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The aim of this strand of the journal is to introduce and analyse texts – whether oral, manuscript or print – produced by authors outside the literary or academic mainstream. Such texts might include notebooks, diaries, letters, local works of history, philosophy or literature, performed or written poetry, newspaper serials and a host of other forms.
This rich seam of intellectual work is increasingly becoming a focus of attention by historians, anthropologists and literary scholars. Texts such as these constitute an archive of local thought and experience, experiment and commentary. They shed a fascinating light on life ‘on the ground’ in Africa, past and present. But the texts themselves are rarely accessible outside the local context of their production. As the series develops, the journal will be building up an on-line repository of texts to which scholars and researchers can return over the years.
The preferred format is an introductory essay of approximately 5,000 words and a sample text (with translation if relevant) also of approximately 5,000 words, for the print version of the journal; plus a longer text – there is no formal word limit – appropriately edited and annotated by the contributing scholar, for the online archive.
This article examines the works of one of the earliest Yoruba poets, Denrele Adetimikan Ọbasa (1879–1945), a member of the local intelligentsia in colonial Nigeria. In my assessment of the poet as a culture activist and local intellectual, I draw on biographical information, extensive archival research and relevant textual illustration. The central argument of the article is that Ọbasa exploits Yoruba communal oral resources for ideas, themes and other linguistic influences in his poetry. Therefore, the essay explores the creative ability of Ọbasa to preserve different forms of oral literary material in his poetic composition and how he uses the folkloric materials as instruments for raising the social consciousness of his readers. At this level, the article argues, Ọbasa transforms oral traditions into metaphorical and symbolic language that best articulates his political or philosophical positions. Thus, orality is not static, but dynamic, flexible and adaptable to change. The main article offers translations of excerpts from Ọbasa's poetry, while the online supplementary material offers more complete samples of Ọbasa's poems.
The pamphlet Kenya: Twendapi? (Kenya: Where are we heading?) is a text often referred to but rarely read or analysed. Abdilatif Abdalla wrote it as a twenty-two-year-old political activist of the KPU opposition as a critique of the dictatorial tendencies of Jomo Kenyatta and his KANU government in 1968, and consequently suffered three years of isolation in prison. Many (at least on the East African political and literary scene) know about Kenya: Twendapi? but few seem to have read it – indeed, it seems almost unavailable to read. This contribution to Africa's Local Intellectuals series provides a summary reconstruction of its main points and arguments, and a contextual discussion of the text. This is combined with the first published English translation (overseen by Abdalla himself) and a reprint of the original Swahili text, an important but almost inaccessible document. The article proceeds with a perspective first on the political context in Kenya at the time – an early turning point in postcolonial politics – and second on the work and life of its author, Abdilatif Abdalla who had been trained as a Swahili poet by elder family members who were poets. As most students of Swahili literature know, Abdalla's collection of poetry Sauti ya Dhiki (1973) originated in the prison cell but they know little about the pamphlet Kenya: Twendapi?, nor the circumstances of its authorship. Part of my wider point for discussion is that Abdalla, as an engaged poet and political activist, can be usefully understood as a local intellectual who transcended the local from early on – topically and through global references and comparisons, but also through his experience in prison and exile. Concerns about Kenyan politics and Swahili literature have remained central to his life. This reflects Abdalla's continued and overarching connectedness to the Swahili-speaking region. Abdalla wrote in Swahili and was deeply familar with local Swahili genres and discursive conventions, language and verbal specifications (of critique, of emotions, of reflections) that use the whole range and depth of Kimvita, the Mombasan dialect of Kiswahili, as a reservoir of expression.
Many words in Yoruba frustrate trans-lingual transportation by the sheer complexity of their polysemic range. Such words are so culture-bound that they do not translate easily to English, especially when their metaphysical polyvalence in Yoruba has no equivalent in English. Therefore, my translation of Ọbasa's poems in the appendices below yields place to mediation, as I am constrained to try out or devise a series of strategies of transposition and transference, which in the words of Ọṣundare leads to ‘kiss and quarrel’ between the concerned languages. According to him, when two languages meet, they achieve a tacit understanding on the common grounds of similarity and convergence, then negotiate, often through strident rivalry and self-preserving altercations, their areas of dissimilarity and divergence.
