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Georges Balandier's Africa: postcolonial translations and ambiguous reprises

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 November 2018

Pierre-Philippe Fraiture*
University of Warwick


This article focuses on Georges Balandier's autobiographical essay Afrique ambiguë (1957). Its translation into English, Ambiguous Africa: Cultures in Collision (1966), provides the basis for an examination of the concept of translation in its linguistic but also, and above all, transcultural dimensions. As a text, Ambiguous Africa does not quite render the subtlety of the French original but beyond its translational shortcomings, Balandier's book is also shown to conduct an in-depth analysis of late colonialism in sub-Saharan Africa. This era is characterized by a high degree of cultural anxiety on the part of the colonizers and the colonized. Echoing other anti-colonial thinkers of the period – Balandier was a regular contributor to Présence Africaine – he records the environmental, artistic, psychological, and linguistic devastation generated by the colonial process in this part of the world. Balandier's assessment is pessimistic, but he identifies the ability of some unassimilated African intellectuals and members of messianic movements such as Matswanism and Kimbanguism to challenge the hegemonic status of the colonial Ur-Text. This emancipative move relies on vernacular intellectual and cultural resources and is driven by an attempt to re-write and translate biblical stories anew. It is argued here that this process of indigenous re-appropriation, however ambiguous it might have been assessed by Balandier, is postcolonial for it bears witness to a partial de-canonization of the colonial source text.

Copyright © SOAS, University of London 2018 

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