Villiers; the Matabele are unmerciful slaughterers of women and children, but are redeemed by the dignity of Umnandi and the wise foresight of Mzilikazi at the end of the novel; the Barolong are seen to be incapable of defending themselves against their enemies, but both Ra-Thaga and Mhudi demonstrate great courage and tenacity. It is the individual who saves the image of the group; relationships between individuals are always possible, relationships between groups are possible only when, as allies, they are forced to fend off the threat of external attack. Without such a menace, each group will stress and strengthen the basis of its identity and boundaries of its solidarity.

Sol T. Plaatje’s Mhudi is also about race relations and, as such, constitutes a first step in a developing South African literary discourse. Despite the author’s seemingly balanced presentation of the subject matter, the novel is an example of implied protest; by the end of the work, the reader is left in no doubt of the author’s lack of confidence in the reasonableness and good intentions of the White settlers. A Black African’s interpretation of the history of South Africa, Mhudi constitutes an implicit attack on the injustices of land distribution in the Union of South Africa, not at the time of the Mfecane and the Great Trek, but at the time of writing, that is, in 1917, just four years after the passing of the Natives’ Land Act of 1913 by the Union parliament in Cape Town. As we read of the ever-expanding Boer party, with their guns, horses and Christian bigotry, we feel things would have gone better for the Bechuana peoples had they thrown in their lot with Mzilikazi’s Matabele tribesmen, whom we leave at a “magnificent feast” in Bulawayo with the prospect of a “prosperous life” under Mzilikazi’s son, Lobengula.

The story of Mhudi reveals the deep anxiety and mistrust Sol T. Plaatje feels on the implementation of the Natives’ Land Act of 1913. Yet, for all his doubts, Plaatje advocates a peaceful solution; Mhudi, although set against a background of violent upheaval, is pacifist in spirit. In this novel, which bears as its title the name of a woman, Plaatje leaves it to Mhudi and Umnandi to express women’s universalised incomprehension of man’s lust for war; as Umnandi moans with a sigh, “Nothing, my sister, ( . . . ) so long as there are two men left on earth there will be war” (165).

That Plaatje should leave it to his two African women characters to express their despair of bloodshed is not fortuitous; Mhudi’s lamentation and yearning for non-violent solutions to the disputes between races and groups is the starting point of a thread which runs through Black South African literature. In The African Image, Ezkiel Mphahlele has commented that “Plaatje’s women are more impressive than his men. Next to Mhudi is the stately Nandi, Mzilikazi’s best-loved and chief wife” (175). This image of the Black African woman is to become virtually an archetype in the novel-writing tradition of Black South Africans. The women of the townships and villages alike, who must struggle for their families’ survival in the face of extremely adverse conditions, demonstrate strength, courage, patience and tenacity, while retaining their natural dignity. Portraits of these women are prominent in the African novels that follow Plaatje’s Mhudi.[20]

* * *

Completed in about 1917, just seven years after the foundation of the Union of South Africa, Sol T. Plaatje’s Mhudi seems in retrospect to verge on the utopic. Historical circumstances throw Mhudi and her husband, Ra-Thaga, of the Barolong, into close friendship with a Boer Voortrekker couple, de Villiers and his wife, Hannetjie van Zyl. In addition, Mhudi becomes a close friend and confident of Umnandi, the chief wife of Mzilikazi, the Matabele king. Nevertheless, since the fall of apartheid in 1990, literary critics have called for a return to Mhudi’s “open-endedness,” thereby allowing for a more complex manipulation of aesthetic form than that which racism and race relations were imposing on the discourses.[21]

But in the early decades of the twentieth century, that was not to be. By the time Sol T. Plaatje’s script for harmonious race relations in the Union of South Africa and his vision of bonds of multi-racial friendship was published in 1930, Sarah Gertrude Millin’s God’s Stepchildren, published in 1924, had already laid the foundation for an alternative South African literary discourse, one which was to obfuscate Plaatje’s magnanimity. While Mhudi represents the perception of the victim, God’s Stepchildren presents the perspective of the oppressor. If there is a utopic feel to Sol T. Plaatje’s romanticised presentation of inter-ethnic relations in Mhudi, Sarah Gertrude Millin’s novel God’s Stepchildren, while romantic in spirit, is colonial in ethos and lacks any such utopian sentiment.

Sarah Gertrude Millin (1888-1968) – God’s Stepchildren (1924)

Sarah Gertrude Millin was born in 1888 in Zagar, Lithuania, to Jewish parents, who moved to the diamond fields of the Vaal River in South Africa in 1889. Millin spent her childhood in the mining areas of Kimberley and Barkly West where she grew up in a multi-ethnic community. Her first novel, The Dark River (1920) is set at the Barkly West river diggings, but it was her second novel God’s Stepchildren, published in 1924, which was to establish her international reputation as a novelist. The novel was particularly well-received in the United States of America where it became a best-seller. However, her reputation in South Africa was established not by God’s Stepchildren, but by two historical novels King of the Bastards (1949) and The Burning Man (1952). A prolific writer, among her many other works are biographies of Cecil Rhodes (1933) and General Jan C. Smuts (1936). Millin wrote her last novels The Wizard Bird and Goodbye, Dear England in 1962 and 1965 respectively. She died in Johannesburg in 1968.

* * *

Superficially liberal, compassionate and seemingly impartial towards the Coloured characters that are the focus of her attention, in God’s Stepchildren Sarah Gertrude Millin sets out in memorable images the devastating effects that, to her mind, interracial miscegenation inevitably leads to. The marriage of the Reverend Andrew Flood, a British immigrant missionary, to a Hottentot woman triggers a long sequence of misfortunes the consequences of which future generations of Floods are forced to suffer. The perceived “flaw” passes down the blood line, transmuting as it passes through four generations of Coloured and Griqua families. For Millin, with her racist sensibilities, miscegenation is a tragedy in itself and the blame for instigating this tragic, unstoppable blood sequence rests squarely with the Reverend Flood.

In God’s Stepchildren, Sarah Gertrude Millin teases out the strands of difference between White and Black male self-esteem, and White and Black female self-esteem to great effect, transforming the nuances of interracial sexuality into the dominant topic of the White South African literary discourse, a discourse which was to become even more significant and complex as the manipulation of sexualities became radicalised in White South African texts with the criminalisation of interracial sex under the apartheid legislation. The discursive weft of sexualities, standard fare of the European novel genre, was made even more intricate by apartheid laws that rendered expressions of interracial sexuality illegal and taboo.

Miscegenation is also a major theme in Daphne Rooke’s novel Mittee (1951), but in the case of Mittee the acts of intercourse occur between Afrikaner and Coloured protagonists and, in a sense, these interracial interactions reflect and symbolise the growing moral anarchy that was being engendered within the Afrikaner community in the Afrikaner republic of the Transvaal at a time of great political and social upheaval.

Daphne Rooke (1914-  ) – Mittee (1951)

Daphne Rooke was born in Boksburg, Transvaal (now Gauteng) in 1914 of an Afrikaaner mother (Marie Knevitt) and an English-speaking father. Her grandfather was Siegfried Maré, founder of Pietersburg, and her uncle Leon Maré was an Afrikaans short story writer. Her father (Pizzey) died when she was very young, in the First World War (1914-18). Her mother sent her to English-medium schools; Daphne was bilingual and bicultural, brought up within both Afrikaans and English South African cultures. She spent much of her childhood in Natal and Zululand where she learnt to speak Zulu and became acquainted with Zulu tradition. In 1937, Daphne Pizzey married Irvin Rooke, an Australian, and in 1940 their daughter was born.

In 1946, at the age of thirty-two, Daphne Rooke won a prize in a literary competition which was judged by Herman Charles Bosman and Uys Krige. As a result, her first novel was published, initially as The Sea Hath Bounds (1946), and in 1947 she emigrated with her husband and daughter to live in Nelson Bay, a fishing village on the east coast of Australia. Three years later her first novel was published in the USA and England with the title A Grove of Trees (1950). In Australia, Daphne Rooke continued to write about South Africa and the publication of her second novel Mittee (1951), which is set in the Transvaal at the time of Paul Kruger and the Transvaal Republic, won much critical acclaim and brought its author to the attention of international readerships.

However, Daphne Rooke set much of her fiction in Australia and New Zealand at this time. Her third novel Apples in the Hold (1952), which she wrote under the pseudonym Robert Pointon, has an Australian setting and, while her book for children The South African Twins (1953), published in South Africa as Twins in South Africa (1955), is set in South Africa, The Australian Twins (1955) and The New Zealand Twins (1957) have Australia and New Zealand respectively as settings. Other novels published while she was in Australia are Ratoons (1953) and Wizard’s Country (1957), both with South African settings.

In the late 1950s, after about ten years in Australia, Daphne Rooke returned to live in South Africa. While Beti (1959) is set in India, her novels A Lover for Estelle (1961), The Greyling (1962) and Diamond Jo (1965) are all with South African backgrounds. In 1965, Daphne Rooke returned to live in Australia. Once back in Australia, she wrote Boy on the Mountain (1969), which is set in New Zealand, and Margaretha de la Porte (1974), which is set in South Africa in the nineteenth century. Daphne Rooke now lives in England.

* * *

Mittee is set in the Transvaal, the Boer Republic under the presidency of Paul Kruger, during the years leading up to the Anglo-Boer War of 1899. The narrative is related by a young Coloured woman Selina who is the servant and companion of Mittee Van Brandenberg, a young Afrikaner woman. Selina’s story begins in the Wolk Mountains, north of Plessisburg, where Mittee has been teaching for two years, going from farm to farm. While staying on the Coester’s farm, Jansie, “the only Coloured man in the district without a wife” (8) reveals his frustrated love for Selina by stamping his dog to death in front of her.

Mittee and Selina move to Plessisburg where the former’s Uncle Siegfried is a magistrate. Mittee is to be married to Paul Du Plessis, a young man of a wealthy family in the area. However, when Mittee coyly refuses to receive Paul Du Plessis when he comes to see her, Paul takes Selina and makes love to her (31). Selina falls in love with Paul. Then again, escaping the festivities of Dingaan’s Day, Paul and Selina make love on the river bank, but they are seen by the Englishman Herry, a drunken pedlar, who, according to Auntie Lena, was Selina’s father.

The two women go to Pretoria to get silk for Mittee’s wedding dress, but when Mittee tells Selina that she has fixed the date of her marriage to Paul, Selina tears up the silk in a jealous tantrum. Selina goes for a walk in the veld to get over her emotions and, by chance, meets a young English missionary Dr. Basil Castledene who comforts her. Selina tells Castledene about Mittee and, attracted by the image Selina paints of her, Castledene arranges for Mittee’s destroyed silk to be replaced.

As Mittee and Paul are married, Selina realises she is carrying Paul’s child. Paul for his part instructs Selina and Jansie to marry and move to a farm he owns a hundred miles away. As Paul gives Selina a sovereign to take with her on the journey to the north, they are interrupted by Jansie who suspects that Selina is being paid for her favours. Later, Jansie bursts into Selina’s barricaded room and jumps on her as he had jumped on his dog, killing her unborn baby and making it impossible for her to have more children. Paul enters the room as Jansie escapes but, when he sees what Jansie has done to Selina, he goes off and shoots him dead. At the trial, Selina refuses to give evidence against Paul and he is set free. Paul and Selina see each other on several occasions and make love, but Paul decides to send her away from Plessisburg to a farm in the Wolk Mountains to the north.

Selina escapes from her waggon escort and returns on foot to Plessisburg to be with Mittee. Paul refuses to have her in the house and Selina is sent to live with the Gouws family on Mittee’s nearby farm. While out with Mittee near the riverbank, Selina looks into a hole where a skull has lain for years and finds Herry’s skeleton. Selina realises that Herry has been killed by Paul and, frightened that he will come to kill her, Selina moves away to live with Auntie Lena, the Coloured sister of Rebecca, Fanie’s mother. Paul’s brother Frikkie marries Letty van Aswegan, an incorrigible gossip. Having left the wedding celebration, Paul meets Selina and explains to her why he did not intend to kill Herry. Selina tells Paul that he killed Jansie and Herry so that Mittee would not learn of his relationship with her. Paul tells Selina that he will wait for her on moonlit nights under the wild fig tree. During Mittee’s absence in Pretoria, Paul and Selina make love frequently under the fig tree.

Paul Du Plessis leads a group of farmers and their families to settle in the valley north of the Wolk Mountains (170). Mittee accompanies her husband, but Selina is left behind at Auntie Lena’s house in Plessisburg where she finds a lover in Frikkie Du Plessis’s handsome Coloured servant Fanie, who looks after his mentally-disabled mother Rebecca. Three weeks later, Selina marries Fanie and happily accepts her responsibility as housewife and Rebecca’s carer. News reaches Selina that Mittee has given birth to a crippled son. Then Fanie sees Mittee in Pretoria, talking to the magistrate; her child had died and Paul was taking her to Europe to get over their grief.

Drought comes to Plessisburg, Mittee sells her farm there and eventually Frikkie decides to take his herds north to join Paul. Fanie, Selina and Rebecca join the waggons. On the way, Frikkie’s wife Letty announces publically that Fanie and her husband have had a homosexual relationship. After sixteen days journey, they reach the fertile valley and the first person they meet is Dr. Basil Castledene who has a mission house there. Selina sees Paul and meets Mittee, asking her if she can come to work in her house. Mittee tells Selina how Paul had reacted badly when he learned of their son’s crippled state, how Dr. Castledene had medicated Siegfried when he had pneumonia and how, when Siegfried was three years old, Paul had smothered him in his cot.

President Ktuger visits the Du Plessis farm to talk of a road to link Plessisburg with the valley. Paul goes to Pretoria to plan the construction of the road and while he is away Mittee falls in love with Dr. Castledene. (209) Mittee meets Dr. Castledene on several occasion in the company of Selina, and Frikie’s wife Letty becomes suspicious about Mittee’s outings into the countryside. The families and servants of the valley begin their journey to Plessisburg to spend Christmas and Mittee to see Paul. But there is news of a smallpox outbreak in Plessisburg and the waggons are forced to turn back. Dr. Castledene brings Paul back to the farm, having cared for him throughout his illness. Selina is jealous of Mittee; Mittee wished Paul had died while Selina prayed he would live. Selina also loves Mittee. Letty tells Paul of Mittee’s relationship with Dr. Castledene.

War breaks out in the Transvaal and Paul leads a commando, leaving Dr. Castledene the only White man in the valley. The English enter Pretoria and there is warfare across the Highveld. Frikkie is taken prisoner and sent to Bermuda. The Black farmhands perpetrate a low-profile rebellion, throwing stones at passing carts and poisoning the dog. One Black boy rapes Letty and a Shangaan beats her son Pieter. Mittee takes charge of Letty to make sure she will not have a baby, and Dr. Castledene orders the community into a laager. Paul and the commando return to the valley and Paul burns down the mission house where the two boys are under Dr. Castledene’s protection waiting to be taken to Plessisburg for trial, hangs the rapist and castrates the Shangaan, and whips the lame Black girl (255). Paul fights Dr. Castledene who manages to escape to cross the mountains and join the English in Plessisburg.

Led on by Letty’s insinuations, Paul whips Mittee and threatens to smother their next child if it is deformed, as he had done with their first one. The English march into the valley and, fearing Paul will kill her too, Mittee plans to go to Plessisburg to see the magistrate. Paul returns to the farm, Selina seduces him in order to protect Mittee and is raped. In a skirmish near the farm, the English are ambushed by the Boers, one of the English soldiers, Dr. Castledene, is wounded, Selina gets him to safety and she tells him that Paul murdered Herry, Jansie and his own son Siegfried. Selina goes to Mittee and tells her Dr. Castledene is nearby, and they return to the shack where the Englishman is lying. They ask Fanie to take them with Dr. Castledene and Rebecca over the mountains to Plessisburg, fearing that Paul may follow them. After several days journey, the waggon wheel comes off and, caught in a violent storm and a flash flood, the waggon and all their supplies are swept into the ravine. They camp in a mountainside cave, to wait until the rain stops. Dr. Castledene leaves the group to get help from a Black community on the mountain top.

While they wait for Dr. Castledene to return, a lion wanders near the cave. During the night, Rebecca leaves the cave and is attacked by the lion. Fanie cuts the lion’s head in two with his axe as it feeds on his mother’s arm. Rebecca is dragged alive to the cave and Dr. Castledene arrives with food and donkeys. Afraid that Paul might find them, they plan for Rebecca to be taken back to the valley by Fanie and Selina and for Mittee and Dr. Castledene to go on to Plessisburg. After three days journey, Paul Du Plessis approaches Fanie, Selina and Rebecca. Fanie tells him that Mittee was killed when their waggon was swept away in the flash flood. Paul insists that they return to the spot where it happened. Fanie is anxious that Rebecca will die if she is not fed properly. Paul and Fanie go on, leaving Selina and Rebecca to catch them up. When Selina and Rebecca reach them, Paul is making Fanie cut a cross from a tree trunk. As Paul is carving the name “Mittee” on the cross, Selina tells Fanie that Rebecca has died and, at Selina’s instigation, Fanie shoots Paul, his body falling into the gorge.

The Du Plessis family erects a monument on a ridge overlooking the valley battlefield and Mittee and Dr. Castledene go overseas. Selina is left behind with her memories of happier times with Mittee.

* * *

Although the novel is called Mittee and the character Mittee is a main protagonist, it is Selina, the Coloured servant-girl, who is the narrator and it is Selina who is central to the significance of the novel. Selina is caught in a trap of sexuality and race. She loves Paul and he her, but socially their love cannot cross the colour line. Mittee does not love Paul and marries him for the wrong reason. Paul loves Mittee, but not as a woman. But the perception is Selina’s and she is naturally biased. Paul is a tragic figure; he murders Jansie because Jansie had attacked Selina so brutally that she lost his baby and prevented her from having children again. Paul killed Herry unintentionally because he had seen Paul making love to Selina and if Herry had spoken of their relationship, Paul and the Du Plessis family would have been ruined.

Through Selina’s eyes, Paul is capable of great tenderness and viscious cruelty. When he returns home, he leaps “from his horse, running beside it as it cantered, in his eagerness to embrace Mittee [ . . . ] he kissed her hair and called her the lamb of his heart, his beloved” (251), while soon after he is at the Mission House assaulting “that lame girl. She fought them like a wildcat when they began to wreck the missionary’s house. Du Plessis sjambokked her. It made me vomit to hear her scream and Gouws and one or two of the others put a stop to it” (255). Paul is a sado-masocist and a schizophrenic.

Mittee is a novel which is set in a specific location at a crucial time in history. It is a novel which captures the seeds of the end of European colonialism in Southern Africa. The events which follow the British annexation of the Transvaal Republic lead to the two World Wars in Europe and the collapse of European imperialism. In the characters of Mittee lie the behaviour patterns that made the European domination of Africa untenable. The incident at the Mission House is the critical event; General Paul Du Plessis, the Afrikaner, is shown at his worst. He burns down the Christian mission, summarily tries and hangs a Black man, castrates a Shangaan, whips a lame Black girl, and ties up the Englishman Dr. Castledene. Paul, cruel and sadistic, acts with total impunity, demonstrating total unworthiness to live within the community. As Selina’s Coloured husband Fanie remarks, “there are only a few of us who were there who will ever look back on this night without shame” (256) and he concludes, “[i]t’s always best not to trust a white person too much, no matter who they are” (256).

Mittee is a novel about behaviour and, especially, about extremes of behaviour. The most important factor in Mittee is what people do to each other, how they treat each other and how they interact with each other. Daphne Rooke’s thesis appears to be that they behave so badly towards each other that, in spite of the natural wealth that surrounds them, they are doomed to failure as a society. Paul, Letty, Jansie are gross and aggressive, Frikkie is a bon viveur and reckless, Mittee herself is wilful, spoilt, petulant, vain and impetuous. Only the Gouws family, the Coloureds Auntie Lena, her sister Rebecca and her son Fanie, together with the Englishman Dr. Basil Castledene are presented as reasonable people.

That the novel is about behaviour is made clear from the outset when Selina and Janise invites Selina to walk by the stream with his dog. Selina is attracted to the “big animal called Wagter, all black except for a white patch over his eye that gave him a comical and lovable look. Such eyes he had. When you looked into them it seemed here was an imprisoned soul” (9). But during their walk, Jansie “beat the dog with a stick and then jumped on it until it was dead” (10). As for Paul Du Plessis, Selina’s lover, he is a tragic figure – the story is of his downfall, from noble Afrikaner to deceived lover and cuckolded husband; he is also arrogant, brutish, violent, racist, sexist and a killer. Ultimately, Dr. Castledene and Mittee have little alternative but to leave the Transvaal and go to England, to abandon the colony and return to the metropolis, a move many European colonials would be soon forced to do en masse during the first decades of the twentieth century.

Mittee is an outstanding novel, a mixture of melodrama, realism and naturalism that stands as a testimony to the mindsets that characterised the Boer Republic of the Transvaal just prior to its annexation by the British colonial administration. The characters are purposefully overdrawn. Who is responsible for this, Selina the narrator or Daphne Rooke the author? This is the quandry which generates the tension of the novel throughout. The reader is conscious of the fact that the Coloured servant-girl Selina has been chosen by her creator to narrate this story of White, Coloured and Black South Africans. But can her observation and judgement be trusted? To what degree are Selina’s perceptions biased, dictated as they are by her age, class, race and sexuality? This is her perception of the people around her and the world about her, that is, as seen through the eyes of a young Coloured woman. The narrative surface of the novel is slippery and elusive, replete with variables which are psychological and sociological, not political and historical. Furthermore, to what extent does Daphne Rooke’s perception coincide with her narrator’s? This is an aspect about which the reader can only surmise.



Chapter 5

Realist Coloniality and Neo-Coloniality

Owing to its historical evolution, South African literature is a special case in some ways. While other African countries were moving towards their independence, a White, neo-colonial hegemony was tightening its grip on South Africa. By 1948, the country’s own brand of institutionalised racial discrimination had been given a label – apartheid. From this moment on, most literary works, whether by White or Black South African writers, were implicitly or explicitly about conditions under apartheid. Throughout the apartheid era, South Africa was governed in a way similar to the colonised countries of the Americas, that is, by the coloniser ex-patriates or settlers. The difference in South Africa was that at the time of the end of apartheid Black South Africans outnumbered White South Africans by about 10:1. In 1991, there were about 22·5 million Black South Africans, 5·25 million White South Africans, 3·3 million Coloureds and about 1 million Asian South Africans. In the event, South Africa was the last example of an attempt at America- or Australasia-style European colonisation by the White minority, though with the added iniquity of a peculiarly nasty racist ideology, but it failed.

South African writers, especially White South African writers, can be categorised as contributors to a neo-colonial discourse, namely apartheid. As Lewis Nkosi, among others, has pointed out, at a time of revolution and widespread oppression of the masses, there is no other viable topic other than the cause and effects of the tragedy. White South African writers like Nadine Gordimer, J.M. Coetzee, André Brink and Alan Paton, to name only the best-known, have written many novels and short-stories exposing and exploring the nature of the iniquity in all its facets, dimensions and nuances. In 1991, Nadine Gordimer was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for her work in cataloguing in her fiction the effects of apartheid on human relationships in South Africa and, in 2003, J.M. Coetzee was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for his fiction, some of his latest work highlighting the dilemma of White South Africans who were being forced to adapt to life in an all-race South Africa during the early years of the post-apartheid era. In many literary works, therefore, it is the colonial or, in the case of South Africa, the neo-colonial dispensation that provides the framework for the narrative in which the colonised and their colonisers interact.

* * *

Daphne Rooke’s Mittee was published in 1951 and is an historical novel which deals with events in the final years of the nineteenth century. As has been shown, Mittee was essentially romantic in its inspiration and in its aesthetics, However, just three years before, a novel by Alan Paton, a White South African writer, that is tragic in tone and deals with society in the Union of South Africa at the onset of the apartheid era, was published for the first time in the United States of America. Cry, the Beloved Country (1948), one of the most widely-read novels of all time, set the tenor of much of the fiction by White South African writers who would present fictionalised records of life under apartheid for the next forty years.

Alan Paton (1903-1988) – Too Late the Phalarope (1953)

Alan Paton was born in Pietermaritzburg, Natal, South Africa, in 1903. His parents were strict Christadelphians and as a child he immersed himself in the stories of the Old and the New Testaments. In 1919 he began to study for a degree in mathematics and physics at Natal University College from where he graduated in 1924. The same year he visited Great Britain as a student representative and in 1925 he started work as a school teacher at Ixopo High School in Natal.

In 1935, Paton gave up teaching and took up a position as director of the Diepkloof Reformatory, a remand home for delinquent boys near Johannesburg. While working at Diepkloof, Paton wrote on education and penal reform, and introduced radical reforms at the reformatory. In 1946, a year after the end of Second World War, he was sent to attend conferences on penal reform in Scandanavia, Britain and North America. It was during a visit to Norway that he started his first novel Cry, the Beloved Country, finishing it in the United States of America where it was published by Scribner’s in 1948. In the same year, with the election of the racist National Party in South Africa, Paton resigned from his post as director of Diepkloof Reformatory.

Cry, the Beloved Country, with its Biblical cadences and spirit of Christian magnanimity, rapidly became a bestseller, enabling Paton to become a full-time writer. Later it was made into a film starring the Black American actor, Sidney Poitier. In 1953, his second novel Too Late the Phalarope was published and, although it did not enjoy the immediate success of Cry, the Beloved Country, it is considered by many readers and critics to be Paton’s finest work.

Against a background of increasingly institutionalised racial discrimination in South Africa during the 1950s, Paton helped to found the South African Liberal Party and, in 1958, was elected its President. However, the Party’s pacifist, multi-racial credo caused it to become marginalised and led to its disintegration in 1968. Nevertheless, in spite of the continual harassment by the authorities – he was arrested on several occasions and his passport was taken away from him for more than a decade – Paton continued writing. In 1961, a collection of short stories was published under the title Debbie Go Home, a biography of the liberal politician Jan Hofmeyr called simply Hofmeyr was published in 1964 and another of Geoffrey Clayton, the Archbishop of Cape Town with the title The Life and Times of Geoffrey Clayton, the Archbishop of Cape Town in 1973. Paton’s autobiography appeared in two stages, the first called Towards the Mountain in 1980 and the second Journey Continued, posthumously, in 1988. He surprised his readership with a third novel Ah, But Your Land Is Beautiful which was published in 1981, during the writing of his autobiography.

Alan Paton, a staunch anti-apartheid campaigner, who believed that people of all ethnicities, beliefs and cultural backgrounds could live together in peace in South Africa, upheld his Christian, liberal principles to the end. He died in Durban, Natal, in 1988.

5.3.2 Too Late the Phalarope (1953)

While Cry, the Beloved Country is Alan Paton’s best-known novel Too Late the Phalarope is his finest. Both Cry, the Beloved Country and Too Late the Phalarope are set in neo-colonial South Africa and both are realist; the former presenting the clash between Black African rural traditional values and White European urban justice, the latter confronting an individual’s instinctive desire with his society’s taboos. Written in precise, economical, rhythmic prose, Too Late the Phalarope is a tightly-structured, finely-woven narrative which is contained within a complex narrative structure that may be compared with that used in Wuthering Heights (1847). Just as Nelly Dean intelligently and sensitively recounts the tragic events by which Heathcliff brings down the Earnshaw family in Emily Brontë’s novel, so Tante Sophie, Pieter van Vlaanderen’s compassionate, perceptive and articulate aunt, narrates the tragic downfall of her nephew and the van Vlaanderen family. But as with Nelly Dean, Tante Sophie knows more than anybody else, but she does not know everything and is ultimately incapable of forestalling the tragedy.

In Too Late the Phalarope, Paton touches a raw nerve and reveals a deep truth – an individual’s desire is stronger than any cultural taboo. Pieter van Vlaanderen, a White South African policeman, is unable to suppress his sexual attraction for a young Black woman and destroys himself, bringing down unbearable shame on his Afrikaner family. In some respects Too Late the Phalarope is a psychological thriller; the reader is led through a slow-paced sequence of revelations, clues and insights, observing the convulsions of Pieter van Vlaanderen’s tortured soul as he is falls further and further into the moral trap of the apartheid state’s Immorality Act. The shame Pieter brings down on his own family with the revelation of his “illegal” sexual relationship with Stephanie, a young Black girl who becomes pregnant by him, foresees the inevitable breakdown of the strict Calvinist morality championed by Afrikanerdom. As the title suggests, the root of the “sinful act” lies in the distant childhood relationship between Pieter and his patriarchal father. But the novel also identifies the seeds of the destruction of the whole edifice of apartheid. Pieter becomes a victim of the system he perpetrates and, like Pieter, apartheid will fall eventually because it attempted through its racist legislation to manipulate the sexuality of “the Other,” that is, the Black South African majority.



* * *

There was also a long gap between the time of the publication of Sol T. Plaatje’s Mhudi by The Lovedale Press in 1930 and the publication of the next significant work of long prose in English by a Black South African writer. The chief reason for this is the oppression and severe restrictions imposed on the Black community by the White South African authorities which resulted in confused Black attitudes towards the socio-political situation in South Africa. The rapid acceleration towards total apartheid together with the effects of the Second World War (1939-1945) did not provide a context for the creation of deeply reflective prose works. Indeed, it was not until the end of the l950s that the next major prose work by a Black South African was to appear, and this time it was a literary autobiography, not a novel. Like Plaatje’s Mhudi, however, Es’kia Mphahlele’s Down Second Avenue, first published by Faber and Faber in 1959, stands as another milestone in the Black South African literary tradition.

The late 1950s and early 1960s saw a spate of autobiographies written by Black South Africans. Following the publication of Mphahlele’s now classic autobiography, Alfred Hutchinson’s Road to Ghana (1960) was published in New York, Hodder and Stoughton (London) published Todd Matshikiza’s Chocolates for My Wife (1961), McGraw-Hill (New York) published Albert Luthuli’s Let My Feople Go (1962), Thames and Hudson (London) published Bloke Modisane’s Blame Me on History (1963), and Longmans, Green. (London) published Lewis Nkosi’s Home and Exile and Other Stories (1965). It was not until 1971, however, that the next novel by a Black South African writer was to appear, and this was Mphahlele’s The Wanderers (1971) which was published in New York.

It should also be noted that during this period, from the early l950s until the mid 1960s, Coloured South African writers were publishing important long works of fiction. As early as 1946, Peter Abraham’s novel, Mine Boy, had been published by Faber and Faber, and this work was followed in 1954 with the publication of his autobiography, Tell Freedom: Memories of Africa. In 1962, Alex la Guma’s first long piece of fiction A Walk in the Night appeared and 1964 saw the publication of Richard Rive’s first novel Emergency. This novel, which is centred on the events that occurred at the Sharpeville and Langa townships in 1960, is the first novel to have been banned by the South African authorities. In 1969, Bessie Head’s first novel When Rain Clouds Gather was published by Victor Gollancz and, in the same year, Dugmore Boetie’s “life story,” Familiarity is the Kingdom of the Lost (1969) appeared.

To a certain extent, Coloured South African writers may be said to have led the way through the 1950s and 1960s in the field of long works of fiction. On the other hand, Black South African writers were producing short stories in large numbers. Such short story writers as Can Themba, Casey Motsisi, Arthur Maimane, Bloke Modisane, Nat Nakasa and Es’kia Mphahlele – the so-called “Drum writers” of the l950s and 1960s, together with James Matthews, were being read and appreciated by a wide public, their stories appearing in magazines and newspapers throughout South Africa. In an essay entitled “Black and White,” Es’kia Mphahlele explained that the short-story was the preferred genre under the oppressive conditions of the l950s and 1960s because the short story enabled Black South African writers to get “some things off their chest in quick time.”

Es’kia Mphahlele (1919-  ) – Down Second Avenue (1959)

Es’kia Mphahlele was born in Marabastad, a Black African township near Pretoria in 1919. He was taken at an early age to live with his paternal grandmother in the village of Maupaneng, which lies about seventy-five miles out of Pietersburg in the north-eastern Transvaal, now Northern Province. At the age of twelve, Mphahlele’s mother came to fetch her three children back to a house in Fifth Avenue of the Marabastad location. However, following a violent dispute between his mother and father that resulted in his father’s arrest, the young Zeke, together with his brother and sister, were sent to live with their maternal grandmother and Aunt Dora in Second Avenue in the same township.

Educated at St. Peter’s School in Rossettenville, Johannesburg, and at Adam’s College, an American Board of Missions Institution in Natal, Mphahlele worked at the Ezenzeleni Institute for the Blind. In 1945, he accepted a post as Afrikaans and English teacher at Orlando High School, Soweto, and in the same year, he married Rebecca Mochedibane. Mphahlele’s first collection of short stories Man Must Live was published in 1947 and, four years later, he was awarded a BA degree in English, Psychology and Native Administration by the University of South Africa. However, in 1952 as elected secretary of the provincial teachers’ movement, Mphahlele’s criticism of the apartheid government’s plans for the Bantu Education Act of 1953 caused him to be banned from teaching in South Africa. Following his dismissal, Mphahlele taught English and geography in the Basutoland Protectorate, now Lesotho.

Mphahlele then returned to South Africa and, in 1955, joined the African National Congress (ANC). He joined Drum magazine as a journalist and literary editor and reported for Drum on the removal of residents from Sophiatown to Meadowlands. Some of his Drum stories were later published in the collections The Living and the Dead (1961), In Corner B (1967), The Unbroken Song (1981) and Renewal Time (1988). In 1956, he gained an MA degree in English at the University of South Africa with a thesis entitled “The Non-European Character in South African English Fiction,” a study of the works of Olive Schreiner, Sarah Gertrude Millin, William Plomer and Alan Paton, among many others. He received his MA certificate at a Blacks-only University of South Africa graduation ceremony in the winter of 1957.

Mphahlele’s abhorrence of the Bantu Education Act of 1953 which he maintained trained Black children to be slaves caused Mphahlele to opt for self-imposed exile. In September 1957, he left South Africa to take up a teaching position at the CMS Grammar School in Lagos, Nigeria, Rebecca and their three children joining him in December of the same year. It was in Nigeria that he found the time, the peace and the state of mind to write his fictionalised autobiography Down Second Avenue, which was published in 1959 during Mphahlele’s second year of exile.

In 1961, following a period lecturing at the University of Ibadan, where from 1960 until 1964, with Ulli Beier and Wole Soyinka, he co-edited Black Orpheus, an influential literary journal, Mphahlele was appointed director of the African Programme at the Congrès pour la Liberté de la Culture in Paris, where his collection of essays on African literary and cultural aesthetics The African Image (1962) was published. Then, in 1963, he moved back to Nairobi, Kenya where he founded and directed Chemichemi, a cultural centre for writers and artists from where he edited the periodical Africa Today. He also edited two anthologies of short stories Modern African Stories (1964) and African Writing Today (1967). In 1965, he took up a lecturing post at the University of Denver, Colorado, USA, where he was awarded his PhD in 1968. In the same year, on his appointment as Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Zambia, he left Denver for Lusaka. By 1970, however, disillusioned with Black African states and frustrated with life on the Zambian university campus, Mphahlele returned to the United States as Associate Professor of English at the University of Denver.

Following the publication of his first long work of fiction The Wanderers, a re-working of his doctoral dissertation, by Macmillan in 1971 and of Voices in the Whirlwind and Other Essays by Hill and Wang in 1972, in 1974, Mphahlele was appointed a Full Professor at the University of Pennsylvania. During this tenureship he wrote his second novel Chirundu (1979).

In July 1976, at the time of the Black schoolchidren’s uprising in Soweto and other townships across South Africa in protest against the enforced use of Afrikaans in their schools, Mphahlele returned to South Africa to attend a conference of the now-defunct Black Studies Institute and, in 1977, Mphahlele and Rebecca ended their self-imposed exile and returned to South Africa to live. Mphahlele was aware at the time that his return to the apartheid state would be interpreted by many Black and Coloured South Africans as a betrayal, especially since it coincided with a period of great violence and sacrifice for thousands of Black South Africans. Soon after his return, Mphahlele became an Inspector of Education in Lebowa and in 1979 he was appointed Senior Research Fellow at the African Studies Institute of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. In 1980, his novel Chirundu was published by Ravan Press (Johannesburg), Thomas Nelson (London) and in 1981, by Lawrence Hill (New York). In 1981, a collection of short-stories and poetry entitled The Unbroken Song: Selected Writings of Es’kia Mphahlele was published by Ravan Press and in 1982, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Pennsylvania. In 1983, Es’kia Mphahlele became Professor of African Literature at the University of the Witwatersrand and in 1984 he published a sequel to Down Second Avenue entitled Afrika My Music: An Autobiography 1957-1983. He retired in 1987.

A great deal of controversy surrounds the figure of Es'kia Mphahlele. His return to South Africa from a high academic position in the USA in 1977 seemed at the time to undermine the whole point of self-imposed exile from the apartheid state and Mphahlele’s decision was criticised by such writers as the Coloured poet Dennis Brutus who was also living in exile in the United States. In retrospect, Mphahlele’s reason for his decision seems principally to be that he found it impossible to write with conviction and committment about South Africa and its people from a distance, to recreate the feel of South Africa, and so, for the sake of his creativity, he had no choice but to get back into apartheid society, despite all its iniquities and the oppression. In the event, today he has established himself as South Africa’s most distinguished Man of Letters, remembered not so much for his decision to return to apartheid, but for his greatest work Down Second Avenue, which was published for the first time in 1959 when Mphahlele was forty, South Africa was still a member of the Commonwealth and the apartheid aparatus was still under construction.

5.1.2 Down Second Avenue (1959)

By 1958, when Es’kia Mphahlele went into self-imposed exile in Nigeria and wrote Down Second Avenue, the Union of South Africa’s National Party government had made steady progress in its project to establish a segregated state. Laws such as The Population Registration Act of 1950, which classified indviduals on the basis of their skin-colour, The Abolition of Passes and Coordination of Documents Act of 1952, which forced every Black South African to carry a “Pass,” The Natives Resettlement Act of 1954, which removed 10,000 African families to move away from the White urban areas, and The Group Areas Act of 1950 and 1957, which divided South Africa into White, Coloured and Asian areas, were all in place.

In Down Second Avenue, Mphahlele looks back some thirty-five years to his first memories of a childhood spent in the small village of Maupaneng and later Marabastad, recalling the living conditions and the way of life in the rural setting of north eastern Transvaal and in the Black township near Pretoria. Mphahlele describes events, personal impressions and experiences during the years of the increasing racial oppression of Black South Africans, permitting a rare glimpse of world-views and life experiences White readers could never know.

Born in Marabastad, at the age of five Mphahlele was sent with his brother and sister to live with his paternal grandmother in Maupaneng. Despite the hunger and hardships of rural life, it is far preferable to the squalor and misery of the urban slum. In the countryside, tribal traditions and life-styles are maintained and these help to cushion the effects of the apartheid laws. The young Mphahlele spends seven years in Maupaneng which he recalls in vivid images and memorable episodes but, as the 1930s Depression takes effect, conditions there inevitably deteriorate and his mother takes him back to Marabastad.

Due to a breakdown in the relationship between his mother and father, Mphahlele lives with his maternal grandmother, Aunt Dora and three uncles in their house in Second Avenue. His father eventually assaults his mother and is forced to abandon the family, leaving strong women family members to guide him through his teenage years.

Es’kia Mphahlele’s eventual departure into self-imposed exile in 1958 allows him to escape the social, political and intellectual constraints he had suffered under apartheid and limiting family circumstances. Yet the lasting impression of this fictionalised autobiograhy is that the roots of the resilience and tenacity Mphahlele displays as an adult were laid in his early childhood, in the dust of Maupaneng and the filth of Marabastad. Down Second Avenue is a work of implicit protest, but Mphahlele tells his story with restraint. The format of the work, with its pensative and reflective Interludes written in poetic prose, lends dignity to the narrative structure and helps to make the work a classic of its genre.

5.2 Bessie Head. When Rain Clouds Gather (1968)

5.2.1 Bessie Head (1937-1986)

Bessie Head is one of the best-known African women writers writing in English. She was born in 1937 in the Fort Napier Mental Institution in Pietermaritzburg, Natal, South Africa. Her mother Bessie Amelia Emery, who was a White South African, had been placed in the mental asylum during her pregnancy as a result of her “illegal” union with Bessie’s Black South African father. Of racially-mixed parentage, therefore, Bessie Head fell into South Africa’s apartheid category of “Coloured,” a group which, together with the Asians and the Black South Africans, was labelled collectively as “non-Whites” and “non-Europeans.” As a Coloured South African writer, she stands alongside other great Coloured writers and poets such as Peter Abrahams, Alex La Guma, Richard Rive and Dennis Brutus.

Bessie Head was brought up by foster parents and , at the age of thirteeen, she was placed in the Anglican Mission orphanage in Durban where she received a secondary school education and trained to be a teacher. Disliking the teaching profession, she went into journalism in Cape Town and Johannesburg, writing for Golden City Post and the famous Drum magazine. She married Harold Head in 1961 and gave birth to a son, Howard. In 1964, however, her marriage broke up and she went into self-imposed exile in Botswana with her son. By the age of 28, Bessie Head had abandoned South Africa, her job, her husband and her “Coloured” identity.

Alienation, loneliness and injustice brought about by racial discrimination are at the core of the works of Bessie Head. Setting up her new home in Serowe, a large village in the central eastern fringe of Botswana, she began by teaching but, after losing her job, was given refugee status. She and her son lived chiefly from the produce of her garden and her writing. Following numerous applications, she was eventually granted Botswana citizenship in 1979. However, poor health and mental instability caused her to be perceived as eccentric and neurotic, causing her to become increasingly isolated and marginalised within the local community.

Bessie Head wrote four novels, When Rain Clouds Gather (1968), Maru (1971), A Question of Power (1974) and A Bewitched Crossroad: An African Saga (1984), one social history, Serowe: Village of the Rain Wind (1981) and a collection of short stories, The Collector of Treasures and Other Botswana Village Tales (1977). One novella, The Cardinals: With Meditations and Stories (1993), written in Cape Town in the 1960s, and two collections of her writings, Tales of Tenderness and Power (1989) and A Woman Alone: Autobiographical Writings (1990) have been published posthumously.

In Serowe, Bessie Head participated in the Swaneng Hill Project, an initiative set up by Patrick van Rensburg, a South African Afrikaner, as an experiment in self-help farming and training for the young people of Botswana. Bessie, whose house stood on the perimeter of the Swaneng Hill farm, was put in charge of the Project’s vegetable garden. This experience brought her into close personal contact with the young men and women from all parts of the world who volunteered to come to Botswana to work on the Project. It is this experience which provides the physical and human setting of her first novel, When Rain Clouds Gather, with its message of inter-racial friendship, cooperation and harmony. References to the international agricultural centre and the agriculturalists who work there imbue the narrative with a high degree of coloniality. Paradoxically, the victim’s perception of colonial aid is a positive one; Patrick van Rensburg and his Swaneng Hill Project is implicitly praised in the novel. However, in Maru and A Question of Power Bessie Head shifts the focus of her discourse away from colonial altruism to the problematics of racial and sexual relations within the Batswana community itself. A Question of Power, therefore, is discussed in a following chapter on pre- and non-colonial literature.

5.2.2 When Rain Clouds Gather (1968)

The roots of the significance of When Rain Clouds Gather lies in the flight into exile, the quest for a new identity and the business of home-building. Clearly based on her own experience, the protagonist, Makhaya Moleko, crosses the border from South Africa into Botswana and finds shelter in the Golema Mmidi, for which read Swaneng Hill, community of agriculturalists and trainee farmers. Makhaya’s utopic vision of the future, with its irrigated fields of year-round horticultural produce is the result of professional co-operation with Gilbert Balfour, who is not only credited with making the whole project a success but also helps Makhaya to understand himself better and discover “a compassion for the whole great drama of human history.”

The characters of Gilbert Balfour, the English agricultural expert, and George Appleby-Smith, the British Colonial Officer, provide the coloniser references for the narrative. George Appleby-Smith is a good friend of Paramount Chief Sekoto and it is he who arranges for Makhaya to be granted political aylum in Botswana. Both Gilbert and George are presented as positive and friendly men, who have the best interests of Botswana and the Golema Mmidi community at heart. With their help, Makhaya establishes himself in Golema Mmidi, an example of the coloniser aiding the victim, yet in Bessie Head’s own case, fate was not so magnanimous. As time went by, Bessie Head grew more distant from the Swaneng Hill Project and, even though she lived within a stone’s throw of the perimeter fence, all contacts with the farm and its workers dissipated completely. The colonial input had helped her protagonist, Makhaya, but proved insensitive to her own efforts to establish an identity and build herself a home. In When Rain Clouds Gather, Bessie Head turned to the colonisers for understanding and succour in her exiled refugee predicament. In the novel, they respond positively. However, in reality she is let down, an abandoned, colonised victim. As a result, in subsequent novels, she would de-colonialise the narratives, becoming a conscious victim not of European colonisers but of Black African ethnic discrimination and Black African men.

5.4 Athol Fugard. The Blood Knot (1963)

5.4.1 Athol Fugard (1932-)

Athol Harold Lannigan Fugard was born in Middelburg in the Karroo region of Cape Province, South Africa, in 1932. The son of an English-speaking father of Irish descent and an Afrikaner mother, Fugard’s family moved to Port Elizabeth when he was three. Educated at the Marist Brothers College in Port Elizabeth, in 1946 Fugard entered the Port Elizabeth Technical College to study motor mechanics and from 1950 to 1953, he began reading philosophy and anthropology at the University of Cape Town. He left university before completing his degree, hitch-hiked up through Africa and, at the age of twenty-two, became a merchant seaman and travelled to the Far East. After two years at sea, he did various jobs in theatre and television in England, Europe and America.

