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Orality was the means by which Africa made its existence, its history long before the colonial and imperial presence of the west manifested itself. This chapter mentions the Rwandan case to demonstrate a formidable example of poetry, politics, and power operating in a particular historical context in Africa, without the mediation of the written or printed word. There is no evidence that the genres of the Rwandan court have survived into the modern era and only the meticulous scholarship of Rwandan and non-Rwandan scholars provides an archive from which one can attempt to reconfigure, in the interests of the history of both world and African culture, the vibrant voices of a past poetic tradition. In an era of globalization, orality has not disappeared but has often adapted itself in its many different forms to become a vehicle for the expression of the fears and hopes of new generations of Africans.
The collection of tales in Africa began in the mid-nineteenth century, as a sequel to trends in eighteenth-century Europe, where nationalism had fostered a recognition and respect for national literatures. A systematic collection of folksongs, tales, and myths had begun in Europe, through which treasures of past life could be rediscovered and preserved. One important discipline that has paid close attention to the African folktale is the discipline of folklore. This chapter provides the salient features of the African folktale from the viewpoint of content, style, and mode of performance. The significance of the folktale may have slackened with the spread of literacy and urbanization in Africa; but it is still vividly narrated in rural domestic settings and educational institutions for purposes of entertainment. In parts of rural Africa, narrators in the past three decades have moved beyond casual telling and formed professional storytelling associations that entertain communities at wakes and other important events.
African performance traditions entered the orbit of European discourse, which, by virtue of language, supplies the operative terms "festival", "ritual", and "drama". Africa is home to several traditions of theater, conceived as an ensemble of culturally marked and consciously staged practices in space and time and before an audience. The older traditions are mostly nonscripted, improvisatory, and performed in indigenous African languages. Theater in Africa could be categorized into four distinct traditions: festival theater, popular theater, development theater, and art theater. In many African communities, the foremost indigenous cultural and artistic institution is the festival. Festival theater is performed in an open space in the town square or a similarly appointed location. Development theater practitioners are mostly professional intellectuals, often affiliated with a university, or educated individuals affiliated with a development agency or nongovernmental organization. The practitioners of art theater are nearly exclusively the internationally well-known African dramatists.
North African verbal artistry continues to contribute to the art scene north of the Mediterranean most notably today with the current powerful infusion of raü lyrics and music, a style that seems to have spread across the sea after its 1930s introduction to Oran by Berber and Arab Algerian rural women of the night who found it a useful performance tool to draw upon while trying to make a living. Lyrics performed more frequently by young men, mix Berber, varieties of North African Arabic, and French. This chapter reviews the changing plurilingual language situations in North Africa over the centuries and the shifting, especially European theoretical approaches to the study of these oral traditions emerging out of changing and inextricably linked political and scholarly trends. It considers a few North African oral traditions, riddles, poems, jokes, narrative forms, market cries, politesse, children's rhymes, lullabies, word play, and song lyrics.
Praise poetry is central to any delineation of southern African literature since praising is an important part of the peoples' political and literary expression. In southern African societies, social power relations intertwine with inherent oral art forms, so that if the object of praise is a ruler, the art of praising inevitably becomes the art of criticizing. The basic structure of heroic praise poetry is a succession of praise names, arranged in such a way that there is a statement, extension, development, and conclusion. The formal occasions at which praise-poetry performance has ceremonial functions include harvest festivals, weddings, and times of initiation. Scholars have viewed heroic praise poetry from different perspectives: historical, personal, social, political, and religious. Praise poetry can be studied because of the insights it offers into the topic of oral heritage that continues to flourish in written literature today as regards the thematic and stylistic foundations.
The study of the African epic was born in denial. This chapter offers the definition of the genere: Oral epic. An oral epic is fundamentally a tale about the fantastic deeds of a person or persons endowed with something more than human might and operating in something more than the normal human context and it is of significance in portraying some stage of the cultural or political development of a people. The chapter explores how the available texts of the African epic support the definition of the genre. It begins with the characters that perform the actions described in the tales, who are, in significant ways, hardly the kinds of people we meet in our daily lives. The documentation of African epics has been carried on by essentially three schools of endeavor, history, anthropology including linguistics and folklore, and literature.
