Acknowledgements . 2
List of figures .
1. Approaching Fiction from
The historical factor ... .
The language factor .
to Literature from
[The geographical approach; The discursive approach; The ideological approach]
Degrees of coloniality ... ..
2. The Legacies of European Colonisation
failure of European colonisation in
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
published works in English by writers from
Publication and genre .. ...
Towards an African aesthetics ... .
The African writer ...
The construction of the post-Independence writer ..
Global readerships ... ...
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. Gods Stepchildren (1924) .
4.2.1 Sarah Gertrude Millin (1888-1968) .
4.2.2 Gods 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
Eskia Mphahlele. Down
5.1.1 Eskia Mphahlele (1919-)
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 Thiongo. A Grain of Wheat (1967)
6.4.1 Ngugi wa Thiongo (1938-)
6.4.2 The evolution of Ngugi wa Thiongos 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)
8. Introduction to Literature in English
9. Custom and Tradition in Independent
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 Emechetas personal experience in The Bride Price
9.2.4 Buchi Emechetas family as characters of her fiction
9.2.5 Buchi Emechetas mother as fiction
9.2.6 Buchi Emechetas father and brother as fiction
9.2.7 Elements of personal experience in The Bride Price
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
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
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
Figure 1 Literary geography of
Figure 2 English in
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 . .. ...
1 Literary Geography of
2 English in
By reading the literature from
It is extremely
important that the international community becomes informed about
At the same
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
At the university I read some appalling novels about Africa (including Joyce Carys 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
The selection criteria used here is as follows:
a) All the works
presented here are by writers who come from
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
d) It is
noteworthy that the majority of works chosen for this
presentation of fiction in English from
* * *
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.
presentation has been written to provide readers and students of
The literature of
Just prior to Christopher Columbuss
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. With the discovery of
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
The end of
European colonisation in
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
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:
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?
One way to
divide up those countries of
|Cameroon, The Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierre Leone|
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
constructors 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
It is possible
to list the authors and their works on the basis of the country
they come from. 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
this, the categories African literature or even
African literatures are not useful. Literary works
An alternative way to approach literatures
in English from
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
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
Fig. 4 The power of literature
readers of A Grain of Wheat are made
aware of Ngugi wa Thiongos 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
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
Thiongo undertook postgraduate studies at the
Given that African writers write with an
agenda, much of the writing by authors from
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
Type of nation state
Colonised nation state
Independent nation state
Authorial agenda / Objective of national discourse
Type of textualisation
Revolutionary literature reportage
Literature that constructs the national consciousness
Fig. 5 National discourse and type of textualisation
Imaginings. Fictions of a
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 dêtre 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.
Owing to the great territorial, political
and cultural diversity of the continent, the geographical,
discursive and ideological approaches to the study of literatures
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
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
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
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 Nkosis 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.
Most colonies in
Leaving aside the obvious demographic
imbalance, the attempted European colonisation failed in
Conference of 1884-5 signalled the beginning of the European
nations unashamed scramble for
War lasted from 1899 until 1902 and was fought between the
British and the Afrikaners (Boers) for control of the gold mines
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
end of the Cold War and the events of
The European metropoli had first
scrambled for and then abandoned
In their need to
participate in globalised political and economic systems,
post-Independence dispensations in
The map of
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
societies are by definition on the edge, socially,
culturally and politically marginalised, perpherical and far from
the centre, the metropolis. The Nigerian writer Chinua
Achebes 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
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)
The centre of European colonial power
overreached itself, rendering the edge increasingly unstable. In
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.
The traditional literary form for many
creative artists in
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,
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 --
? 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
Thiongos A Grain of Wheat (1967) is centered
on the Uhuru ceremony, the moment of
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
In fact, most publications in English by
African writers are not targeted at national readerships in
However, by far
the largest publishers of writing from
African dance and music, literature from
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
The publication of literary works in prose
by writers from
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
* * *
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 Mofolos son has commented that two chapters of his fathers 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).
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. Dhlomos An African
Tragedy. Set in
This legacy of
European colonialism is a determinant factor in the evolution of
African aesthetics. In 1915, the Cosmopolitan Club in
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
The Black South African critic Lewis Nkosi has identified a difference between Western and African mindsets. In his short story The Prisoner, Lewis Nkosi speaks of the Europeans 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 Ekwensis Jagua Nana (1961). Freddie, the novels 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 whas 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 Joyces Ulysses (1922), Wole Soyinka uses post-modernist techniques in his novel The Interpreters (1965) and Ngugi wa Thiongo 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 Sepamlas The Scattered Survival (1989) and the Zimbabwean writer Charles Mungoshis 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
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).
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
The agendas of
[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.
A writers reconstruction of identity
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
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 Achebes 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).
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
Ngugi wa Thiongo 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
Thiongo considers the use of the English language in
is a writer who has also been at the forefront of efforts to
promote his first language, Shona, in
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
Apart from the language question, Ngugi wa
Thiongo 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
This attitude is echoed in Steve Bikos 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 Thiongo 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. 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.
Ngugi wa Thiongo 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,
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,
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
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.
The reader will also be defined in these
terms. The reader of literary works from
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
As has been
pointed out previously, a writers 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
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
It is not
surprising, therefore, that the first textualisations of the
colonial or imperial experience in
fantasies of H. Rider Haggard, an Englishman who spent just eight
works in English, written by writers whose cultural identities
are rooted in
Works such as
Rider Haggards King Solomons Mines and She,
John Buchans Prester John and, more recently, Wilbur
Smiths Courtney Saga constitute a romanticisation of
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.