In 1956, Fugard returned to South Africa and worked as a script-writer of news bulletins for the South African Broadcasting Corporation. Transferred to Cape Town, he met an actress Sheila Meiring and they formed an experimental theatre group, writing most of the material themselves and performing on Sunday nights at the Labia Theatre in Cape Town. Athol Fugard and Sheila Meiring married the same year, Sheila Fugard becoming a well-known poet and novelist in her own right.

In 1958, Athol Fugard took up a post as clerk for the Native Commissioner’s Court in Johannesburg, a job which gave him first-hand contact with the cruelty and indignity suffered by Black people under apartheid. This experience and visits to Black friends in the townships led Fugard to write No-Good Friday, a play revealing conditions suffered by people in the townships. The Fugards themselves assembled the Black cast and rehearsed the actors. The first performance of No-Good Friday, directed by Athol Fugard himself, took place in August 1958 at the Bantumens Social centre in Johannesburg.

Fugard began work as stage manager for the National Theatre Organisation and his second full-length play Nongogo, which focuses on the lack of alternatives for Black South Africans, was performed in 1959. Both No-Good Friday and Nongogo were performed at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, England, in 1974.

During this period, Fugard began writing Tsotsi, in which he portrays Sophiatown society through the eyes of a Black delinquent just prior to its demolition. As a record of the Sophiatown renaissance period from 1958 to 1960, the novel is interesting, but Fugard as a White South African set himself an impossibel task when he tried to see conditions in the Black ghetto as if he were a Black man. Fugard clearly had doubts about the novel himself; it was published in 1980, having been discovered in the National English Literary Museum at Grahamstown amongst his manuscripts. But the experience was undoubtedly a pivotal one in Fugard’s development as a playwright; he realised that only Black South Africans could really feel what it was like to be a Black person living with apartheid and that it was impossible for a White person to empathise.

In 1960, Fugard and his wife travelled to Europe and came into contact with experimental and avant garde theatre in Flanders and the Netherlands, but the Sharpeville massacre brought them back to South Africa in 1961. While in London in 1960, Fugard sketched the idea for The Blood Knot (1963) that was presented in October 1961 at the Rehearsal Room in Dorkay House, an abandoned factory in Johannesburg. The Blood Knot went on a six-month tour around South Africa.

In 1963, petitioned by townspeople from New Brighton, Port Elizabeth’s Black township, Fugard formed The Serpent Players and he began writing Hello and Goodbye (1971), dedicated to his father who died soon after his return from Europe. In 1965, the New York Times voted The Blood Knot the Best Play of the Year and Hello and Goodbye was performed for the first time in Johannesburg.

In 1966 and 1967, Fugard directed plays by Wole Soyinka and Samuel Beckett in London. In June 1967, the BBC production of The Blood Knot was shown on British television and a few days later the South African government withdrew his passport. In 1967, he wrote Boesman and Lena (1969) and the play was performed at the Rhodes University Little Theatre in Grahamstown in July with Fugard himself acting the part of Boesman.

Influenced by Grotowski’s Towards a Poor Theatre, Fugard produced experimental plays such as Friday’s Bread on Monday, The Cure and Orestes (1971). In 1971, his passport was returned for one year only and his travel outside South Africa limited to the United Kingdom. He directed a production of Boesman and Lena at the Theatre Upstairs in London and on his return to South Africa, directed performances of Statements after an Arrest Under the Immorality Act and Sizwe Bansi Is Dead and The Island at The Space in Cape Town. These experimental productions were performed in collaboration with the Black actors John Kani and Winston Ntshona. In 1973, London theatre critics voted Sizwe Bansi Is Dead Best Play of the Year and John Kani and Winston Ntshona have since performed the play in the UK, the USA and several Commonwealth countries, as well as in South Africa.

In 1974, Fugard produced a film adaptation of Boesman and Lena with Yvonne Bryceland as Lena and Fugard himself as Boesman and following the production of Dimetos (1975) at the Edinburgh Festival in 1975, Fugard turned to films, producing The Guest: An Episode in the Life of Eugène Marais (1971) and Marigolds in August (1980). With A Lesson from Aloes (1981), he turned once more to writing plays – the autobiographical ‘Master Harold’ ... and the Boys (1982), The Road to Mecca (1985), Blood Knot (1985), an update of The Blood Knot (1961), A Place with the Pigs (1987), My Children! My Africa! (1989), Playland (1992), My Life (1994), A Valley Song (1996) and The Captain’s Tiger (1999).

In 1983, Athol Fugard published his Notebooks, a record of his activities between 1960 and 1977, and in 1995 an autobiographical work My Cousin appeared.

5.4.2 The Blood Knot (1963)

Athol Fugard first conceived of the plot of The Blood Knot in 1960 during the period he and his wife were working in theatre in London. The play was first performed at the Rehearsal Room, the private theatre of the African Music and Drama Association in Johannesburg on 23rd. October 1961, with Fugard himself acting the part of Morris. In his “Introduction” (1978), Fugard describes how writing The Blood Knot was “a compulsive and direct experience.”

The Blood Knot, a play in seven scenes, is about the relationship between two brothers. The brothers are Coloured South Africans and live in a one-room shack in the Coloured township of Korsten, near Port Elizabeth. Although born of the same mother, Morris is light-skinned , almost white, and Zach is dark-skinned and similar in appearance to a Black South African. Morris has recently returned to live with Zach and keeps house while the latter goes out to work. Morris saves as much as possible of his brother’s earnings, cherishing the dream of one day working their own farm. Dominated by Morris’s strict household routine, Zach remembers suddenly that prior to Morris’s homecoming there were women in his life. Morris suggests that Zach should find a female pen-friend. Miss Ethel Lange answers the letter Morris has written for his illiterate brother. To their surprise, from a photograph she encloses with her letter. they see Ethel is White. Moreover, Ethel writes that she is planning a visit to Port Elizabeth. Zach realises that, since his skin is dark, he can never meet Ethel, but he suggests that Morris take his place, pretending that he wrote the letter.

The money saved for the farm pays for a new outfit for Morris. Zach even persuades his brother to act the part of a White baas. However, their acting exceeds the playful limits of their illusion and they find themselves in the real world of hate and degradation. The intensity of the moment shocks them back into the present. The next evening Zach brings home a letter from Ethel in which she says that she has become engaged to be married, so any meeting is avoided. At this, Morris dresses up again in his new outfit and the play-acting begins once more, but this time, in a reversal of the previous day’s drama, the ‘cheeky kaffer’ puts the fear of God into the White man.

A major source of dramatic tension in The Blood Knot is a difference of skin-colour and the effects on the individual of prejudice and discrimination arising out of skin-colour differentiation in the context of South Africa’s apartheid society. The phenomenon of marked differences in skin-colour and physiognomy in members of the same Coloured family, as manifest in the case of Morris and Zachariah, occurs naturally the world over. In South Africa, however, because of the apartheid laws, it takes on a new, sinister significance; human behaviour is determined by socio-political constraints. The fraternal blood tie of the two brothers is pitted against the apartheid laws which dictate that persons of different skin-colour cannot relate with each other. Through their dialogues, Morris, who can pass as a White, is brought face to face, literally, with the cruel day-to-day reality which Zach, the archetypal Coloured, is forced to suffer. Morris’s natural reaction is to try to protect his brother from the outside world but, aware of his own light-skin colour and the social advantages this represents, he is overwhelmed by a deep sense of guilt.

Morris’s feeling of guilt changes to fear when he realises Zach’s pen-friend is White, a situation which contravenes the Immorality Act and constitutes a crime. As Zach taunts Morris with the idea that if he were to have a relationship with Ethel it would not be so dangerous, the racist law drives a wedge between the two brothers. The two brothers reaffirm their Black South African identity, but only after playing out absurd role-games with each other do they come to terms with the forces drawing them apart. It is in the heat of a game, what Fugard himself has termed ‘the simultaneous moment,’ that Morris and Zachariah stumble on the truth about themselves and the state of their fraternal relationship; the only thing linking them is their blood tie, but in terms of social status, colour grouping and even language they are far apart, destined never to be considered as equals.

The Blood Knot is a tragi-comedy. The play reveals in comic scenes what it was like to be a Coloured person in South Africa’s apartheid society. The audience witnesses the discovery by two men of the deep significance of their Colouredness. Through the correspondence with Ethel Lange and role-play, Morris and Zach deconstruct themselves, reducing each other to their fundamental psychic and physical states. Only after reducing themselves to the level of basic human beings by sharing the experiences of everyday life are they in a position to defeat the system. They refuse to be separated despite their different skin-colour and the Population Registration Act’s colour code. Morris and Zach defy apartheid with the argument that although they have different coloured skin, their blood is the same colour – red.



Chapter 6 – Pre- and Post-Independence Coloniality

The period leading up to and following a colonised country’s independence is a period of rapid transition. Independence itself is like a rite de passage and requires the nation and each individual who makes up that nation to re-construct their identities and re-assign roles for themselves in the world and in their societies respectively.

This reconstruction of the national and the individual “Self” affects writing, too. In Home and Exile and Other Selections, Lewis Nkosi observes that during the first phase of the liberation struggle throughout Southern Africa, writers “attempt to capture in their pamphlets, poems, novels and plays, the revolutionary impulse of which they are inalienably a part.” Then, in a second phase, writers “register not only the pains and joys of national rebirth, but begin to constitute an important source of critical consciousness for the nation.” Fundamentally, with Independence the colonised nation relinquishes its victim status and, likewise, the formerly “colonised” writer must construct narratives not as a victim of colonial oppression but as a liberated spirit. From the Euro-centric perspective, from Independence onwards, “the Other” who writes in English using “the Self’s” genres does so to address global readerships as “the Other,” but not as a victim. The committment and urgency of the struggle against the colonisers which had been a pre-requisite to pre-Independence narratives is forestalled and rendered inappropriate in post-Independence literature. Sol T. Plaatje wrote Native Life in South Africa (1916) to reveal to the English public at the time the injustices that were being perpetrated in the name of the British public. Following the all-race elections in South Africa in 1994, such a narrative would be redundant and entirely inappropriate.

6.1 Pre-Independence and Post-Independence Literature

Most African states achieved their independence within the thirty years between 1950 and 1980. Nigeria, Kenya and Zimbabwe gained their independence from the British, Nigeria in 1960, Kenya following the Mau Mau rebellion in 1963 and Zimbabwe following the period of the Unilateral Declaration of Independence under the White Rhodesian régime led by Ian Smith and the Lancaster House Agreement in 1980. Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God was published in 1964, early in Nigeria’s post-indepence, Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s A Grain of Wheat was published just four years after Kenya’s Independence in 1963 and Charles Mungoshi’s Waiting for the Rain just five years before Zimbabwe’s Independence in 1980. So Mungoshi’s novel is a pre-Independence narrative, that is, he writes it while still a victim of the neo-colonialism of Ian Smith’s White Rhodesian government, while Chinua Achebe and Ngugi wa Thiongo’s novels are post-Independence narratives, written by authors who have been recently “de-colonised” and, therefore, whose victim status has become annulled and who were re-constructing a non-victim identity for themselves. Chinua Achebe does this consciously in his novels, examining the transformation from oral traditional cultures to Western nation-state cultures. For Chinua Achebe, writing is a tool by which histories can be constructed and imposed, just as European histories have been imposed on Africa. But stories can also be re-written and Chinua Achebe believes that the act of re-telling stories is a fundamental activity in the reconstruction of post-independent African societies.

6.2 Chinua Achebe. Arrow of God

6.2.1 Chinua Achebe (1930-)

Albert Chinualumogo Achebe was born in 1930 in Ikenga, Ogidi, a large village in the Onitsha district of Anambra State in Eastern Nigeria and one of the first centres of Anglican missionary work in Igboland. He was born into a Christian, Igbo family, the fifth of six children. His parents were devout evangelical Protestants. His father Isaiah Okafo Achebe, an early Igbo convert to Christianity, worked as a catechist, an evangelist and a teacher at the Church Missionary Society’s primary school in Ogidi. His mother Janet Iloegbunam Achebe led a woman’s group of the church and worked as a farmer of cocoyams, cassava and vegetables.

Chinua Achebe attended the CMS primary school in Ogidi where he father was a teacher. He began to study English at the age of eight and in 1944, at the age of fourteen, he was selected for a place at Government College in Umahia which was ranked among the most prestigious schools in West Africa. In 1948, having decided to study medicine, he enrolled at University College in Ibadan, a newly-established college affiliated with the University of London in England. However, he changed his mind and began to study English Literature along the lines of the University of London’ honours degree programme. His studies of the novel in English introduced him to the works of the Polish writer Joseph Conrad who had elected to write about Africa in English rather than in his first language. This gave Chinua Achebe the idea of writing about his own people in English.

Fron 1952 until 1953, while a student at Ibadan, Chinua Achebe was on the editorial board of the University Herald for which he wrote stories and essays. He graduated with a BA in 1953 and for a few months he taught at the Merchants of Light School in Oba, a town due south of Onitsha. Then in 1954, he joined the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation as a Talks Producer. In 1956, Chinua Achebe went to London to study at a BBC training school. It was his instructor at the BBC, the novelist Gilbert Phelms, who, in 1957, passed the manuscript of Things Fall Apart to William Heinemann in London and, in 1958, Chinua Achebe’s first novel Things Fall Apart was published.

It was his experience with the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation which gave Chinua Achebe a deep insight into the history and the people of Nigeria and led to the publication of Things Fall Apart in 1958. The novel was the first to be published in Heinemann’s African Writers Series of which Chinua Achebe is founding editor. More than eight million copies of the novel have been sold and it has been translated into fifty languages. Chinua Achebe was awarded the Margaret Wrong Prize for Things Fall Apart and the novel is a set work in schools and universities across the world. Things Fall Apart is the best-selling, most widely read book in African literature.

Things Fall Apart is the story of Okonkwo, a champion wrestler. Set in the Igbo village of Umuofia at the end of the nineteenth century, before the arrival of European colonisers, the traditionally-minded Okonkwo, who is a stern husband for his three wives, a strict father for his several children, a powerful leader in the community and its representative in disputes with other villages, is forced to choose between his obedience to the gods and his human compassion. Following the death of a young boy at his father’s funeral when Okonkwo’s gun accidentally explodes, Chinua Achebe’s protagonist is sent in to exile with his wives and children. During the seven years in exile, Okonkwo learns that white men have massacred some villagers in Umuofia and missionaries have converted some villagers to Christianity, among them his son Nwoye. Once his exile is ended, Okonkwo returns to Umuofia to find a mission-school and a hospital established there. When Igbo traditionalists burn down the church at the mission-station, Okonkwo is among the six suspected ring-leaders arrested by the colonial forces. Following their release, villagers hold a meeting to discuss the developing situation. The District Commissioner sends forces to disband the meeting and Okonkwo kills a messenger. Before being arrested for murder, Okonkwo commits suicide by hanging himself, rather than submit to the justice of the white man.

In 1959, Chinua Achebe was appointed Comptroller for the Eastern Region of the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation and in the same year he was awarded the Margaret Wong Memorial Prize for his contribution to African Literature. In 1960, the year of Nigeria’s independence, Chinua Achebe was awarded a Rockefeller Grant and the success of Things Fall Apart led to the publication by William Heinemann of his second novel No Longer at Ease(1960). Classified together with A Man of the People (1966) and Anthills of the Savannah (1987) as one of Chinua Achebe’s “national” novels, as opposed to the “ethnic novels” Things Fall Apart (1958) and Arrow of God (1964), No Longer at Ease is set in the days immediately preceding Nigeria’s independence and reveals how traditional values of decency and respectability are rapidly undermined in the fast-changing, post-independence Lagos in which corruption and crime are dominant. Obi Okonkwo, a promising boy from an Igbo village and grandson of the protagonist in Things Fall Apart, returns from England, becomes a civil servant but is unable to avoid the pitfalls of the pressures of life in the capital. Obi Okonkwo’s downfall contains the elements of tragedy and the novel represents the challenges and dilemmas facing traditional Igbo society as it becomes part of an independent nation. Having accommodated British rule during the colonial period, following independence Nigerians become aware of the cultural and moral sacrifices they have had to make for their modernity. Chinua Achebe won the Nigerian National Trophy for No Longer at Ease.

In September 1961, at the age of thirty-one, he married Christie Chinwe Okoli and in the same year moved to Lagos as director of the external broadcasting service “The Voice of Nigeria.” In 1962, his first collection of stories for children The Sacrificial Egg and Other Stories was published and, in 1963, he was given a UNESCO travel fellowship with which he was able to visit the United States, Brazil and the United Kingdom. In 1964 William Heinemann published his third novel Arrow of God. Dedicated to the memory of his father Isaiah Okafor Achebe, the protagonist of this third novel is Ezeulu, chief priest of Ulu and the most powerful member of the people of Umuaro. Set in the early years of British colonial rule, Arrow of God is the story of the tragic downfall of Ezeulu who finds his supreme authority threatened by reactionary forces within the tribe and external forces in the form of European culture and religion. Chinua Achebe was awarded the first New Statesman Jock Campbell Prize for Arrow of God. A revised version of the novel appeared in 1974.

Chinua Achebe resigned from the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation in 1966 following the massacre of Igbos in northern and western Nigeria. In the same year Chinua Achebe’s second collection of stories for children Chike and the River was published and William Heinemann added his fourth novel A Man of the People to the African Writers Series. Set in a post-independent African country that closely resembles Nigeria, the novel satirizes the corrupt shenanigans of members of the political class in the emergent nation state. Odili, a young teacher and the narrator of the story, finds himself confronting Chief the Honourable M.A. Nanga, MP over a point of political principle and over a woman. The irony derives from the fact that in their rivalry, Odili comes close to becoming the same kind of person as the self-interested parliamentarian. Such is the corruption and greed displayed by irresponsible leaders that military intervention to change the status quo is presented as a reasonable alternative. Published on the eve of the military coup d’état in Nigeria, A Man of the People was seen as a prophesy of the negative political event which was soon to take place.

When the Nigeria-Biafra War broke out in 1967, Chinua Achebe supported the Igbo cause for an independent Biafra and moved from Lagos to eastern Nigeria. He started a publishing company at Enugu with the poet Christopher Okigbo who was killed by Federal forces in August 1967. During the war, he travelled widely abroad on missions in support of the Biafran cause and in 1969, in the company of his fellow writers Gabriel Okara and Cyprian Ekwensi, he undertook a lecture tour of American universities. In 1970, the Nigeria-Biafra war over, he was appointed director of two publishing houses in Nigeria, Heinemann Educational Books Ltd. and Nwankwo-Ifejika Ltd., and became senior research fellow at the Institute of African Studies at the University of Nigeria at Nsukka.

In 1971 Chinua Achebe founded and edited Okike: an African Journal of New Writing, with the objective of stimulating creative-writing and literary criticism amongst young Nigerians. In the same year, he published his first collection of poems Beware, Soul Brother and Other Poems which appeared in the USA under the title Christmas in Biafra and Other Poems in 1973. The collection won the 1972 Commonwealth Poetry Prize and Dartmouth College (USA) conferred on him an honorary doctorate. In 1972, too, his collection of short stories Girls at War and Other Stories appeared.

Chinua Achebe was appointed Professor of English at the University of Nigeria at Nsukka in 1973. However, between 1972 and 1976, he spent much of his time in the United States of America, first as Visiting Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts (1972-1975) at Amherst, Where he met James Baldwin, and then as Professor of African studies at the University of Connecticut (1975-1976) at Storrs. In 1974, he was awarded a Fellowship of the Modern Languages Association of America and he received Honorary Doctorates from the University of Stirling, Scotland, and the University of Southampton, England. In 1975, his collection of essays Morning Yet on Creation Day was published and he received the Neil Gunn Fellowship of the Scottish Arts Council. In 1976 his third collection of stories for children How the Leopard Got His Claws appeared and was followed in 1977 by the publication of two stories written in collaboration with the artist John Iroaganachi The Drum and The Flute.

In 1979, in recognition of his work in fostering creative writing, Chinua Achebe received the Nigerian National Merit Award (NNMA), the country’s highest accolade for intellectual achievement, and the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR). In 1981, Chinua Achebe helped to resuscitate the Association of Nigerian Authors which had been created to provide young writers in Africa with a forum to write and publish literary works. Also in 1981, he took early retirement from the University of Nigeria at Nsukka.

In 1983 Fourth Dimension Publishing published The Trouble with Nigeria in which he blames Nigeria’s political leadership for the desperate situation in the country in the months leading up to the 1983 elections. Chinua Achebe was himself elected Deputy National President of the Aminu Kano-led People’s Redemption Party, a proto-socialist organisation which divided intp two factions, one of them siding with the ruling party in the Second Republic. Some readers have argued that this book influenced the leaders of coup that took place on New Year’s Eve in 1983. In 1984, he was Visiting Professor of English at the University of Guelph, Canada, and Regents Professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles. In 1985, he was made an Emeritus Professor of the University of Nigeria at Nsukka.

Between 1987 and 1988, Chinua Achebe was Visiting Professor of African Studies at the University of Massachusetts. In 1987, he was given the Nigerian National Merit Award for a second time and in the same year William Heinemann published his fifth novel Anthills of the Savannah. Appearing twenty-one years after A Man of the People and like that novel, Anthills of the Savannah is set in Kangan, an unspecified African country that resembles Nigeria, but this time some twenty years after the country has achieved independence. As with the other novels, Anthills of the Savannah deals with the way in which an individual uses his power. Through the protagonist Ikem, a newspaper editor, his friend Chris, the Commissioner of Information in the military régime, and Beatrice, Chris’s lover and a middle-ranking civil servant, Chinua Achebe shows how educated, upper-class Africans attempt to deal with the oppression and chaos of a corrupt dictatorship, how in the role of potential oppressors they become victims of that same oppression. For Chinua Achebe, stories and story-telling offer the only way out of the conundrum because, unlike history, the re-telling of stories – myth, legend, parable and folktale – permits the introduction of changes, like anthills in the savannah.

In 1988, Heinemann International published Hopes and Impediments. Selected Essays 1965-1987, a collection which includes essays such as “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness,” “Work and Play in Tutuola’s The Palm-Wine Drinkard,” “The Writer and His Community” and “Thoughts on the African Novel.” In 1989, Chinua Achebe was Visiting Professor of English at the City University of New York, but in March 1990, Chinua Achebe was involved in a car accident and, as a result of the accident, lost the use of his legs. At the time, he was about to commence lecturing at Stanford University. A total of twenty-eight universities had invited him to come and teach at their institutions. Bard College in New York State adapted a house for wheelchair access and provided him with a specially-modified van and a driver.

In 1992, Chinua Achebe was runner-up for the World Vision Award for Development Initiative, a prize presented through the World Development Awards for Business, a surprising award for a literary person, but appropriate since it is evidence of the global significance of literature and Chinua Achebe’s contribution. In 2000, Home and Exile was published. Based on three lectures given at Harvard University in 1998 and partly autobiographical, in this short work Chinua Achebe condemns the way in which Africa and its peoples have been depicted in writings by Europeans and defends the right of writers from Africa to present their own perceptions using their own creative artistry.

Currently, Chinua Achebe is Charles P. Stevenson Jr. Professor of Languages and Literature at Bard College, an institution well-known for its liberal arts, and lives with his wife and four sons Chinelo, Ikechukwu, Chidi and Nwando in the village of Annandale, New York State.

6.2.2 Arrow of God (1964)

The story of Ezeulu, Chief Priest of Umuaro, is set during a pre-colonial period at a time when Christianity was beginning to make gradual but unstoppable inroads into the remote rural communities of Igboland and when the British colonial administration was putting into practice its strategy of appointing Paramount Chiefs in rural areas so that colonial control could be channelled through local leaders. The villages of Umuaro – Umuachala, Umanneora, Umuagu, Umuezeani, Umuogwugwu and Umuisiuzo – are united by their allegiance to one supreme god, Ulu. Ezeulu, Chief Priest of the Ulu cult, lives in Umuaro and his spritual responsibility is to retain the primacy of the Ulu cult over the other cults whose shrines are located in the villages, among them the Idemili cult whose chief follower in the village is Nwaka, a powerful chief and strong adversary of Ezeulu.

The rivalry between Ezeulu and Nwaka is rooted in a former land dispute during which Ezeulu’s testimony had led to the disarming of the villagers by the white authorities and to the land being ceded to Okperi, a neighbouring region. Perceived by some villagers as a betrayal of their interests, Ezeulu’s testimony is taken as proof of their Chief Priest’s obeyance towards the white man in Okperi, a contention that is reinforced when Ezeulu sends one of his sons, Oduche, to become a member of the white man’s church.

The rivalty is brought to a head when Captain Winterbottom, the British colonial administrator, sends for Ezeulu so that he can appoint the Chief Priest, whom he sees as a man of wisdom, a Paramount Chief for his area. But when Ezeulu refuses the offer, the hostile villagers are forced to reassess their perception their Chief Priest. Having been away in Okperi for two months, Ezeulu is welcomed back to his compound in Umuaro. However, in order to get his revenge on Nwaka and the other dissenting villagers, Ezeulu postpones the yam harvets for two months on the grounds that, while away in Okperi, he had not eaten the two sacred yams that corresponded to that period. According to the law of the Ulu cult, the Chief Priest could not announce the New Yam Feast until he had eaten the twelfth sacred yam. If the yams are not harvested, the people of the six villages will be threatened with starvation.

Ezeulu can find no solution for the dilemma. However, John Jaja Goodcountry, the catechist at St. Mark’s C.M.S. church, who had been in Umuaro for only a year, spread the word that if the villagers offered their yams or any other goods or money to the Christian deity, “they could harvest their crops without fear of Ulu.” (215) Following Ogbuefi Amalu’s funeral ceremony, delayed because of a lack of yams and during which Ezeulu’s son Obika is killed in mysterious circumstances – “in spite of the great grievance which Amalu’s family nursed against Ezeulu and his family Aneto still came to beg Obika to run as ogbazulobodo on the night before his father’s second funeral” – the Christian harvest thanks-giving “saw more people than even Goodcountry could have dreamed.” (230) Ezeulu is left abandoned, his son’s murder leaving him “to live in the haughty splendour of a demented high priest.” (229)

The characterisation of Ezeulu is one of the great portraits of a traditional leader presented in African literature written in English. Through Ezeulu, Chinua Achebe shows how the head of an extended family manages his wives and their children, how a spiritual leader manages the affairs of his followers and how a responsible and wise representative reacts towards the encroaching forces of the colonial hegemony. Ezeulu’s story is a tragedy, his weakness being his strong-mindedness and courage, traits which are perceived as arrogance and conceitedness by his enemies. Chinua Achebe provides a vivid insight into the pride and tenacity of his protagonist when Ezeulu first tells the Court Messenger sent by Captain Winterbottom to come to Okperi to see him that he “must first return, however, and tell your white man that Ezeulu does not leave his hut. If he wants to see me he must come here. Nwodika’s son who showed you the way can also show him. “ (139), Ezeulu shows himself to be in full control of the situation, and after the Court Messenger leaves astounded at the Chief Priest’s insolence towards the white authorities, Ezeulu “turned a little away from the others and began to pick his teeth with the broomstick.” (140) Eventually Ezeulu does go to Okperi and, because Catain Winterbottom is ill in hospital, he is made to wait weeks in the guardroom. When he is finally brought before Mr. Clarke as is told that the British Administration want to appoint him Paramount Chief for the area, Ezeulu rejects the offer, saying, “‘Tell the white man that Ezeulu will not be anybody’s chief, except Ulu.’” (175) Ezeulu understands that “[w]e have shown the white man the way to our house and given him a stool to sit on. If we now want him to go away we must either wait until he is tired of his visit or we must drive him away.” (132) He is aware, too, that the white man will take advantage of any disunity – “Have you not heard that when two brothers fight a stranger reaps the harvest.” (131) Ezeulu is caught between the disunity of the cults in Umuaro and the rivalry between Umuaro and Okperi and is reduced to looking on as the Christian Church and British colonial administration substitute his traditional power.

Arrow of God is a study of the struggle between faith in traditional deities and Christianity, between Igbo systems of authority and British colonial administration, but at a deeper level it is about the human condition and more specifically about the nature of power as used by Ezeulu who, while attempting to champion his own god and increase his personal influence, is brought down by conflicting traits in his own character.

6.3 Charles Mungoshi. Waiting for the Rain

6.3.1 Charles Mungoshi (1947-)

Charles Mungoshi was born in 1947 in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. He was born in a village in the Manyene Tribal Trust Land near Chivhu, about 200 kilometres south of Salisbury, now Harare, the capital of Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. Charles Mungoshi is the first in a family of eight children. His father was the owner of a small farm and Mungoshi spent his early childhood herding cattle on his father’s farm.

Mungoshi first went to school in 1959, at the age of twelve. He attended the Daramombe Upper Primary School. In 1963, he moved to St. Augustine’s High School at Penhalonga, near Mutare. His English teacher, Father Daniel Pearce, encouraged his creative writing skills and his acting skills. In 1966, his first short story “Cain’s Medal” was published.

When he left school, Mungoshi found work with the Forestry Commission.By 1969, he had moved to work as an invoice clerk at a bookshop in Salisbury. He wrote more short stories during this time, stories which were published in Parade, a magazine aimed at an African readership with a circulation of more than 2,000.

Between 1967 and 1970, he wrote his first Shona novel, Makunun'unu maodzamwoyo (1970), translated as Brooding Breeds Despair. This is Mungoshi’s most frequently published work. In the years preceding Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, only 3,000 copies were printed, but since then the book has been a standard set work in schools and 42,500 copies have been printed. The story focuses on a family in Manyene, Mungoshi’s home district, and shows how a family suffers disaster as a mother attempts to marry off her daughter, Monika.

In 1972, Coming of the Dry Season was published. This is Mungoshi’s first collection of short stories in English. The stories tell of how young urban and rural Zimbabweans (then, Black Rhodesians) grow up and become increasingly alienated from all aspects of their societies – the older generation, their home backgrounds and their work situations. The young protagonists are trapped by their reflective mindsets and by their memories, becoming isolated psychologically and unable to find the freedom of action and decision they struggle for. Coming of the Dry Season (1972) was published in Nairobi, Kenya. This collection of short stories was banned by the Rhodesian Censorship Board in 1974. The Board argued that the last story “The Accident” was subversive in respect of race relations. The ban was lifted in 1978, on the eve of Zimbabwean independence. However, the fact the Coming of the Dry Season was banned at all is indicative of how sensitive the White Rhodesian government was at the time, the early and mid-1970s. In 1975, his first novel in English Waiting for the Rain was published by Heinemann in London and his second novel in Shona Ndiko kupinda kwamazuva (How Time Passes) was published by Mambo Press in Gwelo, Rhodesia. The publication of these two novels in 1975 established Mungoshi’s reputation as a creative writer both inside his own country and internationally.

In 1965, the White minority government of Ian Smith had wrested political control of Rhodesia from the United Kingdom with its Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) and the militant wings of the Black Rhodesian political parties, the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) and the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) established training camps in neighbouring Mozambique and Zambia. ZAPU and ZANU guerrillas attacked the Rhodesian security forces. For nearly a decade (1965-1975), thousands of people died and millions were displaced. In 1980, at the Lancaster House talks in London, the White minority Rhodesian government finally consented to hold multi-racial elections supervised by the British. Robert Mugabe of the Shona-based ZANU won a landslide victory. In 1990, a one-party Marxist-oriented state was eventually substituted for a multi-party democracy.

Independence in 1980 brought Charles Mungoshi to the centre of the literary stage in Zimbabwe. Up to independence, Mungoshi had been known as the author of a banned book. Once the colonial administration and its censors had vanished, Mungoshi took up his position as a major contributor to Zimbabwean letters. In 1980 his collection Some Kinds of Wounds and Other Short Stories was published and, in 1981, Coming of the Dry Season was republished, a selection of his poems was anthologised in The Milkman Doesn’t Only Deliver Milk and his first Shona novel Makunun’unu maodzamwoyo became a set work for all Zimbabwean schoolchildren.

In 1982, Mungoshi moved from the Literature Bureau and became an editor for the newly-formed Zimbabwe Publishing House which, in 1983, published his third Shona novel Kunyarara hakusi kutaura? (Is Silence Not A Form of Speech?) In 1985, Mungoshi became writer-in-residence at the University of Zimbabwe at Harare. In terms of his works, independence changed his authorial attitude, his authorial stance. White supremacy had disappeared and there was no need to criticise it, even implicitly.

Between 1975 and 1989, Mungoshi’s creative energies were directed chiefly at work in Shona. From 1980 onwards, Mungoshi became an insider, that is, on the side of the post-independence administration, not an outsider as he had been during the colonial administration. In 1989, he published Stories from a Shona Childhood and in 1991 One day Long Ago: More Stories from a Shona Childhood. The 1991 publication won the Noma Award for African writing in 1992. Both publications are collections of stories for children, written at a time when Zimbabwean publishers were trying to encourage young readerships.

Recently, Mungoshi has turned to writing film-scripts and acting and directing films. In 1993, he wrote and directed a UNESCO film Abide with Me. Mungoshi’s interst in films and film-making suggests that he is interested in new media for expressing his perceptions of Zimbabwean society. In 1997, Walking Still, a new collection of short stories, was published. In 1998, Mungoshi was awarded the Commonwealth Writers Prize (African region) for fiction.

Mungoshi now lives in Harare with his wife and five children. He prefers to write in seclusion, frequently on his family’s farm near Chivhu.

6.3.2 Waiting for the Rain (1975)

Mungoshi’s art lies in his ability to evoke the surroundings and portray the lives and minds of the members of extended families as they relate to each other and cope with the ever-changing world that encroaches on their rural existence. Mungoshi has a special skill in narrating the intricacies of human perceptions, attitudes and thought processes in the microcosm of the African hut, an ability not unlike that of Jane Austen who described the family life of 19th. century English gentry. No doubt his skill at narration developed from the long winter evenings of his childhood when he would sit listening to his grandmother telling stories. The character of Old Mandisa, Lucifer’s maternal grandmother in Waiting for the Rain is based on Mungoshi’s own grandmother. Story-telling would have been a past-time for the whole village during the dry season. Story-telling competitions were held regularly in the village and Mungoshi’s grandmother was noted for her story-telling ability.

Waiting for the Rain tells of a young Zimbabwean man Lucifer Mandengu who has won a scholarship to study art in Europe. He goes to his family home on the Manyene Tribal Trust Lands to spend a weekend with his family before leaving for Europe and to say good-bye. The events take place in the late 1960s or early 1970s, during the war of liberation being fought out between ZANU and ZAPU on the one side and the White Rhodesian security forces on the other. Against the background of national and tribal warfare, the Mandengu extended family is in a process of disintegration. The low-scale warfare which is being perpetrated around them is forcing traditional Shona-speaking families to choose between their traditional value- and belief-systems on the one hand, and Western values and Christianity on the other. Western education is perceived by the traditional Shona as the main threat to tribal custom and their belief system.

Mungoshi takes his reader into the Mandengu extended family household, portraying each family member in considerable detail and depth. Mungoshi works systematically through the relationship between one family member and another, between Lucifer and his father, Tongoona; between Lucifer and his paternal grandfather, Sekuru Mandengu (Old Man); between Lucifer and his elder brother, Garabha; between Garabha and his paternal grandfather, Sekuru Mandengu (Old Man). By skillful use of dialogue, an astute manipulation of deixis and location and a perceptive eye for detail regarding huuman behaviour, Mungoshi takes his reader into the psyche, the mindset, of the traditional Shona extended family.

Waiting for the Rain is not a novel of action; it is a psychological novel in which Shona thought processes and decision-making are laid bare. Some critics see suspension as a key factor in Waiting for the Rain. The title itself contains the word “waiting.” In terms of physical space, Mungoshi’s world is suspended, a “limbo world.”

However, psychologically the novel is fast-moving. The dramatic forward momentum of the novel is generated by inter-family member conflicts that underscore the generation gap between parents and their children, strong and weak personalities, traditional and modern mindsets through which psyches are revealed. These internecine mental feuds among family members are set against the backdrop of profound political, social, economic and cultural upheaval generated by transition in the nation’s status quo as, moving towards Independence, it prepares to lose its stigma of victim society.

A fundamental problem for the Mandengu family is to decide what is best for the continuity of the extended family in the rapidly changing circumstances which surround them. Lucifer's imminent departure for an extended stay overseas forces the dilemma to the forefront of the Mandengu family’s concerns. Three generations of Mandengu family members are involved in the debate, Lucifer’s grandfather Sekuru Mandengu (Old Man), his father Tongoona, his elder brother Garabha and Lucifer himself. According to tradition, Garabha should inherit the headship of the extended family, but Tongoona wants Lucifer to succeed him because, while Garabha is uneducated in Western terms, his younger brother has been educated by White missionaries. Sekuru Mandengu is a traditionalist and instinctively supports Garabha’s claim for the family headship, but the Old Man finally acquiesces, granting his own son, Tongoona, his right to name his successor.

Waiting for the Rain is a construct. In terms of discursive significance, the novel deals with decision-making at the interface between traditional and Westernised value- and belief-systems. Western eduaction is proposed as a possible guarantor for the survival of the family in Zimbabwe. The Old Man finally submits to this hypothesis, althought the decision to ignore Garabha’s right goes against his better judgement as a Shona family headman. As for Mungoshi’s own opinion, he appears with great reluctance, and not very convinced, to give the educated Lucifer the benefit of the doubt. Indeed, as Lucifer is driven away by in the car by the White Father Williams to start his journey to Europe, Lucifer consciously and resolutely rejects his family, his culture, the traditions and belief-systems and the land of his upbringing and there is a feeling that he will never return. Mungoshi’s hint is that, in spite of Lucifer’s nomination by his father as successor to the headship, perhaps the fate of the Mandengu family would have been better served if left in the hands of Garabha, the uneducated drummer.

6.4 Ngugi wa Thiong’o. A Grain of Wheat (1967)

6.4.1 Ngugi wa Thiong’o (1938-)

Ngugi wa Thiong’o was born on 5th. January 1938 in in Kamiriithu Village, near Limuru in Kiambu District of Kenya, twelve miles north-east of Nairobi. His original name was James Thiong’o Ngugi, but he changed his name to renounce his ties with Christianity which he perceives as having ties with colonialism.

Of Gikuyu descent, Ngugi’s father Thiong’o wa Nducu was an ahoi, a dispossessed peasant farmer forced to become a squatter on the estate of a well-to-do landowner. Most such landowners were British, but Thiong’o wa Nducu farmed on the property of one of the few African landowners. The British Imperial Land Act of 1915 had transferred official ownership of all land in Kenya to the British Crown, giving the Governor authority for its disposal, a power widely exploited, especially in the fertile White Highlands, so that most Gikuyu were left without any legal rights over the soil of their homeland. Ngugi’s mother was one of four wives, and Ngugi was one of about twenty-eight children in the family. Ngugi’s own family was involved in the Mau Mau resistance to the British colonists.

Ngugi was educated in a mixture of Christian and traditional religious teachings. At  the age of nine, he went to the Church of Scotland mission primary school at Kamaandura in Limuru. At the age of 11, he went to a school of the Karing’a, the Independent Schools Movement, in a village called Maanguu. Between 1954 and 1958, Ngugi received his secondary education, from 1954 to 1958 at Alliance High School situated at Kikuyu, eight miles north-west of Nairobi. Founded in 1926, this was Kenya’s first fully-fledged secondary school for African students and was run under the auspices of an alliance of all Protestant denominations in Kenya.

At the the Alliance High School, Ngugi developed a complex religious awareness, reflected in the integral use of biblical references and Christian mythology in the novels. Quotations from Kihika’s much-thumbed Bible are structurally significant in A Grain of Wheat (1967), as even the title itself reminds us.

Ngugi has linked the idea of destiny with regard to the Israelites and their struggle against slavery with similar experiences suffered by the Gikuyu people. Alliance High School figures repeatedly in Ngugi’s works as Siriana Secondary School, the school to which Karanja helps Mumbi send her younger brother Kariuki in A Grain of Wheat. Ngugi’s childhood and the adolescent experiences are woven into his fiction. In particular, his family situation in an extended African household provides the framework, transmitted into fiction, for Weep Not, Child (1960).

The parallels between fact and fiction are numerous. Between 1954 and 1956, Ngugi’s real life brother, Wallace Mwangi, went into the forest to join the Mau Mau forces. Ngugi’s parents, besides others of his relatives, were put into detention, as are some of the major characters in A Grain of Wheat. A striking parallel from A Grain of Wheat is found in the fact that in 1954 or 1955 a step brother of Ngugi’s, of the same name and condition as the deaf and dumb Gitogo who is shot dead by government forces in A Grain of Wheat, died in identical circumstances. It is also true that Kamiriithu, the village where Ngugi was born, was forcibly moved to its new site as New Kamiriithu, just as Rung’ei becomes New Rung’ei in A Grain of Wheat.

Much of Ngugi’s fictional writing contains a great deal of autobiographical information. He was to become a leading exponent of Mau Mau as a heroic struggle for independence. However, Ngugi himself was not personally involved in any episode in the campaign. He was 14 years old in 1952 at the start of the Emergency; open hostilities had considerably subsided by 1954, but intensive clandestine activities persisted up to 1956. An outstanding scholar, the young Ngugi would certainly have been encouraged by Gikuyu adults of all shades of conviction to continue with his studies; his people have a passion for education. But schoolboys often served vital roles in obtaining and transporting arms and ammunition since their passes allowed them to travel with minimal constraint. But Ngugi’s age and role made him at most a marginal candidate for even a minor militant role in the struggle. However, there is some evidence that Ngugi felt a sense of guilt and failure because of his lack of participation in the active struggle. He himself records that the crisis did not cause any total destruction of the routine of life in Gikuyu country. The populace was in the main both ignorant and confused about what was happening, thanks to the colonial Government’s propaganda campaign and high-powered social pressurization. Ngugi himself actually expresses in his writings his own process of reappraisal and re-evaluation through which he reached the conviction that Mau Mau had been not only a heroic but also a very effective movement in the struggle for Gikuyu, Kenyan and African liberation, and at the same time presented a model in the continuing fight for social justice in the framework of the continuing class conflict.

In 1959, Ngugi began to read for a degree in Economics at Makerere University College in Kampala, Uganda. At this time Makerere University College was the only institution conferring degrees in East Africa. He later switched from studying Economics to studying English Literature and, in 1963, at the end of four years in Kampala, he gained a BA honours degree in English. During his stay at Makerere University College he began writing. His novels Weep Not, Child (1964) and The River Between (1965) were written when he was an undergraduate. He also wrote the full-length play The Black Hermit and was deeply involved in its production for Ugandan Independence in 1962. Also, during this period, in 1961, Ngugi’s marriage partnership with Nyambura began; Thiong’o, their eldest son, was born in 1961, their second son Kimunya in 1963, Mukoma, their first daughter, was born in 1971, Wanjiku, their second daughter, in 1970 and Njooki, their third daughter, in 1978 when Ngugi was in detention.

While he was at Makerere, Ngugi became editor of the student journal of creative writing Pinpoint and became the key figure in monitoring Makerere’s important contribution to the development of East African literature. His contributions to Pinpoint and others from this period were included in the collected short stories in 1975 under the title Secret Lives. On graduating in 1964, Ngugi left Makerere and went back to Kenya where he worked from March to September as a journalist for the Nation group of newspapers in Nairobi. In October 1964, sponsored by the British Council and on the recommendation of Arthur Ravenscroft, the programme administrator, Ngugi commenced a two-year MA course in Caribbean literature at the University of Leeds, England. Ngugi did not complete his MA thesis, but he did write A Grain of Wheat that was published in 1967. During this period, Ngugi also found time to attend literary conferences in Damascus, the United States and Moscow, where he had the opportunity of meeting many new people and further extending his horizons. Petals of Blood is set in Yalta, where he completed the novel in a chalet near the Black Sea, as well as in Evanston and Limuru.

In July 1967, Ngugi left England and returned to Kenya. On his return, Ngugi took up a special lectureship in English at Nairobi University. In March 1969, after only some twenty months at Nairobi University, Ngugi resigned his post because of his strong reactions during a confrontation between the university, especially the student body, and the government. In 1969, he left Nairobi and returned to Makerere for one year as Fellow in Creative Writing. There he played an important role in the active Writers Group and organised a successful writers’ workshop. He put together the collected edition of his short stories and published his short plays in a volume entitled This Time Tomorrow. During his Fellowship at Makerere, Ngugi was also able to participate in the reorganisation of the English syllabus, moving it from a traditional British structure to one based primarily on African literature and on World literature. At the end of the Fellowship in 1970, he went for one year to Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, to teach African literature.

In August 1971, Ngugi returned to the Department of English at Nairobi University, where he became Chairman of the Department and set about changing the focus of literary studies at the University. Ngugi defended the case that the study of English literature in Nairobi was out of place and that the Department of the English should be substituted by the Department of African Literature and Languages, thereby placing African writing in the forefront of attention.