Orality is the exercise of human verbal communication. One of the distinctions of African and diasporan conversation is its contrapuntal patterning. The link between speaking/narrating conventions and music is a propos. One of the distinctive structures of African song is its call-and-response patterning. Thematically, African and diaspora songs have inclined in the direction of work accompaniment, social commentary and derision, historical markers and reminders, dirges, incitement to dance and reproductive activity, invitations to make merry and deflect sorrow and anxiety, praise of the art form itself and self-praise of the singer, celebration and supplication of human antecedents and spiritual forces. In Africa, shared cultural traditions and ethnic mingling have produced cognate proverbs among contiguous peoples, and it is therefore likely that many West Atlantic proverbs have multiple African sources. Folk narratives form an orature category that are in large measure inherited from Africa. Folktale sessions may be preceded by riddle contests.
Throughout the West Indies, success in cricket at the international level is almost always followed by a carnival-type celebration, and lack of success is attributed to the cavalier attitude of the players: their carnival or calypso style of play. Carnival, as it has evolved in Trinidad, and as it has expanded to the other English-speaking territories of the Caribbean, pervades the popular culture of the islands. It is only natural that it would be a key contributor to the folk origins of the drama produced by the people of the region. Of the carnivals celebrated in the West Indies today, Trinidad's is the most engaging, infectious, and widely experienced by both artist and audience. Throughout the carnival and calypso season that starts immediately after Christmas, as the various preparations are being made for the street parade that is the climax of the carnival, the society partakes of a massive serving of oral literature and popular culture, the new calypsos.
This chapter focuses on graphic representation of sounds and the competition generated between several systems of graphic representation and considers the contribution of a new kind of artist, the alphabet inventor, who belongs to the history of art. Africa is full of inscriptions of what the Angolan writer Luandino Vieira calls "illiterate writing". Paintings and engravings that encode stories and rituals belongs to writing. The oldest written African language is Egyptian, to which one can add Nubian. The Meroe pyramids and the Sudan desert have yielded stones with inscriptions, allowing to decipher Meroitic script. In Africa only Egyptian, Nubian, Ge'ez, and Tamazight have, over the centuries, developed their own systems of full writing. The spread of writing and especially of printing has been the task of missions in Africa but without some measure of agreement on transcription, the dissemination of the written version of each African language is heavily handicapped.
Ethiopian literature falls into three broad categories: classical literature, including historical narratives, heroic poetry, and works of philosophical reflection cast in an imaginative mode; romantic and political literature in Amharic, and, since the Second World War, the new literature in English. Classical Ethiopian philosophy itself results from a confluence of Greek, Egyptian, Aramaic, and Arab sources. One of the outstanding texts of the fourteenth century concerns the story of Skendes, a story that has fired the imaginations of Greek, Syrian, Arabic, and Ethiopian scholars over the centuries. The fifteenth century witnessed ferocious conflicts between Orthodox Christians and other denominations. Islam was also seeking to penetrate Ethiopia by force, and Ethiopian Christianity was asserting its autonomy and repelling foreign intrusion. The great religious books of the century are literary documentations of these conflicts. Ethiopian literature in English is a recent development, but it includes some of the most significant works in African literature today, most notably the plays of Tsegaye Gebre-Mehdin.
In Africa, Arabic spread with the advent of Islam. Oral poetry and storytelling have always been part of the African cultural heritage. Twentieth-century Arabic poetry is usually divided into three main stages: neoclassical, romantic, and modernist. Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia have a wealth of oral poetry in both Arabic and Berber. Most studies of Arabic literature tend to focus on Egyptian writers. This chapter includes very few Egyptian writers and concentrates on a more general survey of Arabic writing in Africa, focusing on literatures that are often overlooked. Before the twentieth century, Egypt, which was occupied by the British and subsequently made a British Protectorate, led the way in modern Arabic literature and thought. Napoleon's invasion in 1798 and the British occupation of the country turned the Egyptian outlook towards Europe. Literary works in English and French were translated into Arabic, giving Egyptian intellectuals an insight into western letters and culture.