Solomon Tzhekisho Plaatje was born in 1876
on a farm near Boshof, about fifty kilometres east of
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
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
* * *
Like Thomas Mofolos 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 Shakas 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, Mzilikazis 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. Plaatjes Mhudi is also about race relations and, as such, constitutes a first step in a developing South African literary discourse. Despite the authors 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 authors lack of confidence in the reasonableness and good intentions of the White settlers. A Black Africans 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 Mzilikazis Matabele tribesmen, whom we leave at a magnificent feast in Bulawayo with the prospect of a prosperous life under Mzilikazis 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 womens universalised incomprehension of mans 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; Mhudis 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 Plaatjes women are more impressive than his men. Next to Mhudi is the stately Nandi, Mzilikazis 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 Plaatjes Mhudi.
* * *
Completed in about 1917, just seven years after the foundation of the Union of South Africa, Sol T. Plaatjes 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 Mhudis open-endedness, thereby allowing for a more complex manipulation of aesthetic form than that which racism and race relations were imposing on the discourses.
But in the early decades of the twentieth century, that was not to be. By the time Sol T. Plaatjes 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 Millins Gods Stepchildren, published in 1924, had already laid the foundation for an alternative South African literary discourse, one which was to obfuscate Plaatjes magnanimity. While Mhudi represents the perception of the victim, Gods Stepchildren presents the perspective of the oppressor. If there is a utopic feel to Sol T. Plaatjes romanticised presentation of inter-ethnic relations in Mhudi, Sarah Gertrude Millins novel Gods Stepchildren, while romantic in spirit, is colonial in ethos and lacks any such utopian sentiment.
Sarah Gertrude Millin was born in 1888 in
* * *
Superficially liberal, compassionate and seemingly impartial towards the Coloured characters that are the focus of her attention, in Gods 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 Gods 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 Rookes 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 was born in Boksburg,
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
Rooke set much of her fiction in
In the late
1950s, after about ten years in
* * *
Mittee is set in the
Mittee and Selina move to Plessisburg where the formers 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 Dingaans 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 Selinas father.
The two women go
As Mittee and
Paul are married, Selina realises she is carrying Pauls
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 Selinas
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
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 Mittees nearby farm.
While out with Mittee near the riverbank, Selina looks into a
hole where a skull has lain for years and finds Herrys
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,
Fanies mother. Pauls 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 Mittees absence in
Paul Du Plessis
leads a group of farmers and their families to settle in the
valley north of the
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, Frikkies 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 sons 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.
visits the Du Plessis farm to talk of a road to link Plessisburg
with the valley. Paul goes to
War breaks out
Led on by Lettys 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 lions head in two with his axe as it feeds on his mothers 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 Selinas 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 Selinas 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 Selinas 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 missionarys 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.
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
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 Rookes 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, Selinas 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.
an outstanding novel, a mixture of melodrama, realism and
naturalism that stands as a testimony to the mindsets that
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
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
* * *
Daphne Rookes 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 was born in Pietermaritzburg,
In 1935, Paton
gave up teaching and took up a position as director of the
Diepkloof Reformatory, a remand home for delinquent boys near
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 Patons finest work.
background of increasingly institutionalised racial
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
the Beloved Country is Alan Patons 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 individuals instinctive desire with his societys
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
In Too Late the Phalarope, Paton touches a raw nerve and reveals a deep truth an individuals 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 Vlaanderens tortured soul as he is falls further and further into the moral trap of the apartheid states 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. Plaatjes 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
The late 1950s
and early 1960s saw a spate of autobiographies written by Black
South Africans. Following the publication of Mphahleles now
classic autobiography, Alfred Hutchinsons Road to Ghana
(1960) was published in New York, Hodder and Stoughton (London)
published Todd Matshikizas Chocolates for My Wife
(1961), McGraw-Hill (New York) published Albert Luthulis Let
My Feople Go (1962), Thames and Hudson (London) published
Bloke Modisanes Blame Me on History (1963), and
Longmans, Green. (
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 Abrahams 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 Gumas first long piece of fiction A Walk in the Night appeared and 1964 saw the publication of Richard Rives 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 Heads first novel When Rain Clouds Gather was published by Victor Gollancz and, in the same year, Dugmore Boeties 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 Eskia 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, Eskia 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.
Eskia Mphahlele was born in
Marabastad, a Black African township near
Educated at St.
Peters School in Rossettenville,
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
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
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
In July 1976, at
the time of the Black schoolchidrens 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
A great deal of
controversy surrounds the figure of Es'kia Mphahlele. His return
By 1958, when Eskia Mphahlele went into self-imposed exile in Nigeria and wrote Down Second Avenue, the Union of South Africas 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.
Second Avenue, Mphahlele looks back some thirty-five years to
his first memories of a childhood spent in the small
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
Eskia Mphahleles 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.
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
Bessie Head was
brought up by foster parents and , at the age of thirteeen, she
was placed in the Anglican Mission orphanage in
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
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.
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
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
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
Lannigan Fugard was born in Middelburg in the
In 1956, Fugard
In 1958, Athol
Fugard took up a post as clerk for the Native Commissioners
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
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
In 1960, Fugard
and his wife travelled to
petitioned by townspeople from
In 1966 and
1967, Fugard directed plays by Wole Soyinka and Samuel Beckett in
Grotowskis Towards a Poor Theatre, Fugard produced
experimental plays such as Fridays Bread on Monday, The
Cure and Orestes (1971). In 1971, his passport was
returned for one year only and his travel outside
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
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.
first conceived of the plot of The Blood Knot in 1960
during the period he and his wife were working in theatre in
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
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 days 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
Morriss feeling of guilt changes to fear when he realises Zachs 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.
Knot is a tragi-comedy. The play reveals in comic scenes what
it was like to be a Coloured person in
The period leading up to and following a
colonised countrys independence is a period of rapid
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
Most African states achieved their
independence within the thirty years between 1950 and 1980.