In 1977, Petals of Blood, Ngugi’s fourth novel, was published. This novel, which stands as a key work not only in Ngugi’s personal development but also in the development of radical African literature, was launched in Nairobi by a minister of Jomo Kenyatta’s government. The publication of Petals of Blood followed the production of The Trial of Dedan Kimathi by the Kenya National Theatre, the popular play that presented the cause of Mau Mau as the inspiring starting point of the continuing struggle for social justice. Later in the same year, Ngugi collaborated with Ngugi Mirii in writing a play in Gikuyu entitled Ngaahika Ndeenda. In November 1977, Ngugi became deeply involved in the staging of the play, at first with official permission, at Kamiriithu Community Educational and Cultural Centre in his home town, Limuru. After the first performances, however, the district commissioner of Kiambu revoked the licence. The play was said by the district commissioner to be an attempt to stir up animosity between various sections of the community on the basis of their respective roles during Kenya’s bloody Mau Mau rebellion. The play was banned. On December 31st. 1977, Ngugi was arrested by the police, taken away for questioning and did not return for almost one year.

During Ngugi’s imprisonment, appeals, protest meetings in various parts of the world (notably in London) and delegations to Nairobi, including one from Nigeria led by Wole Soyinka, produced little effect before the change of government. His prison experience led to the publication of Detained (1981) that is a history of Kenya told from a marxist viewpoint.

Following his release from detention in 1978, Ngugi applied to be reinstated in his position at the University of Nairobi. However, his application was rejected by the university authorities and Ngugi was forced to work as a freelance writer. By this time, Ngugi’s voice of protest in the cause of social justice had become known and respected throughout Kenya, Africa and in the world at large. In 1982, Ngugi himself translated into English his Gikuyu-language play Ngaahika Ndeenda (1980) which he had written with Ngugi waMirii and the translation, entitled I Will Marry When I Want was published in 1982. In this play, Ngugi places emphasis on the importance of the role of land-ownership in the relationship between rich and poor, in their determination of the social status, and in the ruthless acquisitiveness shown by the wealthy in edging peasants and workers out of the few parcels of land left to them. In this play, Ngugi has turned to writing in the Kenyan language, primarily so as to make readier contact with the common man, to whose cause he has dedicated so much of his energy and talent. At the same time, he has been relieved of the embarrassment of denouncing colonialism and its ethnocentric assault on African cultures while himself writing exclusively in English. Also in 1980, Ngugi’s first novel in Gikuyu Caithani Mutharaba-ini was published. Caithani Mutharaba-ini was written during Ngugi’s time in detention. As with his play, Ngugi himself translated this Gikuyu-language novel into English and Kiswahili, and the translation, entitled Devil on the Cross, appeared in 1982. In the same year he conceived another Gikuyu play Maitu Njugira (Mother Sing For Me). In 1986, another Gikuyu novel Matigari was published, with its translation into English appearing in 1989, and a Gikuyu novel Murogi wa Kagoogo was published in 1999.

Following the unsuccessful coup in Kenya in 1984, Ngugi went into self-imposed exile. Between 1982 and 1988, he lived in the UK. In 1989, he moved to the USA, where he has taught at Yale University and New York University. Ngugi is currently Erich Maria Remarque Professor of Comparative Literature and Performance Studies at New York University.

6.4.2 The evolution of Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s ideology

Apart from his renown as a creative writer in both Gikuyu and English, Ngugi wa Thiong’o is known for his literary and cultural commentaries. Works such as Homecoming: Essays on African and Caribbean Literature, Culture and Politics (1972), Writers in Politics (1981), Barrel of a Pen: Resistance to Repression in Neo-Colonial Kenya (1983), Writing against Neocolonialism (1986), Decolonising the Mind: The Politics and Language of African Literature (1986), Moving the Centre: The Struggle for Cultural Freedoms (1993) and Penpoints, Gunpoints and Dreams (1998) have placed Ngugi waThiongo at the forefront of intellectual, philosophical and ideological trends in Africa.

Ngugi’s activities over the years indicates a steady development in his thinking about social issues. At the beginning of the 1980s, he was clearly committed to the reform of African society along radical leftist or socialist lines. During an early period up to be the end of his first degree studies at Makerere in 1963, he demonstrated in a moralist-humanist outlook on human affairs, confident and hopeful with respect to the future, with a firm belief in good intentions and goodwill. In a second phase, which evolved during his time at Leeds and his early teaching career, his vision matured and focused upon such ideas and events as Mau Mau, capitalism, socialism and nationalism. In a third phase, he became disillusioned with the nature of social forces in independent Africa, particularly in Kenya, and revealed a strong disaffection with the emerging African élites and middle classes. Ngugi understood that the aim of the struggle in colonised Africa was political independence.

However, Ngugi understood political independence to be only the first step towards the spiritual and mental liberation of the African. Moreover, such liberation would come only from societies with a strong economy in which ordinary people enjoyed decent living standards and a genuine and uncorrupt democratic dispensation for electing leaders. Only in such democracy would a true nationalist spirit be able to survive and mature.

Ngugi believed that colonialism had indoctrinated the psyche of the colonised African and that in order to attain freedom, the colonised African would need to be mentally decolonised. The ultimate objective of decolonisation would mean that the African man and woman would be spiritually liberated, self-confident and enabled both physically and mentally to fulfill himself and herself.

6.4.3 A Grain of Wheat (1967)

The struggle for Kenyan independence has always been associated with the phenomenon called Mau Mau, a militant Kenyan nationalist movement that originated in the 1950s among the Gikuyu people of Kenya. Mau Mau advocated violent resistance to British domination in Kenya. The movement was especially associated with the ritual oaths employed by leaders of the Gikuyu Central Association to promote unity in the independence movement.

In 1952, the Mau Mau carried out a campaign of sabotage and assassination. In October 1952, the British government in Kenya declared a state of emergency and began four years of military operations against the freedom fighters. By the end of 1956, more than 11,000 freedom fighters had been killed together with about 100 Europeans and 2,000 Africans who had sided with the British. More than 20,000 other Gikuyu were placed into detention camps, where intensive efforts were made to convert them to the government’s way of thinking and to abandon their nationalist aspirations.

6.4.4 A Grain of Wheat, the plot

A Grain of Wheat is a complex novel. The novel is formed of multiple narrative lines and, far from being linear in structure, is composed of a large number of flashbacks, that is, shifts in time frames. In A Grain of Wheat, different characters are presented in similar circumstances at similar times but in different spaces, and each character experiences the similar situation from a different perspective and in a different way. In this sense, A Grain of Wheat is a novel with multiple centres, that is, Ngugi’s protagonists feature in story lines which at times run parallel with each other, at times coincide and cross each other, and which at times fuse together. The ultimate fusion of the narrative lines comes at the end of the novel when the reader learns of the ultimate destinies of the protagonists, such as Mugo, Gikonyo, Karanja and Mumbi.

The complex structure of the novel enables Ngugi to present attitudes towards the Mau Mau struggle against British colonialism in an ambivalent way. Varying Gikuyu perceptions of the struggle are presented – the sacrifice of Mau Mau oath-takers, many of whom are detained, some of whom betray their oaths of allegiance and their fellow freedom fighters and are disgraced, as well as Gikuyu men like Karanja who sided with the British authorities, becoming local administrators in their own right. In short, Ngugi seems to infer that there was little true solidarity among the Mau Mau freedom fighters and that their resistance to British domination was haphazard and poorly organised. Perhaps this is a reflection of Ngugi’s indecision with regard to his own attitude towards the Mau Mau rebellion which occurred during his youth. Although Ngugi’s attitude towards Mau Mau might have been ambivalent, his belief that the survival of Gikuyu culture depends on the eradication of colonial and Western cultural manifestations is manifest.

The narrative structure of A Grain of Wheat is made up of one main plot and two intertwining subplots which are presented in the form of flashbacks. The central action of A Grain of Wheat takes place in December 1963 in the village of Thabai, near Rung’ai Market, in rural Kenya during preparations for the approaching celebration of Uhuru, that is, Independence, which Kenya gained from Great Britain on 12th December 1963.

Kihika, a local Mau Mau freedom fighter from Thabai, leads a group of Mau Mau forest fighters in an attack on Mahee Police Post in the Rift Valley and captures it. Later, Kihika shoots District Officer Robson. Kihika is subsequently hunted down and hung by the British. There is a generalised feeling that Kihika had been betrayed by someone in the area. Mugo had given shelter to Kihika before he shot District Officer Robson and is regarded as a hero of the struggle by the community. Warui, a village elder, Wambui, one of the women from the river, and Gikonyo, the husband of Kihika’s sister Mumbi, visit Mugo to invite him to speak at the Uhuru celebrations to be held in a field near Rung’ei. Mugo declines the invitation. However, at the Uhuru celebrations, General R. asks for the person who betrayed Kihika to come forward and confess in public. Mugo himself comes forward and confesses to being the person who betrayed Kihika.

However, it is not Mugo the Mau Mau freedom fighter Mugo, but Kihika's sister Mumbi who is the pivotal character in the novel. Mumbi is said to be one of the most beautiful women in the district and, owing to her good looks, she is compared to Wangu Makeri, the last of the great Gikuyu queens. Mumbi is Kihika’s sister, Gikonyo’s wife, has a child by Karanja and is Mugo’s closest confidante. Apart from the narrative line which ends with Mugo’s confession, trial by the village elders and supposed death, the second most important narrative line is the competition between Gikonyo and Karanja for Mumbi’s love. Gikonyo becomes Mumbi’s husband, but while Gikonyo is in detention, Karanja, who is the local Chief by this time working under the jurisdiction of the British, helps Mumbi find a secondary school place for her brother Kariuki. When Karanja tells Mumbi that Gikonyo is to be set free, Mumbi allows Karanja to make love to her. When Gikonyo arrives home from prison, he discovers that Mumbi is expecting Karanja’s child. By the end of the novel, Karanja, who had betrayed his oath and many Mau Mau members from his village, goes off to a life in exile at Githima. For his part, while still convalescing in Timoro hospital, Gikonyo reconciles himself to the fact that Mumbi has given birth to Karanja’s child and begins to reestablish his marriage with Mumbi.

The other major narrative line deals with the experiences of Mau Mau members held in various detention camps. Gikonyo is detained for six years in seven detention camps, among them Yala and Wamumu Camps. Gikonyo is set free because he betrays his Mau Mau oath, the first to do so in the Yala Camp. Mugo is detained in Rira Camp where he leads a hunger strike by fellow detainees in a revolt against John Thompson, the camp commandant, for which he pays with a public whipping. Mugo becomes the hero of the other prisoners. The narration of experiences in detention camps is presented in the form of flashbacks.

In general, it is the impact of the detentions on rural village life which Ngugi stresses – villages which were once full of young men and characterised by a vibrant social life become sombre and lifeless. For example, Old Thabai village was completely destroyed after the attack on Mahee Police Post. Both Mumbi and her mother’s huts were burned down and Mumbi was forced to build a new hut.

Ngugi, then, depicts the effects of British colonialism on rural village life and the sacrifices made by the Gikuyu peasant communities, both the men and the women, as they struggled for their freedom and independence. This is part of the discursive significance of A Grain of Wheat. At root, however, Ngugi reveals that during the Mau Mau struggle heroism was mixed with betrayal and sacrifice with opportunism amongst the freedom fighters who left their rural villages to join the fighters in the forest. At the end, after all the sacrifice, there are no real winners. Mugo cannot escape confessing his guilt and offering himself up for sacrifice. The tragedy is that killing Mugo for betraying Kihika is afutile act; it makes no difference to the survivors, one way or the other. The only positive glimpse of Uhuru that Ngugi leaves us with is in the reconciliation of Gikonyo with Mumbi and her son.

6.4.5 The significance of A Grain of Wheat

In spite of the British oppression, Gikuyu resistance led the independence movement in Kenya. Jomo Kenyatta, who had been interned as a leader of the Mau Mau in 1953, became prime minister of an independent Kenya ten years later, in 1963. However, the controversy surrounding Mau Mau in post-colonial Kenya is centred on the role it played in the attainment of Kenya’s independence. Over time, the controversy has come to assume ideological distinctions between the Left and the Right. Both the Left and the Right have sought to utilize the revolt to lend legitimacy to their ideological positions. In this regard, it can be said that both the Left and the Right have been involved for their own divergent purposes and that the invention of Mau Mau. Any identification with Mau Mau by the Gikuyu political and commercial élite is for utilitarian purposes in the struggle for dominance in Kenya and not because of the revolt’s past practices. It is now an obvious fact that “the Kikuyu have since independence dominated the political and economic affairs of the country.”

To justify their dominance, the Gikuyu governing élite, many of whom had no linkage to Mau Mau, used the memory of the revolt to enhance and maintain their status. They saw themselves as members of an ethnic group that played the decisive role in the struggle for independence and therefore deserved “a bigger share of the national cake.”

For his part, Ngugi has clearly been identified with the radical interpretation of Mau Mau. Most of his writing has over the years been largely inspired by this movement. According to Ngugi, Mau Mau represented not only a fight against colonialism but also against imperialism. Ngugi’s perception of Mau Mau as having a socialist agenda has drawn sharp criticism from some historians and writers. Critics claim that the Mau Mau movement has been re-invented by the Left and given new ideological attributes for the purposes of criticising the political economy of post-colonial Kenyan society. These new idealogical attributes make Mau Mau a socialist liberation movement that united Kenyan peasants and workers against imperialism. The fact is that, even today, public attitudes towards the Mau Mau movement and its achievements are complex and ambiguous. In A Grain of Wheat, this ambiguity is revealed partly in Ngugi’s ambivalent characterization of the freedom fighters he chooses to present to his readers. Ngugi’s attitude is wholly humanist; at times of crisis, when one’s survival is at stake, individuals make decisions, take positions and do things which go against their principles. This, Ngugi believes, must be understood by society and individuals should be forgiven for actions and decisions taken in such circumstances.



Chapter 7 – Post-colonial and post-neocolonial representations in the literature

As African countries have gained their independence from their respective colonising metropoli, so the literary discourses of those countries have had to renew themselves, replacing representations of conditions under the oppression of colonial and neo-colonial systems and reflecting instead conditions, experiences, demands and aspirations of the new dispensations in post-Independent, post-colonial and post-neocolonial societies. A case in point is South Africa where the fall of the neocolonial aparatus of apartheid in the early 1990s obliged all South African writers to identify and conceptualise and construct new, post-apartheid literary discourses.

The concepts “post-colonial” and “post-neocolonial” are perceived here from an African, non-Eurocentric perspective. From the European standpoint, almost all African countries are “post-colonial,” while from the viewpoint of their respective inhabitants, they are simply “independent” and free of European metropolis control. A “post-colonial” work by an African writer, therefore, will be one that focuses on the changes brought about by the transition from pre-Independence to post-Indepedence, changes which might result from new political and economic options, renewed personal aspirations or a return to pre-colonial values and institutions. Furthermore, in the post-Independent African countries, topics such as AIDS, land redistribution, food scarcity and the condition of women and children are all forcing themselves onto African national “post-colonial” agendas.

Not all African writers are in an ideal position to write on the “post-coloniality” of the land of their birth, for which some experience of the perpetrator’s mindset is a pre-requisite. Examples of African writers with this kind of experience are Nigeria’s Wole Soyinka (1934-) who spent years studying and working in England, Buchi Emecheta (1944-) who has regarded London her home ever since emigrating to England in 1962, one year before Nigeria achieved its Independence from Britain, and Nuruddin Farah (1945-) who has spent long periods in exile in England, Italy and the United States of America after leaving his home in the Ogaden. White South African writers are also well-placed. Writers like Nadine Gordimer (1923-), André Brink (1935-) and J.M.Coetzee (1940-) who has travelled extensively, living for extended periods in the USA and the England, always returning to South Africa and only recently emigrating to Australia, have all experienced neo-colonial apartheid society first hand and can now assess the nuances and effects of the transition from neo-colonialism to an Independent South Africa.

Even Black South African writers, like Sipho Sepamla (1932-) and Miriam Tlali (1933-), both of whom remained in South Africa throughout the apartheid era, never once opting for self-imposed exile, and Mongane Serote (1944-), together with many more Black writers who experienced the neo-colonial system, are now in a position to compare life under apartheid with life in a free South Africa. Black South African authors were never in a position to cock a snook at apartheid. However, in the spirit of Black Consciousness, several authors created Black characters with Black life-styles and focused on Black problems.

The literature of post-coloniality focuses on individual experience. In the case of writers in exile or self-imposed exile, the narratives are frequently autobiographical in nature and based on personal perceptions and experiences. In the case of writers who have lived through the transition from colonised to independent, the transcolonialty is portrayed through characterisations that typify the transmutation. Whereas Buchi Emecheta’s experience as a Londoner returning to Nigeria is clearly echoed in her characterisation of Kehinde in Kehinde (1994) and J.M. Coetzee’s characterisation of David Lurie in Disgrace (1999) is tragic rather than condemnatory or in any way censorious, Sipho Sepamla’s Beauty Radebe in Rainbow Journey (1996) takes strength from her new-found freedom in post-apartheid South Africa in a spirit of entrepreneurship.

Buchi Emecheta’s father had always spoken with great respect, even reverence, of England, referring to it as “God’s Holiest of Holies” (HAW: 26) His daughter’s expectations of the colonising nation were high, only to be swiftly and cruelly dashed on arrival in England. Her disillusionment with the metropolis and the coloniser society which she perceived as racist became rapidly transformed into anger that she vented in her first two works In the Ditch (1972) and Second-Class Citizen (1974). However, since her stay in Calabar in 1980 and subsequent constant shuttling back and forth between the Igbo communities in Lagos and Ibusa and the ethnic communities in London, Buchi Emecheta has admitted in her autobiography Head Above Water (1986) that she has made England’s North London her home.

As a writer, Buchi Emecheta has been able to exploit her bi-cultural condition very successfully, both in her works on English society by telling and re-telling the story of her own experiences and those of her children and in her works on Nigerian society by revealing the injustices of some customs and institutions, drawing mainly on personal grievances and those of members of her close family and friends who lived or are still living there. Ironically, it was anger and bitterness mooted in the form of social criticism of her adopted culture that won her a wide, international readership and made her comparatively rich so that most of her personal grounds for complaint in relation to London society have since been resolved and swallowed up by her improved financial situation, status and living conditions.

Buchi Emecheta’s experience as an immigrant in Britain during the 1960s that she has recorded with sharp intelligence and a critical eye will always remain a fresh, spontaneous account of the shock involved in settling into a different culture and a penetrating insight into aspects of what will probably come to be regarded sociologically in Britain as one of the most extraordinary decades of the last century.

7.1 Buchi Emecheta. Kehinde (1994)

7.1.1 Buchi Emecheta (1944-)

Buchi Emecheta was born in Yaba, Lagos, Nigeria, on 21st. July 1944. Her parents, Jeremy and Alice Ogbanje (Okwuekwu) Emecheta are Igbos and Buchi was brought up in their home town Ibusa in Delta State, a town about 200 miles to the west of Lagos. Between 1951 and 1954, Emecheta attended the Ladilak School, the Reagan Memorial Baptist School and the Methodist Girls Secondary School, all in Yaba. In 1960 she married Sylvester Onwordi. Their daughter Chiedu and son Ikechukwu were born in 1960 and 1961 respectively. Buchi Emecheta began work in Lagos at the embassy of the United States of America. In 1962, she emigrated to England with her children to join her husband who was studying in London. In the same year, her second son Chukwuemeka was born. Her second daughter Obiajulu was born in 1964 and her third daughter Chiago in 1966.

In 1966, Buchi Emecheta separated from her husband. The hardships of a Black single-mother bringing up five children in London in the 1960s are vividly depicted in her autobiographical novels In the Ditch (1972) and Second-Class Citizen (1974). Although critical of the discrimination she experienced English society, the two novels went some way towards establishing Emecheta as a writer. In 1974, she was awarded a Bachelor of Science degree in Sociology from the University of London, to be followed with a Master’s degree in Philosophy in 1976.

In 1975, following the popular success of Second-Class Citizen, Emecheta wrote two plays for television, A Kind of Marriage and Juju Landlord. In 1976, her first “Nigerian” novel The Bride Price was published. Emecheta’s second “Nigerian” novel The Slave Girl (1977) won her the New Statesman/Jock Campbell Award and the Sunrise Award for the Best Black Writer in the World and the following year a third “Nigerian” novel The Joys of Motherhood (1979) and two books for children, Titch the Cat and Nowhere to Play were published. These were followed by two more books for children, The Moonlight Bride (1980) and The Wrestling Match (1980).

In 1980, Buchi Emecheta returned to Nigeria to take up an appointment as Senior Research Fellow in the Department of English and Literary Studies at the University of Calabar. She returned to London the following year. In 1982, her novels Destination Biafra, which is set during the Biafran War, Naira Power, which deals with corruption in Nigeria, and Double Yoke, which reveals the predicament of Nigerian women, were published. In the same year, she was appointed to the British government’s Race and Immigration Commission and to the Arts Council of Great Britain. She also set up a publishing company, Ogwugwu Afor. In 1983, the autobiographical novel Adah’s Story and the futuristic novel The Rape of Shavi were published. In 1984, her eldest daughter Chiedu died.

England’s multi-cultural society came under her critical gaze in her tenth novel Gwendolen (1989). In this presentation of the young Black British generation, Gwendolen, a West Indian girl, goes out with a Greek boy and shows great courage, love and tenacity as she overcomes the cultural divisions which split the society and her own family. Gwendolen was published under the title The Family in the USA. Another novel Kehinde, which relates how a Nigerian woman living in England attempts unsuccessfully to reintegrate herself into Lagos society followed in 1996 and in 2000, the novel The New Tribe reveals how Christian kindness and magnanimity can be counter-productive in multi-racial societies.

Buchi Emecheta is a woman of two worlds, two cultures and several languages. Her move to London and adoption of English as her literary tongue have led to a conviction that multi-cultural, multi-lingual societies such as can be found in democracies like the United Kingdom are more conducive to free expression and equal rights than the tradition-bound cultures of the country of her birth. From her bi-cultural vantage point, she has successfully exploited her bi-cultural condition. Her writings both on English and Nigerian society have been widely acclaimed and her novel Kehinde (1994) demonstrates that there is still more room for creation in this complex area. However, whereas in works such as In the Ditch and Second-Class Citizen she has shown disenchantment with English society and in The Bride Price (1976), The Slave Girl (1977) and The Joys of Motherhood (1979) she has shown a deep affection for her society of birth, in Kehinde she portrays a woman who, like herself, has settled in London but who, when the need comes to settle once more in Nigerian society, finds it impossible to do so. By the time Buchi Emecheta came to write Kehinde she had been living in England for more than thirty years and was well-established in cultural and political circles in London. She was also the holder of a University of London degree in Sociology. Comparatively self-confident and much surer of her own position in English society, she writes Kehinde without the sense of guilt and betrayal over her ties with her family and Nigeria which typified her earlier narratives.

7.1.2 Kehinde (1994)

At one level, Kehinde is the story of one Nigerian woman’s journey to emancipation. A victim of circumstances from the time of her birth, Kehinde’s birthplace, Ibusa, is literally hidden from her consciousness until she is eleven years old, with the rented rooms of her Aunt Nnebogo in Lagos the only physical reality she is aware of. By the time she is told the story of her birth – that she was born one of twins – Kehinde is beyond adapting once again to rural Igbo tradition.

Her distancing from her culture is rooted in unusual biological conditions that result in one birth, and two deaths. Kehinde was born one of twin girls and at her birth both her mother and her twin sister Taiwo died – Kehinde, ‘the twin who follows behind’ and Taiwo ‘the one who preceeded me into the world.’ Occuring early on in the narrative, the passage which describes the close relationship between Kehinde and her twin sister Taiwo inside their mother’s womb – how they touched, kissed and communicated as they struggled together to survive in those cramped conditions – serves as the script for the entire novel.

In this epic metaphor, Kehinde’s journey out into the world is paralleled by her fight for emancipation as an adult woman. Nigerian tradition and what she perceives as betrayal by her husband and children almost stifle Kehinde before she acquires her full emancipation, womanhood and humanity. Just as the embryonic Kehinde and Taiwo kick and push themselves into the world, so women must kick and shove against the wall of male domination to become liberated. In a sense, Taiwo represents those women who do not push hard enough and who fail in the fight for liberation. As these women give up the struggle, their energy and spirit is taken over by other women who are nourished by them and gain sustenance from their existence sufficient to carry their memory on into the future. On the other hand, Kehinde is able to murmur to Taiwo, her long-deceased twin sister, in the closing paragraph of the novel: “Claiming my right does not make me less of a mother, not less of a woman. If anything it makes me more human.” (141)

With the generally-accepted claim that she had eaten her twin sister in their mother’s womb, the process of Kehinde’s social ostracism effectively begins before she is born. The distancing process is taken a step further when members of her family refuse to bring her up in their community and send her away to be brought up in Lagos by a compassionate aunt. Although her reintegration into the traditional Igbo community at Ibusa is attempted during her adolescence, educational demands as a convent school boarder prevent this from happening. Thus, Kehinde’s subsequent union with her fiancé Albert in London, may be perceived merely as the continuation of a trajectory which commenced in her mother’s womb. Only when Kehinde is thirty-five years old and the working mother of two living in London does Albert’s return to Nigeria and his decision “in his middle years, to become a polygamist” (128) cause Kehinde to deviate from her path.

Albert’s polygyny jeopardise her dignity as a woman and almost bring on her downfall as a human being. However, deep inside her consciousness she knows that life in Nigeria for her children and herself will not be happier than their lives as middle-class Londoners. Much of the novel focuses on this moment of crisis in her life. Her few months stay in Albert’s polygynous Lagos household forces her into taking difficult decisions and acting on them. With the money from her London friend Moriammo for her airfare and with the conviction that her two children are happy and do not depend on her for anything, she decides to grab her opportunity and return to her London home as an independent woman. In doing this, she is simply resuming the trajectory she embarked on at birth.

While clearly Kehinde’s life does not parallel Buchi Emecheta’s in many respects, there are similarities in the choices available to them, the kinds of decisions they are forced to make and the sense of fate that governs their decision-making. Up until the time Kehinde comes to London, she has no real power of decision over her own actions. She comes to London with the intention of marrying Albert, not of developing into a responsible, independent woman. Only when she is obliged to return to Nigeria does she understand that cohabitation with Albert as senior wife in a polygynous household does not suit her as a person. The lesson she learns is a bitter one; she is betrayed by her own husband and must forfeit the company and confidence of her own children. Nevertheless, Kehinde comes to understand that she has no alternative but to pay the price. Taking leave of her two children, Kehinde finally admits to them that she has to go back to England to preserve her own sanity; Kehinde knows that if she were to remain in a polygynous situation in Nigeria, she would go mad. Therefore, she has no other option but to return to London and try to pick up where she left off.

Buchi Emecheta herself is not driven to the same extremes in Nigeria, although her disillusionment with the country on her first and subsequent trips back are well documented. Buchi Emecheta reached a point of no return in London during the late 1960s and early 1970s when, as the head of a one-parent family with five children to raise, she took the decision to stay on in London and try to survive. In Kehinde, Buchi Emecheta’s own duality becomes concretised in Kehinde’s relationship with Taiwo, her twin, whose chi she also carries. Just as the five-year-old Kehinde empathises with the twins strapped to the torso of their Yoruba mother as she offers a praise-dance for them in the Lagos street market, so Buchi Emecheta and her own sub-conscience – her chi – empathise with her character Kehinde and her Taiwo. For the infant Kehinde, Taiwo and her own chi are equals, commanding the same amount of respect and authority within her conscience.

Both Kehinde and Buchi Emecheta experience distancing from their respective communities and families, and they conduct an on-going debate with their consciences, Kehinde with her Taiwo and Buchi Emecheta with her common sense. Both women have to do what they think is right for themselves and their children, but above all for themselves, since the children inevitably grow up and lead their own lives. The character of Kehinde, therefore, presents a model script for women wishing to achieve full independence and emancipation. The creed is: ‘Do what you think best, not what men tell you to do or what male-dominated society dictates.’

Dedicated to the Women of Pittsburgh USA, Buchi Emecheta’s Kehinde reveals its author looking increasingly for more privacy in her private life that she perceives as an essential ingredient of her independence and freedom. In Kehinde, Buchi Emecheta expresses her ambivalence towards Nigeria, the land of her birth, through the perceptions of her characters. For Kehinde’s daughter Bimpe, Nigeria is “great (...) I like, the clothes, the weather, the music.” (120); for Albert a place of “sunshine, freedom, easy friendship, warmth” (6) and a place where “people respect you” (16); whereas for Kehinde “It is a man’s world,” (94) a land of polygynous families and oppressed wives, like her sister, Ifeyinwa, noisy and chaotic, where “[b]eautiful wide roads, elegant individually designed houses, soaring flyovers” (67) are rendered deceptively ‘developed’ by “the smell of rotting rubbish coming from the open gutter” (68) which is suffocating and makes Kehinde want “to throw up.” (68)

In similar fashion, Buchi Emecheta is ambivalent about England, her adopted home. For Kehinde’s husband Albert, England is a “‘(...) [s]tupid country, where you need your wife’s money to make ends meet’” (15) and “‘a strange land, where you do things contrary to your culture’” (15); whereas for Bimpe and most of her Nigerian friends, “England is the gateway to Heaven,” (121). For Kehinde herself, it is a place where the natives have a “reticence about personal matters,” (133) where privacy is possible, where women can own houses in their own name with the full support of the legal system, where the relationship between husband and wife can be informal, where women can be promoted on the basis of their skills gained through in-service training and where women can obtain an abortion at will and have their fallopian tubes tied on request.

In line with their individualised perceptions of Nigeria and England, so the degree of adaptation to the immediate context of each character varies. For Kehinde, Albert undergoes a radical, though not unexpected transformation as he moves from England to Nigeria. In London, “he played to perfection the role of the Igbo family man.” (35) At his send-off party he runs around “mixing drinks, seeing to the music and accepting congratulations from friends.” (37) As the guests leave, Albert holds Kehinde’s hand “just like a western couple.” (40) As soon as she arrives in Lagos, however, on seeing Albert dressed “in flowing white lace agbada [voluminous robe, traditional to Yoruba areas] and matching skull cap,” (66) Kehinde realises that he is “thoroughly at home” in Nigeria (66) and that “in the last two years he had acquired a new layer of self-control and detachment.” (67)

However, Kehinde’s own adaptation to life in Nigeria is less felicitous. After a few months in Lagos, in a letter to Moriammo, Kehinde complains that, “Albert has humiliated me, and the worst is, that I have to depend on him financially” (94) and she is forced to admit that the Albert she knew in London is different from the polygynist now resident in Nigeria.

Kehinde’s attitude towards her two children, Joshua and Bimpe, also undergoes a radical transformation. At the beginning of the novel, she pampers her children with their favourite English dish – some baked beans (...) on toast with a little salad of lettuce and tomatoes. (2) Yet, by the end of the novel, when he makes a claim for rights to his parent’s house, Joshua soon discovers that his mother “was behaving very unlike the mother who had brought him up. It seemed to him that Kehinde was not only depriving him of his rights, but ducking her responsibilities as a wife and mother. (139)

By this time, Kehinde does not perceive her responsibilities towards her now adult children in the same way. She tells Joshua: “‘My whole life was wound around your needs, but now you’re a grown man! Mothers are people too, you know.’” (139) When Joshua asks her why his father does not return to live with them in London, Kehinde is astounded at Joshua’s chauvinistic audacity and asks him: “‘Do we older people always have to justify our behaviour to you, simply because you're young?’” (139) In contrast to the doting mother of teenage children, Kehinde’s subsequent experience of life has brought her to the point where she, unlike most other Igbo women who “liked taking on the whole family’s burden, so that they would be needed,” (141) is now “[e]njoying shedding her duties.” (141)

To a degree, then, the purpose of Kehinde is to reveal and justify her privately-taken decisions publically. The author’s ironic twist lies in the fact that, whereas from Nigeria Kehinde confesses to Moriammo that she does not want to be where she is and prefers to be in London for which she needs the airfare, Buchi Emecheta uses her novel Kehinde and her protagonist, Kehinde to confess that she prefers to stay in London and does not want to live in Nigeria. Just as Kehinde abandons her children to their fates in Lagos so that she might return to London, so Buchi Emecheta abandons her protagonist to emotional suffering in Lagos in order to justify her own permanent residence in London. In short, as part of her confessional strategy, Buchi Emecheta sends Kehinde to Lagos to justify her own remaining in London. Furthermore, the bottom line of the justifications of both Kehinde and Buchi Emecheta for their decisions and actions is the same, namely, Nigerian men are male chauvinists. For this, Buchi Emecheta wants her ‘sin’ of not returning to Nigeria absolved. She wants the guilt she feels assuaged.

Kehinde, and with her Buchi Emecheta, have started to see their worlds ‘through English eyes’ and ‘with English hearts.’ Is it their extended brush with English society which has given the capacity to both Buchi Emecheta and her protagonist to be ambivalent? While Moriammo had advised her that while in Lagos she was to “[j]ust sit at home and play the white been-to madam,” (98) from her English experience Kehinde knows that that script for her is not the only one possible and that, by adopting an ‘English’ attitude to the situation, she can act differently.

7.2 Sipho Sepamla. Rainbow Journey (1996)

Sipho Sepamla has been one of the principle contributors to the Black South African discourse. A resident of Wattville, a township near Johannesburg, Sipho Sepamla, like most Black South Africans, had no alternative but to stay on in his country and face the oppression as best he could. Poet, playwright and novelist, Sipho Sepamla has striven through his art and creative skills to instil pride and enthusiasm in his fellow townspeople. Writing for a Black South African readership, Sepamla’s works have been instrumental in the survival of the Black discourse.

Sepamla himself courageously broached the dilemmas facing Black informers, Black policemen, Black ‘freedom fighters,’ Black women, Black parents and their children. His magnanimity and compassion lend his work a sense of responsibility and careful thought. These factors rendered Sepamla a frank and trustworthy contributor to the Black South African literary discourse under apartheid, attributes which he has carried forward into the post-apartheid era.

7.2.1 Sipho Sepamla (1932-)

Sipho Sidney Sepamla was born in 1932 in the West Rand Consolidated Mines near Krugersdorp, a mining and industrial centre in the Transvaal, now Gauteng, situated due west of Johannesburg on the Witwatersrand. At the age of eleven, he moved to Johannesburg from Randfontein and went to Orlando High School. During this time, he lived with an uncle in Pimville, a shanty town characterised by its violence. The young Sepamla then moved to the Cape to study for his Junior Certificate, and later he moved back to the Transvaal intending to take his Matriculation examination. A lack of money, however, prevented him from continuing his studies and he was forced to find work, being employed in an ice-cream factory and as an assistant postman at Christmas time.

During this period, Sepamla came into contact with members of the Pan Africanist Congress but, in spite of efforts made by acquaintances such as Mtshali and Nelson Maghone, one of the PAC founder members, Sepamla, although sympathetic, refused to join the organisation, declaring himself to be essentially apolitical. At this time, too, Sepamla inherited some money that he used to return to his school studies. After completing his secondary education, he went on to do the first year of a BA degree course and to complete two years at Pretoria Normal College and obtain a teaching diploma. In 1957, he began teaching English at Orlando High School and later he lived and taught in Wattville township near Benoni.

Sepamla first began to write short stories when he was in his late teens. These were never published. His first published piece was the poem “To Whom It May Concern” which appeared in the May 1972 issue of Playboy magazine; Nadine Gordimer had sent in Sepamla’s work along with poems from four other Black South African poets, Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali, Mongane Wally Serote, Joyce Sikhakhane and Stanley Motjuwadi. Later, in 1968, inspired to start writing after seeing the now-famous production of Tod Matshikisa’s African jazz opera King Kong and after reading Alan Paton’s short story “Sponono” (1961) and his novel Cry, the Beloved Country (1948), Sepamla turned to writing poetry. In 1972, he also wrote a short play based on the 1952 Defiance Campaign which was never produced.

It was as a poet, however, that Sipho Sepamla became known in the first instance. The early 1970s, the time when Sepamla was writing his first collection of poems, saw the popularisation amongst Black South African youth of the tenets of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) which were championed in particular by Steve Biko. The humanistic ideology of Black Consciousness influenced Sepamla’s creativity. In 1975, the publication of his anthology Hurry Up to It!, which includes “To Whom It May Concern” and for which he shared the1976 Pringle Award, was followed in June 1976 by a second collection The Blues is You in Me. In the third collection The Soweto I Love (1977), Sepamla reveals his anger and saddness at the tragic events of the Soweto schoolchildren’s uprising of June 1976, at the centre of which had been Orlando High School.

Ironically, The Soweto I Love, which was published simultaneously in London and Cape Town in June 1977, was the first work by Sepamla to be published overseas and the first of his writings to be banned in his own country. The Soweto I Love was banned on 19th. October 1977, the date on which the Black Consciousness Movement was also banned.

In the early 1970s, Sepamla gave up his job in an attempt to make a living from his writing. In 1973, he wrote a play called Cry Yesterday’s Fall that was staged in Soweto. In the same year, he began writing his first novel The Root is One (1979) which was eventually published both in South Africa and Britain in January 1979. In 1975, Sepamla took over the editorship of The Classic, the literary magazine founded by Nat Nakasa and Nimrod Nkele, renaming it New Classic. At the same time he edited S’ketsh, a magazine specialising in Black theatre. Apart from his work as a creative writer and editor, Sepamla has striven to make available to an ever-widening audience the creative works of Black South Africans. By organising poetry-readings, conferences and workshops in townships in 1975 and 1976, Sepamla has generated growth in interest in creative writing and communication among Black writers.

While working as a personnel officer, Sepamla began to become involved with the Federated Union of Black Arts (FUBA), and his appointment as full-time director of the Federation enabled him to give up his job. In 1980, after the German government had put pressure on the South African authorities, he attended the 1980 Frankfurt Book Fair, travelling on to London where he toured cultural centres. In the same year, his second novel A Ride on the Whirlwind (1981) was published by Ad Donker, Johannesburg, and in 1981, he took up a fellowship of the Iowa University Writers’ Program. His fourth collection of poems Children of the Earth (1983) was also published by Ad Donker.

Following in the steps of Oswald Mtshali whose Sounds of a Cowhide Drum (1971) enjoyed great popular success and together with Mongane Serote, Mafika Gwala, Njabulo Ndebele and James Matthews, Sepamla is a poet of the urban life-experience. He focuses on the daily experiences of the Black townspeople – the crowded trains, getting up long before sunrise to get to work, the noise of bulldozers destroying homes and police harassment. Yet Sepamla’s tone is always measured and moderate, the least strident of all the ‘township poets.’ In respect of his language, commentators have said that Sepamla’s use of rhythm has made English an African language, but regarding content, Sepamla found the need to protest against apartheid an unbearably limiting constraint. In spite of this, critics have also found that Sepamla’s satire, humour and even optimism help him to transcend conditions under apartheid and speak about more universal values.

Sipho Sepamla admits that, for him, writing novels is more demanding than writing poetry. Sepamla is above all an honest writer, never trying to write on something beyond his own experience. Yet, where he gains in objectivity and honesty, during the apartheid era he could only erode his reputation as a Black South African writer of firm commitment and protest, at a time when a person was either pro- or anti-apartheid and all middle-ground was totally untenable in the view of the Black masses.

For this reason, Sepamla’s second novel, A Ride on the Whirlwind (1976) demonstrates an ambivalence of attitude towards Black methods of dealing with injustice. In A Ride on the Whirlwind, as in The Root is One, he demonstrates that brute violence provides no solution and shows that Black military strategies are doomed to failure owing to the overwhelming might of the armed forces of the apartheid state. This is a truth that, however unpalatable at the time, Sepamla was brave enough to face up to. Ironically, both novels were banned in South Africa.

In his third novel Third Generation (1986), Sepamla focuses on the generation gap in Black South African township families in the aftermath of the Soweto schoolchildren’s uprising of 1976. Sepamla identifies a new and revolutionary awareness amongst young Black South Africans in their confrontation with apartheid, children who begin to perceive themselves as the masses in the fight for freedom. In a more sombre and resigned tone, Sepamla concedes that the only alternative left for the new, younger generation of committed resistance workers who were not detained or already in exile was to acquire military training abroad. Gone is the irony of A Ride on the Whirlwind; Third Generation offered little hope in an increasingly desperate situation.

Hopelessness also permeates the plot of Sepamla’s fourth novel A Scattered Survival (1989) that deals explicitely with the generation gap and the problems facing parents and their children as they grow older. Watching out from under the vines of his small backyard, Rre-Moleko realises too late that his children are controlling him and his companion, MaDlamini. Sepamla’s presentation is low key, sympathetic and humanistic. Black parents were oppressed, both by apartheid and their inability to provide for their children. Weak parental figures became the objects of their own children’s condemnation and rejection. However, Sepamla does not leave his reflections on the generation gap without providing some form of hope for the future. In his characterisation of Galiboy, Sepamla sketches a rôle-model which many young Black South Africans may readily have identified with – a young man possessing the independence and self-assurance of a post-colonial, an individual who lives within apartheid but who has carved out a life-style which enables him to disregard its iniquities.

Third Generation (1986) and A Scattered Survival (1989) were written before the end of apartheid in South Africa. By 1996, when Sepamla’s fifth novel Rainbow Journey was published, the apartheid aparatus had been dismantled and Sepamla was in a unique position to write about life on the ground for Black South Africans after apartheid.

7.2.2 Rainbow Journey (1996)

Life for post-apartheid South Africans has been turned inside out; they are having to dance to a new tune, to play a new ball-game. With free access to urban sprawls, country people move into cities while city people flee into the quiet of the countryside to escape rising crime rates. In Sipho Sepamla’s Rainbow Journey (1996), Beauty Radebe leaves Ditapoleng, her home village, to go to Soweto where she liberates herself and becomes a successful businesswoman. However, what Beauty, a Blackwoman transculturalising from Ditapoleng to Soweto is not prepared for is the effect of transculturalism on her sexuality.

The narrative line of the work is framed within a journey which takes the central character from one cultural environment to another. In Rainbow Journey, Beauty transculturalises from the Ciskei village of Ditapoleng to the Soweto townships. In sociological terms, Beauty moves from rural village to urban sprawl; in political terms, Beauty moves from the apartheid-engendered poverty of the homelands towards Black empowerment in the post-apartheid cities of South Africa. Beauty’s journey takes place against the political backdrop of post-aparthied society in which decreasing White power is giving way to increasing Black empowerment in an all-race democratic South Africa.

Were it not for the last two chapters, Sipho Sepamla’s Rainbow Journey would be unremarkable. Although published in 1996 at the outset of the post-apartheid period, Rainbow Journey is set in apartheid South Africa and at one level is the re-telling of the familiar apartheid tale of the Black youth who escapes the miseries of rural life to seek happiness in the bright lights of the city. But Sepamla’s story is different; this time the youth is a young woman and, rather than meet with failure, she meets with success. Beauty’s journey from her rural Ciskei home to the Soweto townships, her involvement in the murder of her wealthy and influential sugar daddy Thapelo Konopi, and the mystery and suspense surrounding motive and assassin identification is the standard fare of Black South African “pulp fiction.” However, what gives Rainbow Journey its discursive significance is the strong dynamic, positive, entrepreneurial spirit which imbues its last two chapters. It is as if the novel had been conceived and written for the most part during the apartheid period and completed during the early months of the post-apartheid period. In this sense, it is a novel which straddles two radically-opposed eras and the transition shows through the narrative.

Sepamla dedicates Rainbow Journey “to all women, especially those who have had to overcome abject adversity.” There is no doubt that the original authorial intention is to narrate how a young Black South African countrywoman moves to an urban environment and survives a whole catalogue of iniquities and setbacks. In general, the women in Rainbow Journey come off well, much better than the men who are either killed or end up besotted in the local shebeen. By the end of the novel, Beauty is reconciled with MaMoeketsi, her mother-in-law, even though the latter lays some of the blame for her son’s murder while in police detention at the feet of her daughter-in-law and even Sis Eunice, Konopi’s wife, who paid for her husband’s assassination in order to avenge herself of her husband’s philandering with Beauty, is acquitted, to the generalised approval of the Soweto townswomen.

Yet the narrative drive of the last two chapters appears to stem not from any defence of feminism, but from a new-found freedom; from Sepamla’s own realisation that the recent turn of events in South Africa – the advent of the new all-race democracy – enables Beauty to caste off the shackles of her recent past – shackles which she had allowed her sexuality to place on her – to make a clean break and to reinvent herself in such a way that she does not need to depend on her sexuality for survival.

Beauty’s change of fortune is extreme, her trajectory meteoric. She moves from the poverty of her Ciskei home to become the well-known manufacturer of the “Afro-dress.” To Beauty, “It seemed she had walked the whole trip: from the rugged mountains of the Eastern Cape to the tall glassy buildings of Jo’burg. The rainbow journey had been worthwhile.” (164) Sepamla describes Beauty’s transculturalisation:

Gone was the young girl who wore petticoats made of cotton bags of mealie-meal. She spoke eloquent English, never mind the heavy accent here and there. Her Afro-dresses became progressively outrageous; she wore earrings, bangles, rings, outlandish necklaces; sometimes her waistbelts looked more like prison chains than ornaments for the body and her bead-brimmed hats were stylish … [S]he drove top of the range cars usually associated with wealthy businessmen. (164-165)

Moreover, the young countrywoman who had been raped by Dusty, the co-driver of the lorry that had brought her from Bloemfontein to Johannesburg, has succeeded in reconstructing her self-esteem:

… she [Beauty] soared like a bird in the sky. She was so successful materially that nothing struck terror in her heart: she could look at her past without flinching from it. She was confident of herself. What she didn’t have she would soon get because she had the means to attain anything money could buy. And a home she could call her own was at that moment uppermost in her mind. (171)

And all this is buoyed up by MaJoseph’s consumer philosophy:

“The world is like a bottomless pit … It takes in everything as if never satisfied with what is offered. There are people out there waiting for new ways, new ideas. They are never saturated with something new: they will take what you offer and ask for more. Prepare to go big in your work, my child.” (163)

In this way, Seplama transforms Beauty, the Ciskei countrywoman who created isishweshwe skirts and dresses for Soweto’s womenfolk, of “brown cloth spotted with yellow leaves” (162) and of “green with dark blue flowers blooming all over,” (162) into a model new South African female entrepreneur.