South African Zionism, one of the most popular Christian movements in modern South Africa, has frequently been interpreted in narrowly indigenous terms, as a local, black appropriation of Christianity, heavily invested in orality and ritual performance. The correspondence of the twentieth-century Zionist minister Isaiah Moteka tells a different story. Moteka honed the craft of letter-writing in order to build and sustain his relationship with Zion, Illinois, the headquarters of the worldwide Zionist church. Through the exchange of letters across the Atlantic, Moteka affirmed his own and his congregants’ place within a multiracial Zion diaspora. And through their complex invocation of overlapping local and global affiliations, Moteka's writings proclaimed his standing both as a regional clergyman and as a cosmopolitan internationalist. In particular, these ambiguous missives became the platform for Moteka's engagement with apartheid-era state officials. Seeking to persuade state officials that his organization fell under ‘white’ supervision, Moteka's letters proclaimed his accreditation by Zion, Illinois, thereby casting himself as a deputy of the worldwide movement. But these documents’ citation of transatlantic loyalties also suggests Moteka's own conflicted loyalties. His letters asserted loyalty to the nation state while they simultaneously subordinated earthly power to the Kingdom of God.
This essay presents Lanrewaju Adepọju, whose work and ideas have been very influential on contemporary Yoruba poetry, as a local intellectual. In estimating his contribution to modernising ewì, an open poetic form that inhabits the interface between the oral and the written, the essay draws on biographical information, an extensive personal interview and relevant textual illustration. It correlates Adepọju's vision of poetry with the development of his creative consciousness and draws attention to aspects of his poetics and politically implicated poetry that deserve closer engagement. The article also offers a translation of a sample poem by Adepọju, while the online version of the essay offers more of his poems as well as an interview.
Government College, Umuahia is known as the alma mater of eight important Nigerian writers: Chinua Achebe, Elechi Amadi, Gabriel Okara, Chike Momah, I. N. C. Aniebo, Chukwuemeka Ike, Ken Saro-Wiwa and Christopher Okigbo. Many illustrious Nigerian scientists, intellectuals and public leaders passed through the college in its prime, and in West Africa the name of the school evokes an astounding range of success stories. But Umuahia's legend as ‘the Eton of the East’ and the primus inter pares of Nigeria's elite colonial institutions obscures its present reality: nothing remains of its past but its extensive grounds, landmark buildings, and the glittering roll call of dignitaries who once studied within its walls. In 1979, prompted by the many signs of impending doom, a group of old boys joined hands in a historicizing venture, The Umuahian: a golden jubilee publication – the commemorative booklet compiled by the school's most famous alumnus, Chinua Achebe, to mark the college's golden jubilee. The booklet conjured up the school's founding ideals and glorious past in order to lay the ground for its rehabilitation. This introductory essay explains why The Umuahian is an indispensable source for the literary, cultural and educational history of West Africa, contextualizing its singular construction of colonial educational heritage. Sample and hitherto unpublished texts from the booklet by Achebe, his editorial to The Umuahian and its coda, ‘Continuity and change in Nigerian education: a jubilee essay’, are included with the main article. While the contributors to The Umuahian pertain to elite circles, and the volume had a world-class literary figure as its editor, the volume itself was produced for a local occasion and rarefied local audience, had a very limited distribution, and subsequently fell into obscurity. It is in the spirit of the historical and academic retrieval of such locally published and little-known materials by African thinkers and writers that this work appears in the Local Intellectuals strand.
In a comparative perspective, literacy has been closely associated with techniques of the self and with the emergence of modern subjectivities. But what happens when literacy is developed without genres such as diary keeping being widespread? Scrutinizing grassroots practices, this article demonstrates that even people who are not confronted with established forms of self-writing engage with literacy in ways that bear an imprint of their lives and subjectivities. Drawing on an ethnographic study in one village in southern Mali, it sets a socio-historical background where writing practices arise primarily as responses to the pressure of rural management. Yet the local discourses on the value of writing are suffused with notions of privacy. The article focuses on the unstable but shared practice of keeping a notebook for farming as well personal notations. Through a detailed analysis of two notebooks, it advocates for a set of distinctions between the individual, the private and the self that helps disentangle the issue of writing and self. This leads to a contrasted view of the local engagements with literacy. The question of the crystallization of notebook keeping as a genre remains open.