Chinualumogo Achebe was born in 1930 in Ikenga, Ogidi, a large
village in the
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
Fron 1952 until
1953, while a student at
It was his
experience with the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation which gave
Chinua Achebe a deep insight into the history and the people of
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 fathers funeral when Okonkwos gun accidentally explodes, Chinua Achebes 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
1961, at the age of thirty-one, he married Christie Chinwe Okoli
and in the same year moved to
resigned from the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation in 1966
following the massacre of Igbos in northern and western
Nigeria-Biafra War broke out in 1967, Chinua Achebe supported the
Igbo cause for an independent
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
was appointed Professor of English at the
In 1979, in
recognition of his work in fostering creative writing, Chinua
Achebe received the Nigerian National Merit Award (NNMA), the
countrys 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
In 1983 Fourth
Dimension Publishing published The Trouble with Nigeria in
which he blames Nigerias 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 Peoples Redemption
Party, a proto-socialist organisation which divided intp two
factions, one of them siding with the ruling party in the
Between 1987 and
1988, Chinua Achebe was Visiting Professor of African Studies at
Heinemann International published Hopes and
Impediments. Selected Essays 1965-1987, a collection which
includes essays such as An Image of Africa: Racism in
Conrads Heart of Darkness, Work and Play
in Tutuolas 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
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 Achebes contribution. In 2000, Home
and Exile was published. Based on three lectures given at
Chinua Achebe is Charles P. Stevenson Jr. Professor of Languages
and Literature at
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 Ezeulus 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, Ezeulus testimony is taken as proof of their Chief Priests 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 mans 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. Marks 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 Amalus funeral ceremony, delayed because of a lack of yams and during which Ezeulus son Obika is killed in mysterious circumstances in spite of the great grievance which Amalus family nursed against Ezeulu and his family Aneto still came to beg Obika to run as ogbazulobodo on the night before his fathers second funeral the Christian harvest thanks-giving saw more people than even Goodcountry could have dreamed. (230) Ezeulu is left abandoned, his sons 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. Ezeulus 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. Nwodikas 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 Priests 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 anybodys 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.
was born in 1947 in
went to school in 1959, at the age of twelve. He attended the
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
Between 1967 and
1970, he wrote his first Shona novel, Makunun'unu maodzamwoyo
(1970), translated as Brooding Breeds Despair. This is
Mungoshis most frequently published work. In the years
In 1972, Coming
of the Dry Season was published. This is Mungoshis
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
In 1965, the
White minority government of Ian Smith had wrested political
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
Between 1975 and 1989, Mungoshis 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. Mungoshis 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.
Mungoshis 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, Lucifers maternal grandmother in Waiting for the Rain is based on Mungoshis 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 Mungoshis grandmother was noted for her story-telling ability.
the Rain tells of a young Zimbabwean man Lucifer Mandengu who
has won a scholarship to study art in
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, Mungoshis world is suspended, a limbo world.
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 nations status
quo as, moving towards
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 familys concerns. Three generations of Mandengu family members are involved in the debate, Lucifers 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 Garabhas claim for the family headship, but the Old Man finally acquiesces, granting his own son, Tongoona, his right to name his successor.
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
Thiongo was born on 5th. January 1938 in in
descent, Ngugis father Thiongo 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 Thiongo 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
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 Karinga, the
Independent Schools Movement, in a village called Maanguu.
Between 1954 and 1958, Ngugi received his secondary education,
from 1954 to 1958 at
At the the
Ngugi has linked
the idea of destiny with regard to the Israelites and their
struggle against slavery with similar experiences suffered by the
The parallels between fact and fiction are numerous. Between 1954 and 1956, Ngugis real life brother, Wallace Mwangi, went into the forest to join the Mau Mau forces. Ngugis 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 Ngugis, 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 Rungei becomes New Rungei in A Grain of Wheat.
Much of Ngugis 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 Ngugis 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 Governments 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
While he was at
Makerere, Ngugi became editor of the student journal of creative
writing Pinpoint and became the key figure in monitoring
Makereres 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
In July 1967,
In August 1971,
Ngugi returned to the Department of English at
In 1977, Petals
of Blood, Ngugis fourth novel, was published. This
novel, which stands as a key work not only in Ngugis
personal development but also in the development of radical
African literature, was launched in
Ngugis 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
release from detention in 1978, Ngugi applied to be reinstated in
his position at the
unsuccessful coup in
Apart from his renown as a creative writer in both Gikuyu and English, Ngugi wa Thiongo 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.
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
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.
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
In 1952, the Mau
Mau carried out a campaign of sabotage and assassination. In
October 1952, the British government in
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, Ngugis 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 Ngugis indecision with regard to his own attitude towards the Mau Mau rebellion which occurred during his youth. Although Ngugis 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.
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
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 Kihikas sister Mumbi, visit Mugo to invite him to speak at the Uhuru celebrations to be held in a field near Rungei. 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 Kihikas sister, Gikonyos wife, has a child by Karanja and is Mugos closest confidante. Apart from the narrative line which ends with Mugos confession, trial by the village elders and supposed death, the second most important narrative line is the competition between Gikonyo and Karanja for Mumbis love. Gikonyo becomes Mumbis 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 Karanjas 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 Karanjas 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 mothers 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.
In spite of the
British oppression, Gikuyu resistance led the independence
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. Ngugis 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 Ngugis ambivalent characterization of the freedom fighters he chooses to present to his readers. Ngugis attitude is wholly humanist; at times of crisis, when ones 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.
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
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 perpetrators mindset is a pre-requisite. Examples of African writers with this kind of experience are Nigerias 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 Emechetas experience as a Londoner returning to Nigeria is clearly echoed in her characterisation of Kehinde in Kehinde (1994) and J.M. Coetzees characterisation of David Lurie in Disgrace (1999) is tragic rather than condemnatory or in any way censorious, Sipho Sepamlas Beauty Radebe in Rainbow Journey (1996) takes strength from her new-found freedom in post-apartheid South Africa in a spirit of entrepreneurship.