During the apartheid era, the textualisation of sexualities was a feature common to a large number of literary contributions to the apartheid discourse by South African writers. White South African writers in particular appeared not to hesitate before focusing on the sexualities of White and Black South Africans and, in so doing, provided an unintentional base for the perpetration of White supremacy in South Africa. As Ronald Hyam has said, “Sex is at the very heart of racism. … Sexual fears are obviously capable of manipulation for political ends, such as the maintenance of white control.” (Hyam 203-204) Black South African writers, on the other hand, have generally kept representations of sexuality well out of the spotlight. Sepamla’s presentation of Beauty Radabe’s sexuality in Rainbow Journey, therefore, constitutes a departure from the conventional. Beauty’s sexuality is a catalyst of the narrative. As a trainee nurse at Ditapoleng, she had had a brief relationship with Justice Moeketsi,

She had not expected much from a boy from Soweto, known for jive and Kwela dances. But he swept her off her feet with his grace and panther-like movements on the floor... Everyone marvelled as they glided across the floor. Ah, Justice.

She recalled their first night of passion. She had known men before, but Justice opened her eyes to all parts of the body.” (111)

Then later, once married to Justice, Beauty is forced to win the favours of Thapelo Konopi, a wealthy businessman, in order to get a Soweto residence permit and live legally with her husband in Soweto. Beauty prepares herself carefully for her meeting with Konopi:

If as it was said he had a way with young women, then he was going to meet one he couldn’t touch because he would be down, smitten by her voluptuousness.

That last look in the mirror brought a smile to her face. She looked at herself in the same way a sculptor admired his own work of art. She turned left, pushed a leg forward, turned right, did likewise, stood back, went forward, bit her lower lip, touched it with a light finger and then smiled to herself. She was truly a piece of art. (80-81)

As Beauty grows increasingly aware of the power of her sexuality, so Justice is forced to realise his own weakness; as Justice complains bitterly about how he is “treated like a child” and is tired of “being lectured on how to live with [his] wife,” (105) Konopi is doing things for Beauty “which she never dreamt would be part of her life.”

However, Beauty’s relationship with Konopi leads to his murder, carried out on the instructions of Sis Eunice, his wife, and to the death in detention of Justice, Beauty’s husband. Beauty regrets the death of Konopi more than that of Justice. Konopi had “looked after her, gave her a confidence in herself [and] had made her dreams come true,” (112) whereas Beauty’s loss of innocence causes her to realise that “life with Justice had been like a drifter’s because they did not have a place of their own to call home.” (172) In her widowhood, this realisation provides grounds enough for Beauty to turn all her energies and her charms towards “building the house of her dreams … [and] modelling hers on Konopi’s … [which s]he had seen on the day of his burial.” (171)

The novel is about the survival of men and women in post-apartheid South Africa. Beauty is an entrepreneur, a pragmatist, a realist, a capitalist, a consumer and resigned to the fact that relationships with men should be based on their usefulness. Beauty has used Konopi and has learned to be entirely self-sufficient and independent. By the end of Rainbow Journey, Sepamla leaves Beauty in an “Afro-dress [which] was green with rectangular figures in black, yellow and white. It matched her turban-like doek resembling a high-roofed hut. Beauty was so smart and elegant no-one could miss her in a crowd.” (167) As for the men, at his funeral, Justice Moeketsi is revered as a popular hero, an example of the new Soweto man, an icon, “[epitomizing] the youth of Soweto … who had led his life with a bang and now his death reverberated throughout the ghetto and the city.” (133)

In short, Rainbow Journey constitutes an important contribution to the South African literary discourse and Seplama’s focus on female sexuality in his novel signifies a subliminal convergence with what J.M. Coetzee has termed “White writing,”(See Coetzee 1988) hinting at the future shape of all-race discourse parameters in post-apartheid South African literature. The transculturalisation of Beauty Radebe has an aesthetic significance and is not simply cultural.

7.3 J.M. Coetzee. Disgrace (1999)

7.3.1 J.M. Coetzee (1940-)

John Maxwell Coetzee was born on the 9th. February 1940 in Cape Town to Zacharias and Vera Wehmeyer Coetzee. His father was the son of a Karoo sheep farmer and practised as an attorney in the Karoo. Although the son of a Protestant family, Coetzee went to St. Joseph’s College, Rondebosch, Cape Town, a Roman Catholic school. He married Philippa Jubber in 1953, their children Nicolas and Gisela being born in 1955 and 1968 respectively.

In 1956, he entered the University of Cape Town (UCT), graduating in 1960 with a Bachelor of Arts (Hons.) degree in English and the following year with a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) degree in Mathematics. From 1962 to 1965, Coetzee worked as a computer programmer in London, Cambridge and Aldemaston in England. In 1965, Coetzee went as a Fulbright scholar to the USA, remaining there as a teaching assistant and fellow at the University of Texas at Austin where, in 1969, he gained a PhD with a thesis on Samuel Beckett.

From 1970 to 1971, Coetzee lectured at the State University of New York at Buffalo (SUNY) but, in 1972, lacking permission to stay in the USA any longer, he returned to South Africa where he lectured in the Department of English at the University of Cape Town, later becoming Arderne Professor of English Language and Literature.

Coetzee began writing his first novel Dusklands while at Buffalo, completing it on his return to South Africa. Dusklands, a post-modern novel that raises ethical questions about colonialism, was published by Ravan Press (Johannesburg) in 1974 and was awarded the Mofolo-Plomer prize.

Since the publication of Dusklands (1974), other novels have followed at regular intervals. In 1977, Coetzee’s second novel In the Heart of the Country, a psycho-analytical study of female loneliness and interracial desire in a colonial context, was published in London and in New York with the title From the Heart of the Country. The novel was awarded the CNA (Central News Agency) prize in South Africa and, in 1984, was filmed with the title Dust. In 1980, Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians was published in London. This novel, an extended metaphor for the human predicament in apartheid South Africa, was awarded the Geoffrey Faber prize, the James Tait Black Memorial prize and the CNA prize.

Coetzee’s first full-length novel Life and Times of Michael K was published in London in 1983. Futuristic in its vision, Coetzee’s minimalist allegory foresees the apocalyptic end to apartheid. Against the backdrop of a civil race war, Michael K, a Black man from the lowest echelon of South African society, struggles against all odds to survive and succeeds. The novel won the Booker-McConnell prize (UK) and the CNA prize. Life and Times of Michael K was followed by Coetzee’s post-modern literary exercise in which he returns to Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe story. Foe (1986) is an experimental novel in which post-modern, post-colonial and feminist discourses overlap in an attempt to extract the victim’s version of the events as narrated by Defoe in which Man Friday was unable to speak.

In 1988, Coetzee’s collection of essays on South Africa as a European construct entitled White Writing. On the Culture of Letters in South Africa was published in the USA and the UK. Other commentaries on cultural and literary topics have followed, notably Doubling the Point: Essays and Interviews (1992), Giving Offense: Essays on Censorship (1996) and Stranger Shores: Essays 1986-1999 (2001).

With the publication of Age of Iron in 1990, Coetzee returns to the topic of apartheid South Africa, but this time in a realist mode. The novel narrates the way in which Elizabeth Curran, a White woman dying of cancer, tries to establish a relationship with the only person left to relate to her, a Black tramp. Elizabeth realises too late that apartheid has denied her the greatest of all human gifts, friendship. Age of Iron, which won the Sunday Express Book of the Year Award (UK), was followed in 1994 by The Master of Petersburg, a post-modern construction of Dostoevsky’s return to St. Petersburg during the creation of his novel, The Devils.

In 1997, Coetzee’s Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life was published. This autobiographcal work describes the home background and narrates the events which influenced the young Coetzee as he was growing up in a small western Cape Province town in the 1940s and 1950s. Then, in 1999, his eighth novel Disgrace was published and for the second time he was awarded the Booker-McConnell prize. Disgrace is set firmly within post-apartheid South Africa and is eminently realist in its approach. In the same year, another novel The Lives of Animals (1999) appeared, in which a famous novelist Elizabeth Costello is invited to lecture in the USA on animal rights. In 2002, Youth was published. Coetzee’s tenth novel tells of a young man’s attempt to escape apartheid South Africa and relocate himself in London only to find that he is drained of his creativity. In the same year, Coetzee emigrated to Australia.

7.3.2 Disgrace (1999)

J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace is a post-modern discursive text and a major contribution to the post-apartheid South African literary discourse. The novel, set in the post-apartheid period, is a construct, like a fable or a parable, and its meaning is centered on the way White, English-speaking South Africans react to the new situation brought about by the end of the White hegemony known as apartheid. With the fall of apartheid and the all-race elections in 1994, the world of the White South Africans has been turned inside out. Political and social roles have been reversed. Black South Africans have been empowered by the change in the status quo and White South Africans have been correspondingly disempowered. In Disgrace, Coetzee investigates the consequences of White South African disempowerment on the individual.

The revelation of a post-apartheid affair with his student Melanie Isaacs, a Coloured girl from George, causes the 52-year-old, twice-divorced Professor of Romantics David Lurie to be summoned before a university disciplinary board. His unwillingness to control his sexual impulses launches him on a downward trajectory causing him to forfeit his post at Cape Town’s Technical University.

In order to get away from Cape Town for a while, he goes to stay with Lucy, his daughter by his first wife Rosalind, on her farm at Salem, a hamlet near Grahamstown. However, Lurie’s affair with Melanie in Cape Town does not prepare him for what awaits him in Eastern Cape. Lurie and Lucy are attacked by three Black men on her farm, Lucy is left pregnant and Lurie suspects that the three men are related in some way to Petrus, Lucy’s Black farmhand. Yet, when Petrus proposes to him that Lucy become another of his wives, Lurie is shocked to hear his daughter accept. Lucy believes that in the new South Africa she has no option but to start afresh and to Lurie’s disbelief, in her determination not to leave the area, Lucy agrees to become one of Petrus’s wives so that he can protect her. She also agrees to hand the property over to him, on the sole condition that she can remain in the house. Lurie is powerless to prevent what he considers a humiliation and total loss of dignity. Moreover, Lurie’s masculinity has lost all its power, even to be of help to his own daughter. He has been effectively emasculated by the changed circumstances and the only gleam of light in Coetzee’s plunge down the tunnel of White despair is that Lucy, the pragmatist, has understood this fact. An expectant grandfather, he has no option but to doss down in Grahamstown, burn dead dogs to make ends meet, and wait for the new addition to Petrus’s extended family.

Professor David Lurie’s quasi-tragic fall from grace is Coetzee’s symbolisation of White disempowerment in post-apartheid South Africa. With Lurie’s sexuality as catalyst, Coetzee systematically deconstructs his protagonist, leading him from the weekly “oasis of luxe et volupté” with the tall and slim Soraya who has “a honey-brown body … long black hair and dark, liquid eyes” (1) in Cape Town to wild love-making sessions with Bev Shaw, the married lady who puts the dogs down, on the floor of Grahamstown’s animal clinic. Even a brief return visit to Cape Town cannot restore any of Lurie’s lost dignity as he resigns himself to spending the rest of his days incinerating animal corpses in Grahamstown.

In one sense, Disgrace works as an allegory. It is a metaphor. By focusing on the sexualities of David Lurie and Lucy, his daughter, Coetzee provides an insight into the dilemma – the angst – of all White South Africans. He deconstructs the masculinity of David Lurie to reveal the disempowerment of the White South African male and he makes Lucy’s femininity sufficiently flexible to enable her to adapt to the new status quo.

Coetzee’s choice of masculine and feminine sexualities as the main metaphor for the fall of White domination – White supremacy – is appropriate. Sexuality, especially masculinity, is closely associated with colonial power. The coloniser’s justification for oppression of the colonised is frequently articulated in racially sexual terms. The label “Immorality Act” has obvious sexual overtones and referents. Rape and sexual abuse are the standard ingredients of inter-ethnic violence and warfare. The European colonisation of Africa has been termed the “rape” of Africa. At root, apartheid was the institutionalised domination of White South African masculinity over Black South African masculinity. Under apartheid, Black men were “emasculated” in the workplace and, as a consequence, in their own homes. Black men had no rights and had to live and work where they were ordered. In short, most Black men were totally disempowered under apartheid. In such a system, Black women became virtually invisible and were reduced to giving as much support as they could to their oppressed menfolk. A sub-text of Disgrace, therefore, is the White South African “rape” of Black South Africans. At this level, the apparent “rape” of Lucy by at least one of the three Black men during an attack on her farm is a metaphorical inversion of this sub-text.

Yet Lucy never states that she has in fact been raped by one of the Black men. Moreover, Lucy refuses to abort the child who is the result of this “rape.” This is the clearest evidence of Lucy’s accommodation with the new status quo, a tacit acceptance of the wrongness of White on Black oppression in the past and a decision to adapt to the new South African order instead of “kicking against the pricks,” that is, rebelling against a fait accompli. Both “rapist” – as a White South African – and rape victim, Lucy’s decision to have a Black man’s child is a confession of guilt and an assuagement of that guilt at the same time. Moreover, aware of her vulnerability in the new circumstances, she agrees to become another of Petrus’s wives on the understanding that the Black farmhand will protect her and her farm.

Although there is an element of tragedy in David Lurie’s decline, Coetzee’s novel is realist, not confessional. David Lurie’s sexuality is the catalyst of his fall from grace and the seed of his progressive disempowerment, not only as a man but also as a White South African. Coetzee’s deconstruction of David Lurie is systematic and complete, with no holds barred. Even Lurie’s efforts to complete Byron in Italy, an opera he is writing based on the relationship between Lord Byron and Teresa Guiccioli, his attempt to reconstruct European cultural aesthetics, fail. The author reduces his creation by means of a systematic process of deconstruction, with a subliminal warning for any White South African man, namely, he who is not prepared to adapt to the new situation is doomed to failure and total disempowerment or, as President P.W. Botha more bluntly put it, “Adapt or die.” Coetzee’s message seems to be that, in his view, the only way forward for all White South Africans is to do what Lucy has decided to do, accept the situation as it is and try to make the best of it. The only alternative is to leave.














Literature in English from Independent Africa








Chapter 8 – Introduction to Literature in English from Independent Africa


Themes in non-colonial literature from Africa

Spiritual/real world:

Amadi’s The Concubine

The women writers focus on the differing perceptions of relationships between men and women, especilly in regard to the marriage institution.

Bessie Head’s Sello and Dan represent physical and romantic love.

The Bride Price is makes a comparison between marriage based on the western concept of romantic love and the traditional Igbo perception of marriage as a transactional arrangement between families.


In fact, Buchi Emecheta wrote the first manuscript of The Bride Price in 1964, two years after her arrival in England. Buchi Emecheta told Olga Kenyon that the first book she began writing, that is to say, the first version of The Bride Price, was a “happy-ever-after romantic story.” (Olga Kenyon, manuscript of “Alice Walker and Buchi Emecheta Rewrite the Myth of Motherhood” in Comparative Literature [publication forthcoming].) In the article Olga Kenyon also writes that Buchi Emecheta began writing in the “European form of the romance,” like Bessie Head with Maru. She adds: “Falling in love is not central to African story-telling and ill fits their [Buchi Emecheta and Bessie Head’s] aims.” In another interview Buchi Emecheta told Olga Kenyon: “I put in everything which I felt was lacking in my own life.” (Olga Kenyon. The Writer’s Imagination. 45) Katherine Frank in “The Death of the Slave Girl: African Womanhood in the Novels of Buchi Emecheta,” also writes about one of the unique features of The Bride Price is “the fact that it is a romantic love story in the Romeo and Juliet pattern of star-crossed lovers. Romantic love is the most ubiquitous theme of the Western novel, but it is a comparatively rare concern in African fiction.” (World Literature Written in English. Vol. 21. 3. Autumn, 1982: 484.) As Tom, the American Peace Corps volunteer, comments on Batswana culture in Bessie Head’s A Question of Power, “[t]his is one of the most unobscene societies in the world. Men just sleep with women, and that’s all there is to it.” (161)



Chapter 9 – Custom and Tradition in Independent Africa

Some writers from Africa have focused in particular on the impact of modernity and globalisation on the traditions and customs of African society. The gaining of independence has brought with a revisitation, at times nostalgic, of social institutions and behaviour in pre-colonial times and even a philosophical desire to resuscitate pre-colonial mores and rituals. The writers presented in this chapter, however, are aware that any return to past conditions is entirely unrealistic and cannot occur. Instead they reveal how African men and women draw a compromise between the dogmas and dictates of their elders and the demands and changes forced on them by the modern, post-independent world. In particular, the authors here focus on the marriage institution and the problematics of childbearing and child upbringing. The modern concept of romantic love has distorted the traditional habit of arranged marriages; the idea that two people marry in order to create children who will bring wealth and power to the extended family has been replaced by the notion of two people deciding to marry on the basis of their love for each other. The materialistic function f the marriage institution that is based on the interests of the extended family is being gradually replaced by the belief, frequently misguided, that romantic love will hold a nuclear family together for the duration of the spouses’ lifetimes.

The interface between traditional African marriage and modern, Western marriage is complex and intricate, with limitless variation. These variations are the subject of much of the literatures of Africa, but it is noteworthy that writers from Igbland in Eastern Nigeria have written extensively on the subject, perhaps because the pre-colonial traditions have remained deeply ingrained to this day in Igboland and also because the area, thanks to its historical trading practices, is exposed to extensive cultural difusion. Igbo women writers in particular, like Flora Nwapa and Buchi Emecheta, have succeeded in presenting traditional Igbo myths, beliefs and stories using European creative forms and techniques, so that the collective difficulties and personal dilemmas involved in integrating African tradition with modernity have come to the attention of a global readership.

9.1 Nuruddin Farah. From a Crooked Rib (1970)

9.1.1 Nuruddin Farah. (1945-)

Nuruddin Farah was born in Baidoa, the fourth son in a family of ten, in Italian Somaliland that, at the time of his birth in 1945, was under British control, having been retaken from the Italians in 1941. Britain administered the area until 1950 when Italian Somaliland became a United Nations Trust territory under Italian administration and in 1960 Italian Somaliland and the former British Somaliland were united to form the independent Republic of Somalia.

Nuruddin Farah grew up in Kallafo in the Ogaden, an arid region of eastern Ethiopa populated with ethnic-Somali nomadic pastoralists that was under British administration from 1941 until 1948. During the colonial period, communication in Somali was exclusively oral, the written form of the language scarcely ever used, so that Nuruddin Farah, while speaking Somali at home, learned Amharic, Italian, Arabic and English at school. His mother was an oral poet and from an early age he heard the works of the great Somali poets of the Ogaden such as the warrior poet Sayyid Mohamed Abdulle Hassan and fables of legendary figures such as Sultan Wiil Waal, the ruler of Jigjigga, references to whom are made in his novel Close Sesame (1983).

Nuruddin Farah began his education in the Ogaden region and went on to the Institutio Magistrate in Mogadiscio, capital of the Somali Republic to complete his secondary education. He studied in both English and Italian. After leaving school and working at the Ministry of Education for a few years, he left to go and study in India. In 1966 he began reading for a degree in literature and philosophy at the Punjab University of Chandigarh in India, obtaining his BA degree in 1970. While at university in India, from 19th. March to 15th. April 1968, he wrote his first novel From a Crooked Rib, published by Heinemann Educational Books in their African Writers Series in 1970.

Nuruddin Farah married an Indian woman and from 1970 until 1974 taught at a secondary school in Mogadiscio. In 1974 he moved to England where he began studies at the University of Essex. In 1976, A Naked Needle was published. This second novel, set in Mogadiscio during the period 1969 to 1972, is revolutionary in spirit, depicting the terror in the aftermath of Major General Maxamed Siyaad Barré’s Soviet-backed coup. Unsurprisingly, the dictatorship took offence at A Naked Needle and Nuruddin Farah faced imprisonment should he return to Somalia. For this reason, after two years in England, Nuruddin Farah found himself in exile. He went to the Italian metropolis, living in Rome from 1976 until 1979, and from 1980 onwards he has held lecturing posts in universities in Africa, Europe and North America.

Sweet and Sour Milk, his third novel and the first of the trilogy Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship was published by Allison and Busby in 1979. The following year the novel was also published by Heinemann in their African Writers Series and won the English Speaking Union Award of 1980. The plot of the novel takes the violent death of a man during the 1970s as its point of departure. Loyaan, the man’s twin brother, tries to discover the reasons for the killing and, while his quest reveals the tyranny and repression of the political context, there is a surreal inability to explain the mystery, due partly to the use of oral communication by the state security services,

The Security Services in this country recruit their main corps from illiterates, men and women who belong to an oral tradition, and who neither read nor write but report daily, report what they hear as they hear it, word by word. [...] Everything is done verbally. (136)

Sardines, the second of the Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship, was published by Allison Busby in 1981 and in Heinemann’s African Writers Series in 1982. Like Sweet and Sour Milk, the plot of Sardines is set in the political context of a dictatorship, but in this fourth novel Nuruddin Farah focuses attention on the plight of Somali women who suffer from double oppression, first as the slaves of their men and second as victims of state-sponsored aggression and terror. Rape, female circumcision, clan patriarchy and religious dogma come together to make it impossible for a woman to develop a sense of dignity and independence.

The police state continues to provide the setting for the third novel in the trilogy Close Sesame, published by Allison and Busby in 1983. However, in Close Sesame it is not a woman but an ageing man, who finds himself fighting the system. Deeriye, a one-time fierce opponent of the Italian colonisers and a national hero, tries to assassinate the dictator but dies in his attempt to avenge the death of his son, one of four young opponents to the régime. In Close Sesame, Nuruddin Farah reveals inherent dangers at the interface between traditional tribal and clan loyalties and the machinery of a modern nationalist totalitarian state.

From the time of the independence of Somalia in 1960, the Western Somalia Liberation Front carried out a guerrilla war against Ethiopia in the Ogaden whose population was largely ethnic Somali. In 1977, Somalia attacked and occupied the region in an unsuccessful attempt to annex the territory. In early 1978, with the help of Cuba and the Soviet Union, Ethiopia forced Siyaad Barré’s armies out, retook the Ogaden and, by 1980, about one and a half million refugees, mostly women and children, were living in Somali camps near the Ethiopian border.

Nuruddin Farah began his second trilogy Blood in the Sun ten years into his exile and relates to this period. The first novel of the trilogy Maps, published in 1986, is set in 1977 during the Ogaden war. Askar, a Somali orphan born in the Ogaden, is raised by Misra, an Oromo woman, with whom he develops a strong sexual affinity. As an adolescent, Askar is taken to Mogadiscio to live with his uncle and aunt and he becomes conscious of the political and military complexities of the situation that surrounds him. However, when Misra is suspected of betraying a pro-Somali group in the Ogaden, Askar’s sensitivity and loyalty are put to an extreme test. In Maps, a post-modern allegory of the fate of Somalia, the construction and crossing of borders both physical and emotional are intertwined and rendered surreal.

In 1991, civil war brought the downfall of Siyaad Barré and power in the country was divided up between clan-based alliances. Interclan warfare and banditry brought on a humanitarian disaster with widespread starvation and an exodus of more than a million refugees into neighbouring Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti and Yemen. Somalia became dominated by anarchy and the people became dependent on food aid, gifts, primarily from the USA.

The plot of the second novel of the trilogy Gifts, published in 1992, is set in Mogadiscio in the 1990s. The narrative theme is rooted in the transactional nature of gift-giving as exposed by Marcel Mauss in Le Don. Basically, the theory of gift-giving is that when a gift is given, the receiver of the gift is placed into a debtor relationship with the giver until such time as the gift is reciprocated. Nuruddin Farah applies this transactional analysis to the giving of aid by developed countries to developing countries and the state of indebtedness that is a seemingly permanent and unavoidable condition for countries like Somalia. The dilemma is presented metaphorically in the relationship between Dunyia, a nurse at a maternity hospital in Mogadiscio and Bosaaso, a wealthy friend, to whom she becomes indebted and to whom she must reciprocate, just as Somalia must search constantly for ways to repay the developed world. Dunyia’s relationship with Bosaaso is brought into sharper focus when Dunyia, a single mother, becomes guardian to a baby who dies while under her care.

Secrets, the third novel of the Blood in the Sun trilogy, was published in 1998. It is set at the time power in Somalia and its capital Magadiscio were being divided up among the warring clans, especially the Habir Gadir clan led by General Muhammad Farah Aydid and the Abgal clan led by Ali Mahdi Muhammad, the interim president. At a time when national, ethnic, tribal and clan loyalties are fundamental to personal survival, the narrative presents the theme of family and personal identity. The protagonist Kalaman, a computer entrepreneur from Mogadiscio, undertakes an obsessive investigation into his family background and, through the intervention of Sholoongo, a woman who was abandoned as a child and raised by lionesses and who is intent on bearing his child, many family secrets are revealed, relationships with his mother, father and grandfather. Kalaman reflects on being a Somali man during these times,

We live in tragic times, when a chance birth can make so much difference to how one is viewed, when a secret ensconced in the recesses of untamed memories assigns one an inferior or a superior position. (?)

The breach of the taboos of sexuality by members of Kalaman’s family members are a metaphor for the anarchy inherent in the relationships between Somali clans.

In 1998, Nuruddin Farah was awarded the 1998 Neustadt International Prize for Literature. Currently, he lives with his wife and two children in Cape Town, South Africa.

9.1.2 From a Crooked Rib (1970)

Nuruddin Farah has become well-known for his portrayal of women and his portrayal of the way women think. In From a Crooked Rib, Nuruddin Farah’s protagonist Ebla, a nomadic pastoralist, rejects the tradition of arranged marriages, escapes from her rural home to the town and, in her search for an alternative kind of marriage arrangement, reveals aspects of her own womanhood.

Rejecting the prospect of being married to Giumaleh, a 48-year-old man chosen by her 80-year-old grandfather, Ebla, an orphan, leaves her village and travels to Belet Wene, a town in Somalia near the Ogaden border. Ebla articulates her escape from “the country and its harsh life” (13) as her freedom, “the divine emancipationof the body and soul of a human being,” (13) but this mystical perception is quickly undermined by the cruel reality that tradition regarding marriage is still upheld in urban society.

In Belet Wene, Ebla stays with her 35-year-old cousin Gheddi and his wife Aowralla whom she helps give birth to a baby girl. While staying in Gheddi’s household, Ebla helps to milk the cows and finds herself thinking “[c]ows are beasts, calves are beasts and so are goats. ‘But we are beasts, too,’ (...) ‘Isn’t my grandfather a beast?’” (32) Ebla has her perception confirmed when Gheddi blames her for a bungled smuggling racket in which he had asked her to help out, Gheddi’s hostility forces Ebla to spend more time with the widow who lives next door and who introduces Ebla to her nephew Awill who works for the Italian colonial service. But when Ebla learns that Gheddi has given her hand in marriage to his broker Dirir who has TB, she declares to the widow,

‘I don’t want to be sold like cattle.’

‘But that is what we women are – just like cattle, proper-ties of someone or other, either your parents or your husband.’

‘We are human beings.’

‘But our people don’t realize it. What is the difference between a cow and yourself now? Your hand has been sold to a broker.’

Fearing enforced marriage to a sick man, Ebla decides to marry Awill.

Ebla is under no illusion that her relationship with Awill is based on love. She is resigned to the fact that,

[s]he did not know if there was such a thing called ‘Love’, which could exist between a person like Awill and herself. Enslavement was what existed between the married couples that she had met. The woman was a slave. And she was willing to be what she had been reduced to, she was not raising a finger to stop it. But since she would not be able to do anything about it, why not marry simply for the sake of living a married life and thus avoiding spinsterhood? In the process she would live to be a married woman. (83-84)

Ebla and Awill elope to Mogadiscio, Ebla loses her virginity painfully because “[s]he had been circimcised when she was eight” (97) and, with the help of their landlady Asha, the next day the couple are married by a Sheikh. But a week later, Awill leaves for Italy on a three-month visit for the Ministry of Education.

A photograph of Awill with a white woman with “nothing on except a swimming suit, her belly showing and Awill’s hand resting on her breast,” (122) makes Ebla furious and disappointed with herself. Declaring “I love life, and I love to be a wife. I don’t care whose,” (125) Ebla finds herself free to marry Tiffo, a short, fat, wealthy man from Baidoa. Believing that “life meant freedom, freedom of every sort,” (126) she rationalises her status as a woman with two husbands and reasons that since “Islam permits a man to marry four wives,” (144)

You have another wife and I have another husband. We are even: you are a man and I am a woman, so we are equal. You need me and I need you. We are equal.’ (145)

Ebla left the countryside rejecting the tradition of arranged marriages, but unsure as to what marriage was if not an arranged transaction. As she negotiates her way through a second marriage, she develops her own perception of marriage. She understands, however, that her conception of marriage is what others would call prostitution – “if I am a prostitute; I wonder how many people think that I am one,” (152) and she comes to admit that “she had become a prostitute without realizing she had become one.” (161)

By the age of twenty, Ebla has developed into an African female existentialist – “In future I will be myself and belong to myself, and my actions will belong to me. And I will, in turn, belong to them,” (142) and “She thought to herself that one lived a parody of existence if one did not get the essential and basic satisfaction of life.” (160) But Ebla is also aware of the social and sexual constraints imposed on women by Somali society. Custom and traditional beliefs place women in a predicament from which there is no apparent escape. On the one hand, Ebla believes that “because woman was created by God from the crooked rib of Adam, she is too crooked to be straightened. And anybody who tries risks breaking her.” (150) Yet on the other hand, she knows that, as a woman, she is

‘(...) tempted more than a man, my weakness comes to light faster than it would in the case of a man. I look at a man and I am tempted: if I yield to this temptation, the consequences are so bitter that the taste of it may result in my losing my own existence.

‘Oh, my God, if only men knew how women are tempted! We may say no, give a flat refusal, but inwardly we desire the man more than he desires us. (155)

Ebla also understands the paradox of marriage. She knows that she is capable of love – “I love life. I love all its colours. I love nature. I love rain. I love spring. I love misery and hunger.” (153) – but she knows that love cannot form the basis of marriage. She understands that,

the husband is a man and the wife is a woman, and naturally they are not equal in status. Friends should be equal before they can become friends. If you despise or look down upon somebody, he cannot be your friend, neither can you be his friend. (156)

When Awill returns, Ebla accepts him again as her partner and prepares to engage once more in her quest for a successful and fulfilling marriage which has not been arranged.

9.2 Buchi Emecheta. The Bride Price (1976)

9.2.1 Personal experience in The Bride Price

After thirteen years living in London, Buchi Emecheta switched her focus to the problems of being an immigrant mother in England which she had presented in In the Ditch (1972) and Second-Class Citizen (1974) to problems associated with life in Nigeria. Her first “early Nigerian” novel The Bride Price, published in 1976, was followed by The Slave Girl in 1977 and The Joys of Motherhood in 1979. In this way, Buchi Emecheta turned her attention from the failings of the British social order to the failings of the Igbo social order. With thirteen years’ experience of the colonising culture, from her London vantage point, she looks back at Nigerian society and applies her personal knowledge and experience gained in England, the colonising country, to facets of its former colony.

Buchi Emecheta’s principal criticism of her Igbo culture is the way in which educated Nigerian women continue to allow themselves to be enslaved by traditional behaviour patterns. She admits, too, that in Nigeria, in spite of the obvious injustices against women in that society, her criticisms have made her unpopular among some sections of the community. Her first three “Nigerian” novels are set in the past, The Bride Price in the early 1950s, The Slave Girl in the early years of the 20th. century and The Joys of Motherhood in the 1930s. (Set in the 1980s and 1990s Double Yoke and Kehinde are contemporary, Double Yoke being written in part during her stay at the University of Calabar and Kehinde after her more recent visits to Nigeria.) Observing Nigeria’s colonial past from the colonising country, her criticism of formal aspects of traditional Igbo custom in these novels is implicit rather than explicit. In all three novels she implies that Igbo women are enslaved by culturally-rooted perceptions which are entrenched in and reinforced by tradition. Traditional institutions such as the bride-price, polygyny – a socially approved institution involving the marriage of one man to two or more women at the same time – and widow inheritance all underscore the generalised perception of woman as an object and, furthermore, the property of man. As a daughter, a girl is kept because a bride price will be paid to her father when he chooses a husband for her. As a wife, a woman is kept because she will give birth to boys to carry on the lineage or girls who will one day cause a bride price to be paid to the father. Furthermore, women take care of the parents when they grow older. The role of Nigerian women is fraught with paradox; if a woman bears no children, she is considered to be useless and unworthy of respect, a captive of her presumed infertility. If, on the other hand, she does bear children, then she becomes enslaved by their emotional and domestic demands on her. Moreover, the Nigerian wife must also confront the pain that the negative aspects of polygyny.

In spite of these realities, however, Buchi Emecheta does not condemn sexist traditions outright. In The Bride Price, for example, Aku-nna dies giving birth to her first child, just as tradition predicts for those wives for whom no bride price is paid. Buchi Emecheta explains, “[...] she had gone against our tradition,” and she goes on to argue:

[...] if one belongs to a group, one should try to abide by its laws. If one could not abide by the group’s law, then one was an outsider, a radical, someone different who had found a way of living and being happy outside the group. Akunna was too young to do all that. She had to die. (HAW: 166)

From her bi-cultural vantage point, thanks largely to her university studies in Sociology and thanks to being resident in a different, more supportive culture where she has found “comparative peace of mind” for her creativity and which she finds “conducive” to her writing, (Buchi Emecheta, “Lagos Provides a Warm Welcome.” West Africa. 19 January 1981: 110-113) Buchi Emecheta has been able to write critically and analytically about institutions within Nigeria. In an interview with Davidson Umeh and Marie Umeh, she herself admitted,

It is when you’re out of your country that you can see the faults in your society. It has been my being in Europe that has made me see the disadvantages some Nigerian women are subjected to. (Davidson Umeh and Marie Umeh. “An Interview with Buchi Emecheta.” Ba Shiru. Vol. 12. 2. 1985: 22. (The interview was recorded in 1980, when Buchi Emecheta was writer-in-residence at the University of Calabar)

In fact, Buchi Emecheta wrote the first manuscript of The Bride Price in 1964, two years after her arrival in England. Buchi Emecheta told Olga Kenyon that the first book she began writing, that is to say, the first version of The Bride Price, was a “happy-ever-after romantic story.” (Olga Kenyon, manuscript of “Alice Walker and Buchi Emecheta Rewrite the Myth of Motherhood” in Comparative Literature [publication forthcoming].) In the article Olga Kenyon also writes that Buchi Emecheta began writing in the “European form of the romance,” like Bessie Head with Maru. She adds: “Falling in love is not central to African story-telling and ill fits their [Buchi Emecheta and Bessie Head’s] aims.” In another interview Buchi Emecheta told Olga Kenyon: “I put in everything which I felt was lacking in my own life.” (Olga Kenyon. The Writer’s Imagination. 45) Katherine Frank in “The Death of the Slave Girl: African Womanhood in the Novels of Buchi Emecheta,” also writes about one of the unique features of The Bride Price is “the fact that it is a romantic love story in the Romeo and Juliet pattern of star-crossed lovers. Romantic love is the most ubiquitous theme of the Western novel, but it is a comparatively rare concern in African fiction.” (World Literature Written in English. Vol. 21. 3. Autumn, 1982: 484.) As Tom, the American Peace Corps volunteer, comments on Batswana culture in Bessie Head’s A Question of Power, “[t]his is one of the most unobscene societies in the world. Men just sleep with women, and that’s all there is to it.” (161)

After reading through the first manuscript of The Bride Price, Buchi Emecheta’s husband burnt it and she did not get down to rewriting it until 1974. In her autobiography Head Above Water, she recalls how “the plot would be exactly the same, but now, having read Sociology, it would have a new depth. It would be an improvement on my first attempt.” (HAW: 163) It is clearly impossible to know what aspects of the original manuscript were given new depth and what improvements were made to the novel during rewriting. What is clear, however, is that by the time Buchi Emecheta found herself with the time at her disposal even to consider settling down to the task of rewriting The Bride Price, ten years had passed during which time she had become much more established in her London home. Her memories of Ibusa and Lagos would have been fresh in 1964, the time of the initial writing, but at the time of rewriting a process of recollection must have been involved in the creation of the text. Moreover, with In the Ditch and Second-Class Citizen already published and selling to a British public, the author of The Bride Price must have had that readership in mind when she sat down to rewrite her first Nigerian novel. Despite this, however, of the early Nigerian novels, The Bride Price is the one with the least evidence of duality of experience. Yet it is filled with ambivalence which derives not from Buchi Emecheta’s experience of ten years spent in the coloniser country but, as might be expected of a narrative originally written just two years after leaving Nigeria and in the midst of marital difficulties, from her personal situation. Of the Nigerian novels, it is also the one least imbued with coloniality.

9.2.2 The Bride Price (1976)

Serving as an introduction for a western readership to rural Igbo tradition and as a recollection for the author herself of life in Ibusa, the narrative line is straightforward enough. A traditionally-minded girl, Aku-nna, earnestly wants to marry a wealthy man so that her father, Ezekiel Odia, will receive a considerable sum of money for her as her bride price. Unfortunately, when she is thirteen, her father dies of a war wound and she is thus denied the possibility of fulfilling her ambition. Together with her mother, MaBlackie, and her younger brother, Nna-nndo, Aku-nna leaves their home in Lagos and goes to Ibusa, her family’s village, where her widowed mother is inherited by her father’s brother, Okonkwo Odia, as his fourth wife. Even though she attends the local school, Aku-nna feels increasingly lonely in the rural surroundings and is saved from despair only by the schoolmaster, Chike Ofulue, the son of a slave, with whom she falls in love.

It is taboo for a free-born Ibusa girl to marry a slave and things are brought to a head when the village learns that Aku-nna has menstruated for the first time and is therefore ready for marriage. During the celebration of her womanhood, Aku-nna is kidnapped by the family of a local boy on the pretext that they will not suffer her to marry the son of a slave. She is taken to their home and is made to spend the night with the son, Okoboshi. She lies to Okoboshi by declaring that she has lost her virginity to Chike and, with the help of Chike, manages to escape. The couple flee and set up home in Ughelli, a town where Chike gets a job with an oil company. The two live happily, with one drawback; Aku-nna’s uncle Okonkwo Odia  refuses to accept Aku-nna’s bride price from the Ofulue family. When Aku-nna soon becomes pregnant, anxiety about her unpaid bride price causes her to lose weight and become ill. She realises she is paying for having transgressed the traditions of rural Ibusa society. Eventually, she dies giving birth to a girl.

In Head Above Water, Buchi Emecheta explains that this was not the ending she had originally intended; Aku-nna and Chike were to live happily ever after in the first manuscript. But she gives her reasons, which are clearly based on her bitter personal experiences during her first decade in London, for killing Aku-nna off:

In The Bride Price Akunna did not recover. She died because she had gone against our tradition. The original story ended with husband and wife going home and living happily ever after, disregarding their people. But I had grown wiser since that first manuscript. I had realised that what makes all of us human is belonging to a group. And if one belongs to a group, one should try to abide by its laws. If one could not abide by the group’s laws, then one was an outsider, a radical, someone different who had found a way of living and being happy outside the group. Akunna was too young to do all that. She had to die. (HAW: 166)

The parallels with Buchi Emecheta’s own experience are obvious. Like Aku-nna, she herself had married and then broken the traditions of her society, in her case by separating from her husband and taking their children with her. She herself readily admits that, had she experienced the breakdown of her marriage in Nigeria, the situation would have overwhelmed her. She writes,

In life, I was too young to go against all that, but what I think saved me was coming to England when I did. I doubt if I would have been able to survive emotionally all the well-meaning advice from family and relatives. I left the husband for whom all sacrifices had been made. Maybe that was my death. Then why in real life was I enjoying my independence? I could not answer all that in The Bride Price. (HAW: 166)

Is there not a degree of catharsis in the story of Aku-nna? Indeed, Buchi Emecheta hints at the symbolic, even ritualistic, quality of the tale in the last paragraph of the novel when she writes, “Every girl born in Ibuza after Aku-nna’s death was told her story, to reinforce the taboos of the land.” (BP: 168), which is followed by an acknowledgement of the generalised effect of the fable, “It was a psychological hold over every young girl that would continue to exist, even in the face of every modernisation, until the present day.” (BP 168) The close similarities between Aku-nna’s experiences and her creator’s own are admitted by Buchi Emecheta in Head Above Water,

In The Bride Price I created a girl, Akunna, who had an almost identical upbringing to mine, and who deliberately chose her own husband because she was “modern” but was not quite strong enough to shake off all the tradition and taboos that had gone into making the type of girl she was. Guilt for going against her mother and her uncle killed her when she was about to give birth to her first baby. (HAW: 165)

and the following remark would appear to support the argument that The Bride Price is not only cathartic but a kind of confession,

Akunna died the death I ought to have died. In real life, due to malnutrition and anaemia, I had a very bad time with my first daughter, Chiedu. I was in labour for days, and became so exhausted that when she was actually born I knew I was losing consciousness, but was too scared to say so because I thought I had caused everybody enough trouble as it was. (HAW: 165)

Guilt and fear deriving from the transgression of taboos run through the experiences of both Aku-nna and Buchi Emecheta. The former dies because she is unable to escape far enough away from Ibusa; the latter survives because, as she herself admits, she moved to London sufficiently early in life to extricate herself and her children from the web of rural Igbo traditions. Katherine Frank would agree with this idea, since she writes that Buchi Emecheta in The Bride Price “fails to proffer the urban environment of either Lagos or London as a refuge from traditional constraints.” And she adds, “[t]he point here is that there is no escape, no sheltering environment in which the union of Aku-nna and Chike can subsist.” (Katherine Frank. “The Death of the Slave Girl: African Womanhood in the Novels of Buchi Emecheta,” World Literature Written in English. Vol. 21. 3. Autumn, 1982: 484)

Yet the psychological weight of tradition is extremely powerful. In the depths of despair during her captivity in Okoboshi’s hut, Aku-nna reasons,

But if she was forced to live with these people for long, she would soon die, for that was the intention behind all the taboos and customs. Anyone who contravened them was better dead. If you tried to hang on to life, you would gradually be helped towards death by psychological pressures. And when you were dead, people would ask: Did we not say so? Nobody goes against the laws of the land and survives. (BP: 141)

As Aku-nna’s pregnancy develops, so the psychological pressures increase. She starts to hear a voice calling her, “telling her she must come back to her family, to her people” (BP: 163) and she begs Chike to hold her tight because, “somebody, her uncle, was trying to take her away.” (BP: 163) It is somewhat ominous, therefore, that in the conclusion to The Bride Price, Buchi Emecheta, even after ten years in London, still appears to admit to “a psychological hold over every young girl” as a result of traditional taboos and to suggest, with the death in childbirth of the deviant Aku-nna, that young girls who want to live to bring up their children would do well to follow their group’s rules to the letter. In the closing lines of the novel, Buchi Emecheta’s authorial voice rings with doom as she writes without comment,

If a girl wished to live long and see her children’s children, she must accept the husband chosen for her by her people, and the bride price must be paid. If the bride price was not paid, she would never survive the birth of her first child. (BP: 168)

Thus, whereas The Bride Price does not reflect a duality of experience in strictly coloniser / colonised terms, it does show a deep psychological ambivalence in terms of the author’s mentality. Ten years in London society have distanced the writer sufficiently from the rural Igbo community of her parents and grandparents to enable her to look back at aspects of traditional Igbo society and assess their implications. She begins the journey back to Ibusa in Lagos, where she was brought up, and takes the reader by mammy-lorry into the Nigerian countryside. What she eventually discovers there, in Ibusa society, is something which catches her unawares and shocks her. From the chaotic communal life in a Lagos suburb she takes her reader along the road to Asaba, amongst the dense forest bursting with tropical fruits and past the yam and cassava fields. Buchi Emecheta writes about the houses “mainly built of mud and had walls that were not as smooth as those of the houses they [the children] were used to seeing in Lagos.” In the thick forests there were “cocoa and kolanut tress along the roads [...] and the pods carrying the kolanuts hung downwards like a pregnant woman’s breasts.” The landscape changed after Benin with reddish soil and the forests “became really dense like mysterious groves.” They saw “a narrow footpath like a red ribbon winding itself into the mysterious depths.” Nearing Ibusa they saw farms “full of thousands of yam plants each with their delicate stems coiled carefully round and round a planted stick. There were also farms for cassava, with stronger stems and small leaves.” (BP: 59, 60, 69)

Once in Asaba, a seven-mile walk brings her to Ibusa and immediately the value system changes and a wholly different world order becomes operative. With the acute sensitivity of a sociologist, Buchi Emecheta reveals the whole range of taboos and customs which dictate rural life – widow inheritance, polygyny, age-groups, religious groups, discrimination against descendants of slaves, menstruation taboos, rites associated with the river goddess, arranged marriages, bride-price payments, courtship petting, bride kidnapping and women’s mourning, amongst many others. Aku-nna, her protagonist, finds herself at the mercy of nearly all these aspects of rural society and is made to feel guilty and fearful because of them. Moreover, Nna-nndo, Aku-nna’s brother, reveals his hatred of rural ways to his sister,

Don’t cry, sister. I know everything they have said about you isn’t true. I wish our father had not died. We would still be in Lagos. I hate that man Okonkwo for marrying our mother. I hate this town, I hate what they are doing to you. (BP: 143)

Yet the element of enigma remains. Buchi Emecheta poignantly reveals the socially-sanctioned disregard for individual feelings and emotions which traditional institutions generate – the tenderness of the final pages is wholly sincere – and yet at the same time she seems resigned to the fact that these same traditions must be upheld if one is to survive as part of the group in such societies. More pointedly, in spite of her own experience, her novel would appear to defend specifically the custom of paying a bride price and, thereby, arranged marriages.

