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African Literature and the Politics of Culture

African Literature and the Politics of Culture


James Tar Tsaaior

African Literature and the Politics of Culture, by James Tar Tsaaior This book first published 2013 Cambridge Scholars Publishing 12 Back Chapman Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE6 2XX, UK British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Copyright © 2013 by James Tar Tsaaior All rights for this book reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner. ISBN (10): 1-4438-5032-2, ISBN (13): 978-1-4438-5032-2

For the eagles in flight: Aôndodoo, Doosuur, Terungwa and Terzungwe; that they may be a revelation to their generation; and that they may travel light from the undulating valleys to the lofty mountaintops

TABLE OF CONTENTS Acknowledgements .................................................................................. viii Preface ........................................................................................................ xi Chapter One ................................................................................................. 1 The Politics of Knowledge Production and Circulation in the African Literary Tradition/Culture Chapter Two .............................................................................................. 26 Canons and Canonicity: Negotiating Nation(woman)hood through African (Oral)Narratives Chapter Three ............................................................................................ 63 (Re)Inscribing the Oral (Con)Text in the Texture of the Written I: J.P. Clark-Bekederemo’s Ozidi Saga Chapter Four .............................................................................................. 87 (Re)Inscribing the Oral (Con)Text in the Texture of the Written II: D. T. Niane’s Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali Chapter Five ............................................................................................ 113 Historical Reconstruction, Cultural Self-Presencing and (Post)Afrocentricity in Soyinka’s Poetics Chapter Six .............................................................................................. 138 Fallacy of Phallacy: Politics, Subjectivity and the Prostitute in the African Novel Chapter Seven.......................................................................................... 160 History and Politics, the Postcolony and its Texts of Meaning: Naguib Mahfouz and the Postcolonial Egyptian Condition Notes........................................................................................................ 185 Bibliography ............................................................................................ 197 Index ........................................................................................................ 212


In the summer of 2010, I had the singular fortune of being nominated for the International Faculty Development Programme of the University of Navarre IESE Business School, Barcelona, Spain by the School of Media and Communication of my university, Pan-African University (now PanAtlantic University), Lagos, Nigeria. The IFP was primarily intended for personal and professional development but the present book also benefitted generously from that fortune. It was during the programme that I sufficiently recovered my sanity of mind and clarity of thought and vision to retrieve the first draft of the book which I had abandoned. For this opportunity, I sincerely thank Professor Emevwo Anselm Biakolo, my diligent dean for that kind dispensation to be part of the programme. Let me also thank immensely Emeritus Professor Albert Alos, the former vice-chancellor who started it all for his unstinting encouragement and the invaluable insights he provided on institutional management in the session he facilitated during the Barcelona programme. Professor Juan Manuel Elegido, my vice-chancellor has been a pillar of support in my academic and professional development. I am sincerely grateful to him for this and for reposing so much confidence in me. Professor Javier Santoma, the Director of the IFP and the entire faculty and staff of IESE afforded me the conducive learning environment and for this I am thankful to them. In particular, I thank Ms. Izabela Kocdecka, the administrator for her efficiency and good-naturedness. While I was yet to recover from this preceding fortune, it was soon to be succeeded by another fat fortune. In the winter of the same year, I was awarded a fellowship by the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom. In Cambridge, I was a visiting research fellow in the Centre of African Studies and Wolfson College working on a project whose central theme was: “Myth and Modernity in African Literature”. However, this book extended its fortunes by opportunistically demanding attention, at least occasionally. I profited from the rich library and archival re/sources in Cambridge to update some of the bibliographical information and enrich the data. For temporarily relieving me of my duties as the Director of Academic Planning and member of Senate, I again thank Vice-chancellor Elegido for his persevering interest in my work and career. I also thank again,