Emechetas father had always spoken with great respect, even
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 Emechetas 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.
was born in Yaba,
In 1966, Buchi
Emecheta separated from her husband. The hardships of a Black
single-mother bringing up five children in
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. Emechetas 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
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
At one level, Kehinde
is the story of one Nigerian womans journey to
emancipation. A victim of circumstances from the time of her
birth, Kehindes birthplace, Ibusa, is literally hidden from
her consciousness until she is eleven years old, with the rented
rooms of her Aunt Nnebogo in
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 mothers 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, Kehindes 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)
generally-accepted claim that she had eaten her twin sister in
their mothers womb, the process of Kehindes 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
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
Kehindes life does not parallel Buchi Emechetas 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
herself is not driven to the same extremes in
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
fashion, Buchi Emecheta is ambivalent about
In line with
their individualised perceptions of
Kehindes own adaptation to life in
Kehindes 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 parents 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 youre a
grown man! Mothers are people too, you know. (139)
When Joshua asks her why his father does not return to live with
To a degree,
then, the purpose of Kehinde is to reveal and justify her
privately-taken decisions publically. The authors 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
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
Sipho Sepamla has been one of the principle
contributors to the Black South African discourse. A resident of
Wattville, a township near
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.
Sepamla was born in 1932 in the West Rand Consolidated Mines near
Krugersdorp, a mining and industrial centre in the
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
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 Sepamlas 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 Matshikisas African jazz opera King Kong and after reading Alan Patons 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
Sepamlas 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 I Love, which was published simultaneously in
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
Yesterdays Fall that was staged in
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
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 Sepamlas tone is always measured and moderate, the least strident of all the township poets. In respect of his language, commentators have said that Sepamlas 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 Sepamlas 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,
Sepamlas 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
In his third
novel Third Generation (1986), Sepamla focuses on the
generation gap in Black South African township families in the
aftermath of the
Hopelessness also permeates the plot of Sepamlas 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. Sepamlas 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 childrens 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.
Generation (1986) and A Scattered Survival (1989) were
written before the end of apartheid in
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 Sepamlas Rainbow
Journey (1996), Beauty Radebe leaves Ditapoleng, her home
village, to go to
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
Were it not for
the last two chapters, Sipho Sepamlas Rainbow Journey
would be unremarkable. Although published in 1996 at the outset
of the post-apartheid period, Rainbow Journey is set in
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 sons murder while in police detention at the feet of her daughter-in-law and even Sis Eunice, Konopis wife, who paid for her husbands assassination in order to avenge herself of her husbands 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 Sepamlas 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.
change of fortune is extreme, her trajectory meteoric. She moves
from the poverty of her
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
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 didnt 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 MaJosephs 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 Sowetos 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.
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
She had not expected much from a boy from
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
If as it was said he had a way with young women, then he was going to meet one he couldnt 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, Beautys 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, Beautys 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 Beautys loss of innocence causes her to realise that life with Justice had been like a drifters 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 Konopis [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
In short, Rainbow Journey constitutes an important contribution to the South African literary discourse and Seplamas 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.
Coetzee was born on the 9th. February 1940 in
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
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
writing his first novel Dusklands while at
publication of Dusklands (1974), other novels have
followed at regular intervals. In 1977, Coetzees 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
first full-length novel Life and Times of Michael K was
Coetzees collection of essays on
publication of Age of Iron in 1990, Coetzee returns to the
topic of apartheid
Coetzees 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
J.M. Coetzees 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.
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
In order to get
Luries quasi-tragic fall from grace is Coetzees
symbolisation of White disempowerment in post-apartheid
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 Lucys femininity sufficiently flexible to enable her to adapt to the new status quo.
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 colonisers
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
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 Lucys 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, Lucys decision to have a Black mans 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 Petruss wives on the understanding that the Black farmhand will protect her and her farm.
Although there is an element of tragedy in David Luries decline, Coetzees novel is realist, not confessional. David Luries 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. Coetzees deconstruction of David Lurie is systematic and complete, with no holds barred. Even Luries 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. Coetzees 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.
Themes in non-colonial literature from
Amadis The Concubine
The women writers focus on the differing perceptions of relationships between men and women, especilly in regard to the marriage institution.
Bessie Heads 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
Some writers from
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.
was born in Baidoa, the fourth son in a family of ten, in
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).
began his education in the Ogaden region and went on to the
Institutio Magistrate in Mogadiscio, capital of the
married an Indian woman and from 1970 until 1974 taught at a
secondary school in Mogadiscio. In 1974 he moved to
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 mans 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 Heinemanns 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
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, Askars sensitivity and loyalty are put to an
extreme test. In Maps, a post-modern allegory of the fate
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
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
the third novel of the Blood in the Sun trilogy, was
published in 1998. It is set at the time power in
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 Kalamans family members are a metaphor for the anarchy inherent in the relationships between Somali clans.
Nuruddin Farah was awarded the 1998 Neustadt International Prize
for Literature. Currently, he lives with his wife and two
has become well-known for his portrayal of women and his
portrayal of the way women think. In From a Crooked Rib,
Nuruddin Farahs protagonist
prospect of being married to Giumaleh, a 48-year-old man chosen
by her 80-year-old grandfather,
In Belet Wene,
I dont 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 dont realize it. What is the difference between a cow and yourself now? Your hand has been sold to a broker.
enforced marriage to a sick man,
[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)
A photograph of
Awill with a white woman with nothing on except a swimming
suit, her belly showing and Awills 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
dont care whose, (125)
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)
By the age of
(...) 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)
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,
years living in
Emechetas 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
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 groups 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
It is when
youre out of your country that you can see the faults in
your society. It has been my being in
In fact, Buchi Emecheta wrote the first
manuscript of The Bride Price in 1964, two years after her
through the first manuscript of The Bride Price, Buchi
Emechetas 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
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
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-nnas uncle Okonkwo Odia refuses to accept Aku-nnas 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
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 groups 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 Emechetas 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
In life, I was
too young to go against all that, but what I think saved me was
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-nnas 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-nnas experiences and her creators 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
Yet the psychological weight of tradition is extremely powerful. In the depths of despair during her captivity in Okoboshis 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-nnas 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 groups rules to the letter. In the closing lines of the novel, Buchi Emechetas authorial voice rings with doom as she writes without comment,
If a girl wished to live long and see her childrens 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 authors
mentality. Ten years in
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 womens 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-nnas brother, reveals his hatred of rural ways to his sister,
sister. I know everything they have said about you isnt
true. I wish our father had not died. We would still be in
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.