10.2.3 Buchi Emecheta’s personal experience in The Bride Price

Together with The Slave Girl, her second Nigerian novel, The Bride Price contains information, opinions and feelings which are closely associated with Buchi Emecheta’s personal experience. It is at the same time their strength and their weakness. In her fourth Nigerian novel, Double Yoke, the creative writing lecturer’s advice to her university students is “write about yourself” and it is a dictum that she herself has put to good use in The Bride Price. Indeed, Buchi Emecheta can vouchsafe the advice because her own success derives principally from it. On the other hand, she has been criticised for drawing characterisations and describing events which are too closely associated with herself, especially when such characterisations are presented as stereotypes or when events are presented as general conditions or commonplace occurrences. Afam Ebeogu, to cite just one of her critics, objects strongly to the way in which, in what he perceives to be an attempt to attack the Nigerian man from a feminist standpoint, she presents characters and events in the guise of fiction, whereas in reality they are strongly autobiographical and therefore frequently highly personalised and subjective. He writes of The Bride Price, for example,

The novel is written in the mode of pure fiction, and the statement, though made in the journalistic style of rhetoric characteristic of many autobiographies, can no longer be regarded as the views of the author in the novel. The sentiment is supposed to be the narrator's and it is expected to reflect the views of Aku-Nna, the heroine. The critic may well wonder whether Aku-Nna is not another phase of Adah [Buchi], the character of In the Ditch and Second Class Citizen. When Buchi Emecheta devotes the rest of The Bride Price to proving the point made in the early pages of the novel, it becomes obvious that Aku-Nna shares the same psyche as her creator. It then dawns on the reader that the author is using the medium of the novel for purposes of propaganda to prove assertions already made in the preceding autobiographical novels. (Afam Ebeogu, “Enter the Iconoclast: Buchi Emecheta and the Igbo Culture.” Commonwealth, Essays and Studies. Vol. 7. 2. 1985: 85-86)

Such is his aversion to some wayward remarks in The Bride Price that Afam Ebeogu expresses “a feeling of relief” to discover that, by the time she has come to write The Joys of Motherhood, Buchi Emecheta has outlived “the passions and sentiments forced on her by unpleasant personal experiences which characterised the mode of her early novels” (Ibid.: 90) and he comments that she “has quickly learnt that the autobiographical creative exercise is not the same as the fictional and that the latter demands a high degree of detachment. The Joys of Motherhood is much more satisfying as fiction.” (Ibid.: 90)

There is no doubt that on occasions Buchi Emecheta does make some odd comments which tend to jarr with the overall sentiment of the novel. For example, as Afam Ebeogu also points out, to claim in the novel’s final paragraph, with Chike clutching the limp hand of his dead wife, that “So it was that Chike and Aku-nna substantiated the traditional superstition they had unknowingly set out to eradicate” (Ibid.: 90) is to undermine the perception that the couple’s behaviour derives from their mutual love for each other and not from a shared desire to destroy the traditional institutions. Far from being a rebel, Aku-nna is presented as a physically weak, lonely and frightened girl, capable of instilling compassion and a protective instinct in men like Chike. She is hardly the model for an activist.

However, despite these unnecessary and out of place authorial comments, The Bride Price is a tightly woven, coherent narrative, written with intense passion and honesty, which raises questions regarding the relationship between traditional / rural and universalised / urban value systems and the nature of their respective institutions.

10.2.4 Buchi Emecheta’s family as characters of her fiction

The degree to which Buchi Emecheta’s fiction derives from her personal experience will become clear from a study of the way in which she uses members of her family as models for her fictional characters. Buchi Emecheta’s fictionalised autobiographies In the Ditch and Second Class Citizen and her autobiography Head Above Water reveal obvious real-life sources for the fictive characterisations of her novels and in respect of work situation and settings Buchi Emecheta draws heavily on her personal knowledge and close family experiences. Similarities such as those between the characters of Adah and Aku-nna are common in her other novels, especially The Slave Girl, and as Buchi Emecheta herself explains, several characterisations are modelled on members of her own family. For example, as did her own father, Jeremy Nwabudike Emecheta, Aku-nna’s father Ezekiel Odia in The Bride Price, Ojebeta’s husband Jacob in The Slave Girl and Nnu Ego’s husband Nnaife in The Joys of Motherhood all work for the railway company in Lagos. In the same way, Akinwunmi Street, Yaba, Lagos, where Buchi Emecheta was born and lived with her family (HAW: 27) is also Aku-nna’s birthplace and her family’s home until they move to Ibusa (BP: 24). Furthermore, Akinwunmi Street is mentioned in The Joys of Motherhood (JM: 114) whose protagonist, Nnu Ego also lives with her family in Yaba. Likewise, Aku-nna’s mother, Ma Blackie and Ojebeta are both modelled on Buchi Emecheta’s own mother, Alice Ogbanje Ojebeta.

10.2.5 Buchi Emecheta’s mother as fiction

There is something overwhelmingly confessional about much of Buchi Emecheta’s fiction, and this derives in particular from her characterisations. A deep sense of personal guilt and a desire for absolution seem to provide the tension within her characters, firing them with life. At the beginning of Head Above Water, Buchi Emecheta herself acknowledges the “therapeutic” effect the act of writing has on her, especially when writing autobiography, and she goes on to give somewhat evasive reasons for this. (See Head Above Water, p. 3) Indeed, whereas Buchi Emecheta claims that moving to England saved her from a fate similar to that of Aku-nna’s, it might be hypothesised that her writing has helped her to salve her desperation and assuage her feelings of guilt. By fictionalising the individuals who surrounded her during her formative years, Buchi Emecheta has been able to distance herself emotionally from them and to rationalise their existence in terms of her new situation in England.

In Head Above Water, Buchi Emecheta tells of the piece of family gossip which maintained that her mother, Alice Ogbanje Ojebeta, had cursed her just before she died – “Words said that she died not blessing me. That hurt, it did hurt and for twenty years I carried the hurt.” (HAW: 3) She goes on to say that, on returning to Ibusa, her mother’s village, in 1980 “and seeing the people she lived with and the place she was buried [...] I felt the warmth of her presence, (and) then I knew right there inside me that my mother did not die cursing me.” (HAW: 3-4) The reason for the curse spread by the gossip was that her mother was upset by her marriage to Sylvester Onwordi and also presumeably because her bride-price had not been paid for by the Onwordi family. Buchi Emecheta writes, “Signs showed me that that [her mother’s dying curse] was said to make me feel guilty, especially now they know that the marriage that caused the rift between mother and daughter did not work out for me.” (HAW: 4) But there are clearly other aspects to what one must assume to have been a tense relationship between mother and daughter. Buchi Emecheta writes of herself as “the short, silent, mystery daughter” and maintains that her own mother never understood her – “Unlike me, her mystery daughter, she did not possess such inner depth.” (HAW: 4)

There is no doubt that Buchi Emecheta has felt a deep-seated regret, even guilt, about the unfulfilled relationship she had with her mother. She writes of “My mother, who probably loved me in her own way, but never expressed it.” (HAW: 3) Her being born a girl into Nigerian society, not particularly attractive physically – she herself emphasises her short stature – and something of a misfit socially – “silent” and “mysterious” – may have had something to do with their lack of intimate affection. Even when she claims that she wished “Mother had been buried in a more private resting place and not inside our compound, where I could not speak to her privately,” (HAW: 4) or that she misses “my singing, laughing mother very much and my village, Umuezeokolo Odanta, did not seem the same to me any more without her and my other mothers to hug me when I arrived at Otinkpu.” (HAW: 5), there is a sense of overstatement and subsequent hollowness in the prose. The emotions appear forced and, even though juxtaposed in the text, the ambiguity of agony and laughter which she also claims characterised her mother ring truer.

Buchi Emecheta writes surprisingly that, thanks to her own personal suffering she has been able to forgive herself and her mother, presumably for not getting on better with each other, and in Head Above Water she asks,

If I do not understand the untalked-of agonies of that laughing and doubly culturally-enslaved woman who gave me life, who else is there on this earth who will take the trouble to? (HAW: 5)

Yet even in this comparatively recent text, she remains overtly self-effacing. She describes herself when she is born as being “a little bigger than the biggest rat you’ve ever seen, all head” (HAW: 10), twice referring to herself as “a scrap of humanity,” whose is only forgiven her presence on earth by the subsequent birth a year later of a “strong, big baby boy,” her brother, Adolphus Chisingali Emecheta:

We clapped and danced all night. And I knew that I was forgiven for being born premature with a big head and a small body and for being a girl. (HAW: 11)

Buchi Emecheta had been born prematurely: “What trouble did she not cause as she ran out of her mother’s belly in seven months when other children stayed nine? And there was nothing like a premature baby unit at the Massey Street Dispensary in Lagos where she was born.” (HAW: 9)

Aku-nna’s mother, Ma Blackie, “a giant of a woman [...] so tall and straight that her few enemies called her ‘the palm-tree woman,’“ with “jet black skin [which] had earned her the nickname of ‘Blackie the Black’” (BP: 7), is based on Buchi Emecheta’s own mother, “that tall, lanky, black woman nicknamed ‘Blakie the black’” (HAW: 4). Both are daughters of Ibusa and both have given birth to extraordinary daughters. Furthermore, whereas the fictional Ma Blackie’s daughter, Aku-nna, chooses the son of a slave to be her husband, the real-life ‘Blakie the black,’ Buchi Emecheta’s mother, was herself sold into slavery. Buchi Emecheta writes of her mother as “that laughing, loud-voiced, six-foot-tall, black glossy slave girl [...] my laughing mother, who forgave a brother that sold her to a relative in Onitsha so that he could use the money to buy ichafo siliki – silk head ties for his coming-of-age dance.” (HAW: 3) The selling of Alice Ogbanje Ojebeta, Buchi Emecheta’s mother, into slavery by her brother is reflected in the plot of The Slave Girl. Finally, just as Aku-nna’s mother is inherited by her husband’s elder brother, Okonkwo, when her husband, Ezekiel Odia, dies, so Buchi Emecheta hints euphemistically that her own mother was inherited too. In Head Above Water, she writes:

[...] my mother, that slave girl who had the courage to free herself and return to her people in Ibusa, and still stooped and allowed the culture of her people to re-enslave her, and then permitted Christianity to tighten the knot of enslavement. [My italics] (HAW: 3)

and in Second-Class Citizen she writes:

Adah, like most girl-orphans, was to live with her mother’s elder brother as a servant. Ma was inherited by Pa’s brother, and Boy was to live with one of Pa’s cousins. (AS: 17)

Through Ma Blackie in The Bride Price, Buchi Emecheta focuses on a fundamental interrelationship between three aspects of life in the rural Igbo community, namely, childlessness, bride-price and education. In the early pages of the novel, Ma Blackie leaves her family behind in Lagos to journey to Ibusa. Her mission is “to placate their Oboshi river goddess into giving her some babies” because she “was very slow in getting herself pregnant again.” (BP: 8) Buchi Emecheta speaks of “this great issue of childlessness” (BP: 9) and maintains that the common perception in Nigeria is that socially, women who do not give birth to children are worthless. Moreover, a woman whose bride price is not paid by her husband’s family is also degraded socially. Ma Blackie keeps Aku-nna at school reasoning that “Aku-nna would fetch a big sum because she had attended school so long,” (BP: 110) but the happy prospect of receiving a generous bride price for Aku-nna is dulled by her daughter’s friendship with Chike, the descendant of a slave, and the fact that Aku-nna is physically weak. Ma Blackie tells her daughter, “‘I am not allowing you out of my sight until you are seventeen, or you are bound to die of childbirth. You are so thin and not very developed. All you have are legs and eyes.’” (BP: 111)

In many ways, socially-speaking a woman in traditional Igbo society is her bride price. When Aku-nna’s menstruation becomes common knowledge, Ma Blackie lists the families that have shown an interest in her: “‘The Nwanze family of Umuidi and the Chigboes of Umuokpala. And one other family, from Umueze – I can’t remember their name but, Aku-nna, you know their son. The fair-skinned one with a limp. He was in the same class as you at school, and he talks too much, or so I hear.’” (BP: 110) A woman in traditional society is thus reduced to being a pawn in a transaction between families. The concepts of romantic love and individual preferences regarding partners in marriage are anathema to men like Okonkwo, who condemns Aku-nna’s friendship with Chike. Ma Blackie, too, who has become reintegrated into Ibusa custom by conforming to her role as Okonkwo’s fourth wife and the bearer of his child, decries her relationship with Chike.

However, during her pregnancy Aku-nna’s greatest source of anxiety is not that she has gone against traditional custom by marrying the son of a slave but that her bride price has not been paid. She pleads with Chike to “Just give them [her family] their bride price in peace, because you know what they say: if the bride price is not paid, the bride will die at childbirth.” (BP: 154) But Okonkwo, her father’s brother, has refused to accept the payment from the Ofulue family. In the event, Aku-nna dies at childbirth because she is physically unprepared to give birth, just as her mother had maintained, and not because the offered bride price had been rejected by her family.

The relationship between Aku-nna and Ma Blackie is a distant one throughout the novel. Ma Blackie, who at the beginning of the novel lives with her husband in Lagos, does not hesitate to return to Ibusa, her native village, in order to resolve her problem of childlessness. Again, when her husband dies during her absence from him and her children, she immediately abandons her Lagos home to return to Ibusa. Her inheritance as Okonkwo’s wife seems not to be traumatic for her, but both Aku-nna and Nna-nndo regret Okonkwo’s inheritance of their mother and feel that their mother has been disloyal to their father’s memory. Aku-nna feels abandoned by her mother:

She had not only lost a father, she had also lost a mother. Ma Blackie found herself so immersed in the Okonkwo family politics, and in making ends meet, that she seldom had time to ask how the world was with her daughter. (BP: 82)

and when Ma Blackie rejects the idea of her daughter’s marriage to Chike,

The bitterness Aku-nna was feeling had gone beyond tears. She had heard it said often enough that one’s mother was one’s best friend, but she was beginning to doubt it. (BP: 122)

From the moment Aku-nna and Chike leave Ibusa for Ughelli, Ma Blackie is scarcely mentioned again.

Thus, Ma Blackie, with her experience and background, adapts smoothly to the move from urban Lagos to rural Ibusa. But her children do not. Ma Blackie is able to switch from a universalised value system to a traditional value system relatively easily, but her children cannot. Aku-nna is left confused and out of place in Ibusa society, finding solace only in the friendship of Chike, a schoolmaster who is also a social outcast in the traditional context. Aku-nna confuses superstitions relating to such matters as bride price payments, menstruation and death at childbirth with realities such as health and personal hygiene. Ma Blackie complains that her daughter does not know “even half of the customs of Ibuza” (BP: 132) and Aku-nna herself, on the question of discrimination and prejudice against slave families, laments the “kind of savage custom that could be so heartless and make so many people unhappy” (BP: 122). Aku-nna’s values are universal and unconsciously favours “the white man’s law” whose “culture seemed to be gaining ground” (BP: 87) which would support her individual aspiration to marry Chike.

Finally, both Aku-nna and her brother are surprised that Ma Blackie not only agrees to marry Okonkwo but that she becomes pregnant with his child. In this respect, Ma Blackie is insensitive to her children’s feelings, she does not seem to even consider for one moment that they might find the transition from Lagos to Ibusa society a difficult, almost impossible one, and she seems impervious to their aspirations. Aku-nna feels that “it was unjust that she was not to be allowed a say in her own life, and she was beginning to hate her mother for being so passive about it all.” (BP: 116) Yet Ma Blackie has abandoned universal values and her children’s aspirations to her own detriment; she is blamed by Okonkwo for being Aku-nna’s mother, “his brother’s daughter, [who] had degraded not only her own family but the whole town as well,” (BP: 155) and for placing the covetted Eze title out of his reach for ever. Okonkwo takes his revenge on Ma Blackie:

He retaliated on Ma Blackie. In Ibuza, if a man divorced or no longer wanted his wife, he would expose his backside to her in public; Okonkwo did just that, one evening when the fever was burning in him so fiercely that he scarcely knew what he was doing. He walked like a man without eyes straight into Ma Blackie’s hut and shouted, calling all his ancestors to be his witness. He removed his loin cloth and pointed his bare posterior towards Ma Blackie’s face. His relatives and friends who stood by covered their faces in shame, for this was not a step commonly taken by Ibuza men. (BP: 155)

Following this incident, Ma Blackie is destined to face ostracism by her Ibusa family and is saved only by her increasing wealth in a community where money is at a premium, ironically owing to the fact that many villagers have recently been forced by English justice to pay heavy fines as compensation for their recent destruction of the Ofulue family’s cocoa plantations.

Thus, Buchi Emecheta leaves Ma Blackie, the mother she models closely on her own, in an ambivalent situation. Ma Blackie has adopted traditional values but is condemned socially because her children, whom she has all but abandoned to their respective fates, have not conformed to Ibusa custom, rejecting local prejudices and superstitions. While Ma Blackie accepted traditional dictates, Aku-nna and Nna-nndo, like their father, found themselves unable to, remaining the offspring of Lagos culture, that “unfortunate conglomeration of both (traditional and European ways),” so “that you ended up not knowing to which you belonged.” (BP: 29) Perhaps the relationship between Aku-nna and her mother parallel that between Buchi Emecheta and hers in this respect. Perhaps the ambivalence in the meaning of the novel is rooted in the daughter’s desire for closeness to the mother which a different degree of acceptance of traditional values denies her. In any event, the ambivalence is critical; on the one hand, Buchi Emecheta renders Ma Blackie, who has accepted traditional custom, socially degraded and abandoned by her family while, on the other hand, in an interview she is quoted as saying:

[...] she [Aku-nna] died because she went against her people by marrying the person she chose. I feel that at sixteen she didn’t know what the world was about. She was too young to choose her own husband. Although she knew the man, she was going against her own tradition so she had to die. Igbo culture helps here in that if you’re that young, your parents know the families and can advise you. If you’re young and you want to marry, you should rely on your parents’ judgement. (Davidson Umeh and Marie Umeh. “An Interview with Buchi Emecheta.” Ba Shiru. Vol. 12. 2. 1985: 24)

Thus, “trapped in the intricate web of Ibuza tradition” (BP: 116), both Aku-nna and Ma Blackie bring shame on their families and retribution on themselves. Buchi Emecheta goes on to say: “If people know how to take the best from each culture and apply it so that things complement each other, different cultural mores can co-exist. They can clash but they don’t have to.” (Ibid.) The problem, however, is self-evident; what is “the best” in a culture and how do you reach a consensus of opinion regarding its application? The task appears insupperable and the tale of Aku-nna and her mother seems to bear this out.

The ambivalence is most critical in matters relating to marriage, procreation and inheritance. But the western concept of education has brought with it a new area of ambivalence. A legacy of colonialism education has been selected by traditionalists and adapted to their own value system as a means of obtaining a higher bride price for their daughters. Just as Ma Blackie keeps Aku-nna at school for as long as she can in the hope of getting a higher bride-price for her when she marries, Buchi Emecheta, in an expression of gratitude to her own mother for having her educated, cannot conceal the ulterior motive which lies behind this parental sacrifice:

My mother did one great thing for me: she won agreement to let me stay in school for a while because she knew how much I wanted to, because she too had a little education, and because she knew that some basic education would qualify me to be the wife of one of the new Nigerian ‚lite. (HAW: 27)

Such is her conviction in education as a sound social investment for herself and her daughter which will bring guaranteed returns that Ma Blackie confronts family opposition by insisting that Aku-nna continue her education. Buchi Emecheta writes:

Ma Blackie automatically belonged to the élite, for her children attended school, and this was a bone of contention between Okonkwo and his other wives and children. (BP: 74)

In the event, although her relationship with her mother at the time is not good, Aku-nna is allowed to stay at school until she is sixteen. A similar condition pertained in the relationship between Buchi Emecheta and her mother when she was a teenager. In Head Above Water, she writes:

How we [i.e. the author and her mother] both suffered in those days. Poverty and ignorance can be really bad even for a mother and daughter who apparently loved each other but did not know how to reach each other. (HAW: 27)

Nevertheless, on her mother’s insistence Buchi Emecheta continued at school until completing her secondary education. Ironically, when she married Sylvester Unwordi at the age of sixteen, he was too poor to pay her bride price.

It is clear that Buchi Emecheta’s relationship with her mother has influenced much of her writing in a profound, psychological way. In the opening lines of her autobiography, Head Above Water, she comes to a quick and surprising conclusion:

[...] it was only when I started writing these autobiographical episodes that one question that had been nagging me for a very long time seemed to be answered. Why, oh why, do I always trust men, look up to them more than to people of my own sex, even though I was brought up by women? I suddenly realized that all this was due to the relationship I had with my mother. (HAW: 3)

She does not enlarge on this statement specifically or give any real explanation why she should trust men more than women or what it was in her relationship with her mother that caused this paradox. However, apart from the feeling of guilt she felt for having gone against her mother’s advice and married a man of her choice, there is little doubt that the relationship between mother and daughter had lacked an affective base on occasions and that Buchi Emecheta had felt insecure in her relationship with her mother to the degree that she could not depend on her. In Head Above Water she gives some indication of the intensity of her insecurity when she confesses:

[...] nothing would satisfy our tradition better than to stir up the mud of an ambiguous past. But I have had time to think and that, thanks be to God, has made me stronger both emotionally and spiritually than that girl in The Bride Price whose immaturity allowed her to be destroyed by such heavy guilt. (HAW: 4)

The paradox remains, however, ambivalent in form as ever; she has been saved from her guilt by her emotional and spiritual development resulting from her move from Nigeria to England, and yet she remains supportive of those same Nigerian traditions which were the cause of her guilt in the first instance. This is an ambivalence which Aku-nna had outgrown at the time of her death at Chike’s side. Perhaps Aku-nna is an image of how Buchi Emecheta would have liked to have been perceived if she had remained in her country.

10.2.6 Buchi Emecheta's father and brother as fiction

While Ma Blackie is a principle character in The Bride Price, her husband Ezekiel Odia and her son Nna-nndo have minor roles. Nevertheless, in true Freudian fashion Aku-nna appears to have a much closer relationship with her father than with her mother. While Ma Blackie is in Ibusa “recharging her fertility,” (BP: 8) Aku-nna is left to care for her father and brother. Feeling insignificant and unworthy as his daughter, Aku-nna’s main desire is to compensate her existence by obtaining a generous bride price for him when she married:

He had named her Aku-nna, meaning literally “father’s wealth,” knowing that the only consolation he could count on from her would be her bride price. To him this was something to look forward to.

Aku-nna on her part was determined not to let her father down. She was going to marry well, a rich man of whom her father would approve and who would be able to afford an expensive bride price. (BP: 10)

Yet Aku-nna’s father’s hopes for her marrying well are not high; he feels pity for her because physically she resembles him more than she does her mother. Thin and sickly, with brown eyes “large like her father’s,” (BP: 9) “Aku-nna just would not put on weight, and this made her look as if she was being half starved; [...] it was forever a story of today foot, tomorrow head, the day after neck, so much so that her mother many a time begged her to decide once and for all whether she was going to live or die.” (BP: 9)

Aku-nna is sensitive to the sacrifice her father makes for her and her family as he sets off each day for the Loco yard, returning for supper in the evening. She feels “a kind of closeness to which she could not give name binding her to her father.” (BP: 10) and when he fails to return from the hospital on Lagos Island where he has gone to have his swollen foot treated, a “nasty scar that had healed badly and this foot had a way of getting swollen at any change of weather,” (BP: 11) the consequence of a wound he had received while fighting in Burma for the Allies in the Second World War, she reflects on her relationship with him:

Aku-nna knew that there was a kind of bond between her and her father which did not exist between her and her mother. She loved her father, and he responded as much as their custom allowed – for was she not only a girl? A girl belonged to you today as your daughter, and tomorrow, before your very eyes, would go to another man in marriage. To such creatures, one should be wary of showing too much love and care, otherwise people would ask, “Look, man, are you going to be your daughter’s husband as well?” Despite all that, Aku-nna knew she held a special place in her father’s heart. (BP: 17)

The Oedipus complex innuendos are obvious and further intensified by the fact that her father, like Oedipus, suffers from a disfigured foot. Men with disfigured or damaged feet occur frequently in Buchi Emecheta’s fiction. For example, in The Bride Price, apart from her father, Aku-nna’s kidnapper, Okoboshi, is distinguished by his limp, “the result of a snake bite when he was a small boy,” (BP: 119), in The Joys of Motherhood, Nnaife, Nno Ego’s husband, like Ezekiel Odia, also returns from the Second World War with swollen feet that “had got rotten in the swamp in Burma” (JM: 182) and Ukabegwu in The Slave Girl whose wife leaves him because of his “offensive sore foot.” (SG: 78) At times, Buchi Emecheta describes the couple in overtly sensual terms:

She [Aku-nna] moved nearer to him, and watched a big bead of perspiration working its way, snake-like, down the bridge of Nna’s [her father’s] nose; reaching the wide part where his nose formed two black, funnel-like nostrils, this big stream of perspiration hesitated for a while, then, just like the great River Niger breaking down into tributaries, divided into tinier strands. One or two of the tiny strands dropped onto Nna’s mouth. He did not lick them, but wiped them away. (BP: 10)

When Aku-nna realises that her father has died at the hospital, she is stunned, her senses feeling real pain:

Aku-nna felt as if she was not there, as if she had passed into the realm where nothing exists. At last her brother’s voice – young, immature, boyish – cut through to her, sharply painful like the slash of a razor blade. (BP: 28)

and again, at the graveside, Aku-nna’s reaction is sensual:

Aku-nna, still weak from her earlier swoon, moved mechanically as if pulled by a string. She watched her brother pour two handfuls of sand over Nna [her father]. She did the same. Everyone seemed to be released from a trance and poured sand, stone, anything around onto Nna. It was no use begging them to be gentle, Aku-nna reasoned: Nna could not feel it. (BP: 44)

While it is difficult to assess the extent to which Ezekiel Odia is modelled on Buchi Emecheta’s own father, and more specifically, the degree to which the relationship between Aku-nna and Ezekiel parallels that between Buchi Emecheta and Jeremy Nwabudike Emecheta, some similarities are evident. The burial of Aku-nna’s father has echoes of the ‘disappearance’ of Buchi Emecheta’s own father from her family circle. In Head Above Water, she writes a chapter entitled “Lorlu Onye Burma” in which she refers to Lord Louis Mountbatten and to her father’s participation in the Second World War. In an interview with Olga Kenyon she says that her father fought in the British war: “My father was killed, so never returned.” (Olga Kenyon. The Writer’s Imagination. p. 47) She was young when her father died and close to him, and she writes somewhat mystically, “I loved my father so much that I still think I am going through life looking for him.” (HAW: 27) It was her father who instilled in her the desire to go to the United Kingdom and she became determined to do so in order to make him happy.

In the same way, there are parallels to be drawn between Aku-nna’s brother, Nna-nndo, and Buchi Emecheta’s own brother, Adolphus Chisingali Emecheta, and the corresponding fictional and real-life relationships between the siblings. It is hypothetical to maintain that the character of Nna-nndo is modelled directly on Adolphus Emecheta, but it seems correct to suggest that his relationship with his sister is a fictionalisation of the relationship between Buchi Emecheta and her younger brother. As pointed out earlier in respect of her self-effacement, it appears that the roots of Buchi Emecheta’s deep affection for her brother lie in the fact that he was born soon enough after herself to limit the disgrace she felt for being a girl.

Aku-nna shows a similar deep affection for her brother. The novel covers only a brief period of their lives – Aku-nna is thirteen when the story starts and sixteen when she dies giving birth; her brother is eleven at the beginning of the book and fourteen when Aku-nna dies. Buchi Emecheta describes Nna-nndo at all times with tenderness. In the opening lines, she describes him as “tall for his age, with the narrow build of his mother” (BP: 7) and she continues, “At school he had just started to use ink and this he was determined to let everybody know. Writing with ink was to him an academic achievement,” (BP: 7) one of the few moments of humour in the novel. Moreover, as with Aku-nna, Nna-nndo is also a source of deep pride for his father. As Ezekiel leaves for the hospital he touches Aku-nna on the cheek and pats Nna-nndo “on his inky head” (BP: 12) and says: “Always remember that you are mine.” (BP: 12) Following his father’s death, Nna-nndo seems “wiser and older” (BP: 40) and his relatives believe “he will grow to do great things.” (BP: 41)

Although only a minor character in the novel, Nna-nndo is ever-present throughout the narrative, like his sister’s shadow. At moments of crisis, for example, when Aku-nna is imprisoned in Okoboshi’s family’s compound, it is he who takes Chike’s instructions for her escape to her. As he enters the hut,

[...] she could tell that he had been crying. The sight of him set her off again, and she wept quietly. Nna-nndo watched her with swollen eyes, looking like a child who had not eaten for days, then he tried to console her. (BP: 142)

and when Okoboshi questions Aku-nna’s honour, Nna-nndo threatens to strike him with a stool. It is at this moment that Nna-nndo fully comprehends that “Aku-nna was the closest living relative he had.” (BP: 143)

Aku-nna and Chike move to Ughelli and Nna-nndo joins them soon after. The day Aku-nna is taken away ill, he cycles the seven miles to the hospital and cries with his brother-in-law for Aku-nna:

Should anything happen to his beloved sister, everything would change for him. He would be losing a person who had been more like a gentle guardian angle [sic] to him and his whole life would be plunged in chaos. (BP: 165)

As Nna-nndo sits at Aku-nna’s bedside before she dies, Chike observes how much alike Aku-nna and her brother are:

Chike looked wordlessly at the [i.e. Nna-nndo’s) profile. Just like his sister’s. Funny, that he had not noticed before how alike they were, especially those large eyes, now so troubled in Nna-nndo’s head. (BP: 165)

Again, it is difficult to say to what extent Nna-nndo is modelled on Adolphus Emecheta. From Adah’s Story, however, it is understood that Buchi Emecheta cherishes her relationship with her brother. When Adah leaves Nigeria for London, her younger brother is the only close relative who seems to care. Adah herself is acutely aware that, with both parents dead, “only she and Boy remained of that life which she had known,” (AS: 30) and she recalls how her brother stood “in a brown African robe that was too big for him, crying and wiping his eyes with a velvet hat.” (AS: 30) As Buchi Emecheta explains in Head Above Water, her brother was named after Adolph Hitler because, at the time of the boy’s birth, their father thought Adolph Hitler was the “toughest on earth” (HAW: 11), despite the fact that later this was the name they were taught to fear. However, far from any negative associations, Buchi Emecheta has always referred to her brother with love and as her best friend and, since she has started visiting Nigeria again, she always refers to him and his family with admiration and tenderness.

It can be argued, then, that Ma Blackie, Ezekiel Odia and Nna-nndo are modelled in varying degrees on Buchi Emecheta’s own mother, father and brother respectively, and that the personal relationships between Ma Blackie, Ezekiel Odia, Nna-nndo and Aku-nna echo the relationships between Buchi Emecheta and her own mother, father and brother. In contrast to the deeply affectionate relationship between daughter and father and sister and brother, both in the fiction and in real life, an underlying distancing in the relationship between mother and daughter, fictional and real-life, gives rise to insecurity and tension. These factors in turn give rise to a fundamental ambivalence that causes Buchi Emecheta to decry the institutionalised oppression of women by traditions such as polygany, bride-price, widow inheritance and the division of labour while at the same time defending traditional values.

A deeper study of the elements of autobiography in The Bride Price might through more light on this seeming paradox. It has been suggested earlier that the character of Aku-nna is how Buchi Emecheta imagines she would have been had she remained in Nigeria. To what extent, then, given the former parallels between fictional and real-life parents, their children and siblings, is Aku-nna a fictionalised representation of her creator?

10.2.7 Elements of personal experience in The Bride Price

In the first instance, the catalyst of the action of The Bride Price appears to be the fact that Aku-nna, a traditionally-minded girl, is bent on compensating her father for being a girl by obtaining a generous bride-price for him. Her aspirations in life are entirely conservative. When she envisages her future marriage to a rich man “of whom her father would approve” (BP: 10), she dreams of how:

She would have her marriage first of all solemnised by the beautiful goddess of Ibuza, then Christians would sing her a wedding march – “Here comes the bride” – then her father Nna would call up the spirits of his great, great-grandparents to guide her, then after all that, and only after all that, she would leave her father’s house. (BP: 10)

Ideologically confused and thoroughly ‘mixed-up,’ due undoubtedly to “the conflict of two cultures” (BP: 29) which characterises her Lagos environment, Aku-nna carries out her rôle as her father’s daughter with exaggerated intensity. With her mother away in Ibusa, she tries consciously to be a model daughter, striving to satisfy her father’s every need, especially regarding the preparation of his food:

She laid her small hand on one of his and said, “I’m going to make you Nsala soup, very hot, with lots of pepper, and the pounded yam I shall prepare to go with it will be lumpless. So, Nna, hurry back home to eat your evening meal hot. I know you don’t like it cold. (BP: 11)

Ezekiel Odia reciprocates in a similarly doting manner – “Thank you, my little daughter, but don’t boil more yams than you can pound. That odo handle is too heavy for you. Don’t do too much pounding. (BP: 11-12) The care with which a woman pounds yam for her men appears to indicate the degree of affectivity in their relationship. In contrast to the ‘lumpless’ yam Aku-nna strives for to please her father, for her brother “It would not matter too much if the pounded yam turned out lumpy, nor would it matter if it turned out hard.” (BP: 26) In this way, the soft-mannered Aku-nna panders to her father’s every wish.

However, she is thwarted in her all-consuming objective, namely, to please her father, by his premature death. Again, on learning of her father’s death, she shows herself to be totally unemancipated. While Nna-nndo regrets that his father’s untimely death means that “There is no longer any schooling for me. This is the end,” (BP: 28) Aku-nna sees their situation in far more apocalyptic terms:

But, Nna-nndo, you have got it all wrong, Aku-nna said to herself. It is not that we have no father any more, we have no parents any more. Did not our father rightly call you Nna-nndo, meaning “Father is the shelter”? So not only have we lost a father, we have lost our life, our shelter! [Author’s italics] (BP: 28)

With Ezekiel Odia’s death, not only does Aku-nna lose her ‘shelter,’ but Buchi Emecheta also forfeits the catalyst of the action of her novel. Aku-nna as a character is forced to be transformed from the obedient conformist into a demure, but nevertheless totally committed abrogator of rural traditions. The young adolescent is not well-liked by the women folk around her, but she is by the males, mainly because of her silent ways and her submissiveness:

She was not allowed to play rough games in the moonlight. She was not allowed to join in the dance her age group were practising for Christmas. There was a kind of softness about her which spelled peace; she would sit and listen to you for hours and just smile all the time and not say anything. (BP: 78)

In fact, what appeals most to her suitors is “the gentle helplessness about her; she would sooner have died than hit her husband back with an odo handle if he beat her.” (BP: 119) Moreover, Aku-nna accepts unquestioning the condition by which women belong to men and she is pleased when Chike calls her ‘Akum,’ meaning ‘my wealth:’ “She did not mind belonging to him and being his wealth; she would like to be owned by a man like Chike.” (BP: 93) And when Aku-nna and Chike make love for the first time, she does not think about enjoying it, but about Chike’s pleasure: “‘I love you, Chike. Please teach me how to give you joy.’” (BP: 153) She also offers herself to her husband as a slave for life: “‘I shall serve you till I die. I shall be a good wife to you. I shall always love you and love you, in this world and the next and the next one after that until the end of time.’” (BP: 149)

Like Aku-nna at the outset of the narrative, Buchi Emecheta also felt a strong desire to make her father happy and was likewise frustrated in her aim by his death as a result of the Second World War. In Head Above Water, Buchi Emecheta admits that her characterisation of Aku-nna is largely autobiographical:

In The Bride Price I created a girl, Akunna [sic], who had an almost identical upbringing to mine, and who deliberately chose her own husband because she was “modern” [...] (HAW: 165)

Aku-nna’s creator then goes on to argue that her protagonist “was not quite strong enough to shake off all the tradition and taboos that had gone into making her the type of girl she was.” (HAW: 165) Oddly, given that Buchi Emecheta writes these words, this would seem to be a misinterpretation of the plot. In fact, the reader is given the impression that, although her physical weakness is the cause of her death, Aku-nna is convinced that her decision to marry Chike is the right one and she signals this to all around her by insisting that their daughter be called ‘Joy.’ The point of the novel, surely, is that by the time she dies Aku-nna has succeeded in unburdening herself of the traditions and taboos that had dogged her childhood and which dictate the lives of the women around her. Just as Chike’s family is far more liberal and emancipated than any of the free-born families in Ibusa, so too is Aku-nna a very different woman to Okoboshi’s sisters who place a towel in the centre of Okoboshi’s bed, “a white towel, foreign-made, judging from its softness” (BP: 134) which “was to be one of the presents her mother would receive in the morning, stained with the blood she [Aku-nna] was going to shed on being disvirgined,” (BP: 134) or their mother who “informed Aku-nna that she must spend it [i.e the night] in her son’s hut,” adding, “You must keep going to him, until he gets used to you. Who knows, he may even forgive you in the future.” (BP: 144) Buchi Emecheta’s apparent misinterpretation is symptomatic of her own inability to unburden herself in the way she makes Aku-nna achieve it. In the passage which follows, she indulges in sustained self-delusion by claiming that it was “Guilt for going against her mother and her uncle [which] killed her when she was about to give birth to her first baby.” (HAW: 165) and she compounds her delusion by drawing a direct analogy between Aku-nna’s first experience giving birth and her own:

Akunna died the death I ought to have died. In real life, due to malnutrition and anaemia, I had a very bad time with my first daughter, Chiedu. I was in labour for days, and became so exhausted that when she was actually born I knew I was losing consciousness, but was too scared to say so because I thought I had caused everybody enough trouble as it was. But one thing was certain: right from the moment Chiedu was born I was delighted to have given birth to a baby girl. (HAW: 165)

Buchi Emecheta gave birth to Chiedu in Lagos before emigrating to England, and it is clear that Aku-nna’s experience giving birth to Joy is a fictionalised representation of the author’s own first experience of childbirth. Parallels are drawn even in details. In Head Above Water, Buchi Emecheta explains how her mother had “screamed at the nurses” and “ordered them to get blood ready because I had lost so much, and I think her quick thinking saved Chiedu and me.” (HAW: 165-166) while in The Bride Price Chike’s brother, a gynaecologist, expresse his concern about Aku-nna, saying “‘It is almost as if something or other were sucking away her blood.’” (BP: 161) What is not so clear, then, is why Buchi Emecheta should choose to twist her own fictionalised version and to argue that Aku-nna dies, not because she is physically unprepared as the doctors argue, but because she is drained by anxiety about non-acceptance of her bride price and her inability to overcome traditions and taboos.

Afam Ebeogu expresses a similar perplexity in his article. (Afam Ebeogu. “Enter the Iconoclast: Buchi Emecheta and the Igbo Culture.” Commonwealth, Essays and Studies. Vol. 7. 2. 83-94) and asks: “So why then does the author proceed to hang the responsibility of Aku-Nna’s death on the neck of an Igbo ‘traditional superstition’?” (Ibid.: 87) and he goes on to say: “The answer is obvious: an attempt to make legitimate, to the very end of the novel, the author’s argument against the Igbo culture” which, as he maintains a few lines earlier, she perceives as “a culture operated by the machinery of male chauvinism.” (Ibid.: 87) But since, as Afam Ebeogu confirms, it is clear from the text that Aku-nna dies because of her physical weakness, something which has dogged her since childhood, then he cannot argue convincingly that, by saying her protaganist died because she went against Igbo tradition, Buchi Emecheta is using Aku-nna’s death to make a feminist point, that is, condemn the institutionalised male chauvinism in traditional Igbo societies.

The reason for the confusion lies in Buchi Emecheta’s ambivalent attitude not only towards Igbo traditions but towards her own justification for abandoning those traditions by emigrating to England. Aku-nna has to die, not because “she was going against her own traditions,” (Davidson Umeh and Marie Umeh. “An Interview with Buchi Emecheta.” Ba Shiru. Vol. 12. 2. 1985: 24) but because if Buchi Emecheta had allowed her to live, she would not have been able to justify her remaining in London for the previous twelve years. It is simply self-deception when she argues in Head Above Water that Aku-nna had to die because she was too young to be “an outsider, a radical, someone different who had found a way of living and being happy outside the group.” (HAW: 166) Like Aku-nna, she herself had also chosen to live outside the group, the only difference being that when Aku-nna opted out of her group, she moved to Ughelli, where she was extremely happy as Chike’s wife whereas when Buchi Emecheta opted out of hers she went to London where her marriage to Sylvester Unwordi slowly broke down during a period of prolonged misery. Is it not ironical, then, that Buchi Emecheta should kill Aku-nna off on the grounds that she is inexperienced and incapable of being happy outside the group?

Aku-nna’s fear derives not from any feeling of guilt nor anxiety about her choice of husband but from the prophesied consequences of Ekonkwo’s refusal of her bride price; Buchi Emecheta’s fear derives from the fact that, having abandoned her group in the same way as Aku-nna, her creation will succeed where she herself has not yet been able to. That is why in the rewritten novel she does not allow Aku-nna and Chike to go home and live “happily ever after, disregarding their people” (HAW: 166) as in the original version, but instead ends the narrative with her death. In short, the need for Aku-nna’s death is not a fictional lesson on what happens to girls who break the rules of their group as Buchi Emecheta would have us believe, nor is it an example of the author beating the feminist drum as Afam Ebeogu argues. It is rather a need on the part of the author to explain away her past. In this, The Bride Price is cathartic. It should be noted that the novel is dedicated to her mother and that, when asked which of her novels gave her the most satisfaction, she replied: “I love The Bride Price.” (Davidson Umeh and Marie Umeh. “An Interview with Buchi Emecheta.” Ba Shiru. Vol. 12. 2. 1985: 24)

10.2.8 Conclusions

There is no doubt that the characters, plot and significance of The Bride Price is closely linked to Buchi Emecheta’s own personal history, from the time of her childhood in Lagos to the period of her separation from her husband in London. Even after a decade in England, she seems still to be haunted by the idea that, like Aku-nna, she too has gone against tradition by marrying the man of her choice. Again, like Aku-nna, her anxiety was made more intense during that period knowing that her own bride price had not been paid by the Unwordi family. Buchi Emecheta wonders in other of her writings whether the non-payment of her bride price was the cause of the failure of her marriage. Whatever the truth, there can be no doubt that merely the title of the original manuscript would have been sufficient provocation for Sylvester’s violent reaction; his male pride was being trodden on and displayed for all to read. However, contrary to Aku-nna’s case, whose bride price remains unpaid at her death, by the time Buchi Emecheta completed The Bride Price, her own bride price had been paid by her mother-in-law:

As soon as my mother-in-law realized that I was leaving her son the first thing she did was to sell the family house to pay for me. In that way I would not be able to leave him. I could have taken my children to another man, I could have changed my name, but she tied me down. (Kirsten Holst Petersen. Criticism and Ideology: 151.)

Thus, between the burning of the original manuscript in 1964 up until the completion of the rewritten version in 1974, Buchi Emecheta’s bride price had been paid and Aku-nna’s fate had been radically transformed. Yet, despite the payment of her bride price, Buchi Emecheta separated from her husband. By the time The Bride Price was finished, she had gained her independence, something Aku-nna does not live long enough to even begin to desire. In Head Above Water, she explains, “I left the husband for whom all the sacrifices had been made.” (HAW: 166) and she goes on to suggest that “Maybe that was my death. Then why in real life was I enjoying my independence? I could not answer all that in The Bride Price.” (HAW: 166)

In Jung and Feminism: Liberating Archetypes, Demaris S. Wehr writes about the creation of a false self:

Women, too, need to ‘die’ to something before a new self can be born ... Perhaps women ... need to die to the false self system that patriarchy has imposed on them, whatever form it has taken. This is not the same thing as the annihilation of the ego but dying to the false self would necessarily precede the birth of the true self. The result of this ‘death’ could be, as with men, a capacity for true relationality. (Demaris S. Wehr. Jung and Feminism: Liberating Archetypes. Boston MA: Beacon Press. 1987: 103, as quoted in Elaine Savory Fido. “Mother/lands: Self and Separation in the Work of Buchi Emecheta, Bessie Head and Jean Rhys.” Nasta, Susheila. ed. Motherlands. 336-337)

Could it be that the long-awaited payment of her bride price together with the concurrent breakdown of her marriage caused Buchi Emecheta’s ‘false self',’which still retained a deep-rooted commitment to Igbo traditions, to be gradually replaced by her ‘true self,’ which was finally “strong enough to shake off all the tradition and taboos?” (HAW: 165) The ‘death’ she refers to, then, when she suggests “Maybe that was my death” (HAW: 166) is the death of her ‘false self’ and the reason she is “enjoying her independence” (HAW: 166) is because she is being her ‘true self.’ If this is accepted as possible, then The Bride Price was rewritten during the process of Buchi Emecheta’s gradual rejection of her ‘false self’ and her subsequent discovery of her ‘true self’. In short, The Bride Price was rewritten by a different ‘self’ from the one that wrote the original manuscript. Could this, then, be the cause of the ambivalence?