This chapter focuses on Swahili literature, which emerged out of a confluence of three forces: the indigenous tradition, the Islamic legacy, and the western impact. The rise to prominence of a Muslim clergy, led to a systematic bias in the preservation of the Swahili literary heritage. The beginnings of writing in Swahili literature can be traced to the Afro-Arab contact in the East African seaboard that goes back to antiquity. Much of the earliest written Swahili literature was predominantly Islamic both because of the subject it treated and because of the influence of the wider Muslim culture on canons of composition in East Africa. The classical Swahili tradition continued to exert an impact on the postcolonial period. The contribution of indigenous verbal arts to the development of Swahili literature is equally noticeable in written drama, even though the latter is more decidedly a product of the western educational system than prose writing.
As a means of periodizing western history, the Renaissance affords a break with the Middle Ages and an acknowledgment of the west's dynamism that opened it up beyond its previous geographic, intellectual, cultural, and religious boundaries. The first African to publish poetry in a European language, Juan Latino was also a teacher, grammarian, and translator. The Age of Enlightenment has strong ties to the Renaissance. In the Age of Enlightenment, Europe's relation to Africa enters a period of transition: the question of slave trade, in full force, becomes the touchstone for new debates in all of Europe concerning the freedom and equality of the individual. The slave trade relaunches the capital of myths and received ideas already enveloping Africa and Africans. A contemporary of Leibnitz, Christian Thomasius, and Christian von Wolff, Anton Wilhelm Amo was strongly influenced by the western intellectual tradition of his time.
From the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, slaves and ex-slaves in the African diaspora, kidnapped in West Africa, shipped across the notorious Middle Passage, and sold into slavery, wrote unflinchingly about their brutal life experiences. Slavery increased in the Americas during the 1600s when thousands of African slaves were forced to that continent and sold. By 1772, several African slaves and former slaves were beginning to write about their situation, sometimes with the assistance of amanuenses. By the 1780s, many northern states had enacted legislation to abolish slavery, and the ordinance of 1787 prohibited slavery in the Northwest Territory. The most celebrated African American of the nineteenth century was Frederick Douglass, who marched, philosophically speaking, alongside Jacobs, Brown, Walker, and many others, known and unknown. Fewer books on slavery by slaves or ex-slaves were published in the Caribbean region than in Britain and in the Americas/United States. The literature of slavery and abolition displays the nature and construction of colonialism.
For Africanist discourse, the land and its inhabitants are at best a backdrop for imperial schemes, at most an obstacle to ambitious projects, be they economic, political, or moral. This chapter elaborates the archive of western discourse on Africa that has sheltered no end of self-willed blindness and fantasy, often of the most bizarre and noxious sort; its stock of stereotypes, having percolated into the public imagination, tends to recirculate at critical moments. Literature and imperialism are complexly intertwined, and any particular case requires careful and specific analysis. In the relation between Europe and Africa, the pivotal contrast is between black and white. From the mid-1880s, then, through the first decades of the twentieth century, European visions of Africa were driven by a speculative frenzy, fed by exorbitant ambitions and dreams of personal enrichment comparable, in their way, to the Spanish Conquest of the New World.
The beginnings of written literatures among the indigenous peoples of southern Africa are rooted in the nineteenth century, a period of intensive and extensive missionary activity in that region. This chapter concerns with literatures written in the African languages. African-language literatures assumed an identity, through thematic defining elements that were unabashedly political. The two basic themes were, first, the mostly overt, but sometimes implied, Manichean theme of good versus evil as constantly opposing forces represented by light or God or the soul (Good) on the one hand, and darkness or Satan or the body (Evil) on the other. The second theme, strongly linked to the first, arose from the forced migration of the young men to the cities, especially Johannesburg, to find work either in the mines or secondary industries. Xhosa, Ntsikana's language, belongs to one of two major linguistic groups in southern Africa, namely the Nguni and the Sotho groups.