Together with The Slave Girl, her second Nigerian novel, The Bride Price contains information, opinions and feelings which are closely associated with Buchi Emechetas personal experience. It is at the same time their strength and their weakness. In her fourth Nigerian novel, Double Yoke, the creative writing lecturers 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 novels 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 couples 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.
The degree to
which Buchi Emechetas 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 Emechetas 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-nnas father Ezekiel Odia in The Bride Price,
Ojebetas husband Jacob in The Slave Girl and Nnu
Egos husband Nnaife in The Joys of Motherhood all
work for the railway company in
something overwhelmingly confessional about much of Buchi
Emechetas 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
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 mothers 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 mothers 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 youve 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
mothers belly in seven months when other children stayed
nine? And there was nothing like a premature baby unit at the
Massey Street Dispensary in
Aku-nnas 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 Emechetas 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 Blackies daughter, Aku-nna, chooses the son of a slave to be her husband, the real-life Blakie the black, Buchi Emechetas 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 Emechetas mother, into slavery by her brother is reflected in the plot of The Slave Girl. Finally, just as Aku-nnas mother is inherited by her husbands 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 mothers elder brother as a servant. Ma was inherited by Pas brother, and Boy was to live with one of Pas cousins. (AS: 17)
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
In many ways, socially-speaking a woman in traditional Igbo society is her bride price. When Aku-nnas 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 cant 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-nnas friendship with Chike. Ma Blackie, too, who has become reintegrated into Ibusa custom by conforming to her role as Okonkwos fourth wife and the bearer of his child, decries her relationship with Chike.
However, during her pregnancy Aku-nnas 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 fathers 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.
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
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 daughters marriage to Chike,
The bitterness Aku-nna was feeling had gone beyond tears. She had heard it said often enough that ones mother was ones 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.
Blackie, with her experience and background, adapts smoothly to
the move from urban
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
childrens feelings, she does not seem to even consider for
one moment that they might find the transition from
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 Blackies hut and shouted, calling all his ancestors to be his witness. He removed his loin cloth and pointed his bare posterior towards Ma Blackies 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 familys 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 daughters 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 didnt 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 youre that young, your parents know the families and can advise you. If youre 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 dont 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 mothers 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 Emechetas 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 mothers 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
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-nnas 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 fathers 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-nnas fathers 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 fathers, (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 daughters husband as well? Despite all that, Aku-nna knew she held a special place in her fathers 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 Emechetas fiction. For example, in The Bride Price, apart from her father, Aku-nnas 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 Egos 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 Nnas [her fathers] 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 Nnas 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 brothers 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-nnas 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 Emechetas 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-nnas father has echoes of the disappearance
of Buchi Emechetas own father from her family circle. In Head
Above Water, she writes a chapter entitled Lorlu Onye
In the same way, there are parallels to be drawn between Aku-nnas brother, Nna-nndo, and Buchi Emechetas 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 Emechetas 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 fathers 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 sisters shadow. At moments of crisis, for example, when Aku-nna is imprisoned in Okoboshis familys compound, it is he who takes Chikes 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-nnas 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-nnas bedside before she dies, Chike observes how much alike Aku-nna and her brother are:
Chike looked wordlessly at the [i.e. Nna-nndos) profile. Just like his sisters. Funny, that he had not noticed before how alike they were, especially those large eyes, now so troubled in Nna-nndos head. (BP: 165)
Again, it is
difficult to say to what extent Nna-nndo is modelled on Adolphus
Emecheta. From Adahs Story, however, it is
understood that Buchi Emecheta cherishes her relationship with
her brother. When Adah leaves
It can be argued, then, that Ma Blackie, Ezekiel Odia and Nna-nndo are modelled in varying degrees on Buchi Emechetas 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
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 fathers house. (BP: 10)
Ideologically confused and thoroughly
mixed-up, due undoubtedly to the conflict of
two cultures (BP: 29) which characterises her
She laid her small hand on one of his and said, Im 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 dont like it cold. (BP: 11)
Ezekiel Odia reciprocates in a similarly doting manner Thank you, my little daughter, but dont boil more yams than you can pound. That odo handle is too heavy for you. Dont 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 fathers 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 fathers death, she shows herself to be totally unemancipated. While Nna-nndo regrets that his fathers 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! [Authors italics] (BP: 28)
With Ezekiel Odias 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 Chikes 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-nnas 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 Chikes 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 Okoboshis sisters who place a towel in the centre of Okoboshis 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 sons 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 Emechetas 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-nnas 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)
gave birth to Chiedu in
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-Nnas 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 authors 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-nnas 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 Emechetas ambivalent attitude
not only towards Igbo traditions but towards her own
justification for abandoning those traditions by emigrating to
Aku-nnas fear derives not from any feeling of guilt nor anxiety about her choice of husband but from the prophesied consequences of Ekonkwos refusal of her bride price; Buchi Emechetas 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-nnas 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)
There is no
doubt that the characters, plot and significance of The Bride
Price is closely linked to Buchi Emechetas 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
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 Emechetas bride price had been paid and Aku-nnas 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:
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.