9.3 M.G. Vassanji. The Gunny Sack

[Taken from the interview] By the time I finished my degree and found a job in Toronto, as a married man, I realized I felt I was oppressed by a tremendous burden, almost a physical rage, and that burden was the burden of memory. It seemed that we had lurched into the future so fast and so readily, that we had embraced the future so enthusiastically, that we never realised where we had come from. I never bothered to ask my grandmother, whose house I used to visit on Sundays, and who sometimes came to help my mother: Where had she been born? When did she come to Africa? Why did she come to Africa? What did they do when they first came to Africa? All these questions became tremendously important as I grew up because that memory was being lost. Of course, as I said, the burden of memory - it seems that we remember some of the stories that we’re told as children by our family members. My mother was a good storyteller, and so I have fond memories from her, about her growing up. Not that you paid much attention, but when you are young it is these stories when you are older that stay with you. You tend to think that this is gone. And then all that had gone on in the 1970s in my mind, when I questioned everything that I was brought up with and discovered new ways of looking at the world, painfully trying to reject some of the things that I was brought up with because I didn't find my balance and so on, I felt oppressed by my sense of the past where I had come from and I had this image of a young man who carries a burden, a gunny sack - a gunny sack is a bag is made of a biodegradable substance - jute or sisal - in which we used to get our onions or bread and our charcoal. And then the bag was used for storing things  to wipe the floor and so on. So I had this image of a man carrying a gunny sack full of memories - there are so many memories he just doesn't know what … . He doesn't open the neck - he imagines taking one memory at a time, looking at it, a whole world opens up, putting it back, taking something else out of the bag, another world opens up, and so on. By picking these things out he creates some kind of a world in his mind which is disjointed but at the same time is obviously interconnected. And this of course is the task of the novelist and it was at this point that I first started a literary magazine. It was called the Toronto South Asian Review and now it is called the Toronto Review of Contemporary Writing. And I also started to write this novel which took me about seven years to write. In this novel I picture … . You know, you have an image in your head which is very romantic. But by the time you create something out of it - you write a novel out of it - you write something different, though inspired by the same idea. So when the novel was finished, I had this young man who was actually bequeathed by some other person a real gunny sack which was full of old objects from his past, from someone else's past, and he looks at these things and it reminds him of a story and obviously, when you look back through these random objects, the order in which you take out these things reminds you of different things. The order in which he picks out the objects from the gunny sack determines what the narrative and his writing will become. So he takes one object and connects it to another object, and so on. In this way, he creates the story of his life - not only of his life, but the story of his family, of his community, and so on, as well as his past, beginning at the time when some ancestor had come from India to Africa in search of a job or his fortune. So this became my first novel, The Gunny Sack.

9.3.1 Moyez G. Vassanji (1950-)

Moyez G. Vassanji was born in 1950 in Nairobi, Kenya, the son of muslim Indian parents Gulamhussein Vassanji and Daulatkhanu (Manji) Nanji, members of the Indian community which had emigrated to East Africa in the late nineteenth century. He was educated at the Aga Khan Schools in Dar es Salaam, in what was then Tanganyika, and in 1970, at the age of nineteen, he left the University of Nairobi and went to the United States of America on a scholarship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he took a BA in Physics in 1974. He went on to study nuclear physics at the University of Pennsylvania where he was awarded a PhD in 1978. In the same year, Moyez Vassanji was writer-in-residence at the University of Iowa in the university’s prestigious International Writing Program.

In 1978, Moyez Vassanji emigrated to Canada and from 1978 until 1980 he worked as a researcher for Atomic Energy of Canada at the Chalk River power station. During this period, in July 1979, he married Nurjehan Aziz, a researcher. Between 1980 and 1989, he lectured in Physics at the University of Toronto. In 1982, he founded the literary magazine Toronto South Asian Review, now called Toronto Review of Contemporary Writing Abroad, which he continues to edit. An interest in Sanskrit studies that started in 1977 led Moyez Vassanji towards writing fiction. His first novel The Gunny Sack took eight years to write and was published in 1989 by Heinemann in the African Writers Series.

Moyez Vassanji’s The Gunny Sack traces through recorded memories the history of the Asian community in East Africa. Moyez Vassanji has spoken of how the image of the gunny sack – a bag made of jute or sisal that is used to carry onions, bread, charcoal or rags to wipe the floor with – can also be used to carry stories and memories and provides him with a literary conceit by which he can retell loosely-connected and disjointed tales of his childhood and youth. Moyez Vassanji was awarded a Commonwealth Writers Prize (African region) for Best First Novel in 1990.

Moyez Vassanji’s second novel No New Land, published in 1991 by McClelland and Stewart, focuses on East African Asian immigrant communities in Canada. Set in the mid-1970s, a period during which North American society was experiencing deep social and sexual turmoil, Nurdin Lalani and his family find that life is unexpectedly difficult in the Toronto suburb Don Mills where their South Asian African values sit awkwardly alongside rapidly-evolving Western morals.

Moyez Vassanji’s collection of short stories Uhuru Street was published by Heinemann International Literature and Textbooks in the African Writers Series in 1991 and the following year by McClelland and Stewart. The collection is dedicated to the author’s mother whom he has described as a good storyteller who told her children stories and recollections of her growing up, stories which are still fresh in the writer’s mind. Uhuru Street is in Dar es Salaam and was once called Kichwele Street but was renamed at the time of Tanganyika’s independence in 1961. Tanganyika merged with Zanzibar in 1964 and came to be called Tanzania. The stories capture in prose the lives of the immigrants who inhabit the street and the changes that occur in their life experiences as the country moves from the colonial days of the 1950s, through the more complex times of post-independence up to the 1980s by which time Uhuru has been reduced to an ideal of the past.

Moyez Vasaanji’s The Book of Secrets was published in 1994 by McClelland and Stewart, winning the Bressani Literary Prize, the Harbourfront Literacy Award and the Giller Prize, Best Novel. In terms of literary form, The Book of Secrets complements The Gunny Sack in many ways. However, in The Book of Secrets the device used is not a gunny sack but the diary of Alfred Corbin, an English colonial officer in East Africa, written in 1913 and discovered in 1988. Whereas in The Gunny Sack the narrator goes on a quest for his current identity by taking items out of the gunny sack and exploring their associations with the past, in The Book of Secrets the diary is used to reconstruct the past. Pius Fernandes, a retired Goan teacher who lives in Dar es Salaam comes across the Englishman’s diary by chance and through excerpts taken from Corbin’s diary dating from March 1913 and miscellaneous extracts taken from the personal notebook of Pius Fernandes dated April 1988, Moyez Vassanji investigates hidden aspects of the European colonisation of East Africa which in turn leads to a reconstructed history of the period.

In 1996, Moyez Vassanji was a fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study. He lives in Toronto with his wife and two children and works as a writer and a teacher.

9.3.2 The Gunny Sack (1989)

At one level, Moyez Vassanji’s The Gunny Sack is a portrait of life within the East African Asian community in Dar es Salaam during the period of German and British colonial administration which preceded Tanganyika’s independence in 1961 and its union with Zanzibar in 1964, for which the names of the two countries were fused into one – Tanzania. In his detailed and perceptive description of the characters, homes and shops in Uhuru Street, formerly Kichwele Street, and the multi-ethnic African quarter of Kariakoo, a presentation which is clearly founded on the author’s own personal experience, Moyez Vassanji provides a vivid insight into the complexities and nuances of life in a community as it attempts to uphold its Indian muslim values and traditions in one of Europe’s African colonies. Evoking the contrasting atmospheres of the street and the dynamics of the streetlife, Vassanji speaks of,

The thousand faces of Kariakoo ... From the quiet and cool, shady and dark inside of the shop you could see them through the rectangular doorframe as on a wide, silent cinema screen: vendors, hawkers, peddlers, askaris, thieves, beggars and other more ordinary pedestrians making their way in the dust and the blinding glare and the heat, in kanzus, msuris, cutoffs, shorts, khaki or white uniforms, khangas, frocks, buibuis, frock-pachedis ... African, Asia, Arab; Hindu, Khoja, Memon, Shamsi; Masai, Makonde, Swahili ... men and women of different shades and hues and beliefs. (86)

Yet The Gunny Sack is not simply a portrait of an Asian African community. At another level, it relates a quest for identity and at yet another level it is about marriage, the incongruencies and incompatabilities which result from applying the rules of arranged marriages in an Asian African context and the problematics of inter-racial marriage.

The Gunny Sack is divided into three parts. Part One has the name “Ji Bai,” Part Two “Kulsum” and Part Three “Amina,” all three women who figure prominently in the life of the narrator, Huseni Salim Juma Dhanji, nickname Kala. When Kala is given a gunny sack full of memorabilia by his grandfather’s step-brother’s wife Ji Bai, Kala finds himself in possession of mementoes – a necklace, a photograph, a cowrie shell, a brass incense holder, a rosary, a Swahili cap, a blood-stained muslin shirt, three padlocked books – with which he can retrace the lives of his forefathers and investigate their secrets. He can discover how his great-grandfather Dhanji Govindji married his African wife Bibi Taratiba, a slave, and how Dhanji Govindji was murdered because he used up the funds given to him as the Mukhi of Matamu to pay for his travels throughout East Africa in search of their half-caste son Huseni, Kala’s paternal grandfather. The evidence of Dhanji Govindji’s “sin” are kept in the three padlocked books and their secret leads Kala to look more closely into his own father’s fate.

Part Two of the narrative focuses on Kala’s mother Kulsum, wife of Juma. Juma is thirty and Kulsum is sixteen when their marriage is arranged According to the muslim tradition of khandaan, while responsible for the dignity and respectability of their father’s name, daughters-in-law occupy “the lowest rungs in the family hierarchy. Kulsum was the wife of the orphan, the half-caste, and herself of humble origin: there was no one lowlier than her at the home of Hassam Pirbhai.” (68) Years later, during the Emergency, following the birth of Begum, Kala and Sona, Kala accidently causes four gallons of milk to be spilled on the kitchen floor. As punishment, Kulsum beats her son severely and then carries out seven days of intense prayer and ritual to expiate her behaviour. A few days later, Juma passes away and Kala blames himself for his father’s death. Kulsum is left a widow with three children to bring up and Kulsum finds herself “in a hostile city without an ally.” Kulsum’s arranged marriage has led to social failure and ostracism in the muslim, Asian African community and her elder sisters Fatu and Daulat convince her to leave Nairobi and move to Dar es Salaam.

In Part Three, Kala follows in his great-grandfather’s footsteps and falls in love with Amina, an African girl, who is a soldier and a militant feminist. Yet the association which develops on the basis of the couple’s love for each other is discouraged. As Kulsum, who had been married to a half-caste discovers, in the Asian African community,

[b]lack ancestry was not something you advertised. (...) A whiff of African blood from the family tree would be like an Artic blast, it would bring the mercury of social standing racing down to unacceptable levels. (150)

So it is for Kala and Amina who are forced to carry “the burdens of our races” (228) and who discover that “our “world was pulling us apart.” (228)

In 1971, the Uniform Law of Marriage stated that,

Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses. No crib marriages, when parents betrothed infants while still rocking them to sleep in their cribs, and boys and girls could remember being married all their lives ... but that custom was long gone, only to be joked about every time a child was born; and going but not completely gone was the custom of giving a girl in marriage ... [author’s italics] (239)

Arranged marriages replace “love marriages” –“Love. For once it’s spoken the wind catches it and whispers it around and it gets conjoined with its mate, marriage.” [author’s italics] (239) – and so avoid the marriage of young girls to “[o]ld bearded shehes, two to three times their ages, married previously: the flower of youth, the apple of dad’s eye trampled in the mud.” (241)

However, Kala’s marriage to Zuleika Kassam is based not in love but in shared qualities; “The union was obvious to the most casual observer. Two teachers. Same interests. friendly to each other. No competitors in sight.” (253) But when Amina is detained on susicion of plotting against the government, Kala is persuaded to leave his family and go into exile, a decision he takes knowing that he “ran away from the marriage, an impossible domestic situation ... like my grandfather, Huseni ... and even his father Dhanji Govindji who went to look for him.” (265)

The Gunny Sack looks at the problematics of marriage in East Africa’s Asian community in which race and religion impose powerful constraints on the family. In the marriages of Kala’s forefathers, Dhanji Govindji to Bibi Taratibu, Huseni to Moti, Juma to Kulsum, and the narrator’s own marriage to Zuleika Kassam, Moyez Vassanji reveals how in the past racial prejudice, religious dogma and tradition have undermined the marriage institution and how the more recent “love marriage” is no effective replacement. By the end of the book, the narrator continues the quest for a resolution, but is forced to acknowledge that “[t]he cycle of escape and rebirth, uprooting and regeneration, must cease in me.” (268)




















Chapter 10 – Myth, Religion and the World of the Spirits in Independent Africa

As the countries evolved diachronically through phases of colonialism, so the degree of coloniality changed in the novels. This is why Amos Tutuola’s The Palm-Wine Drinkard and His Dead Palm-Wine Tapster in the Dead’s Town (1952) is so revolutionary and significant – it is way ahead of its time, being a non-colonial novel published at the height of colonialism in Nigeria.

10.1 Amos Tutuola. The Palm-Wine Drinkard and His Dead Palm-Wine Tapster in the Dead’s Town

The Palm-Wine Drinkard and His Dead Palm-Wine Tapster in the Dead’s Town was highly praised by persons such as Dylan Thomas who wrote in The Observer “Nothing is too prodigious or too trivial to put down in this tall, devilish story.” Reviewing the book in The Daily Telegraph, John Betjeman wrote of the book, “Bound in boards and with all the Western paraphernalia of dust-wrapper, print and paper, this weird book makes me think of African carving set on a shiny table in a smart London flat. I feel it would have been more appropriately scratched on the bark of a tree in the jungle.”

10.1.1 Amos Tutuola (1920-1997)

Amos Tutuola was born in 1920 at Ipose-Ake, Abeokuta. His father Charles Tutuola was a Christian cocoa farmer. He was brought up in the Yoruba-speaking town 50 miles north of Lagos and spent much of his time listening to folk stories told by his mother Esther Aina and his aunt. In 1930, at the age of ten, Amos Tutuola went to a Salvation Army primary school where he was introduced to episodic adventure narratives such as The Arabian (?) Thousand and One Nights and John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress which were used as textbooks there. However, his family could not afford to keep Amos at school and he was employed as a houseboy by a government clerk who enabled him to attend school at Ipose-Ake. When the government clerk was transferred to Lagos, Amos went with him, attended the High School there and received a formal education for six years, between 1934 and 1939. Following this education, Amos Tutuola trained as a blacksmith. In 1942, he joined the Royal Air Force and worked as a coppersmith in the West African Air Corps until the end of the Second World War in 1945. In 1947, Amos Tutuola married Victoria Alake.

By 1948, Amos Tutuola had returned to Lagos where he joined the colonial civil service working as a messenger for the Department of Labour. During the long waits between taking messages, he filled in time by writing down Yoruba folk tales and published Yoruba stories in English, among which were the texts of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts and his best-known work The Palm-Wine Drinkard and His Dead Palm-Wine Tapster in the Dead’s Town. Although written before The Palm-Wine Drinkard, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts was not published until 1954, two years after the publication of The Palm-Wine Drinkard. Like The Palm-Wine Drinkard, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts is a folklore narrative. The first-person narrator, a boy of seven, unknowingly enters the Bush of Ghosts, “a dreadful bush [...] so dreadful that no superior earthly person ever entered it.” (1954: 22). The boy journeys for twenty-four years through sequence of towns – “7th Town of Ghosts,” “9th Town of Ghosts,” 10th. Town of Ghosts,” “20th Town of Ghosts,” “Nameless-town” and “Hopeless-town,” encounters characters such as “The Smelling-Ghost,” “cow-men,” “homeless-ghost,” “Reverend Devil” and “Television-handed Ghostess,” finding his way eventually back to the land of the living.

Amos Tutuola sent the manuscript of The Palm-Wine Drinkard to the United Society for Christian Literature and this missionary society forwarded the manuscript to Faber and Faber in London where it was published in 1952. Publication in England was followed by editions in the United States and France. However, the international success of The Palm-Wine Drinkard was not recognised by readers in Nigeria who criticised Tutuola’s use of English and thought that Western admirers of the book were being condescending towards a Nigerian’s presentation of Yoruba folklore in English.

Disillusioned with the response of Nigerian intellectuals and literati towards his work, Amos Tutuola wanted to return to his work as a coppersmith and spend time with his fellow tradesmen. However, with the publication of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts he started to attend evening classes on creative writing. In 1955, Amos Tutuola’s third book Simbi and the Satyr of the Dark Jungle, a story about the fantastic trials of a beautiful, rich young girl who sets out to experience poverty and hunger and who, after several weird experiences and frightening ordeals, eventually arrives home the wife of a woodcutter to give birth to a child. This fairy tale was followed in 1958 by the publication of his fourth book The Brave African Huntress which, like Simbi and the Satyr of the Dark Jungle, is a story about a woman, Adebisi, the brave huntress, who enters the Jungle of the Pigmies in search of her four older brothers who had disappeared while out hunting. Adebisi survives a catalogue of dangers, rescues her brothers, together with countless other captives, and brings home precious metals which convert her instantly into a very rich lady. As with Simbi and the Satyr of the Dark Jungle (1955) and The Brave African Huntress (1958), Amos Tutuola retains a female protagonist at the centre of his narrative in Feather Woman of the Jungle, published in1962.

The nature of poverty is a principal focus of much of Amos Tutuola’s writing. In Ajaija and his Inherited Poverty (1967), Ajaija and his sister embark on a journey to discover why they remain poor no matter how hard they work. Their quest is characterised by an encounter with terrifying gods, a visit to the Creator’s town and threats from the Spirit of Fire. The theme of poverty is revisited in Pauper, Brawler, and Slanderer (1987) in which the three tricksters cause the hero to realise that poverty is self-inflicted and innate – “the destiny of poverty and wretchedness that I chose from Creator on the day that I was born” – a part of a person’s destiny and an integral part of his/her mindset. The state of pauperhood is presented as an existential condition from which it is difficult, if not impossible, for a person to escape. In the Land of Judgement, the Judge of the Creator instructs the characters on behalf of the Creator how to evade poverty by the effective use of wealth.

Amos Tutuola worked as a storekeeper for the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation and, on his retirement in 1976, he divided his time between homes in Ibadan and Ago-Odo and during 1979 he was a visiting research fellow at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Owolowo University) at Ile-Ife. In 1981 the novel The Witch-Herbalist of the Remote Town appeared, an adventure story that tells how the Yoruba trickster Ajapa, the tortoise, travels to a remote town in search of a cure for his wife’s barrenness. Despite the Christian witch-herbalist’s warning not to take any of the medicine, Ajapa eats some and becomes pregnant himself, a predicament from which he is alleviated only by the intervention of an undersea goddess.

The following year, The Wild Hunter in the Bush of the Ghosts (1982) was published, to be revised in 1989. In 1983 he attended the International Writing Programme at the University of Iowa. Yoruba Folktales (1986), a collection of Amos Tutuola’s short stories was published by Ibadan University Press in 1986, tales in which he reveals his indebtedness to the folk fantasies and quest narratives written in Yoruba by Daniel O. Fagunwa (1903-1963). In 1990 his last published book The Village Witch Doctor and Other Stories appeared. The short stories in this collection are tales of magic and revenge taken from Yoruba mythology and legend, “The Village Witch Doctor” being a shortened rendering of his earlier work Ajaiyi and his Inherited Poverty (1967).

Amos Tutuola died in June 1997 at the age of seventy-seven. According to newspaper reports at the time of his burial in Ibadan, he died a pauper, leaving four wives and eleven children.

10.1.2 The Palm-Wine Drinkard and His Dead Palm-Wine Tapster in the Dead’s Town (1952)

Amos Tutuola wrote The Palm-Wine Drinkard in forty-eight hours and the narrative is characterised by that kind of sustained dramatic intensity that comes from a burst of inspiration and creative energy. The Palm-Wine Drinkard is a folk narrative which, based on the structure of a quest, incorporates Yoruba folk tales, beliefs and mythological figures. The dynamics of the narrative derives from the swift succession of episodes that relate how a palm-wine drinker goes in search of his favourite palm-wine tapster who has died as a result of a fall from a palm tree. The quest takes the palm-wine drinker on a journey through towns and bush towards the “Dead’s Town” where he believes he will find his tapster because “old people were saying that the whole people who had died in this world, did not go to heaven directly, but they were living in one place somewhere in this world.” (9)

At the outset of his journey, the palm-wine drinkard meets “an old man – “he was a god” (10) – who said he would tell him where his tapster was if he brought Death to him. But although the palm-wine drinkard, who is also “a god and a juju man” (10) and “Father of gods who could do anything in this world” (10) manages to capture Death and bring him to the old man’s house – “since the day that I had brought Death out from his house, he has no permanent place to dwell or stay, and we are hearing his name about in the world” (16) – the old man reneges on his promise.

The palm-wine drinkard sets out again and after five months reaches another town. The head of a town asks him to find his daughter who has been taken off by a “complete gentleman,” in reality a skull which has hired parts of the body – limbs, skin and flesh – so as to look beautiful on market day. The palm-wine drinkard tracks down the daughter whom he finds seated on a bull-frog with a cowrie tied to her neck which screams each time somebody tries to untie it. The palm-wine drinkard learns the cowrie’s secret, frees the woman and takes her as his wife. After three years, an aggressive half-bodied baby is born from his wife’s thumb and the parents are saved from their violent child only when Drum, Song and Dance take him away with them. The palm-wine drinkard proceeds with his wife towards the Dead’s Town, spending time on “Wraith-Island” in the company of beautiful creatures where men walk backwards, and then to “Unreturnable-Heaven’s Town” where both are tortured, their heads shaved with broken bottles. They burn down the town and, once recuperated, “sell their death” and “lend their fear.” They are then taken into the care of “Faithful-mother” who lives in a white tree. After a year and two weeks, they are told to continue their journey, return to the bush and soon find themselves in “Red Town” where everything and everybody is red. The palm-wine drinkard fights with Red-fish and Red-bird and kills them. Red Town is destroyed and the people of Red Town move to a new town where the populace is no longer red. “Invisible-pawn” helps the palm-wine drinkard to establish the townspeople, but when “Invisible-pawn” steals all their crops, the townspeople send an army against the palm-wine drinkard and “Invisible-pawn” slaughters all the townspeople, leaving the palm-wine drinkard and his wife on their own.

The palm-wine drinkard and his wife continue on their way to Dead’s Town. They help the king of a town whose son has been murdered to identify the killer and by way of recompense the king tells them where Dead’s Town is. As “alives,” the palm-wine drinkard and his wife can only enter Dead’s Town at night, but once there they locate the palm-wine drinkard’s favourite tapster. The dead tapster cannot return to the land of the “alives,” but he gives his former master an egg which

was to give me anything that I wanted in this world and if I wanted to use it, I must put it in a big bowl of water, then I would mention the name of anything that I wanted. (101)

Taking their leave of his favourite tapster, the palm-wine drinkard and his wife leave Dead’s Town and following encounters with a bag full of terrible creatures and a “hungry-creature” that swallows everything within its grasp, including the two travellers, the palm-wine drinkard and his wife enter “mixed-town” where the palm-wine drinkard is asked to sit in judgement on two difficult cases, one involving a man in debt and a debt collector and the other a man with three wives. They escape from “mixed-town” before the judgements are passed, become involved in a non-stop dance with creatures of the “Unknown mountain” from whom they escape with the help of the palm-wine drinkard’s juju, the plam-wine drinkard as a pebble and his wife as a wooden doll.

When the palm-wine drinkard and his wife reach their home, they find that famine has struck their land. The palm-wine drinkard uses the egg to supply food for the population, but when the masses abuse the generosity of the palm-wine drinkard, the egg cracks and takes its revenge by whipping every individual. The people make a sacrifice to Heaven which brings on heavy rain and “there was no famine again.” (125)

In his presentation of Yoruba mythology and legend, Amos Tutuola was greatly influenced by and indebted to D.O. Fagunwa. In a sense, too, The Palm-Wine Drinkard is a poet’s narrative, both Dylan Thomas and John Betjeman having acknowledged in reviews the extraordinariness and distinctive Africanness of the creation. In The Palm-Wine Drinkard, Amos Tutuola takes his reader into a pre-colonial Yoruba mindset, giving insight into the fears, anxieties and spirituality of Yoruba men and women. In the same way that the characters of miracle plays like Everyman symbolise states of morality and spirituality of medieval Europeans, so too do the characters and creatures of The Palm-Wine Drinkard achieve mythological and iconoclastic dimensions in the literature. Magical, weird and fantastic, The Palm-Wine Drinkard reveals an African world-view in all its intricacy, complexity and colour, providing a starting point for what has come to be termed “magic realism.”

10.2 Flora Nwapa. Efuru (1966)

10.2.1 Flora Nwapa (1931-1993)

Flora Nwanzuruahu Nkiru Nwapa was born to Igbo parents in 1931 and brought up at Ugwuta in Imo State, Eastern Nigeria. The eldest of six children, in 1936 she underwent her primary education at the Church Missionary Society (CMS) Central School in Ugwuta and in 1944, at the age of thirteen, she began her secondary education at the Archdeacon Crowther Memorial Girls’ School at Elelenwa, near Port Harcourt. Five years later, at the age of eighteen, she moved to CMS Girls’ School in Lagos, receiving her Cambridge Overseas Senior School Leaving Certificate in 1950, and then to Queen’s College, Lagos.

In 1952, Flora Nwapa returned to Ugwuta to teach at the Priscilla Memorial Grammar School there. At this time, too, she passed British GCE ‘A-level’ examinations in English and History. In 1953, she enrolled at University College in Ibadan where she was awarded a BA (University of London) in 1957 and in the same year she moved to Scotland to begin a one-year course at the University of Edinburgh, receiving a Diploma in Education in 1958. After travelling in parts of Europe, Flora Nwapa returned to Nigeria and was employed by the Ministry of Education as a Woman Education Officer in the Inspectorate Division in Calabar. In 1959, she was transferred to Queen’s School at Enugu where she taught English and Geography, and in June of the same year she gave birth to a daughter, Ejine.

In 1961, a year after Nigeria achieved independence, Flora Nwapa began writing her first novel Efuru. She worked as an Administrative Officer at the University of Lagos, lectured in English and Geography to journalism students and, in 1964, was promoted to Assistant Registrar and placed in charge of Public Relations. In 1966, with the publication of Ufuru by Heinemann Educational Books, she became Nigeria’s first woman novelist. In 1967, she married Gogo Nwakuche, an industrialist, and in April 1969, their son Uzoma was born.

With the end of the Nigeria-Biafra War in January 1970 during which she had remained in Eastern Nigeria, Flora Nwapa was appointed Commissioner of Health and Social Welfare on the East Central State Executive Council. The post enabled Flora Nwapa to reunite children who had been displaced to Gabon and Ivory Coast by the civil war with their parents. In the same year, her second novel Idu was published, again by Heinemann Educational Books. Dedicated to “Papa and Mama,” Idu addresses the problems rural Nigerian women have when it comes to bearing children.

In August 1971, Flora Nwapa’s collection of short stories This Lagos and Other Stories was published in Nigeria by Nwamife Publishers of Enugu. In the same year she accepted the post of Commissioner of Lands, Survey and Urban Development in East Central State and in October 1971 her daughter Amede was born. The following year, a book for children Emeka – Driver’s Guard was published by University of London Press and in 1974 she accepted the political post as Commissioner of Establishment in East Central State under the government of General Yakubu Gowon (1966-1975). In 1975, Never Again, her third novel that narrates events in the Nigeria-Biafra War and its effect on traditional values and belief systems, was published by Nwamife Publishers. In July 1975, General Gowon’s régime was overthrown and Gowon was replaced by General Murtala Ramat Mohammad (July 1975-February 1976) who himself was succeeded by General Olusegun Obasanjo (February 1976-October 1979). Flora Nwapa’s position as Commissioner of Establishment ended with the overthrow of Gowon’s régime in 1975 and in 1976 she took up a position as Visiting Lecturer in Creative Writing at Alvan Ikoku College of Education at Owerri, south of Ugwuta, and she also registered Tana Press and Flora Nwapa Books as limited companies in order to publish and print books for adults and children respectively.

From 1977 onwards, Flora Nwapa worked as Managing Director of Tana Press and Flora Nwapa Books at Enugu. Flora Nwapa Press brought out Mammywater, My Tana Colouring Book and My Animal Colouring Book in 1979, The Miracle Kittens, Journey to Space and The Adventures of Deke in 1980 and My Tana Alphabet Book and My Animal Number Book in 1981. In 1980, Tana Press published Flora Nwapa’s second collection of short stories Wives at War and Other Stories (1980) in which the focus is on the experiences of women during the Nigeria-Biafra War and in adapting the demands of their sexualities to life in modern, urban Nigeria. In 1981, Tana Press published Flora Nwapa’s fourth novel One is Enough that tells of a thirty-year-old woman Amaka who, after learning that her husband is planning to marry another woman, decides to leave him and live as an independent woman in Lagos.

As Managing Director of Tana Press and Flora Nwapa Books, Flora Nwapa spent time from 1980 onwards visiting bookfairs, attending conferences and giving papers in many parts of the world. She attended the Frankfurt Book Fair (1980), Bologna International Children’s Book Fair (1981), First Feminist Book Fair (London 1984), International Zimbabwe Book Fair (Harare 1985), Second International Feminist Book Fair (Oslo 1986), Third International Book Fair (Montreal 1988) and Fifth International Feminist Book Fair (Amsterdam 1992). She is also presented with many awards, among them the Nigerian national award of Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) for literature (1983), the University of Ife Merit Award on Authorship and Publishing (1985) and a Medal of Honour from former governor Amadi Ikweche of Imo State in Owerri (1992).

In 1986, Flora Nwapa’s novel Women are Different was published by Tana Press. This fifth novel traces the lives of a group of Nigerian women from their schooldays spent together through the visicitudes and complexities of their adult lives, with the struggle for economic independence as relevant in present-day circumstances as in the colonial and civil war past. In the same year, Flora Nwapa’s first collection of poems Cassava Song and Rice Song was also published by Tana Press.

In 1989, Flora Nwapa was Visiting Professor in Creative Writing at the University of Maiduguri and was made President of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) in Bornu State. In 1990, Flora Nwapa was appointed to the Commission on Review of Higher Education in Nigeria by President Ibrahim Babangida.

In 1993, two books of plays The First Lady: [A Play] and Conversations: [Plays] which includes “The Sychophants” and “Two Women in Conversation” were published by Tana Press. Flora Nwapa was invited to teach creative writing at the University of East Carolina in North Carolina, but in October 1993 she died of pneumonia in Enugu and was buried in Ugwuta. It is planned to publish her sixth novel The Lake Goddess posthumously.

10.2.2 Efuru (1966)

Efuru is about the problems of childbearing in a post-independent African society. The concepts of romantic love and freedom of decision for women that have become difused into traditional African societies during the colonial period prove to be incompatible with the customs and traditions of African cultures, especially in the rural areas. This impinges on the marriage institution for both men and women, but it is childbearing that is the unique domain of women and in Efuru Flora Nwapa focuses specifically on the problematics involved regarding the decision to give birth, the implications of having given birth and the sequel to having given birth.

Efuru is the beautiful and kind daughter of Nwashike Ogene, a man famed for his bravery and the head of a respected Igbo family. On a moonlit night, Efuru falls in love with Adizua and, against her father’s advice, runs away and marries him. Adizua’s parents did not visit Nwashike Ogene before marrying his daughter and the dowry remains unpaid until well into the marriage. Early in the marriage, Adizua’s mother arranges for Efuru to be circumcised, but Efuru does not become pregnant until after a visit to a dibia and their daughter Ogonim dies of a convulsion. By the time of Ogonim’s death, Adizua has left Efuru for another woman and, having decided to abandon her husband, Efuru moves back to her father’s compound.

Efuru gradually establishes a relationship with Eneberi (Gilbert) Uberife, a member of her age group. Efuru agrees to marry Eneberi and, after a meeting between family members and the prompt payment of the dowry, Nwashike Ogene’s gives his consent and the couple are married. At first, the couple live happily together, but after two years Efuru is still not pregnant and women begin to gossip about her barrenness. Efuru goes to a doctor in Onicha and, on the advice of her father, consults a local dibia. The dibia Enesha Agorua tells Efuru that she has been chosen by Unhamiri, the Lady of the Lake, to be one of her worshippers.

Women who worship Unhamiri, the Lady of the Lake, are well-known for their childlessness and as Efuru’s barrenness continues, women in the village tell Eneberi’s motherAmede to start looking for another wife for her son. Amede’s sister Ajanupu tells Efuru that she should look for a young girl for her husband. Suggestions are made of girls who Eneberi could marry, among them Efuru’s maid Ogea, but he eventually marries nineteen-year-old Nkoyeni Eneke, the sister of his age-mate Sunday. By this time, the fact that Eneberi has a son by another woman in Ndoni becomes widely known. When Eneberi’s son is brought by his uncle on a brief visit, Efuru is pleased to see the boy but Nkoyeni is furious.

Efuru’s father Nwashike Ogene dies. Eneberi does not attend the funeral. Efuru learns later that has has been imprisoned for three months, but since his crime was not stealing, Efuru forgives him. However, some time after her father’s death, Efuru herself falls ill with a mysterious illness. Eneberi is led to believe Efuru has fallen ill because she has committed adultery and he accuses Efuru. The accusation causes Efuru to leave Eneberi and return to her father’s home. Efuru, a chosen worshipper of Uhamiri, the Lady of the Lake, is fated to be an unsuccessful wife.

Custom and tradition thread their way throughout the narrative structure of Efuru. Igbo folk-tales, myths, refrains, anecdotes and beliefs combine in an aesthetic form which captures pre-colonial Igbo society and carries it forward into the Igboland of post-independent Nigeria. In Efuru, Flora Nwapa focuses on womanhood, motherhood and their relationship to the marriage institution in the post-colonial situation. Examples of popular dictums are “[a] woman, a wife for that matter, should not look glamorous all the time, and not fulfil the important function she is made to fulfil” (138), “a man and a woman should not be seen together often whether they are married or not” (139) and “[i]t was a curse not to have children. Her people did not just take it as one of the numerous accidents of nature. It was regarded as a failure.” (165)

Flora Nwapa uses the myth of Uhamiri, “the owner of the lake” (201) as the centrepiece of her presentation,

the woman of the lake., with “her, beauty, her long hair and her riches” who “had lived for ages at the bottom of he lake. [...] as old as the lake itself [...] happy, [...] wealthy. [...] beautiful [...] but she had no child. She had never experienced the joy of motherhood. (221)

and as a concluding remark, the author asks “Why then did the women worship her [Uhamiri]?” (221)

The answer may lie in the fact that Uhamiri is a mythical icon who presents women with an alternative to wifehood and motherhood, providing women with an escape from the stigmas attached to barrenness in traditional society and to the risks and burdens of motherhood. Like nuns in Christian society, Uhamiri cult members are obliged to adhere to certain rules and to respect certain taboos –

Uhamiri is a great woman. She is our goddess and above all she is very kind to women. If you are to worship her, you must keep her taboos. Orie day is her great day. You are not to fish on this day. I know you don’t fish, but you should persuade others not to fish. You are not to eat yams on this day. You are not to sleep with your husband. You have to boil, roast or fry plantains on Orie days. Uhamiri likes plaintains very much. You can even pound it if you like. When you go to bed, you must be in white on Orie nights. You can sacrifice a white fowl to Uhamiri on this day. When you feel particularly happy, or grateful, you should sacrifice a white sheep to her. Above all, you will keep yourself holy. When you do all these, then you will see for yourself what the woman of the lake would do for you. [...]

You are to buy an earthenware pot. Fill it with water from the lake, and put it at one corner of your room. Cover it with a white piece of cloth. That’s all you have to do. (154)

In a society in which, on marriage, the husband’s family pays a dowry to the wife’s family and the wife moves into the husband’s household, Efuru proves to be a hard-working and generous daughter-in-law, taking good care of the mothers of both Adizua and Eneberi in a society in which daughter- and mother-in-law “live in the same compound.” (134) If the daughter-in-law remains childless, however, then the whole purpose of traditional marriage is defeated –

We are not going to eat happy marriage. Marriage must be fruitful. Of what use is it if it is not fruitful. Of what use is it if your husband licks your body, worships you and buys everything in the market for you and you are not productive? (137)

In such cases, one option is for the husband’s family to return his wife to her family and to reclaim the dowry – “the custom is that the dowry is to be returned to Adizua’s people. We shall wait for them according to the custom of our people. When his people come, we shall give them back their money.” (135) Another option in this society is for the husband’s barren wife to remain part of his household and for his mother to marry a wife on his behalf so that he can have children with her and thereby ensure descendency. This institution is called the “female husband.” When Efuru’s marriage to Eneberi remains childless, Eneberi’s mother Amede is told –

The chances of your daughter-in-law ever getting a baby are very remote now. You must marry a girl for your son whether he likes it or not. If you like take my advice. It is said she makes money, she makes money, are you going to eat money? (162)

and when Ajanupu suggests that Efuru herself should look for a young girl to be the bearer of her husband’s offspring –

‘Efuru,’ [Ajanupu] said at last, ‘it is about you and your husband. Don’t you think you will begin now to look for a young girl for him? It will be better if you suggest this to your husband. He will at least know that you want him to marry another wife and have children. If you leave it to him and his mother, his mother might get someone that will over-ride you. You will have no control over her and it will be difficult for you. One day they will tell you, you have no children and therefore no right to be in the house, your wealthy notwithstanding.’ (164-165)

Efuru agrees and tells Eneberi,

‘Eneberi, I am thinking of getting a wife for you.’ [...]

If I get another wife, a young girl, she will have children for you and I will love the children because they are your own children.’ (174)

The problem for Flora Nwapa is to see where the Western concept of romantic love, the concept which justifies and underpins the marriage institution in the Western world, fits in with the traditional perception of marriage in Igbo society. With her two marriages in ruins, Efuru feels betrayed by her love for Azidua and Eneberi and “[a]ngry because she had again loved in vain. She had deceived herself all these years [as Eneberi’s wife], as she deceived herself when she was Adizua’s wife. She was filled with hate and resentment, qualities that were foreign to her nature.” (209)

In Efuru, Flora Nwapa reveals incompatibilities at the interface of traditional marriage, with its requirements of dowry payment, patrilocality and the need for offspring, and Western marriage which is based essentially on mutual love between two persons. In the character of Efuru, both bases for marriage fail and she is left, her dignity, wealth and beauty intact, as one of Uhamiri’s worshippers. Efuru accepts her fate; “‘It is the will of our gods and my chi that such misfortune should befall me.’” (220) Yet Flora Nwapa leaves Efuru’s fate open-ended. When Efuru questions her doctor’s friendship, Difu responds “‘I am your friend. I have always been your friend’” (220) and when Efuru asks Difu “how is your wife?” he replies,

‘Oh, she is well. I left her in the country of the white people.’

‘All alone?’

‘She lives with an elderly woman who takes great care of her and our two sons.’

‘That is good.’ (221)

Efuru could find herself in love again and neither tradition nor the Uhamiri cult would condemn her for marrying a third time.

10.3 Elechi Amadi. The Concubine (1966)

10.3.1 Elechi Amadi (1934-)

Born in Aluu near Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Eastern Nigeria, in 1934, Elechi Amadi is of the Ekwerre people of Eastern Nigeria. He was educated at Government College, Umuahia, and later studied physics and mathematics at University College, Ibadan, graduating in 1959 with a BSc honours degree.

Amadi worked as a land surveyor and teacher and then joined the Nigerian army, rising to the rank of captain. In 1965, he left the army to take up a teaching post, and in 1966, his first novel The Concubine was published in Heinemann’s African Writers Series. Together with The Great Ponds (1969) and The Slave (1978), The Concubine is the first in a trilogy of novels which deal with the belief system and social behaviour in traditional Ekwerre society.

With the outbreak of the Nigeria-Biafra War (1967-1970), he rejoined the army, serving as a Federal Army officer in the 3rd. Marine Commandos. Amadi was imprisoned on two occasions by the Biafrans in Eastern Nigeria. In 1969, with the fighting over, Amadi was transferred to Port Harcourt to take charge of the Ministry of Local Government and Information. In 1973, he published Sunset in Biafra, an account of his experiences as a Federal Army officer and as a civilian in the war. He also published a play Isiburu (1973) at this time which was followed by three other plays The Dancer of Johannesburg (1977), Peppersoup (1977) and The Road to Ibadan (1977).

In 1982, a collection of essays Ethics in Nigerian Culture was published and this was followed in 1986 by a fourth novel Estrangement (1986) that is set in rural Nigeria during the aftermath of the Nigeria-Biafra War. Amadi later became head of the Rivers State Government’s Ministry of Education.

10.3.2 The Concubine (1966)

The Concubine is set in a village in Erekwi (Ikwere) in the Niger Delta during pre-colonial times. Ihuoma, the central character, is a magnanimous and beautiful woman whose husband Emenike dies soon after their marriage as a result of a fall during a wrestling match with Madume, another of her suitors. Not long after Emenike’s death, Madume commits suicide. As her relationship with Ekwueme grows over time, Ihuoma becomes fearful of the consequences and tries to distance herself from him. Tragically, however, on the eve of their wedding, Ekwueme is struck by an arrow, a fatal accident, he dies of the wound.

The mortal world and the spirit world are closely interlinked in The Concubine. Everything that takes place has both a rational and a spiritual explanation. The mortal and the spiritual fuse together in the destinies of the individual. Ekwueme’s father Wigwe believes that “[i]t was always a wise thing to attend a divination before any important project though marriage normally was hardly one of such projects.” (194) Anxious about their son’s relationship with Ihuoma, Wigwe and his wife Adaku consult the local medicine man Anyika who warns them that Ihuoma is the wife of the Sea-King:

Ihuoma belongs to the sea. When she was in the spirit world she was a wife of a Sea-King, the ruling spirit of the sea. Against the advice of her husband she sought the company of human beings and was incarnated. The Sea-King was very angry but because he loved her best of all his wives he did not destroy her immediately she was born. He decided to humour her and let her live out her normal earthly span and come back to him. However, because of his great love for her he is terribly jealous and tries to destroy any man who makes love to her. (195)

Ihuoma is the concubine of the Sea-King and the deaths of her mortal admirers are the result of the Sea-King’s jealousy More than that, he even kills Maduma and Ekwueme before they even have a chance to make love to her.

After journeying to Aliji for a second opinion, the dibia Agwoturumbe tells Wigwe and Adaku that, by means of an elaborate ritual that must take place in a canoe on the river, he “can bind the Sea-King and prevent him from doing any harm.” (199) Ekwueme is very reluctant to take part in the ritual, but as preparations go ahead he is struck by an arrow targeted at a lizard which glances off a wall.

A subject of the rational and the spiritual worlds, Ihuoma is a “femme fatale” who literally kills, or brings to their deaths, all her suitors. The tension of the novel lies in the fact that, following the deaths of Emenike and Madume, the reader knows that Ekwueme is destined to be killed if he consumates his relationship with Ihuoma. Ihuoma appears to know that too. The only questions remaining are when and how.

The reason for their deaths is either spiritual or just plain coincidence. Amadi provides the reader with a spiritual rational, one that constitutes a belief system which overrides aspects such as chance, fate or bad luck. Success and survival in the traditional community is based on conforming to a morality or code of ethics which derives from tribal custom and the need to comply with the requirements of the gods.








Chapter 11 – Modernity and Globalisation in Independent Africa

12.1 Cyprian Ekwensi. Jagua Nana

12.1.1 Cyprian Ekwensi (1921-)

Cyprian Odiatu Duaka Ekwensi was born of Igbo parentage in Minna, Niger State, in Northern Nigeria. He received his primary education in Minna and following secondary education in Ibadan he went on to University College there to undertake studies in Forestry and Pharmacy. He then moved to London where he studied at the Chelsea School of Pharmacy and received training in radio broadcasting with the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Cyprian Ekwensi’s first published work, the novella When Love Whispers, appeared in 1947. When Love Whispers, a love story which focuses on relationships between members of different generations, was the first in that tradition of popular literature which flourished from the 1940s until the 1960s which came to be known as the Onitsha Market Literature. When Love Whispers was followed by a second novella The Leopard’s Claw in 1950 and his first novel People of the City in 1954. Like When Love Whispers, People of the City, the first major novel in English by a West African writer, deals with the urban situation in Lagos where life is characterised by bribery, corruption and political constraints.

On his return to Nigeria from England, Cyprian Ekwensi worked as a Forestry Officer, a job which enabled him to begin writing, as a teacher of English, biology and chemistry and he served as a pharmacist in the Nigerian Medical Service. In 1957, Ekwensi became Head of Features at the Nigerian Broadcasting Services and in 1961, he was appointed Federal Director of Information Services at the Ministry of Information in Lagos, a post he held until 1966. It was during his first year at the Ministry of Information that his second and best-known novel Jagua Nana (1961) appeared. His third novel Burning Grass (1962) relates the story of Mai Sunsaye, an elderly Fulani herdsman, who is afflicted by a wandering sickness and travels across Northern Nigeria in search of his sons Hodio and Jalla and the slave girl Fatimeh. Mai Sunsaye’s journey reveals the beauty of the landscape which stretches from Lake Chad in the east to the River Niger in the west and the lives of the nomads who live there. In the same year, Ekwensi published Yaba Roundabout Murder (1962), a popular adventure story.