S. W. D. K. Gandah was the son of an influential chief and witnessed first-hand the way the conflicts, pressures and transformations of colonial rule played out on the ground in northern Ghana. Belonging to the first generation of educated northerners, he put his literary and intellectual attainments to original use throughout his life. In addition to an autobiography (The Silent Rebel), he wrote a fascinating history of his father (Gandah-yir), extracts from which are published here. In this introduction I discuss the author's development as a writer and local historian. I analyse his ambivalent perspective on Chief Gandah's life, as loyal son, but also critic of many aspects of village life – a perspective typical of a first generation of indigenous intellectuals who embodied both a traditional upbringing and new values instilled through Western education. I look at Kumbonoh's reflections on the task that he has set himself for his Gandah-yir manuscript, namely reconciling oral tradition, local memories, and written history in an attempt to produce a historical account not only for his immediate family and the wider Dagara community, but for a broader readership.
J. G. Mullen was a Gold Coast clerk who published his memoirs, in instalments, in the Gold Coast Leader from 1916 to 1919. In this unusual narrative, he describes his adventures in Cameroon before and during the First World War. His account combines real-life geographical and social details with flamboyant tropes probably derived from imperial popular literature. Mullen's biography and even identity have so far been otherwise untraceable. His text offers glimpses, always enigmatic, of the experience and outlook of a member of the new clerkly class of colonial West Africa. This contribution presents an edited extract from Mullen's text together with a contextualizing and interpretative essay. The full Mullen text is available in the online version of this issue of Africa.
The publication of a new translation of Akiga Sai's History of
the Tiv invites reappraisal of Akiga himself as a local
intellectual. This essay presents a biographical account of this early Tiv
convert to Christianity, locating his celebrated History in its
social, cultural, ethnic and historical contexts, and presents a provisional
narrative of his career subsequent to the publication of
Akiga's Story, the version of the
History edited by Rupert East. As such, it is intended as
an invitation to a full biography. The essay reconstructs, insofar as sources
permit, the complex relationship between Akiga, East, the Dutch Reformed Church
Mission and the International African Institute that led to the publication of
Akiga's Story in the form known until now,
comparing that version with the complete translation. Akiga's
History emerges from this re-examination as a compellingly
contemporary narrative engaged with the lived experience of ethnic
identification under colonial rule.
This article pays tribute to Akiga Sai (1898–1959) and his iconic status as the first great Tiv writer who recorded Tiv history, customs, beliefs and experiences during the turbulence unleashed by colonization and missionary intervention in the early twentieth century. It offers an appreciation of Akiga's vivid writing style and his achievements as both a historian and a recorder of his people's way of life, which was fast changing. The article presents the perspective of a younger Tiv generation who encountered Akiga Sai's work in the course of their education. Akiga, from this viewpoint, is not only an individual pioneer and creative genius, but also the representative of a better era, after which moral decay and a decline in communal health and well-being set in.
This article introduces a new translation of Akiga Sai's History of the Tiv, a manuscript completed in Tiv by Akiga in 1935. Portions of Akiga's text, translated and annotated by Rupert East, were first published in English by the International African Institute in 1939 as Akiga's Story. But the new translation, available in the online version of the journal, is the first complete one: no section of the Tiv manuscript has been omitted, and the order of the material has been left as originally written by Akiga. This article tells the story of how Harold Bergsma, when working as a secondary school principal in Nigeria, rescued the Tiv typescript from the rubbish bin and deposited it in the University of Ibadan library; and how, some forty-five years later, he assembled a team of Tiv intellectuals to undertake the task of translation. It reflects on some of the linguistic challenges presented by the Tiv text, and draws attention to the rich and varied information the work contains – on clans, genealogies, plant and animal names, food preparation, marriage customs, the religious practices of the Tiv, and Akiga's own experiences of childhood, family, and encounters with akombo and witchcraft. The article is complemented by selections from Chapters 8 and 9 of the new translation, chosen and annotated by Richard Fardon.