African Literature and the Politics of Culture


Professor Biakolo for allowing me to get away from teaching and from my position as Chair of the Mass Media and Writing Department even when this was a difficult decision. My research sojourn in Cambridge was intellectually productive and socially rewarding. It was, indeed, delightful meeting and working with my fellow fellows: Dr. Eiman El-Nour of Ahfad University for Women, Sudan who read one of the chapters and offered very useful comments. Dr. Tunde Awosanmi, my former colleague at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria also proved helpful as he read the chapter on Soyinka and made revealing suggestions which strengthened my initial arguments. I also enjoyed the company of Mzee Dr. Kenneth Simala of Maseno Muliro University, Kakagame, Kenya who actually received me on arrival in Cambridge and helped me to settle down. We were later to be joined by Dr. Niyi Okunoye, who completed the conclave of fellows for that year. I thank them all for their inspirational comments and comradeship which made our time together enjoyable and fulfilling. Dr. Chris Warnes of the Faculty of English, Cambridge co-ordinated the fellowship programme and did a most commendable job. I am grateful to him for his deep sense of collegiality and warm disposition throughout the programme. I am indebted to Professor Megan Vaughan, the Director of the Centre of African Studies in Cambridge who was always approachable and ready to assist. Ms. Dorian Addison, the administrator combined industry and dedication to ensure that the programme ran smoothly. I thank her for the prompt arrival of the cheques. Judith Weik was an embodiment of hard work and commitment, attending to every need no matter how discomfiting. I appreciate her zeal. Marilyn and Rachel, the ladies in the library were most eager to render assistance whenever called upon. I commend them for their sense of duty. This book, no doubt, has had a long, drawn gestation. Its life started during my six-year tenure in Lagos State University, Ojo, Nigeria where I taught African literature, Use of English and Cultural Studies in the Centre for General Studies. My students were the first I tested my ideas with and I thank them for their receptiveness and interventions in re/shaping them at that inchoate stage. I also thank Prof. Siyan Oyeweso and Dr. Saawua Nyityo for their magnanimity in providing the rare opening which initiated my career path. From Lagos, I joined the University of Ibadan, my Alma Mater as a member of faculty in the Department of English where I also taught African/Afro-Diasporic literatures, postcolonial studies, creative writing and literary theory. In Ibadan too, my students in the undergraduate and postgraduate classes helped in burnishing the rough edges of some of the



ideas through their active participation in the discourses I generated. As much as they learned from me, I also harvested from some of their ripened thoughts and I thank them for this. Over the years, I have enjoyed the scholarly comradeship of many colleagues and friends too numerous to mention here. Let me, however, specifically mention Professors Akachi Ezeigbo, Stephanie Newell, Annalisa Oboe, Tunde Babawale and lately Karin Barber for their interest in my work and for their encouragement over the years. Drs. Nduka Otiono and Anke Bartels merit mention here for their consistent interest in my media and academic work. Dr. Senayon Olaoluwa provided the initial opening for the Cambridge fellowship in a selfless show of collegial solidarity. I have him to thank always. Faculty members at the SMC too many to mention individually have also been worthy colleagues who stimulated me in various ways. Messrs Joseph Damkor, Daniel Uke, Vincent Ameh and Chidi Awagu have always been great friends whose companionship I have enjoyed. And now on the home stretch: I remain incalculably indebted to my wife and friend, Abike and our children, Aôndodoo, Doosuur, Terungwa and Terzungwe for their unfailing love and understanding. It is for them that I live my life believing and trusting that our hearth will continue to be warm and our granary full. And of course, to Providence, over and above all, for the plenitude of grace and direction to live this life with meaning, direction and purpose. 3 January, 2011. Centre of African Studies University of Cambridge, UK


One of the constitutive and framing discursive possibilities of this book is to rethink or reconceptualise the riches and reaches of the regimes of literary and cultural knowledge production/circulation in and about Africa. It is also a determined attempt to remap or re-delineate the boundaries of cultural meaning systems central to the African ontological and philosophical tradition. The other which also lends elemental energies to the book’s abiding thematic gravitation is to contemplate the contours of difference differently, to re-contextualise culture as a text in the constant and ceaseless motions of history and post/modernity. This is crucially important for Africa and other peripheral peoples and cultures of the world whose knowledge production processes have been, historically, externally mediated and brutally disrupted by forced enslavement, colonisation and the empire-building machinations of metropolitan European cultures. Literary and cultural production in and about Africa has always been mediated by a complex of historical contingencies some of which are outside the cultural orbit of the continent. The colonial and imperial enterprise, for instance, played a decisive and critical part in the (re)constitution of African social and cultural histories and with enduring repercussions. Some of the consequences of the European empire-building project in Africa have continued to define and underwrite African modernity and to structure the rhizome and modes of epistemological response to them. At the centre of all this is the reality of cultural hegemony imposed by the European Self and the politics of resistance by the African Other to register and inscribe cultural agency and subjectivity. This book, therefore, essentially negotiates African literature as a veritable site of cultural production and situates it within the dynamic of cultural politics. The book critically evaluates African literature as a site of cultural contestation with European politics of knowledge production about others and as a strategy of knowing them. It understands literature broadly as constitutive of the oral and the written, and draws for analytic purposes from these two axes to strengthen the arguments it generates. It also attempts to locate the politics of national re/invention and national narratives within the intricate matrices of a violent history inaugurated by Europe through the artificial fabrication of nation-states with arbitrary boundaries. In addition to this, the book also implicates the paradoxes inherent in the exclusionary practices against women as the mothers of