In 1963, his fourth novel Beautiful Feathers was published, a novel set in the 1950s, the decade preceding Nigeria’s independence in 1960, in which the tenets of pan-Africanism are posited. In 1966, Ekwensi was made chairman of the bureau for external publicity at Enugu, Biafra, and Chairman of the East Central State Library Board. The same year saw the publication of his fifth novel Iska (1966) in which a presentation of inter-ethnic friction forewarns of the outbreak of the Nigeria-Biafra War (1967-1970). Ekwensi also published a collection of short stories in 1966 entitled Lokotown and Other Stories in which the modernity of Lagos is thrown into contrast with its decay and squalor.

During the civil war, Ekwensi wrote Divided We Stand, a sixth novel which reveals ethnic divisions and hatreds which form the basis of the warfare and which was not published until 1980. With the end of Biafra in 1970, Ekwensi was responsible for reorganizing the former state’s radio station at Orlu.

From 1975 until 1979, Ekwensi was Managing Director of the Star Printing and Publishing Company and he wrote a weekly column for the Daily Star and made contributions to Drum Magazine in South Africa. In 1976, Survive the Peace (1976), his seventh novel, which is based on events following the civil war, appeared, four years before Divided We Stand (1980) and in 1979, the adventure thriller Samankwe and the Highway Robbers was published. In 1981, he was made Managing Director of a newly-established newspaper The Weekly Eagle which was published in Imo State.

In 1986, Ekwensi’s sequel to Jagua Nana entitled Jagua Nana’s Daughter appeared. In this eighth novel, Jagua Nana’s daughter Liza is a woman whose education allows her to select her partners and eventually to gain security and protection in marriage. In the same year, For a Roll of Parchment was published.

In 1991, Ekwensi published Gone to Mecca, a book for children, and a thriller Masquerade Time. In 1992, his ninth novel King for Ever! appeared, a work which satirizes those African leaders who perceive their power as perpetual and God-given.

12.1.2 Jagua Nana (1961)

Jagua Nana is an Igbo woman, the daughter of David Obi, the pastor at Ogabu in Eastern Nigeria. She is married to Coal City man in her early thirties, but no children result from the marriage. So, in search of a more exciting lifestyle, she leaves her husband and travels to Lagos where she is taken into the service of a white man John Martell. This brief experience provides her with a means of survival in the big city and, adopting the fashions of Accra, she wears the latest, most daring clothes and becomes known in Lagos as “Jagua,” “after the famous British prestige car.” (5)

Jagua Nana is an episodic novel, a sequence of stories each in a distinctive setting, but all with Jagua Nana herself as the main focus of attention. When the novel opens, Jagua Nana is already forty-five years old and very conscious of her age. Jagua is a beautiful, sensual and sensitive woman, with a great sense of dignity. Against the background of the Tropicana nightclub, she is a noble figure, a person who is compassionate, magnanimous and, as a Nigerian woman, free. But her freedom is qualified. Jagua herself realises that the life she leads is reprehensible, but she understands that for single Nigerian women in her position, there are few options. She understands that she is a victim of modernity,

that if a girl went to Tropicana every day, that girl was a pawn; a pawn in the hands of criminals, Senior Service men, contractors, thieves, detectives, liars, cheats, the rabble, the scum of the country’s grasping hands and headlong rush to ‘civilisation’, ‘sophistication’, and all the falsehood it implied. (128)

But Jagua is also cunning, ambitious, possessive and materialistic, distinguishing clearly between money and sentiment, and totally aware that “in Lagos MAN was always grappling to master an ENVIRONMENT he had created. It was money, money, and yet more money.” (180)

Jagua Nana is a prostitute, but she is also deeply in love with Freddie Namme, a twenty-five-year-old Igbo student from Bagana in rural Eastern Nigeria. Jagua Nana’s dream is to marry Freddie and have his children, but before marrying him she wants to pay for him to study law in London. Jagua believes that Freddie’s English law degree and his ‘been-to’ status will greatly enhance her own position. Freddie’s company already enhances her youth phobia. But it her love for him and the demands made on her as a prostitute that provide the source of tension in the first episode, a tension which is heightened when Freddie enters a sexual relationship with Nancy, a young woman from Sierre Leone, and the episode ends only when Freddie flies off to England, not funded by Jagua but by a scholarship which he has been awarded.

A subsequent episode takes Jagua on a journey to Freddie’s home at Bagana where she wins the favour of Feddie’s Uncle Namme, the local chief, when she manages to end a long-standing feud between him and his brother Chief Ofubara of Krinameh Creek. Jagua also establishes a close affective relationship with Chief Ofubara, who pays bride-price for her. On her return to Lagos, Jagua becomes involved with David Odoma, a young man she comes to admire and love who is drawn into crime and eventually hanged for killing a policeman. In the meantime, she is maintained in return for sexual favours by Uncle Taiwo, the OP2 candidate for the Obanla constituency. This takes Jagua into Lagos politics.

Jagua’s experience in Nigerian politics is a bitter and tragic one. She campaigns alongside Uncle Taiwo to win the votes of the Lagos market women, but she soon learns that Freddie, the man she loves and who is now married to Nancy, is standing for the opposing party OP1 for the same constituency. Freddie is assassinated by Uncle Taiwo and his thugs, a political move which causes Uncle Taiwo to lose the elections and end up dead in the gutter, having been killed by his own party members for having stolen some of OP2’s election funds.

As Jagua finds herself in increasing danger at her Lagos home, she moves into the home of her friend Rosa at Gunle, a slum on the outskirts of the city. Here, Rosa and Jagua live by prostituting themselves to Tropicana clients. However, Jagua’s brother Fonso brings her news of her father’s imminent death and asks her to return to Ogabu. Her shame causes her to delay her departure and when she arrives at Ogabu the funeral has already taken place.

The longer Jagua remains in Ogabu, the more she resigns herself to remaining in the countryside. Her discovery of £1,000 in a bag handed to her by Uncle Taiwo at their last meeting provides Jagua with the means to set up her own business. She sends £600 to Chief Ofubara for promoting the education project in Krinameh and the rest she intends to use

to become proper merchant princess. I goin’ to buy me own shop, and lorry, and employ me own driver. I goin’ to face dis business serious. I sure dat God above goin’ to bless me. (192)

Jagua Nana was published in 1961, a year after Nigeria achieved its independence. The novel provides a vivid insight into the darker side of life in Lagos at the time – its night life, corruption, politics, slums – and the comparative calm and order of life in the countryside in Eastern Nigeria. However, the novel is about the central character Jagua Nana and her success in overcoming the dilemmas that modern Nigeria and traditional Igbo culture confront her with. Jagua Nana is a vital woman who defies traditional values and behaviour in an attempt to experience life to the full. She rejects the traditional role of wife and seeks to fulfill her sexuality in the alternative lifestyles available to her in modern Lagos. Against all odds, she manages to retain her dignity and freedom, dreaming eventually of establishing herself as an independent market woman in Onitsha. Ashamed and full of repentence, Jagua Nana reveals her strength of personality by remaining honest with herself throughout. With her zest for living and capacity to cope with the challenge of modernity in post-independent Nigeria, Cyprian Ekwensi’s Jagua Nana is one of the finest portraits of an African woman in the literature.

12.2 Wole Soyinka The Interpreters

12.2.1 Wole Soyinka (1934-)

Wole Soyinka was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986. Although clearly an award for individual achievement, that the Nobel Prize should go to a writer from Africa in English was perceived as international recognition of the high quality of literary works written in English by writers from Africa. However, in spite of the instant renown the Nobel Prize brought Wole Soyinka, his work is still not widely known and is often considered to be “difficult” by global readerships. Some critics have claimed that his work is overtly Eurocentric and it is true that, despite being a Nigerian writer, much of Soyinka’s work conforms to the constraints of Western genres and, in terms of style and narrative techniques, his prose works owe much to writers such as James Joyce and William Faulkner.

Wole Soyinka was born on 13th. July 1934 in Ijebu Isara in Western Nigeria. He underwent his primary education in the town of Abeokuta at the mission school where his father was headmaster. He completed his secondary education at Government College in Ibadan and from 1952 until 1954 he studied at University College, Ibadan, an institution affiliated with the University of London at the time. In 1954 he began a degree course at the University of Leeds in England where he was a student of the renowned literary critic G. Wilson Knight and from where he graduated with a BA in English in 1957.

Between 1957 and 1959, he held the post of play-reader at the Royal Court Theatre in London. During this period, he wrote The Swamp Dwellers which was performed in London in 1958 and The Lion and the Jewel. The Lion and the Jewel, performed in Ibadan in 1959, satirizes those school teachers who have adopted Western mannerisms and attitudes and who look down on traditional values and customs.

On 1st October 1960, Nigeria gained its Independence from Great Britain, opting to become a Republic and to continue as a member of the Commonwealth. Wole Soyinka returned to Nigeria the same year and, with a Rockefeller Foundation scholarship, he travelled throughout the country researching African drama. Soyinka subsequently played a leading part in the foundation of the National Theatre of Nigeria. He established two theatre groups – the 1960 Masks and the Orisun Theatre Company – and he lectured at the universities of Ibadan, Ile-Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo) and Lagos.

However, by the mid-1960s the situation in Nigeria was becoming increasingly complex and unstable and the political and sociological anxieties expressed in A Dance of the Forests (1963), written especially to celebrate his country’s independence, and in his collection Idanre and Other Poems (1967) are reflected again in The Trials of Brother Jero (1963), performed in New York in 1967, and in Jero’s Metamorphosis (1973) in which Soyinka satirizes. those popular prophets who deceive their followers.

Between 1960 and 1964, Wole Soyinka was co-editor of Black Orpheus, the first literary journal in Africa to deal with Black African topics, and in 1965 André Deutsch published his first novel The Interpreters (1965). That same year, armed with a pistol, Wole Soyinka took control of the microphone at a radio station in Western Nigeria, seized the microphone and denounced the recent regional elections which had been won by Chief Akintola as shamefully rigged and manipulated. Wole Soyinka was arrested, tried and imprisoned for this act.

The Road (1965) and Kongi’s Harvest (1967) which was performed in 1966 at the opening of the Festival of Black Arts in Dakar reveal Soyinka’s continued misgivings about leadership and authority in post-independent Nigeria and Black Africa in general. Such was his disenchantment with African leadership that, on the subject of apartheid in South Africa at the time, he wrote that South African writers still had “the right to hope,” but that, if equality came to South Africa, the African leader “would degrade and dehumanise his victim as capably as Vorster (ex-Prime Minister and President of South Africa) and Governor Wallace (of Alabama in the United States).” In 1967 Wole Soyinka was again imprisoned, this time by the government of General Gowon which accused Soyinka of conspiracy with Biafran secessionists. While he was in prison, Nelson publishers brought out his translation into English of Chief D.O. Fagunwa’s Yoruba work Ogboju ode ninu Igbo Irunmale with the title The Forest of a Thousand Daemons: A Hunter’s Saga (1968). Wole Soyinka remained in prison for twenty-seven months, coming out in 1969. In the same year his Poems from Prison (1969) was published, a collection which was re-published in 1971 with the title A Shuttle in the Crypt (1971).

As a Yoruba man, his support for the Igbos in the Nigeria-Biafran War (1967-1970) reveals that Soyinka believed tribal affinity to be of no significance. Furthermore, in terms of his literary ideology, Soyinka was against the concept and objectives of Negritude. Soyinka believed that the artist in African society has always performed the role of recorder of custom and the experiences of the members of the community and as the voice of prophetic vision in his own time. Soyinka believes that the artist must respond to this essence of his being in accordance with his own moment in time and condemn any call for a return to African cultural beliefs and attitudes as a celebration of false symbols which render true creativity impossible. In his well-known condemnation of Negritude, Soyinka said, “The tiger does not proclaim his tigritude, but he kills his prey and eats it.”

In line with the tenets of Es’kia Mphahlele, Wole Soyinka considers Negritude to be a negative, constraining factor in African literary ideology because it excludes the possibility of enrichment from outside. For Soyinka, Negritude has buried itself in memory and the past, a danger for African writers whom, he believes, should give priority to tackling the situation of the victim of European colonialism.

In 1969, Wole Soyinka returned to the University of Ibadan as Director of the Drama School. In 1970 he went to Connecticut with a company of fifteen Nigerian actors to perform one of the three plays he had written in prison, Madmen and Specialists (1971), at the Eugene O’Neill Memorial Theatre Centre in Waterford and in 1973 The Bacchae of Euripides: ‘A Communion Rite’ was published, a play commissioned by the British National Theatre in which a classical referent, Euripides’ The Bacchae, is used as a dramatic vehicle to display the importance of ritual and sacrifice in contemporary African society. A similar use of a classical referent, this time the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, is practised in Soyinka’s second novel Season of Anomy (1973) which is set against the backdrop of the Nigeria-Biafra War.

Wole Soyinka’s notes of his prison experience, The Man Died, written with the aim of re-educating Nigerian mindsets in respect of the way in which they perceive so-called public leaders and personalities, was published in 1972. During the same year, Soyinka went into self-imposed exile, lecturing at Legon in Ghana, Cambridge in England and Cornell in the United States. Fruit of his lectures given at Churchill College, Cambridge, is the collection of critical and philosophical essays Myth, Literature and the African World (1976) which contains a revised version of his work Morality of Art (1969). In 1975, Death and the King’s Horseman was published and highly-acclaimed peformances of this play took place in Chicago and Washington in 1979 and in Manchester, England, in 1990. Based on the interruption of a colonial officer’s ritual suicide in the 1940s, the play contrasts the ethics of colonial authorities with the more demanding Yoruba custom and probes the nature of individual consciousness and collective accountability at a specific moment in Nigeria’s colonial past.

On his return to Nigeria in 1976, following the fall of General Gowon, Wole Soyinka became editor of the literary journal Transition which he renamed Ch’Indaba and Secretary-General of the African People’s Writers’ Union. In 1976, Ogun Abibiman was published, a long poem in which perceptions of contemporary Africa are based on the figures of Ogun, the Yoruba god, and Shaka, the Zulu warrior king. In 1978, as Head of the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Ife, Soyinka set up the Guerrilla Theatre Unit, combining theatre and music in works such as the film Blues for the Prodigal (1985) and the play Requiem for a Futurologist (1986).

During the 1980s, Wole Soyinka became the best-known of all Nigerian writers, in particular for his condemnation of military dictatorships. In Aké: the Years of Childhood (1981) Soyinka confirms his rural Yoruba roots in a presentation of his first twelve years and in his musical Opera Wonyosi (1981), based on Bertholt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera, he satirizes African dictatorships and condemns the endemic corruption which pervades African societies. A Play of Giants (1984), the radio play A Scourge of Hyacinths (1992) and From Zia, with Love (1992) attack injustices and further Soyinka’s call for freedom in Africa, a cause for which he has become a champion recognised throughout the world. In 1983, his third novel Isarà: A Voyage Around ‘Essay’ was published in which he portrays his father’s friends from the 1920s to the 1940s.

Wole Soyinka abandoned academic work in 1985 and dedicated his time to writing. Mandela’s Earth and Other Poems (1988) presented conditions in South Africa during apartheid and a collection of essays Art, Dialogue and Outrage (1988) provides insight into contemporary literary debates.

However, when his passport was taken away from him in November 1994, he left Nigeria secretly for exile in England. In a third autobiographical work, Ibadan: The Penkelemes Years 1945-65 (1994), following The Man Died (1972) and Aké: The Years of Childhood (1981), Soyinka expresses his concern for the situation in Nigeria in the 1990s. His most recent published works are The Beatification of Area Boy (1995) and The Open Sore of a Continent (1996). In March 1997 he was charged with treason by the military dictatorship of Sani Abacha, but since the restoration of democratic government under the presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo, he has been able to move freely.

12.2.2 The Interpreters (1965)

In spite of its density and its complex structure, the plot and meaning of The Interpreters can be summarised in a few lines. The narrative focuses on a group of young Nigerian intellectuals who, on their return to Nigeria from Great Britain and the United States of America where they have been studying, find themselves faced with certain idionsyncracies and negative features of contemporary Nigerian society. These negative aspects which include endemic corruption, generalised cynicism, social climbing (enchufe) and conformity with the status quo constitute serious obstacles for the professional aspirations of the young men. Over a period of time, such aspects cause the young Nigerians to become apathetic and inactive, a consequence which seriously affects the nation’s progress. This situation brings on a state of despair which reveals itself in contrasting moments of deep concern and hilarious horse-play.

On his voyage back to Nigeria, Sekoni, an engineer who has just graduated from a university in England, dreams of transforming his country with his newly-acquired engineering skills. He presents a project for the construction of a power station, but on the advice of a European technician the project is rejected and he ends up in an office signing bicycle permits. Another intellectual Sagoe soon finds out that the newspaper he works for as a journalist is a cover for a blackmail outfit. University lecturers Bandele and Kola find themselves having to go against their principles and adapt to the mediocrity of the Nigerian academic traditions. Only Egbo, who in a certain way is the leader of the group and who works for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is able to retain some of his independent way of thinking. However, when he is forced to choose either to return to his ancestral village in the Niger delta to take up the clan chieftaincy or remain as a civil servant of the state, he opts for the latter, foreseeing life in the city as being more conduciver than life in the delta countryside.

Sagoe, Egbo, Sekoni, Bandele and Kola are all young Nigerian intellectuals who try to succeed in their respective professions, practice their skills, produce their art and influence various aspects of life in their own country. However, their initial spirit, energy and enthusiasm falls into rapid decline as they are forced to confront generalised corruption, personal interests and an empty and hypocritical morality. These men are “the interpreters” of modern Nigeria, young people who try to understand their own society but are totally frustrated in their attempt.

At one level, The Interpreters deals with the situation in modern Nigeria, but at the same time inferences can be drawn for young people in similar circumstances in former colonies around the world. The frustration of so-called “been-to’s” on their return to their home countries from Europe and North America is a sentiment experienced world-wide and across the world corruption, local and personal interests and the lack of an ethical base and moral philosophy are the great enemies of progress. In this sense, the novel has a universal significance. In essence, The Interpreters is about collective- and self-deception and falsehood. For Wole Soyinka, every person is a potential interpreter and for him it is the responsibility of the young intellectual to identify this phoniness in the society around him and condemn it.

With regard to the style of the novel, The Interpreters shares three main features with James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922). First, the narrative is characterised by a complex treatment of time. Events do not occur in a chronologically linear sequence; the novel begins in the middle of the respective experiences of the main characters and the full time span of their stories develops gradually revealing their frustrations and successes through flashbacks into their respective pasts and flashforwards into their respective futures. Second, Soyinka uses the rich and varied vocabulary of a poet, creating images and evoking feelings through a skilful use of expression. Third, like Joyce’s Ulysses, The Interpreters is filled with a sense of humour that is employed to criticise aspects of Nigerian society.

12.3 Bessie Head. A Question of Power (1974)

12.3.1 Bessie Head’s A Question of Power

There is a progression in the three main novels of Bessie Head. In When Rain Clouds Gather (1968), she depicts relationships between South African refugees and the White agriculturalists and teachers in Golemi Midi, in Maru (1971) she presents the interracial discrimination and oppression of the Batswana towards the Masarwa, of Khoisanoid stock, and in A Question of Power, she enters the mind of a Coloured woman, in essence her own.

The psychoanalytical nature of A Question of Power makes it the most abstract of her novels. But the fact that it deals with the mental suffering of a Black woman makes it entirely devoid of coloniality. It is not that there are no colonial referents in the novel. There are; the protagonist Elizabeth is a Coloured woman who, like Bessie Head herself, has left South Africa on a one-way exit permit to settle in Motabeng village in Botswana and she befriends Tom, one of the international volunteers who is helping out with market gardening in the village. But the focus of the novel is not on coloniser / colonised or oppressor / victim relations, but rather on the individual’s struggle with the forces of good and evil in human nature and a search for a harmonious modus vivendi, characterised by love and compassion. The action takes place in the writer’s mind and the novel is in itself a representation of this action.

Though criticised for being less sensitive and poetic than Maru, a novel which Lewis Nkosi finds “as nearly perfect a piece of writing as one is ever likely to find in contemporary African literature,” (Lewis Nkosi. Tasks and Masks: 101) A Question of Power is a total work of art, its structure and complexity revealing in themselves the theme of the novel, namely, the descent into madness. At this level, A Question of Power is not “an African novel,” but a universal one written in Africa and set in a Africa. Furthermore, the progressive maddness derives not from racial oppression but from a perception of a human being’s capacity to be inherently good and inherently evil. The chaos of the narrative and the chaos of its creator’s mind are one and the same thing.

A Question of Power is autobiographical; the intensity and depth of the world of madness into which the reader is plunged is only possible as a result of personal experience. Lewis Nkosi has remarked that “the mental breakdown of the heroine is accompanied by a parallel breakdown in communication” (Lewis Nkosi. Tasks and Masks: 102), yet the world of madness and anguish is forcefully conveyed and when Elizabeth is back in the real world the communication is re-established at once.

12.3.2 A Question of Power (1974)

In A Question of Power, the horrific drama of the inner conflict of the soul drives Elizabeth towards a mental breakdown. The narrative traces how the victim, not now overshadowed by European altruists as in When Rain Clouds Gather (1968) or tormented by Batswana racists as in Maru (1971), is forced to confront the nature of her own soul by the persistent appearances in her mind of her lovers and torturers Sello and Dan. For Elizabeth, Sello and Dan are icons, like Osiris, Iris, Buddha, Mahamaya (the Indian Medusa), David, Goliath, Perseus, Caligula and madonas.

A Question of Power is divided into two parts, Part 1 entitled “Sello” and Part 2 entitled “Dan.” As with Maru and Moleka in Maru, Sello and Dan are not presented as characters with distinct identities, but appear to be different extensions of the same Self, Dan representing sex and Sello love. For Bessie Head, it is platonic, spiritual love that is the essential ingredient in any relationship between a man and a woman.

Sello, a truck driver from Motabeng, appears in Elizabeth’s mind as a man dressed as a monk, a symbol of platonic love, whose name she associates with that “of an almost universally adored God.” (104) In her apparitions, Sello sits next to Elizabeth’s bed, talks to her about spiritual and philosophical truths and eavesdrops on all conversations that take place in her house. Elizabeth becomes Sello’s twin soul, having no personality outside him and depending entirely on him. With Sello she discusses love, poverty, power and goodness, but over time the internal discussion becomes too intense and she feels that her life is coming to an end.

Elizabeth’s hallucinations are rooted in her South African past. Sello also appears to Elizabeth dressed in a brown suit, the garb of physical love. Power-hungry, acting like Caligula, Sello is accompanied by Medusa, a narrow-minded dictator, perverted and monstruous like the power maniacs in apartheid South Africa. For Elizabeth, Medusa expresses the endogamous, claustrophobic nature and the inbred insecurity of African society. During her first stay in the mental hospital, Sello presents Elizabeth with the apparition of a cesspit filled with excrete and then transforms himself into a sky-bird soaring upwards. With Sello, Elizabeth travels from the depths of evil and obscenity to the heights of perfection and love.

Sello, who appears sometimes in a monk’s habit and on other occasions in a brown suit, displays a dual personality to Elizabeth. She believes Sello represents both God and the devil at the same time – “evil and good travel side by side in the same personality” (112) – and Dan leads her to believe that Sello is a depraved personality who sleeps with his daughter.

Dan takes up the momentum of Elizabeth’s plunge into madness in Part 2, acting first as the real, good lover, different from Sello in the brown suit whom Elizabeth had started to hate. Dan’s aim is to destroy both Elizabeth and Sello – he “understood the mechanics of power [...] he clearly thought he had a wilting puppet in his hands,” (113) He begins by offering Elizabeth love and protection but later becomes more evil and destructive than Medusa, torturing her by listing all the women he has made love to. Dan refers to Coloured status and, neither Black African nor White African, he reinforces her sense of alienation from the African society in which she lives. This sense of dispossession leads to Elizabeth’s first mental breakdown, accelerated by the vision of a black face that she finds repugnant.

But Elizabeth cannot identify with White people either. The Danish gardener Camilla represents for Elizabeth the oppression of White people in Motabeng and the vegetable garden with Camilla becomes “the most miserable place on earth.” (124) Elizabeth’s frustration and hate against Whites is vented on Mrs. Jones, an old White woman who usually visits her and lives just a few yards from her house, whom she attacks physically on the eve of her second nervous breakdown.

Elizabeth’s behaviour towards the Black nurses while she is in hospital and towards the White doctor and her White friend Tom, whom she refuses to see when he visits her, makes one of the nurses exclaim, “Yo! [...] You are mad, aren’t you? You hate black people. You hate white people. You hate everyone.” (125) But through her suffering, Elizabeth learns that there ar no such things as superior souls, that perfection is love and that love means humility and equality. Love is “freedom of heart,” Sello says, and his statement brings Elizabeth back to the road towards sanity – “Love is two people mutually feeding each other, not one living on the soul and the other, like a ghoul.” (126) Elizabeth’s journey into the depths of hell and the resultant mental suffering leads her to an understanding that her love for Sello is universal, to be shared with all mankind, and that their love for each other “equalized all things and all men.” (127)

A Question of Power conveys Bessie Head’s longing for equality in Africa – “I hear the beginnings of a great symphony, a complete statement for the future about the dignity of man, where none is high and none is low but all are equal.” (128) Elizabeth’s own state of mind, her prejudices and subconscious discrimination, her own inbred racism that she had acquired as a young Coloured girl in South Africa, had alienated her from Botswana and made her feel rejected by the people of Motabeng. By contrast, Tom, whose “inner world was always of ease and freedom,” (129) had felt accepted at once by the community. – “A few days after he had arrived in Botswana, he had confined to Elizabeth that he loved the country and had decided to take out citizenship.” (128) Likewise, when Elizabeth finds her interior peace of mind and comes to terms with her inner chaos, she no longer feels alien – “As she fell asleep, she placed one soft hand over her land. It was a gesture of belonging.” (131)

12.4 Ama Ata Aidoo. Changes (1991)

12.4.1 Ama Ata Aidoo. (1942-)

Christina Ama Ata Aidoo was born at Abeadze Kyiakor, near Dominase, in Ghana in 1942. She was educated at the Wesley Girls’ High School at Cape Coast in the Central Region of Ghana. She went on to study at the University of Ghana in Legon where she attended writers’ workshops at the School of Drama and produced her first two plays.

After graduating with a BA degree in 1964, Ama Ata Aidoo went to to the United States of America where she held a fellowship in creative writing at Stanford University. In 1965, her play The Dilemma of a Ghost was published in which she presents the dilemmas of Ato, a Ghanaian student, and Eulalie, his Afro-American wife, as they try to adjust culturally and psychologically to living as a married couple in Ghana. But the young couple’s experiment in interculturality is doomed from the outset. Much of the play’s tension lies in the differing values held by the young couple and by the community of Ato’s home village, in particular those held by his mother Esi Kom.

On her return from the United States of America, Ama Ata Aidoo took up a research fellowship at the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana. She has lectured, too, at the University of Cape Coast in Ghana, at the University of Nairobi in Kenya, and at Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria. In 1970, her play Anowa was published which, like The Dilemma of a Ghost, focuses on problems involved with marriage, this time when a young woman Anowa goes against her parent’s wishes by desiring to marry the man she loves and not a man chosen for her by her parents, as Ghanaian tradition dictates. Again, like the marriage between Ako and Eulalie in the earlier play, the decline of Anowa’s relationship with Kofi Ako is rooted in elements of incompatability within their respective cultural backgrounds, incompatabilities which induce powerful social pressures on both of them so that they decide to end their dilemma once and for all by commiting suicide.

The short stories in Ama Ata Aidoo’s collection No Sweetness Here (1970) also reflects on the relationship between the individual and his/her cultural environment, specifically in Ghanaian society following the country’s independence from Great Britain and in her first novel Our Sister Killjoy or Reflections from a Black-Eyed Squint (1977), Ama Ata Aidoo takes the post-colonial perspective a step further by presenting the experiences of Sissie, a Ghanaian girl, who wins a scholarship to study in Europe. From her European travels, Sissie comes to understand that Africa must resuscitate its traditional values to achieve a distinctive identity in an increasingly globalised world.

In the early 1980s, Ama Ata Aidoo was appointed Secretary of Education in the military government of Flt. Lt. Jerry Rawlings. Following her resignation from this post in 1983, she went into exile in Harare, Zimbabwe, where she lived as a writer. In 1985, her first volume of poetry Someone Talking to Sometime was published.

In 1988, she was Fulbright Professor at The Great Lakes Colleges Association (GLCA) of Indiana, Michigan and Ohio and in the spring of 1989 she was Writer-in-Residence at the University of Richmond in Virginia. and in 1989 Ama Ata Aidoo’s two books for children The Eagle and the Chickens and Other Stories and Birds and Other Poems appeared. In 1991, Changes: A Love Story was published by The Women’s Press, winning the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book (Africa). This second novel was followed in 1992 by a second volume of poetry An Angry Letter in January. Her second collection of short stories The Girl Who Can and Other Stories was published in 1996. Both An Angry Letter in January and The Girl Who Can and Other Stories focus on perceptions of Africa from outside the continent, its cultural problems and misfortunes.

12.4.1 Changes – A Love Story (1991)

As with much of Ama Ata Aidoo’s writing, Changes-A Love Story is about marriage and this, her second novel, is about problems for the marriage institution that arise out of the internationalisation of Ghanaian society. The novel focuses specifically on tensions and dilemmas experienced by the spouses and their respective families that evolve from the attempted fusion of Christian, Muslim and traditional marriage customs. This fusion is further complicated by the Western romantic notion of “falling in love,” a factor not linked in any way to marriage in traditional African mindsets, but one which is being taken up increasingly by young “modern Western-educated Africans.” (133)

Esi Sekyi, a qualified statistician who works at the Department of Urban Statistics, finds herself attracted to Ali Kondey, managing director of Linga HideAways, a travel agency in Accra. Esi is married to Oko and they have a daughter Ogyaanowa, and Ali is married to Fusena and they have three children. Oko and Esi are Christian and Ali and Fusena are Muslim. Both Esi and Ali are Western-educated; Esi has a Master’s Degree in statistics and Ali has studied for a Master’s Degree in Economics and Business Administration in London.

Under African tradition, it is possible for a man to have several wives. Marriage in traditional African society had never been “strictly the affair of the two people involved” (40) Traditional marriages used to be arranged by family members and it was acceptable for a man to have more than one wife –

Women could stay with their own people or you built each of them a small house if you were a man enough, because a woman had to have her own place. And the days were properly regulated. Wives took turns being wives. When it was one wife’s turn, she cooked for the man and undertook the housekeeping for him completely. She either went to his bedroom or he slept with her. When her turn was over he just switched. (78)

But under such a system, marriage is not a “matter of the heart” (79) – “that is why we do the serious business of living with out heads, and never our hearts.” (79) Traditional African marriages do not allow for a person choosing a spouse on the basis that they are in love with each other. Traditional marriages are economic transactions which have nothing to do with sexual and affective attraction between the spouses. As Esi’s grandmother Nana laments, “[t]hese days, young people don’t seem to know why they marry or should marry” and she goes on to explain to her granddaughter,

‘we all marry to have children ...’

‘We also marry to increase the number of people with whom we can share the joys and pains of this life.’

‘Love? ... Love? ... Love is not safe, my lady Silk, love is dangerous. It is deceitfully sweet like the wine from a fresh palm tree at dawn. Love is fine for singing about and love songs are good to listen to, sometimes even to dance to. But when we need to count on human strength, and when we hace to count pennies for food for our stomachs and clothes for our backs, love is nothing. Ah my lady, the last man any woman should think of marrying is the man she loves.’ (41-42)

Under Muslim tradition, too, it is possible for Ali to have more than one wife, but marrying a second or more wives is not without conditions. When Ali marries Esi without informing his family first, he realises soon afterwards that he has gone against Muslim custom and that,

[...] in the old days, his behaviour would have been unthinkable, and definitely unforgivable. For no matter how old you were or felt, you could not get married without your parents knowledge.” (133)

Ali is rebuked sharply by his father Musa Musa who asks that, since Ali had not bothered either to bring her to introduce her to us, or to get our approval before entering this so-called marriage, [...] Allah is our witness, what else is the daughter of an infidel good for besides concubinage? Eh? (134)

Under Christian tradition, in which “falling in love” is seen as a prerequisite for a happy and successful marriage, Esi must divorce Oko if she wants to marry Ali. Esi starts to distance herself from Oko early on in the novel when she is subjected to what she perceives as “marital rape.” This provides her to live separately from Oko and to leave Ogyaanowa in the care of Oko’s parents. However, matters are brought to a head when, following their wedding and on their return from Bamako where Esi meets Ali’s parents, Oko breaks into Esi’s house as Ali and Esi are making love and Ali and Oko fight.

Esi’s friend Opokuya and her husband Kubi help Esi through this difficult period, but after three years Esi’s marriage to Ali breaks down. Ali is unable to sustain his visits to her. “Falling in love” is a prerequisite which is incompatible with polygamous marriage. Esi’s parents are against her becoming a “second wife” to any man;

‘[Esi’s mother] hates the idea of me becoming anyone’s second wife.’

‘My mother thinks that with all the ducation I’ve had, I should have everything better than she has had.’

‘[...] with her. it’s a question of me having my own husband.’

‘[...] like Oko. She thinks I deserve better than having to share someone’s man. Or having to go into someone’s marriage, as she would rather put it.’ (95-96)

Oko’s mother is also against Esi for divorcing her son to enter into a polygamous marriage with Ali. She regards her former daughter-in-law and mother of her granddaughter Ogyaanowa as a “half-wit” and her life as “chaotic and useless.” (142) As time goes by, Esi and Ali are scarcely ever together and Esi loses contact with her daughter. It is not long, too, before Esi is made to realise that “if a man can have two wives ... Then he can have three wives ... four wives ... And on and on and on ...” (156) and after three years, Esi’s marriage with Ali breaks down completely, the two resigning themselves to being “just good friends.” (164)













12 – Conclusion

Colonialism is a kind of low-key warfare that results in temporary or permanent occupation of the home of one culture by the people of another. Like wars, the process of colonisation forces both colonisers and their victims to search for new resources, new ideas and new aspirations. Like warfare, colonialism forces nations and cultures to adapt mutually to evolving circumstances in some measure and, once at an end, the process either leaves colonising cultures entirely dominant over the colonised cultures or, as in the case of most African nations, colonised victims of hegemonic occupation are left to re-construct their nations and to re-invent their cultural identities.

The European colonisation of African countries, as with warfare, provoked widespread and profound ideological, linguistic, material and cultural diffusion. The spread of ideas, world-views and modes of communicating them were triggered and accelerated by colonisation, a process which continues to this day and is called “globalisation.” The three-hundred-year period of the European colonisation of Africa from the 17th. century until the middle of the 20th. century constitutes one of the longest and most intense periods of sustained cultural diffusion in modern history. During this period, certain European languages came to be used by indigenous peoples across Africa and certain Western modes of expression came to be adopted in order to communicate across the continent and with the global population.

The literary works presented in this introduction to literatures from Africa are simultaneously the result of this cultural diffusion and the propagators of discourses to the contemporary world, the product of diffusion and the vehicle of diffusion at the same time. As Chinua Achebe says, (See Achebe quote – “I use English to write about Africa.”

p. 22 Hopes and Impediments: “Some people suggested that I should be better off writing in Igbo. Sometimes they seek to drive the point home by asking me in which language I dream. When I reply that I dream in both languages they seem not to believe it. More recently I have heard an even more potent and metaphusical versionof the question; In what language do you have an orgasm? That should settle the matter if I kmew.”

pp.40-41 “If I write in English in a country in which English may still be called a foreigh language, or in anyu case is spolem only by a minority, what use is my writing?” […] On language we are given […] simplictic prescriptions. Abolish the use of English! But after its abolition we remain seriously divided on what to pyut in its place. One proffered solution gives up Nigeria with 200-odd languages as a bad case and travels all the way to East Africa to borrow Swahili; just as in tyue past akingdom caught in a succession bind sometimes solved its problem by going to another kingdom to hire un underemployed prince!”


In terms of coloniality, the higher degree of coloniality and neo-coloniality emanates from Southern Africa, whereas East and West African writers reveal a lower degree of coloniality, a greater sense of independence and a higher degree of non-coloniality as, for example, in the magic realism of Ben Okri, the folk-tale tradition of Tutuola and the linguistic defiance of Ngugi wa Thiong’o.


Literary Map of Africa


Pepetela (Artur Carlos Maurício Pestana dos Santos). The Return of the Water Spirit. 2002.


Bessie Head. When Rain Clouds Gather. 1968; A Question of Power. 1974.


Kenjo wan Jumbam. The White Man of God. 1981.


Jean-Pierre Hallet. Congo Kitabu. 1967.


Ahdaf Soueif. The Map of Love. 1999.


Berhane Mariam Sahle Sellassie. The Afersata. 1969.

Daniachew Worku. The Thirteenth Sun. 1973.

The Gambia

William Farquhar Conton. The African. 1960.

Lenrie Peters. Poems. 1964.

Tijan M. Sallah. Dreams of Dusty Roads (Poetry) 1993.

Sheriff Samsideen Sarr. Meet Me in Conakry. 1984.


Muhammed ben Abdallah. Ananse and the Golden Drum. (Play) 1994.

Joseph Wilfred Abruquah. The Catechist. 1965.

Christina Ama Ata Aidoo (1942-). The Dilemma of a Ghost. (Play) 1964; Changes: a Love Story. (Novel) 1991.

Peggy Appiah (1921-). Ananse the Spider: Tales from an Ashanti village. 1966; A Smell of Onions. 1971; Rattletat. 2000.

Ayi Kwei Armah. The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born. 1968; The Healers. 1978; Osiris Rising: A Novel of Africa Past, Present and Future. 1995.

Kwesi Armah. Africa’s Golden Road. 1965.

Kofi Nyidevu Awoonor. This Earth, My Brother. 1972; Fire in the Valley. Ewe Folktales. 2002.

Joseph E. Casely-Hayford. Ethiopia Unbound. (Novel) 1911.

Olaudah Equiano (Gustavus Vassa the African). The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself. (Autobiography) 1789.

B. Kojo Laing. Search Sweet Country. (Novel) 1986; Woman of the Aeroplanes. (Novel) 1988; Godhorse. (Poetry) 1989; Major Gentl and the Achimota Wars. 1992.

Kobina Sekyi (William Esuman-Gwira Sekyi). The Blinkards. (Play) 1974.

Efua Theodora Sutherland. Edufa. (Play) 1967; The Marriage of Anansewa. (Play) 1987.


Jomo Kenyatta. Facing Mount Kenya. 1972.

Violet Dias Lannoy (Goan-Indian). Pears from the Willow Tree. (Novel) 1989.

Micere Githae Mugo. My Mother’s Poem and Other Songs. (Songs and poems) 1994.

Meja Mwangi. Going Down River Road. 1976.

Grace Ogot. The Promised Land. (Novel) 1968; The Graduate. (Novel) 1980.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o (Gikuyu). Weep Not, Child. (Novel) 1964; The River Between. (Novel) 1965; A Grain of Wheat. (Novel) 1967; Detained. A Writer’s Prison Diary. 1997; Petals of Blood. (Novel) 1978; Matigari. (Novel) 1998; (with Micere Githae Mugo). The Trial of Dedan Kimathi. (Play) 1976; (with Ngugi wa Mirii). I Will Marry When I Want. 1982.


Mopeli-Paulus, Atwell Sidwell. Blanket Boy’s Moon. 1953.


John Gay. Brightening Shadow.

Fletcher Knebel. The Zinzin Road. 1966.

Bai Tamia Johnson Moore. Ebony Dust. (Poetry) 1962; The Money Doubler. (Novel) 1976.


Steve Chimombo. The Rainmaker. (Play) 1978; Napolo Poems. (Poetry) 1987.

Frank Chipasula. Visions and Reflections. (Poetry) 1972; Nightwatcher, Nightsong. (Poetry) 1986.

Aubrey Kachingwe. No Easy Task. 1966.

Legson Kayira. I Will Try. (Autobiographical) 1965; The Looming Shadow. (Novel) 1968; Jingala. (Novel) 1969; The Civil Servant. (Novel) 1971; The Detainee. (Novel) 1974.

Ken Lipenga. Waiting for a Turn. (Short Stories) 1981.

Jack Mapanje. Of Chameleons and Gods. (Poetry) 1981; The Chattering Wagtails of Mikuyu Prison. (Poetry) 1993.

Felix Mnthali. When Sunset Comes to Sapitwa. (Poetry) 1980; My Dear Anniversary. (Novel) 1992.

Edison Mpina. Raw Pieces. (Poetry) 1986; Malawi Poetry Today. (Poetry) 1986; The Low Road to Death. (Novel) 1990; Freedom Avenue. (Novel) 1991.

David Rubadiri. No Bride Price. (Novel) 1967; Come to Tea. (Play) 1965.


Joseph Diescho. Born of the Sun. (Novel) 1988; Troubled Waters. (Novel) 1993.

Dorian Haarhof. Orange. (Play) 1988; Skeleton. (Play) 1989; Guerilla Goatherd. (Play) 1990; Bordering. (Poetry) 1991; Aquifers and Dust. (Poetry) 1994.


Abdullahi Tasui Abubakar. Without Mercy.

Albert Chinualumogu Achebe. Things Fall Apart. (Novel) 1958; No Longer At Ease. (Novel) 1960; Arrow of God. (Novel) 1964; A Man of the People. (Novel) 1966; Anthills of the Savannah. (Novel) 1987.

Remi Aduke Adedeji. Dear Uncle. 1986.

Hauwa Ali. Victory. (Novel); Destiny. (Novel).

Zaynab Alkali. The Stillborn. (Novel) 1984; The Virtuous Woman. (Novel) 1987; Cobwebs & Other Stories. (Short Stories) 1997.

Timothy Mofolorunso Aluko. One Man, One Wife. (Novel) 1959; One Man, One Matchet. (Novel) 1964.

Elechi Amadi. The Concubine. (Novel) 1966; The Great Ponds. (Novel) 1969; The Slave. (Novel) 1978; Estrangement. (Novel) 1986.

I.N.C. Aniebo. The Anonymity of Sacrifice. 1974; The Journey Within. 1978.

’Biyi Bandele-Thomas. The Man Who Came in from the Back of Beyond. (Novel) 1991; The Sympathetic Undertaker and Other Dreams. (Novel) 1991; Two Horsemen. (Play) 1994.

John Pepper Clark (-Bekederemo). Song of a Goat. 1961; Poems. (Poetry) 1962; The Masquerade. (Play) 1964; The Raft. (Play) 1964; A Reed in the Tide. (Poetry) 1965; A Lot from Paradise. 1998.

Obi B. Egbuna. The Minister’s Daughter. (Novel) 1975; The Madness of Didi. (Novel) 1980; The Rape of Lysistrata. (Novel) 1980.

Cyprian O. Ekwensi. Jagua Nana. (Novel) 1961; Burning Grass. (Novel) 1962; Beautiful Feathers. (Novel) 1963; Divided We Stand: a Novel of the Nigerian Civil War. (Novel). 1980; Jagua Nana’s Daughter. (Novel) 1986; King for Ever! (Novel) 1992.

Buchi Emecheta. The Bride Price. (Novel) 1976; The Slave Girl. (Novel) 1977; The Joys of Motherhood. (Novel) 1979; Destination Biafra. (Novel) 1982; Double Yoke. (Novel) 1982; The Rape of Shavi. (Novel) 1983; Kehinde. (Novel) 1994.

Olaudah Equiano. The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself. (Autobiography) 1789.

Vincent Chukwuemeka Ike. Toads for Supper. (Novel) 1965; The Naked Gods. (Novel) 1970; Our Children are Coming. (Novel) 1990; The Search. (Novel) 1991.

Eddie Iroh. Forty-eight Guns for the General. (Novel) 1976; Toads of War. (Novel) 1979.

Festus Iyayi. Violence. (Novel) 1979; The Contract. (Novel) 1982; Heroes. (Novel) 1986.

Adewale Maja-Pearce. Loyalties and Other Stories. (Short Story) 1986; In My Father’s Country: A Nigerian Journey. 1987.

Theresa Ekwutosi Meniru. The Bad Fairy and the Caterpillar. (Short Story) 1970; The Carver and The Leopard. (Short Story) 1971; The Melting Girl and Other Stories. (Short Story) 1971.

Pierre Eugène Meunier. The Comedy of Marriages. (Play) 1999; The Last Slave Traders. 1999; Zumji and Uchenna. 1999.

S. Okechukwu Mezu. The Tropical Dawn. (Poetry) 1970; Behind the Rising Sun. (Novel) 1970.

Chike Momah. Friends and Dreams. (Novel) 1997; Titi: Biafran Maid in Geneva. (Novel) 1999.

John Munonye. The Only Son. (Novel) 1966; Oil Man of Obange. (Novel) 1971; A Wreath for the Maidens. (Novel) 1973; Dancer of Fortune. (Novel) 1975; Bridge to a Wedding. (Novel) 1978.

Okey Ndibe. Arrows of Rain. (Novel) 2000.

Pol Nnamuzikam Ndu. Golgotha. (Poetry) 1971; Songs for Seers. (Poetry) 1974.