Could it be that the long-awaited payment of her bride price together with the concurrent breakdown of her marriage caused Buchi Emechetas 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 Emechetas 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?
[Taken from the
interview] By the time I finished my degree and found a job in
Vassanji was born in 1950 in
In 1978, Moyez
Vassanji emigrated to
Vassanjis The Gunny Sack traces through recorded
memories the history of the Asian community in
Vassanjis second novel No New Land, published in
1991 by McClelland and Stewart, focuses on East African Asian
immigrant communities in
Vassanjis collection of short stories
Vasaanjis 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
In 1996, Moyez
Vassanji was a fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study.
He lives in
At one level,
Moyez Vassanjis The Gunny Sack is a portrait of life
within the East African Asian community in
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.
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
grandfathers step-brothers 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
Part Two of the
narrative focuses on Kalas 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
fathers 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 fathers death. Kulsum
is left a widow with three children to bring up and Kulsum finds
herself in a hostile city without an ally.
Kulsums 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
In Part Three, Kala follows in his great-grandfathers 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 couples 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 ... [authors italics] (239)
Arranged marriages replace love marriages Love. For once its spoken the wind catches it and whispers it around and it gets conjoined with its mate, marriage. [authors 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 dads eye trampled in the mud. (241)
However, Kalas 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)
Sack looks at the problematics of marriage in
As the countries evolved diachronically
through phases of colonialism, so the degree of coloniality
changed in the novels. This is why Amos Tutuolas The
Palm-Wine Drinkard and His Dead Palm-Wine Tapster in the
Deads 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
The Palm-Wine Drinkard and His Dead Palm-Wine Tapster in the Deads 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.
Amos Tutuola was
born in 1920 at Ipose-Ake,
By 1948, Amos
Tutuola had returned to
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
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 Tutuolas 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 Tutuolas
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 Creators 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
persons 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
worked as a storekeeper for the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation
and, on his retirement in 1976, he divided his time between homes
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
died in June 1997 at the age of seventy-seven. According to
newspaper reports at the time of his burial in
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 Deads 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 mans 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.
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
cowries secret, frees the woman and takes her as his wife.
After three years, an aggressive half-bodied baby is born from
his wifes 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
Deads Town, spending time on Wraith-Island in
the company of beautiful creatures where men walk backwards, and
then to Unreturnable-Heavens 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
The palm-wine drinkard and his wife continue on their way to Deads 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 Deads Town is. As alives, the palm-wine drinkard and his wife can only enter Deads Town at night, but once there they locate the palm-wine drinkards 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 Deads 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 drinkards 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 poets 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.
Nwanzuruahu Nkiru Nwapa was born to Igbo parents in 1931 and
brought up at Ugwuta in
In 1952, Flora
Nwapa returned to Ugwuta to teach at the
In 1961, a year
With the end of
the Nigeria-Biafra War in January 1970 during which she had
In August 1971,
Flora Nwapas collection of short stories This Lagos and
Other Stories was published in
onwards, Flora Nwapa worked as Managing Director of Tana Press
and Flora Nwapa Books at
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 Childrens
Book Fair (1981), First Feminist Book Fair (
In 1986, Flora Nwapas 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 Nwapas 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
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
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 fathers advice, runs away and marries him. Adizuas parents did not visit Nwashike Ogene before marrying his daughter and the dowry remains unpaid until well into the marriage. Early in the marriage, Adizuas 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 Ogonims death, Adizua has left Efuru for another woman and, having decided to abandon her husband, Efuru moves back to her fathers compound.
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 Ogenes 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
worship Unhamiri, the Lady of the
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 fathers 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 fathers home. Efuru, a chosen worshipper of
Uhamiri, the Lady of the
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
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 dont 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. Thats all you have to do. (154)
In a society in which, on marriage, the husbands family pays a dowry to the wifes family and the wife moves into the husbands 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 husbands family to return his wife to her family and to reclaim the dowry the custom is that the dowry is to be returned to Adizuas 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 husbands 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 Efurus marriage to Eneberi remains childless, Eneberis 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 husbands offspring
Efuru, [Ajanupu] said at last, it is about you and your husband. Dont 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 Eneberis wife], as she deceived herself when she was Adizuas 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 Uhamiris 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 Efurus fate open-ended. When Efuru questions her doctors 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.
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.
Born in Aluu
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 Heinemanns 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.
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 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
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 Emenikes 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. Ekwuemes 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 sons 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-Kings 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.
Duaka Ekwensi was born of Igbo parentage in
Ekwensis 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
Leopards 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
On his return to
In 1963, his
fourth novel Beautiful Feathers was published, a novel set
in the 1950s, the decade preceding
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
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
In 1986, Ekwensis sequel to Jagua Nana entitled Jagua Nanas Daughter appeared. In this eighth novel, Jagua Nanas 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.
Jagua Nana is an
Igbo woman, the daughter of David Obi, the pastor at Ogabu in
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 countrys 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
episode takes Jagua on a journey to Freddies home at Bagana
where she wins the favour of Feddies 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
experience in Nigerian politics is a bitter and tragic one. She
campaigns alongside Uncle Taiwo to win the votes of the
As Jagua finds
herself in increasing danger at her
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)
was published in 1961, a year after
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
Wole Soyinka was
born on 13th. July 1934 in Ijebu Isara in
Between 1957 and
1959, he held the post of play-reader at the
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 countrys 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 Jeros 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
(1965) and Kongis Harvest (1967) which was performed
in 1966 at the opening of the Festival of Black Arts in
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 Eskia 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
Soyinkas 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
On his return to
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 Brechts 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 Soyinkas 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 fathers friends from the 1920s to the 1940s.
abandoned academic work in 1985 and dedicated his time to
writing. Mandelas Earth and Other Poems (1988)
presented conditions in
his passport was taken away from him in November 1994, he left
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
On his voyage
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
At one level, The
Interpreters deals with the situation in modern
With regard to the style of the novel, The Interpreters shares three main features with James Joyces 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 Joyces Ulysses, The Interpreters is filled with a sense of humour that is employed to criticise aspects of Nigerian society.