Written literature in Gikuyu is one of Africa's most dynamic and lively literatures. The major writers in Gikuyu have all been educated in Christian schools and have been familiar with biblical language, imagery, and narratives. The earliest published works by speakers of Gikuyu were probably letters to the editor and articles written in English and Swahili by Harry Thuku and other members of the East African Association during the early 1920s. The growth of literature in Gikuyu has encouraged the development of literatures in other Kenyan languages and writers in Gikuyu such as Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o and Gakaara wa Wanjaũ have been actively involved in the promotion of literature in Kiswahili and other Kenyan languages. Literature in Gikuyu has a secure position as a Kenyan national literature, as an East African and African literature, and as a literature of what Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o has termed the real language of humankind: the language of struggle.
This chapter looks at the development of Hausa written literature from the formative stages to its modern status, beginning with a critical analysis of the dynamism and fluidity of the very identity of "Hausaness" it seeks to represent, as well as the sociohistorical and political conditions that have influenced its evolution over time, which demonstrate an important interplay between history, literature, language, and society. During the fourteenth century, jihadist and Muslim scholars foresaw the limitation of an Islamic theological training which precluded new converts in the non-Arab world from acquiring a knowledge of Arabic language; to them Arabic was essential in gaining an adequate understanding of Islam. The wind of Islamic reformist movement in the early eighteenth century influenced to a great extent the shift of writing toward mainly creative literary texts of didactic and homiletic thrust. Hausa-Fulani women's access to the western form of education has altered the cultural understanding of the relationship between gender, space, and expressive voice.
Popular poetry and drama have received much less recognition by scholars than either the older oral traditions or the newer, print literature in Yoruba. In the sphere of neotraditional chanted and printed popular poetry, the work of Olatunbosun Oladapo and Olanrewaju Adepoju is the best known. The Yoruba Popular Travelling Theatre is impressive for the sheer scale of its textual creativity. The electronic media have played a significant role in the constitution and dissemination of new cultural forms in Yorubaland since their inception, and in the creation of a pan-Yoruba public arena. The Yoruba public that took shape in the colonial and postcolonial periods has been a key factor in the vitality of traditional genres and the efflorescence of newpopular forms. Both oral and written Yoruba literature forms the subject matter of an extensive and thriving literary scholarship.
Modern African literature was produced in the crucible of colonialism. This chapter explores the paradigmatic and practical value of the colonial moment in the history of African literature. The development of modern African literature can be found in a number of institutions, the Christian mission, the colonial school, and the university, that were crucial to the emergence, nature, and function of African literature. The emergence of African literatures in European language needs to be located within the crucial claim that colonized subjects had set out to use the instruments and grammar given to them by the colonizer to oppose foreign domination and assert their sovereignty. Emerging out of a nationalist discourse that wanted the African to be both free and modern, African literature came to champion what were seen as traditional values within the structures and institutions of colonial modernity.
A long prehistory brings the story of journals voicing and connecting the expressive cultures of Africa and the Caribbean from the early nineteenth century through the twentieth, to Présence Africaine, a distinctive model and influential force by mid-century, and beyond. This chapter surveys their sources, examines some major texts, links these periodicals to the black world's urgent public issues, and assesses the genre's condition as the twenty-first century begins. Many forces in France during the 1930s divided the black worker, middleclass, and intelligentsia elements, including Old and New World Africans with their different territorial bases, skin colors, and degrees of assimilation, and disparate views about the French cultural avant-garde, political left, and imperial politics. The journal offered critical debate and both verbal and visual creativity, contributed to every facet of global discourse on the African condition, and built a domestic readership. Black Orpheus and Abbia typified larger-scale periodicals, with public as well as private subsidies, sustained for many years.
This chapter utilizes the concept of the discursive formation where these formations were created within the political, social, and material conditions in South Africa. These broadly historical formations can be identified as follows: Europe meets Africa, the indigenization of language, colonization, literature as discourse, the phenomenon of a minor literature, modernism and postmodernism. Literary genres that have become part of what is now called Afrikaans literature, and which are essentially a continuation of certain discourses originating in the contact zone, are the travel journal, anthropological fiction, and the farm novel. The language created by slaves and the Khoiwas being appropriated for white nationalism, Afrikaner, in opposition to the English. The coupling of language and white nationalism would ultimately bring about an ideological burden for Afrikaans. Britain's imperialist onslaught at the end of the nineteenth century on the gold of South Africa was the momentum for some of the most memorable war poetry in Afrikaans.
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