Emeka Nwabueze. Spokesman for the Oracle. (Play) 1986; Guardian of the Cosmos. (Play) 1990; A Dance of the Dead. (Play) 1991; When the Arrow Rebounds. (Play) 1991.

Martina Awele Nwakoby. A House Divided. (Novel) 1985.

Nkem Nwankwo. Danda. (Novel) 1964; My Mercedes Is Bigger than Yours. (Novel) 1975; The Scapegoat. (Novel) 1984.

Flora Nwapa. Efuru. (Novel) 1966; Idu. (Novel) 1969; This is Lagos and Other Stories. (Short Stories) 1980; One is Enough. (Novel) 1981; Women are Different. (Novel) 1986; Never Again. (Novel) 1992; Wives at War and Other Stories. (Short Stories) 1992.

Onuora Nzekwu. Wand of Noble Wood. (Novel) 1961; Blade Among the Boys. (Novel) 1962; Highlife for Lizards. (Novel) 1965.

Olu Obafemi. Nights of a Mystical Beast. (Play) 1986; The New Dawn. (Play) 1986; Suicide Syndrome. (Play) 1993; Naira Has No Gender. (Play) 1993; Wheels. (Novel) 1997.

Odia Ofeimun. The Poet Lied. (Poetry) 1980; A Handle for the Flutist and Other Poems. (Poetry) 1986; Under African Skies. (Poetry) 1990.

Olu Oguibe. A Song from Exile. (Poetry) 1990); A Gathering Fear. (Poetry) 1992; Songs for Catalina. (Poetry) 1994.

Molara Ogundipe-Leslie. Sew the Old Days. (Poetry) 1985.

Wale Ogunyemi. Business Headache. (Play) 1966; Eshu Elegbara. (Play) 1970; Obaluaye. (Play) 1972; The Divorce. (Play) 1977; Eniyan. (Play) 1987; Partners in Business. (Play) 1991.

Tanure Ojaide. Children of Iroko. (Poetry) 1973; Labyrinths of the Delta. (Poetry) 1986; The Eagle’s Vision. (Poetry) 1987; The Endless Song. (Poetry) 1989; The Fate of Vultures and Other Poems. (Poetry) 1990; The Blood of Peace. (Poetry) 1991; Invoking the Warrior God. (Poetry) 1995; Cannons for the Brave. (Poetry) 1995; Daydream of Ants. (Poetry) 1995; The Poetry of Wole Soyinka. 1994.

Gabriel Okara. The Voice. (Poetry) 1964; The Fisherman’s Invocation. (Poetry) 1978.

Oladejo Okediji. Running After Riches. (Play) 1999.

Christopher Okigbo. Heavensgate. (Poetry) 1962; Limits. (Poetry) 1964; Silences. (Poetry) 1965; Path of Thunder. (Poetry) 1968.

Akomaye Oko. Clouds. (Poetry) 1992; The Cynic. (Play) 1992.

Onookome Okome. Pendants. (Poetry) 1993.

Ifeoma Okoye. Behind the Clouds. (Novel) 1982; Men Without Ears. (Novel) 1984; Chimere. (Novel) 1992.

Isidore Okpewho. The Last Duty. (Novel) 1970; The Victims: A Novel of Polygamy in Modern Africa. (Novel) 1971; Tides. (Novel) 1993.

Ben Okri. Flowers and Shadows. (Novel) 1979; The Landscapes Within. (Novel) 1981; The Famished Road. (Novel) 1991; Songs of Enchantment. (Novel) 1992; Infinite Riches. (Novel) 1999; Mental Fight. (Poetry) 2000.

Tayo Peter Olafioye. The Saga of Sego. (Novel) 1982; Sorrows of a Town Crier. (Poetry) 1988; Bush Girl Comes to Town. (Novel) 1988; The Excellence of Silence. (Poetry).

Kole Omotoso. The Edifice. (Novel) 1971; The Combat. (Novel) 1972; Fella’s Choice. (Novel) 1974; The Curse. (Play) 1976; Shadows in the Horizon. (Play) 1977; Just Before Dawn. (Novel) 1988.

Pauline Onwubiko. Running for Cover. (Novel) 1988.

Tess Osonye (Akaeka) Onwueme. The Reign of Wazobia. (Play) 1988; What I Cannot Tell My Father. (Novel).

Dennis Osadebay. Africa Sings. (Poetry) 1952.

Femi Osofisan. A Restless Run of Locusts. (Play) 1975; Kolera Kolej. (Novella) 1975.

Femi Osofisan [as Okinba Launko]. Minted Coins. (Poetry) 1988; Dreamseeker on Divining Chain. (Poetry) 1993.

Niyi Osundare. Songs of the Marketplace. (Poetry) 1983; The Eye of the Earth. (Poetry) 1986; Moonsongs. (Poetry) 1988; Waiting Laughters: A Long Song in Many Voices. (Poetry) 1990; Midlife. (Poetry) 1993.

Sonny Oti. The Old Masters (Play) 1977; The Carvers. (Play) 1979; The Drummers. (Play) 1979; Return Home and Roost Awhile. (Play) 1979; Dreams and Realities. (Play) 1979; The Return of Jerome. (Play) 1981; Evangelist Jeremiah. (Play) 1982.

Helen Ovbiagele. Evbu, My Love. (Novel) 1980; A Fresh Start. (Novel) 1982; You Never Know. (Novel) 1982; Forever Yours. (Novel) 1985; Who Really Cares. (Novel) 1986.

Femi Oyebode. Naked to Your Softness and Other Dreams. (Poetry) 1989; Wednesday is a Colour. (Poetry) 1990; Forest of Transformations. (Poetry) 1991.

Segun Oyekunle. Katakata for Sofahead. (Play) 1978. 1983.

Ola Rotimi. Our Husband Has Gone Mad Again. (Play) 1966; The Gods Are Not To Blame. (Play) 1971; Kurunmi. (Play) 1971; Ovonramwen Nogbaisi. (Play) 1974; Akassa Youmi. (Radio Play) 1977; Holding Talks. (Play) 1979; If. (Play) 1983; Hopes of the Living Dead. (Play) 1988.

Ken(ule Beeson) Saro-Wiwa. Songs in a Time of War. (Poetry) 1985; Sozaboy: A Novel in Rotten English. (Novel) 1985; A Month and a Day. (Autobiography) 1995.

Mabel (Dorothy) Segun. My Father’s Daughter. (Autobiography) 1965; Conflict and Other Poems. (Poetry) 1986; The Surrender and Other Stories. (Short Story) 1995.

Zulu Sofola. The Disturbed Peace of Christmas. (Play) 1971; Wedlock of the Gods. (Play) 1972; The Sweet Trap. (Play) 1977; The Deer and the Hunter’s Pearl. (Play) 1969; King Emene. (Play) 1974; The Wizard of Law. (Play) 1975; Old Wines Are Tasty. (Play) 1981.

Bode Sowande. Farewell to Babylon and Other Plays. (Play) 1979; Flamingo and Other Plays. (Play) 1986.

Wole Soyinka. The Trials of Brother Jero. (Play) 1963; The Lion and the Jewel. (Play) 1963; A Dance of the Forests. (Play) 1963; The Strong Breed. (Play) 1963; The Road. (Play) 1965; The Interpreters. (Novel) 1965; Kongi’s Harvest. (Play) 1967; Idanre and Other Poems. (Poetry) 1967; Madmen and Specialists. (Play) 1971; The Man Died. (Autobiography) 1972; The Bacchae of Euripides. (Play) 1973; A Shuttle in the Crypt. (Poetry) 1973; Seasons of Anomy. (Novel) 1973; Death and the King’s Horseman. (Play) 1975; A Play of Giants. (Play) 1984; From Zia, with Love. (Play) 1992; The Beatification of Areaboy. 2000.

Ibrahim Tahir. The Last Imam. (Novel) 1984.

Amos Tutuola. The Palm-Wine Drinkard. 1952; My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. 1954; Simbi and the Satyr of the Dark Jungle. 1955; The Witch-Herbalist of the Remote Town. 1981; The Wild Hunter in the Bush of the Ghosts. 1982; Pauper, Brawler, and Slanderer. 1987; The Village Witch Doctor and Other Stories. 1990.

Obiora Udechukwu. Ojadili. (Play) 1977; Onukwube. (Play) 1986; What the Madman Said. (Poetry) 1990.

Ada Ugah. Naked Hearts. (Poetry) 1982; Hanini’s Paradise. (Novel) 1985; The Ballads of the Unknown Soldier. (Novel) 1989; Colours of the Rainbow. (Novel) 1991; The Rainmaker’s Daughter and Other Stories. (Short Story) 1992.

Kalu Uka. Earth to Earth. (Poetry) 1971; Ikhamma. (Play) 1978; A Consummation of Fire. (Novel) 1978; A Harvest of Ants. (Play) 1979; Colonel Ben Brim. (Novel) 1985.

Rems Nna Umeasiegbu. The Way We Lived. 1969.

Mamman Jiya Vatsa. Verses for Nigerian State Capitals. (Poetry) 1973; Back Again at Wargate. (Poetry) 1982; Reach for the Skies. (Poetry) 1984.

Adebayo Williams. The Year of the Locusts. (Novel) 1978; The Remains of the Last Emperor. (Novel) 1994.

Sierra Leone

Joseph Ephraïm Casely-Hayford. Ethiopia Unbound. (Novel) 1911.

Syl Cheney-Coker. The Blood in the Desert’s Eyes. (Poetry) 1990; The Last Harmattan of Alusine Dunbar. (Novel) 1990.

William (Farquhar) Conton. The African. (Novel) 1960.

Raymond Sarif Easmon. The Burnt Out Marriage. (Novel) 1967; The Feud and Other Stories. (Short Story) 1981.

Lemuel A. Johnson. The Sierre Leone Trilogy. (Poetry) 1995.

Yulisa Amadu Pat Maddy. Obasai and Other Plays. (Play) 1971; No Past, No Present, No Future. (Novel) 1973; Drums, Voices and Worlds. (Play) 1985.

Roland Bankole Marke. The Poems.

Blyden N.D. Noah (Nayaso Nouas). Survival; Born to Sing. 1992; Cotton. (Novel) 1997.


Nuruddin Farah. From a Crooked Rib. (Novel) 1970; A Naked Needle. (Novel) 1976; Sweet and Sour Milk. (Novel) 1979; Maps. (Novel) 1986.

South Africa

Peter Abrahams. Mine Boy. (Novel) 1946; The Path of Thunder. (Novel) 1948; Tell Freedom. (Autobiography) 1954.

Tatamkhulu Ismail Afrika. Broken Earth. (Novel) 1940; The Innocents. (Novel) 1994; The Lemon Tree and Other Poems. (Poetry) 1995.

Harry Bloom. Episode. (Novel) 1956; Whittaker’s Wife. (Novel) 1962; King Kong: An African Jazz Opera. (Novel) 1961.

Elleke Boehmer. Screens Against the Sky. (Novel) 1990.

Herman Charles Bosman. Jacaranda in the Night. (Novel) 1947; Mafeking Road. (Short Story) 1947; A Cask of Jerepigo. (Short Story) 1957; Unto Dust. (Short Story) 1963; Willemsdorp. (Novel) 1977.

André Brink. An Instant in the Wind. (Novel) 1976; Rumours of Rain. (Novel) 1978; A Dry White Season. (Novel) 1979; The Rights of Desire. (Novel) 2000; (with J.M. Coetzee) Eds. A Land Apart: A South African Reader. Penguin. 1986.

Dennis Brutus. Letters to Martha and Other Poems from a South African; A Simple Lust. (Poetry) 1973.

Stuart Cloete. The Curve and the Tusk. (Novel) 1952; Rags of Glory. (Novel) 1963.

J.M. Coetzee. Waiting for the Barbarians. (Novel) 1980; Life & Times of Michael K. (Novel) 1983; Age of Iron. (Novel) 1990; Disgrace. (Novel) 1999.

H.I.E. Dhlomo. The Girl Who Killed to Save: Nongquase the Liberator. (Play) 1936; The Valley of a Thousand Hills. (Poetry) 1941.

Modikwe Dikobe. The Marabi Dance. (Novel) 1973.

Athol Fugard. The Blood Knot (Play) 1963; Boesman and Lena. (Play) 1969; Sizwe Bansi Is Dead. (Play) 1974.

Sheila Meiring Fugard. The Castaways. (Novel) 1972; Rite of Passage. (Novel) 1976.

Nadine Gordimer. The Conservationist. (Novel) 1979; July’s People. (Novel) 1981; My Son’s Story. (Novel) 1990; The House Gun. (Novel) 1998.

Alex La Guma. A Walk in the Night. (Novel) 1962; In the Fog of the Season’s End. (Novel) 1972; Time of the Butcherbird. (Novel) 1979.

Sindiwe Magona. To My Children’s Children. (Autobiography) 1990; Forced to Grow. (Autobiography) 1992; Living, Loving, and Lying Awake at Night. (Short Story) 1991; Push-Push and Other Stories. (Short Story) 1996.

James Matthews. The Park and Other Stories. (Short Story) 1974; The Party Is Over. (Novel) 1997.

Zakes (Zanemvula Kizito Gatyeni) Mda. The Road. (Play) 1982; Ways of Dying. (Novel) 1995; She Plays with the Darkness. (Novel) 1995; Melville 67. (Novella) 1998; Ululants. (Novel) 1999.

Sarah Gertrude Millin. God’s Step-Children. (Novel) 1924; King of Bastards. (Novel) 1949; The Burning Man. (Novel) 1952.

Es’kia Mphahlele. Down Second Avenue. (Autobiography) 1959.

Mothobi Mutloatse. Mama Ndiyalila. (Novella) 1982.

Njabulo Simakahle Ndebele. Fools and Other Stories. (Short Story) 1983.

Lauretta Ngcobo. Cross of Gold. (Novel) 1981; And They Didn’t Die. (Novel) 1990.

Lewis Nkosi. The Rhythm of Violence. (Play) 1964; Home and Exile and Other Selections. (Essay) 1965; Mating Birds. (Novel) 1986.

Alan Paton. Cry, the Beloved Country. (Novel) 1948; Too Late the Phalarope. (Novel) 1953.

Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje. Native Life in South Africa. 1916; Mhudi. (Novel) 1930.

Richard Rive. Emergency. (Novel) 1964.

Daphne Rooke. Mittee. (Novel) 1951.

Olive Emilie Albertina Schreiner. The Story of an African Farm. (Novel) 1883.

Sipho Sepamla. A Ride on the Whirlwind. (Novel) 1981; Rainbow Journey. (Novel) 1996.

Mongane Wally Serote. Behold Mama, Flowers. (Poetry) 1978; To Every Birth Its Blood. (Novel) 1981; Gods of Our Time (Novel) 1999.

Wilbur Smith. The Sound of Thunder. (Novel)

Can Themba. The Will to Die. (Short Story) 1972.

Miriam Tlali. Muriel at Metropolitan. (Novel) 1969. 1975. 1979.


Abdulrazak Gurnah. Memory of Departure. 1987. 1992; Paradise. 1994. New Press. 1995; By the Sea. New Press. 2001.

Peter K. Palangyo. Dying in the Sun. (Novel) 1968.

Moyez G. Vassanji. The Gunny Sack. 1989; Uhuru Street. (Short Story) 1991; The Book of Secrets (Novel) 1994.


Austin Bukenya. The People’s Bachelor. (Novel) 1972; The Bride. (Play) 1984.

Bonnie Lubega. The Burning Bush. 1970; The Outcasts. 1971.

Lubwa p’Chong. Words of My Groaning. (Play) 1976; The Madman. (Play) 1989.

John Nagenda. The Seasons of Thomas Tebo. (Novel) 1986.

Peter Nazareth. In a Brown Mantle. (Novel) 1972; The General Is Up. (Novel) 1991.

Okello Oculi. Orphan. (Novel) 1968; Prostitute. (Novel) 1968.

Okot p’Bitek. Song of Lawino. (Poetry) 1966; Song of Ocal. (Poetry) 1970.

John Ruganda. The Burdens. (Play) 1972; Black Mamba. (Novel) 1973.

George Seremba. Come Good Rain. (Play) 1993.

Eneriko Seruma [Henry S. Kimbugwe]. The Experience. (Novel) 1970; The Heart Seller. (Short Story) 1971.

Robert Serumaga. A Play. (Play) 1968; The Elephants. (Play) 1971; Majangwa. (Play) 1974.

Taban lo Liyong. Fixions & Other Stories. (Short Story) 1969; Frantz Fanon’s Uneven Ribs. With Poems More and More. (Poetry) 1971; Another Nigger Dead. (Poetry) 1972; Thirteen Offensives against Our Enemies. (Poetry) 1973; Ballads of Underdevelopment. (Poetry) 1976; The Cows of Shambat. (Poetry) 1992; Words That Melt a Mountain. (Poetry) 1996; Carrying Knowledge up a Palm Tree (Poetry) 1997.

Bahadur Tejani. Day After Tomorrow. (Novel) 1971.

Timothy Wangusa. Salutations: Poems 1965-1975. (Poetry) 1977; Upon This Mountain. (Novel) 1989.


Georzef Lu. Woman of My Uncle. (Novel) 1985.

Dominic Mulaisho. The Tongue of the Dumb. (Novel) 1971; The Smoke that Thunders. (Novel) 1979.

William Saidi. The Hanging.

Grieve Sibale. Between Two Worlds.

William Simukwasa. The Coup; The Ring.


N.H. Brettell. Bronze Frieze. (Poetry) 1950; Season and Pretext. (Poetry) 1975.

Samuel Chimsoro. Smoke and Flames. (Poetry) 1978; Nothing Is Impossible. (Novel) 1983; Dama Rekutanga: The First Promise. (Poetry) 1990.

Shimmer Chinodya. Farai’s Girls. (Novel) 1984; Harvest of Thorns. (Novel) 1989.

Edmund Chipamaunga. A Fighter for Freedom. (Novel) 1983; Chains of Freedom. (Novel) 1997.

Tsitsi Dangarembga. Nervous Conditions. (Novel) 1988.

John Eppel. Spoils of War. (Poetry) 1989; D.G.G. Berry’s Great North Road. (Novel) 1992.

Chenjari Hove. Bones (Novella) 1988; Shadows. (Novella) 1991; Ancestors. (Novel) 1996.

Wilson Katiyo. A Son of the Soil. (Novel) 1976; Going to Heaven. (Novel) 1979.

Doris Lessing. The Grass is Singing. (Novel) 1950; Martha Quest. (Novel) 1952

Nevanji Madanhire. Goatsmell. (Novel) 1992.

Dambudzo Marechera. The House of Hunger. (Novel) 1978; Black Sunlight. (Novel) 1980.

Timothy O. McLoughlin. Karima. (Novel) 1985.

Charles Mungoshi. Coming of the Dry Season. (Short Story) 1972; Waiting for the Rain. (Novel) 1975; Walking Still. (Short Story) 1997.

Solomon Mutswairo. Mapondera, Soldier of Zimbabwe. (Novel) 1978; Chaminuka, Prophet of Zimbabwe. (Novel) 1983.

Geoffrey Ndhlala. Jikinya. (Novel) 1979; The Southern Circle. (Novel) 1984.

Stanley Nyamfukudza. The Non-Believer’s Journey. (Novel) 1980; Aftermaths. (Short Story) 1983; If God Was a Woman. (Short Story) 1991.

Freedom Nyamubaya. On the Road Again. (Poetry) 1986; Dusk of Dawn. (Poetry) 1995.

Kristina Rungano. A Storm Is Brewing. (Poetry) 1984.

Stanlake Samkange. On Trial for My Country. (Novel) 1966.

Thompson Kumbirai Tsodzo. Pafunge. (Novel) 1972; Babamunini Francis. (Play) 1977.

Lawrence Vambe. An Ill-Fated People. (Autobiography) 1972.

Yvonne Vera. Nehanda. (Novel) 1993; Without a Name. (Novel) 1994; Under the Tongue. (Novel) 1996; Butterfly Burning. (Novel) 1998.

Andrew Whaley. Platform 5. (Play) 1987; The Rise and Shine of Comrade Fiasco. (Play) 1991.

Paul Tiyambe Zeleza. Smouldering Charcoal. (Novel) 1992.

Musaemura B. Zimunya. Thought Tracks. (Poetry) 1982.











Reference works

Benson, Eugene and L.W. Conolly. Eds. Encyclopedia of Post-Colonial Literatures in English. London UK: Routledge. 1994.

Killam, Douglas and Ruth Rowe. Eds. The Companion to African Literatures. Oxford UK: James Currey. 2000.

Lindfors, Bernth and Reinhard Sander. Eds. Twentieth-Century Caribbean and Black African Writers. First Series. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 117. Detroit MI: Gale Research (A Bruccoli Clark Layman Book) 1992.

Lindfors, Bernth and Reinhard Sander. Eds. Twentieth-Century Caribbean and Black African Writers. Second Series. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 125. Detroit MI: Gale Research (A Bruccoli Clark Layman Book) 1993.

Lindfors, Bernth and Reinhard Sander. Eds. Twentieth-Century Caribbean and Black African Writers. Third Series. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 157. Detroit MI: Gale Research (A Bruccoli Clark Layman Book) 1996.

Critical works

Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London UK: 1994.

Boehmer, Elleke, Laura Chrisman and Kenneth Parker. Eds. Altered State? Writing and South Africa. Hebden Bridge UK: Dangaroo Press. 1994.

Booker, M. Keith. The African Novel in English. An Introduction. Portsmouth NH: Heinemann; Oxford UK: James Currey. 1998.

Coetzee, J.M. White Writing. On the Culture of Letters in South Africa. New Haven CON: Yale University Press. 1988.

Falola, Toyin and Barbara Harlow. Eds. Palavers of African Literature. Essays in Honour of Bernth Lindfors. Vol. 1. Trenton NJ: Africa World Press. 2002.

Falola, Toyin and Barbara Harlow. Eds. African Writers and Their Readers. Essays in Honour of Bernth Lindfors. Vol. 2. Trenton NJ: Africa World Press. 2002.

Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. (1952) Trans. Charles Lam Markmann. London UK: Pluto Press. 1986.

García Ramírez, Paula. Introducción al estudio de la literatura africana en lengua inglesa. Jaén: Universidad de Jaén. 1999.

Hay, Margaret Jean. Ed. African Novels in the Classroom. Boulder CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers. 2000.

Hyam, Ronald. Empire and Sexuality. The British Experience. (1990) Manchester UK: Manchester University Press. 1992.

Larson, Charles R. The Ordeal of the African Writer. London UK: Zed Books. 2001.

Nkosi, Lewis. Home and Exile and Other Selections. (1965) Harlow, Essex UK: Longman Group Limited. 1983.

Nkosi, Lewis. Tasks and Masks. Themes and Styles of African Literature. Harlow, Essex UK: Longman Group Limited. 1981.

Punter, David. Postcolonial Imaginings. Fictions of a New World Order. Edinburgh UK: Edinburgh University Press. 2000.

Said, Edward D. Orientalism. Western Conceptions of the Orient. (1978) London UK: Penguin Books. 1995.

Worsfold, Brian. South Africa Backdrop. An historical introduction for South African literary and cultural studies. Lleida: Edicions de la Universitat de Lleida. 1999.

Veeser, H. Aram. Ed. The New Historicism. London UK: Routledge. 1989.

Novels, short-stories, plays and anthologies

Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. (Novel) (1958) London UK: Heinemann Educational Books (African Writers Series) 1987.

Amadi, Elechi. The Concubine. (Novel) (1966) London UK: Heinemann Educational Books (African Writers Series) 1985.

Coetzee, J.M. Disgrace. (Novel) London UK: Secker and Warburg. 1999.

Ekwensi, Cyprian. Jagua Nana. (Novel) (1961) Heinemann Educational Books (African Writers Series) 1982.

Emecheta, Buchi. The Bride Price. (1976) London UK: Fontana Paperbacks. 1982.

Emecheta, Buchi. Kehinde (Novel) (1994) London UK: Heinemann Educational Publishers (African Writers Series) 1994.

Farah, Nuruddin. Maps. (1986) New York NY: Penguin Books. 1999.

Fugard, Athol. Three Port Elizabeth Plays. The Blood Knot. Hello and Goodbye, Boesman and Lena. (Play) London UK: Oxford University Press. 1974.

Head, Bessie. When Rain Clouds Gather. (Novel) (1968) Heinemann Educational Books. 1981.

Head, Bessie. A Question of Power. (Novel) (1974) London UK: Heinemann Educational Books (African Writers Series) 1981.

Millin, Sarah Gertrude. God’s Stepchildren. (Novel) (1924) Craighall RSA: AD. Donker. 1986.

Mphahlele, Ezekiel. Down Second Avenue. (1959) London UK: Faber and Faber. 1980

Mungoshi, Charles. Waiting for the Rain. (1975) Harare: Zimbabwe Publishing House. 1996.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o. A Grain of Wheat. (1967) London UK: Heinemann Educational Books. 1978.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o Homecoming. London: Heinemann Educational Books. 1972.

Nkosi, Lewis. “The Prisoner.” Ezekiel Mphahlele. Ed. African Writing Today. Harmondsworth UK: Penguin Books. 1967.

Paton, Alan. Too Late the Phalarope. (Novel) (1955) Harmondsworth UK: Penguin Books. 1979.

Plaatje, Sol T. Mhudi. (Novel) (1930) London UK: Heinemann Educational Books (African Writers Series) 1982.

Rooke, Daphne. Mittee. (Novel) (1951) Boston MA: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1952.

Sepamla, Sipho. Rainbow Journey. Florida Hills RSA: Vivlia Publishers and Booksellers. 1996.























Reference works

Benson, Eugene and L.W. Conolly. Eds. Encyclopedia of Post-Colonial Literatures in English. London UK: Routledge. 1994.

Killam, Douglas and Ruth Rowe. Eds. The Companion to African Literatures. Oxford UK: James Currey. 2000.

Lindfors, Bernth and Reinhard Sander. Eds. Twentieth-Century Caribbean and Black African Writers. First Series. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 117. Detroit MI: Gale Research (A Bruccoli Clark Layman Book) 1992.

Lindfors, Bernth and Reinhard Sander. Eds. Twentieth-Century Caribbean and Black African Writers. Second Series. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 125. Detroit MI: Gale Research (A Bruccoli Clark Layman Book) 1993.

Lindfors, Bernth and Reinhard Sander. Eds. Twentieth-Century Caribbean and Black African Writers. Third Series. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 157. Detroit MI: Gale Research (A Bruccoli Clark Layman Book) 1996.

Critical works

Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London UK: 1994.

Boehmer, Elleke, Laura Chrisman and Kenneth Parker. Eds. Altered State? Writing and South Africa. Hebden Bridge UK: Dangaroo Press. 1994.

Booker, M. Keith. The African Novel in English. An Introduction. Portsmouth NH: Heinemann; Oxford UK: James Currey. 1998.

Coetzee, J.M. White Writing. On the Culture of Letters in South Africa. New Haven CON: Yale University Press. 1988.

Falola, Toyin and Barbara Harlow. Eds. Palavers of African Literature. Essays in Honour of Bernth Lindfors. Vol. 1. Trenton NJ: Africa World Press. 2002.

Falola, Toyin and Barbara Harlow. Eds. African Writers and Their Readers. Essays in Honour of Bernth Lindfors. Vol. 2. Trenton NJ: Africa World Press. 2002.

Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. (1952) Trans. Charles Lam Markmann. London UK: Pluto Press. 1986.

García Ramírez, Paula. Introducción al estudio de la literatura africana en lengua inglesa. Jaén: Universidad de Jaén. 1999.

Hay, Margaret Jean. Ed. African Novels in the Classroom. Boulder CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers. 2000.

Hyam, Ronald. Empire and Sexuality. The British Experience. (1990) Manchester UK: Manchester University Press. 1992.

Larson, Charles R. The Ordeal of the African Writer. London UK: Zed Books. 2001.

Nkosi, Lewis. Home and Exile and Other Selections. (1965) Harlow, Essex UK: Longman Group Limited. 1983.

Nkosi, Lewis. Tasks and Masks. Themes and Styles of African Literature. Harlow, Essex UK: Longman Group Limited. 1981.

Punter, David. Postcolonial Imaginings. Fictions of a New World Order. Edinburgh UK: Edinburgh University Press. 2000.

Said, Edward D. Orientalism. Western Conceptions of the Orient. (1978) London UK: Penguin Books. 1995.

Worsfold, Brian. South Africa Backdrop. An historical introduction for South African literary and cultural studies. Lleida: Edicions de la Universitat de Lleida. 1999.

Veeser, H. Aram. Ed. The New Historicism. London UK: Routledge. 1989.

Novels, short-stories, plays and anthologies

Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. (Novel) (1958) London UK: Heinemann Educational Books (African Writers Series) 1987.

Amadi, Elechi. The Concubine. (Novel) (1966) London UK: Heinemann Educational Books (African Writers Series) 1985.

Coetzee, J.M. Disgrace. (Novel) London UK: Secker and Warburg. 1999.

Ekwensi, Cyprian. Jagua Nana. (Novel) (1961) Heinemann Educational Books (African Writers Series) 1982.

Emecheta, Buchi. The Bride Price. (1976) London UK: Fontana Paperbacks. 1982.

Emecheta, Buchi. Kehinde (Novel) (1994) London UK: Heinemann Educational Publishers (African Writers Series) 1994.

Farah, Nuruddin. Maps. (1986) New York NY: Penguin Books. 1999.

Fugard, Athol. Three Port Elizabeth Plays. The Blood Knot. Hello and Goodbye, Boesman and Lena. (Play) London UK: Oxford University Press. 1974.

Head, Bessie. When Rain Clouds Gather. (Novel) (1968) Heinemann Educational Books. 1981.

Head, Bessie. A Question of Power. (Novel) (1974) London UK: Heinemann Educational Books (African Writers Series) 1981.

Millin, Sarah Gertrude. God’s Stepchildren. (Novel) (1924) Craighall RSA: AD. Donker. 1986.

Mphahlele, Ezekiel. Down Second Avenue. (1959) London UK: Faber and Faber. 1980

Mungoshi, Charles. Waiting for the Rain. (1975) Harare: Zimbabwe Publishing House. 1996.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o. A Grain of Wheat. (1967) London UK: Heinemann Educational Books. 1978.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o Homecoming. London: Heinemann Educational Books. 1972.

Nkosi, Lewis. “The Prisoner.” Ezekiel Mphahlele. Ed. African Writing Today. Harmondsworth UK: Penguin Books. 1967.

Paton, Alan. Too Late the Phalarope. (Novel) (1955) Harmondsworth UK: Penguin Books. 1979.

Plaatje, Sol T. Mhudi. (Novel) (1930) London UK: Heinemann Educational Books (African Writers Series) 1982.

Rooke, Daphne. Mittee. (Novel) (1951) Boston MA: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1952.

Sepamla, Sipho. Rainbow Journey. Florida Hills RSA: Vivlia Publishers and Booksellers. 1996.



In the post-colonial era, the metropoli in all their manifestations have withdrawn to Europe. As a result, migration towards Europe is increasing, not only by illegal immigration but also in the form of child-and woman-trafficking. European sexuality drove European colonialism and now, in the post-colonial era, Europeans are looking individually to the former colonies for their sexual gratification in the form of sex tourism, paedophilia, slavery and human trafficking. Such human behaviour was hidden under the veil of colonialism before, but today the veil has been lifted.




Mungoshi’s Waiting for the Rain.

In Waiting for the Rain, Lucifer Mandengu returns to his village in rural Zimbabwe to say good-bye to his family before leaving for Europe where he has won a scholarship to study fine art.

Lucifer’s experience is transnational, transcultural and translinguistic.

But it is more than that – he leaves his family to live on his own, he leaves the countryside to live in a city, he leaves traditional values and custom to live in a globalised community with Western values.

By the time he is driven away in Father William’s car, he has cut his ties with Shona tradition and Shona values and is preparing to live according to Western values and Western custom.

Lucifer prepares himself for multiculturalism and, if needs be, interculturalism.

He rejects Old Mandisa’s peanut butter and Matandangoma’s bottles of traditional medicines.

Lucifer breaks his roots and disavows all reponsibility towards his extended family.


READING: Charles Mungoshi. Waiting for the Rain. 174-180.



3. Urban > Rural, cosmopolitan > traditional – Buchi Emecheta. The Bride Price. 1976.

Aku-nna in The Bride Price begins the trip back to Ibusa from Lagos where she was born.

Buchi Emecheta has her reader accompany Aku-nna on a mammy-lorry into the Nigerian countryside.

What the author eventually discovers there, in Ibusa society, is something which catches she herself unawares and shocks her.

From the chaotic communal life in a Lagos suburb the reader is taken along the road to Asaba, through the dense forest bursting with tropical fruits and past the yam and cassava fields.

Once in Asaba, a seven-mile walk brings Aku-nna to Ibusa and immediately the value system changes and a wholly different world order becomes operative.

With the acute sensitivity of a sociologist, Buchi Emecheta reveals the whole range of taboos and customs which dictate rural life – widow inheritance, polygyny, age-groups, religious groups, discrimination against descendants of slaves, menstruation taboos, rites associated with the river goddess, arranged marriages, bride-price payments, courtship petting, bride kidnapping and women’s mourning, among many others.

Aku-nna finds herself at the mercy of these rural traditions and is made to feel guilty and fearful because of them.

Aku-nna and her brother Nna-nndo first feel “like marionnettes propelled by a great force” (68) and later, “like helpless fishes caught in a net.” (82)

Aku-nna feels stifled by the limitations imposed on her by rural tradition.

There are many images in The Bride Price that convey a sense of helplessness.

Many images are linked to images of traps, nets and cages which symbolize the conflict between the two sets of cultures: that of urban Lagos and that of rural Ibusa.

In one paragraph, Nna’s voice is “as murderous as that of an angry lion caught in a hunter’s trap.” (17)

The feeling of impotence, suffocation and bewilderment encircling some of the characters in images such as Aku-nna “metaphorically drowning.”

Aku-nna’s eyes are described by a relative “like those of a frightened rat whose skull has been banged on the ground.” (78)


READING: Buchi Emecheta. The Bride Price. 68-72.


Both Lucifer and Aku-nna find traditional African society, Shona and Igbo respectively, to be unbearably stifling, having come into contact with British colonial education in the case of Lucifer and with cosmopolitan life in Lagos in the case of Aku-nna.

Transnational migration is only one kind of migration.

In our modern world, nearly everybody migrates in one way or another, if not physically, then mentally.

As human beings we have a natural urge to be mobile and to escape the limitations imposed on us by the communities of our roots.



Throughout the apartheid era, South Africa had been governed in a way similar to the colonised countries of the Americas, that is, by the coloniser ex-patriates or settlers. The difference in South Africa was that at the time of the end of apartheid Black South Africans outnumbered White South Africans by about 10:1. In 1991, there were about 40 million Black South Africans, 4 million White South Africans, 1·5 million Coloureds and about 1 million Asian South Africans. (Check figures)


Chapter Three – Degrees of coloniality


While the colonial legacy is significant to all African cultures and while the colonial process constitutes an underlying common factor for all African countries, it should not be overstated. In The African Novel in English. An Introduction (1998), M. Keith Booker observes that, while postcolonial African literature reacts against decades of European colonial rule in Africa, it also challenges “the long legacy of negative representations of Africa and Africans in European and American writing.” While much African literature written in English reflects in some degree the colonial experience, the works stand on their own as works of literature. It is contended here, therefore, that categorising the literary works in terms of their degree of coloniality, that is, the extent to which they are imbued with the colonial ethos, is useful, at least during this post-colonial period.

It is true that the colonial ethos is more evident in some works than in others, in terms of subject matter, discourse topic, genre, characterisation, style etc. And while some texts are imbued heavily with the colonial ethos, others are imbued with the ethos of the colonised, the victim. Given these parameters, it is possible to place works of literature in English from Africa on a continuum, running from “heavily imbued with the colonial ethos” to “not imbued at all with the colonial ethos.” For example, at one extreme, that is, “heavily imbued with a colonial ethos,” we might place Doris Lessing’s The Grass is Singing, while at the other extreme, that is, “not at all imbued with the colonial ethos,” we might place Amos Tutuola’s The Palm-Wine Drinkard. This classification is work-based, not author-based. For example, while Bessie Head’s first novel When Rain Clouds Gather is clearly “heavily imbued with a colonial ethos,” her last novel A Question of Power is not and must therefore be located at the other extreme of the continuum. Likewise, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is neither “heavily imbued with a colonial ethos” nor is it entirely devoid of reference to the colonial process, causing the novel to be located some way along the continuum, between the two extremes. Such classification, while not reflecting in any way the quality of the respective works, will mean that most of the works of White South African writers like Nadine Gordimer, André Brink and J.M. Coetzee who have focused on conditions under apartheid and post-apartheid will be classified as being “heavily imbued with a colonial ethos” while works by Black South Writers like Sipho Sepamla, Njabulo Ndebele and Zakes Mda will be located towards the other extreme of the continuum.

Such a conceptualisation of literatures in Africa written in English cuts across classificatory criteria such as author ethnicity, cultural and religious divides, geographical and geopolitical boundaries etc., at the same time highlighting the discursive significance of the respective works. While works “heavily imbued with a colonial ethos” are generally characterised by the juxtaposition of coloniser (White) characters with colonised (Black) victims and focus on the interstices where White and Black meet, where Self meets “the Other,” works devoid of the colonial ethos contribute to truly African discourse topics. Moreover, a conceptualisation based on coloniality also cuts across perceptions such as Lewis Nkosi’s “tasks and masks” and his “revolutionary impulse” / national reconstruction dichotomies are also embraced.



The question of exile

Other writers, like the Nigerian writer Buchi Emecheta and the South African Lauretta Ngcobo, found themselves living abroad in exile or self-imposed exile at the time of their country’s Independence. Such writers find themselves in the position of having to decide whether to return to the country of their birth or not. From their vantage point as outsiders in respect to their previously-colonised home countries, the literary contributions of such writers provide particularly vivid and revealing insights into the change from colonised to independent status.

Buchi Emecheta is the quintessential woman of two worlds, constantly shifting between Nigerian and British, Nigerian Christians and English Protestants, colonised and coloniser. This bi-cultural quality that Buchi Emecheta as an immigrant in London has lived intensely enables her to write with perspicacity and committment.

Buchi Emecheta did not begin by publishing works about life back home in Nigeria. Instead, her first publications are indictments of her adopted culture, the metropolis, and the plight she had been forced into. During her sociology degree course at London University she found herself studying precisely those London immigrant communities in which she herself was living. She quickly realised that her own social condition was under the scientific scrutiny of English academics and was a subject of great interest and concern. Second, her work as an assistant in a north London library gave her an insight into the tastes of the British readership and its inherent openmindedness. These two factors together suggested that what she had to say about the iniquities of the British state as perceived by immigrants would achieve some impact on the British public.

Her experience as library assistant made her aware of the fact that, in Britain, her criticism of the system, no matter how condemnatory, as long as it was reasonable, would be read by members of a general public many of whom would give her opinions careful consideration, even to the extent of changing social attitudes. Moreover, another factor must surely have lessened the risk; her first documentary novel, In the Ditch, was serialised in New Statesman at the beginning of the 1970s, a time when Britain was finally starting to accept the mantle of multi-cultural state with all its consequences.


It is a truism that all cultures are in flux, yet the observation is most relevant at a time of transition from colonial, neo-colonial and coloniser status to the post-colonial world order. The Nigeria Buchi Emecheta left in 1962 at the age of 18 has evolved politically, socially and economically into a radically different nation today. Likewise, the London she adopted as her home in 1962 is markedly different from the London she lives in today. Social attitudes have changed in both societies and, as their respective cultures continue to evolve, so the types of problems, attitudes and priorities of individuals are transformed. For the person who shifts between two cultures, the evolution of attitudes is more complex; for obvious physical reasons of residence, one cultural environment is always dominant, and the bi-cultural individual gets out-of-step with the pace of evolution in the second, less-dominant culture.

On her return to Nigeria in 1981, which had gained its Independence from Britain after she had left in 1962, Buchi Emecheta felt disillusioned with what she found there, criticising aspects of the society and earning for herself the qualification of “unpatriotic” and “culturaly rootless.” Fruits of her first return to Nigeria were Double Yoke (1982) and Naira Power (1982), novels which touch on negative aspects of Nigerian society such as sexism and corruption. Transcultural living can be initially helpful to a writer in that it throws certain aspects of societies unperceived by its resident communities into relief. However, over time, given the evolution of cultures and the writer’s own adaptation, it becomes increasingly difficult for a writer to go on making perceptive and relevant criticisms about those cultures, even if regarded as one’s own.

It is a truism that all cultures are in flux, yet the observation is all the more relevant at this time of transition from colonial, neo-colonial and coloniser status to the post-colonial world order. The Nigeria Buchi Emecheta left in 1962 at the age of 18 has evolved politically, socially and economically into a radically different nation today. Likewise, the London she adopted as her home in 1962 is markedly different from the London she lives in today. Social attitudes have changed in both societies and, as their respective cultures continue to evolve, so the types of problems, attitudes and priorities of individuals are transformed. For the person who shifts between two cultures, the evolution of attitudes is more complex; for obvious physical reasons of residence, one cultural environment is always dominant, and it may be contended that the bi-cultured individual gets out-of-step with the pace of evolution in the second, less-dominant culture.

@BODY TEXT2 =  On her return to Nigeria in 1981, after having lived in London continuously for eighteen years, Buchi Emecheta felt disillusioned with what she found in Nigeria, criticising facets of the society and earning for herself the qualification of "unpatriotic" and "culturaly rootless".<$FBuchi Emecheta, "Nigeria: Experiencing a Cultural Lag", West Africa, 2 November 1981, p. 2582 and Sam Oyovbaire, "Who is Lagging?", West Africa, 16 November 1981, p. 2717.> Fruits of her first return to Nigeria were Double Yoke and Naira Power (1982). Culture change can be initially helpful to a writer in that it throws certain aspects of the societies unperceived by its natives into relief. However, over time, given the evolution of cultures and the writer's own adaptation, it becomes increasingly difficult for a writer to go on making perceptive comments about and analyses of institutions within those cultures.

[1] See cover notes, M. Keith Booker. The African Novel in English. An Introduction (1998).

[2] See Fig. 2 for a map of those countries in Africa where English is an official language.

[3] In 1487, the Portuguese navigator Bartholomew Diaz arrived at Mossel Bay at the southernmost tip of Africa where he encountered Khoisanoid people. In 1497, his compatriot Vasco da Gama landed north of where Cape Town is located today and then went on around the coast into the Indian Ocean to make landfall where Durban where he met Negroid people.

[4] These types of countries are sometimes referred to as “settler states.”

[5] See Fig. 3 for the dates of independence for those African countries that had been colonised by European states.

[6] See Fig. 2 for a map of those countries in Africa where English is an official language.

[7] See Fig. 3 for a literary geography of Africa.

[8] Border disputes within these territories have led to protracted, total warfare in the recent past and continue to do so even today in areas such as Eritrea, southern Sudan and the Darfur region, for example.

[9] See Annex 3 - Literary map of Africa.

[10] See Fig. 4 – The power of literature.

[11] See Fig. 3 – Independence for Africa.

[12] The destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York and part of the Pentagon Building in Washington DC on the 9th September 2001 has been construed by some commentators as having an impact on Western aesthetics. In a BBC interview, the British artist Damian Hirst stated that the image of the airliners striking the upper floors of the twin skyscrapers was “visually stunning,” in the New York Times (September 19, 2001) the German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen is quoted as having called the event “the greatest work of art ever,” and in the same newspaper the Nobel-prize winning author V.S.Naipaul claimed that, following this terrorist attack, the novel is dead. In terms of Western aesthetics, is the attack on New York’s Twin Towers the ultimate act of post-modernism, the single act that reduces everything post-colonial to the dust of coloniality? Only time will tell.

[13] See Lewis Nkosi. “Constructing the ‘Cross-Border’ Reader” (1994) ?.

[14] W.B Yeats “The Second Coming.” Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats. 1933. (London: Macmillan, 1971) 210-1.

[15] Lee Nichols. “Conversations with African Writers.” Voice of America, 1981. 55-56.

[16] Lewis Nkosi’s “The Prisoner” is contained in an anthology of short-stories African Writing Today (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. 1967), edited by Ezekiel Mphahlele.

[17] Makunun’unu maodzamwoyo (1970) is Mungoshi’s most frequently published work. In the years preceding Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, only 3,000 copies were printed, but since then the book has been a standard set work in schools and 42,500 copies have been printed.

[18] Quoted from Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s article “As I See It: Don’t Forget Our Destination.” Daily Nation. 152. 10 February 1963. 12.

[19] See M. Keith Booker. The African Novel in English. An Introduction (Portsmoth NH / Oxford: Heinemann / James Currey, 1998). Back cover.

[20] For more recent examples, see the characters of Jezile in Lauretta Ngcobo’s And They Didn’t Die (London: Virago, 1990), Felleng in Miriam Tlali’s Amandla (Braamfontein: Ravan, 1980; Soweto: Miriam Tlali, 1986) and Popi in Zakes Mda’s The Madonna of Excelsior (Cape Town: OUP Southern Africa, 2002; New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004).

[21] See Elleke Boehmer. “What will they read now?” Times Literary Supplement (April 1, 1994) 11, and Brian Worsfold. “Not Black, not Coloured, not White, not Asian, but South African. Towards an All-Race Literary Discourse.” Judith Bates, and Gordon Collier, eds. Shuttling Through Cultures Towards Identity / Vers une identité interculturelle. Annales de l’Université de Savoie 21 (Chambéry: Université de Savoie, 1996) 19.