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.
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
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
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
In A Question
of Power, the horrific drama of the inner conflict of the
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
appears sometimes in a monks habit and on other occasions
in a brown suit, displays a dual personality to
Dan takes up the
momentum of Elizabeths 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. Dans 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
A Question of
Power conveys Bessie Heads longing for equality in
Ata Aidoo was born at Abeadze Kyiakor, near Dominase, in
with a BA degree in 1964, Ama Ata Aidoo went to to the
On her return
stories in Ama Ata Aidoos collection No Sweetness Here
(1970) also reflects on the relationship between the individual
and his/her cultural environment, specifically in Ghanaian
society following the countrys 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
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
In 1988, she was
Fulbright Professor at The Great Lakes Colleges Association
As with much of Ama Ata Aidoos 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
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 wifes 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 Esis grandmother Nana laments, [t]hese days, young people dont 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 Okos parents. However, matters are brought to a head when, following their wedding and on their return from Bamako where Esi meets Alis parents, Oko breaks into Esis house as Ali and Esi are making love and Ali and Oko fight.
Esis friend Opokuya and her husband Kubi help Esi through this difficult period, but after three years Esis 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. Esis parents are against her becoming a second wife to any man;
[Esis mother] hates the idea of me becoming anyones second wife.
My mother thinks that with all the ducation Ive had, I should have everything better than she has had.
[...] with her. its a question of me having my own husband.
[...] like Oko. She thinks I deserve better than having to share someones man. Or having to go into someones marriage, as she would rather put it. (95-96)
Okos 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, Esis marriage with Ali breaks down completely, the two resigning themselves to being just good friends. (164)
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
The literary works presented in this
introduction to literatures from
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 Thiongo.
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.
Ahdaf Soueif. The Map of Love. 1999.
Berhane Mariam Sahle Sellassie. The Afersata. 1969.
Daniachew Worku. The Thirteenth Sun. 1973.
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
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
Ayi Kwei Armah. The Beautyful Ones Are
Not Yet Born. 1968; The Healers. 1978; Osiris
Rising: A Novel of
Kwesi Armah. Africas Golden Road. 1965.
Kofi Nyidevu Awoonor. This Earth, My Brother. 1972; Fire in the Valley. Ewe Folktales. 2002.
Joseph E. Casely-Hayford.
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
Violet Dias Lannoy (Goan-Indian). Pears
Micere Githae Mugo. My Mothers Poem and Other Songs. (Songs and poems) 1994.
Grace Ogot. The Promised Land. (Novel) 1968; The Graduate. (Novel) 1980.
Ngugi wa Thiongo (Gikuyu). Weep Not, Child. (Novel) 1964; The River Between. (Novel) 1965; A Grain of Wheat. (Novel) 1967; Detained. A Writers 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 Boys Moon. 1953.
John Gay. Brightening Shadow.
Fletcher Knebel. The
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)
David Rubadiri. No Bride Price. (Novel) 1967; Come to Tea. (Play) 1965.
Joseph Diescho. Born of the Sun. (Novel) 1988; Troubled Waters. (Novel) 1993.
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
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.
Obi B. Egbuna. The Ministers 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 Nanas 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
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 Fathers 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
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.
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 Eagles 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 Fishermans 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
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; Fellas 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).
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.
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 Fathers 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 Hunters Pearl. (Play) 1969; King Emene. (Play) 1974; The Wizard of Law. (Play) 1975; Old Wines Are Tasty. (Play) 1981.
Bode Sowande. Farewell to
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; Kongis 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 Kings 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
Obiora Udechukwu. Ojadili. (Play) 1977; Onukwube. (Play) 1986; What the Madman Said. (Poetry) 1990.
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
Adebayo Williams. The Year of the Locusts. (Novel) 1978; The Remains of the Last Emperor. (Novel) 1994.
Joseph Ephraïm Casely-Hayford.
Syl Cheney-Coker. The Blood in the Deserts 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.
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; Whittakers 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;
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
Sheila Meiring Fugard. The Castaways. (Novel) 1972; Rite of Passage. (Novel) 1976.
Nadine Gordimer. The Conservationist. (Novel) 1979; Julys People. (Novel) 1981; My Sons Story. (Novel) 1990; The House Gun. (Novel) 1998.
Alex La Guma. A Walk in the Night. (Novel) 1962; In the Fog of the Seasons End. (Novel) 1972; Time of the Butcherbird. (Novel) 1979.
Sindiwe Magona. To My Childrens 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. Gods
Step-Children. (Novel) 1924; King of Bastards. (Novel)
1949; The Burning
Eskia Mphahlele. Down
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 Didnt 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
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.
Peter K. Palangyo. Dying in the Sun. (Novel) 1968.
Moyez G. Vassanji. The Gunny Sack.
Austin Bukenya. The Peoples Bachelor. (Novel) 1972; The Bride. (Play) 1984.
Bonnie Lubega. The Burning Bush. 1970; The Outcasts. 1971.
Lubwa pChong. 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 pBitek. 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 Fanons 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. Farais 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. Berrys 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
Geoffrey Ndhlala. Jikinya. (Novel) 1979; The Southern Circle. (Novel) 1984.
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.
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.
and L.W. Conolly. Eds. Encyclopedia of Post-Colonial
Literatures in English.
and Ruth Rowe. Eds. The Companion to African Literatures.
and Reinhard Sander. Eds. Twentieth-Century
and Reinhard Sander. Eds. Twentieth-Century
and Reinhard Sander. Eds. Twentieth-Century
Bhabha, Homi K. The
Location of Culture.
Laura Chrisman and Kenneth Parker. Eds. Altered State? Writing
Keith. The African Novel in English. An Introduction.
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and Barbara Harlow. Eds. Palavers of African Literature.
Essays in Honour of Bernth Lindfors. Vol. 1.
and Barbara Harlow. Eds. African Writers and Their Readers.
Essays in Honour of Bernth Lindfors. Vol. 2.
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and Exile and Other Selections. (1965) Harlow, Essex
Nkosi, Lewis. Tasks
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Punter, David. Postcolonial
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Fall Apart. (Novel) (1958)
Amadi, Elechi. The
Concubine. (Novel) (1966)
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Kehinde (Novel) (1994)
Fugard, Athol. Three
Head, Bessie. When Rain Clouds Gather. (Novel) (1968) Heinemann Educational Books. 1981.
Head, Bessie. A
Question of Power. (Novel) (1974)
Millin, Sarah Gertrude. Gods Stepchildren. (Novel) (1924) Craighall RSA: AD. Donker. 1986.
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Thiongo. A Grain of Wheat. (1967)
The Prisoner. Ezekiel Mphahlele. Ed. African
Writing Today. Harmondsworth
Paton, Alan. Too
Late the Phalarope. (Novel) (1955) Harmondsworth
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Benson, Eugene and
L.W. Conolly. Eds. Encyclopedia of Post-Colonial Literatures
and Ruth Rowe. Eds. The Companion to African Literatures.
and Reinhard Sander. Eds. Twentieth-Century
and Reinhard Sander. Eds. Twentieth-Century
and Reinhard Sander. Eds. Twentieth-Century
Bhabha, Homi K. The
Location of Culture.
Laura Chrisman and Kenneth Parker. Eds. Altered State? Writing
Booker, M. Keith. The
African Novel in English. An Introduction.
White Writing. On the Culture of Letters in
Falola, Toyin and
Barbara Harlow. Eds. Palavers of African Literature. Essays in
Honour of Bernth Lindfors. Vol. 1.
Falola, Toyin and
Barbara Harlow. Eds. African Writers and Their Readers. Essays
in Honour of Bernth Lindfors. Vol. 2.
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.
Jean. Ed. African Novels in the Classroom.
Hyam, Ronald. Empire
and Sexuality. The British Experience. (1990)
Larson, Charles R.
The Ordeal of the African Writer.
Nkosi, Lewis. Home
and Exile and Other Selections. (1965) Harlow, Essex
Nkosi, Lewis. Tasks
and Masks. Themes and Styles of African Literature. Harlow,
Punter, David. Postcolonial
Imaginings. Fictions of a
Said, Edward D. Orientalism.
Western Conceptions of the Orient. (1978)
Veeser, H. Aram.
Ed. The New Historicism.
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Fall Apart. (Novel) (1958)
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Concubine. (Novel) (1966)
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post-colonial era, the metropoli in all their manifestations have
Mungoshis Waiting for the Rain.
In Waiting for the Rain, Lucifer
Mandengu returns to his village in rural
Lucifers 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 Williams 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 Mandisas peanut butter and Matandangomas bottles of traditional medicines.
Lucifer breaks his roots and disavows all reponsibility towards his extended family.
3. Urban > Rural, cosmopolitan > traditional Buchi Emecheta. The Bride Price. 1976.
Aku-nna in The Bride Price begins the
trip back to Ibusa from
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
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 womens 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
In one paragraph, Nnas voice is as murderous as that of an angry lion caught in a hunters trap. (17)
The feeling of impotence, suffocation and bewilderment encircling some of the characters in images such as Aku-nna metaphorically drowning.
Aku-nnas eyes are described by a relative like those of a frightened rat whose skull has been banged on the ground. (78)
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,
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
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
Such a conceptualisation of literatures in
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 countrys
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
Buchi Emecheta did not begin by publishing
works about life back home in
Her experience as library assistant made her
aware of the fact that, in
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,
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
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,
@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.
 See cover notes, M. Keith Booker. The African Novel in English. An Introduction (1998).
See Fig. 2 for a map of those countries in
In 1487, the Portuguese navigator Bartholomew Diaz arrived at
 These types of countries are sometimes referred to as settler states.
 See Fig. 3 for the dates of independence for those African countries that had been colonised by European states.
See Fig. 2 for a map of those countries in
See Fig. 3 for a literary geography of
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
See Annex 3 - Literary map of
 See Fig. 4 The power of literature.
 See Fig. 3
 The destruction of the World Trade Centre in
 See Lewis Nkosi. Constructing the Cross-Border Reader (1994) ?.
 W.B Yeats The Second Coming. Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats. 1933. (London: Macmillan, 1971) 210-1.
 Lee Nichols. Conversations with African
Writers. Voice of
 Lewis Nkosis The Prisoner is contained in an anthology of short-stories African Writing Today (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. 1967), edited by Ezekiel Mphahlele.
 Makunununu maodzamwoyo (1970) is
Mungoshis most frequently published work. In the years
 Quoted from Ngugi wa Thiongos article
As I See It: Dont Forget Our Destination. Daily
 See M. Keith Booker. The African Novel in English. An Introduction (Portsmoth NH / Oxford: Heinemann / James Currey, 1998). Back cover.
 For more recent examples, see the characters of Jezile in Lauretta Ngcobos And They Didnt Die (London: Virago, 1990), Felleng in Miriam Tlalis Amandla (Braamfontein: Ravan, 1980; Soweto: Miriam Tlali, 1986) and Popi in Zakes Mdas The Madonna of Excelsior (Cape Town: OUP Southern Africa, 2002; New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004).
 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 lUniversité de Savoie 21 (Chambéry: Université de Savoie, 1996) 19.