their respective nations on the continent. The production and merchandising of knowledge about the cultural self structures the self’s relations with others. For Europe, the desire to know the self and to know others with the strategic intent to impose hegemonic control over them has always been consistent with the imperial gaze and its knowledge production programmes and strategies. In his books, Orientalism and Culture and Imperialism, Edward Said, the Palestinian American scholar, has commented insightfully on the putative hegemonic relations between Europe and others in order to accomplish the imperial designs of Empire. Said understood this obsessive desire on the part of the West to understand others as a political and ideological strategy to mobilise knowledge systems that in many situations misunderstood, misinterpreted and misrepresented the very others the West sought to know. As he observes: My contention is that Orientalism is fundamentally a political doctrine willed over the Orient because the Orient was weaker than the West, which elided the Orient’s difference with its weakness....As a cultural apparatus Orientalism is all aggression, activity, judgment, will-to-truth, and knowledge (Orientalism 204).

Said is here concerned about the Orient but this imperial attitude of the West applies to other cultures, too. For instance, the European explorations of the African coast and, later the penetration of the hinterland, were motivated by this imperial desire to know others more than they know themselves; to name them and to interpellate them in terms of their essential difference from the European self. This rehearsed perception of others on the part of Europe gave stridency to narratives produced by the early explorers ranging from Christopher Columbus, David Livingstone, Mungo Park, Hugh Clapperton, and the Lander Brothers, Richard and John, etc. It is, therefore, not incidental that the understanding of others by diverse European publics was largely structured and determined by the narratives by these men with enormous epistemological capital. In other words, these narratives were distilled from a particular positionality and laced with an ideological agenda which was specific to and espoused a particular cultural politics and imperial knowledge formation. As a quintessential part of European knowledge production, these narratives were complicit in the execution of a cultural agenda that privileged Europe, namely to negatively name, blame, maim, tame, declaim, and eventually claim Africa as a hunting ground and her resources/treasure trough as the fair game there from. But it was not only

African Literature and the Politics of Culture


the explorers that were efficient and zealous avatars of European cultural suzerainty. The philosophers after them were equally, if not more pious, in their demonization of Africa and its peoples and cultures employing rhetorical strategies to exercise power and control over the colonies. Men as diverse as Darwin, Frobenius, Roper, Gobinieu, Hegel, Hume, Locke, Montesquieu, Voltaire, etc. constituted a most unsparing Sanhedrin which condemned Africa/Black peoples to the gibbet. In the assured estimation of these European men of culture, Africa had no history, no literature, no culture and, to put it poignantly, no humanity. For even if humanity were to be conceded or ascribed to such a brute, it would have to be shared with primates. The negation of African humanity was to be validated by European writers like Joseph Conrad, Joyce Cary, Elspeth Huxley, Fred Majdelany, Graham Greene, Robert Ruark, among others. In their narrative élan, these writers delineated Africans as though they belonged eternally to pre-history and remained monumentalised in the kinesis of civilisation and culture. Narratives, European narratives were, therefore, an intrinsic part of the architecture of knowledge that was called to service by the metropolitan cultures to label Africa as different from the rest of humanity. What made the European negation of African/Black history particularly dangerous and disabling, as fraudulent and irresponsible as that was, is that denying a people their history decapitates them and assaults their cultural and communal consciousness, a firm foothold with which to enact their strength in shared experiences, a vital force with which to confront a common history. Africa’s case was compounded or exacerbated by not only cultural knowledge but also the brutal force of military weaponry, an array of bayonets, bullets and maxim guns. To deny a people their history is to deny them their very humanity, to erase, or to efface them from existence. This is because a people can cast around their past to harvest the rich resources of their history for the inspirational purposes of liberation from their oppressors. But woe unto such a people if they are robbed of that history or they allow other people to appropriate it, manipulate it and in the end socialise them into believing that that history never existed or, at best, was an accident; that it began with them and will end with them. Woe unto such a people too if they behave as though their history can retrieve itself without their agency, or that the history is altogether irretrievable and cannot be retraced and re-written from their privileged perspective. It seems to me Africa has suffered victimhood from both trajectories. For there appears to be a sense of historical amnesia on the part of Africa even though African historians have tried to rewrite African history.



However, the amnesia has been aggravated by the imperial designs of Europe and the absence of a visceral will to retrieve that history and harness it for the ever-gnawing contingencies and challenges of modernity. Not everything from history is worthy of such a harvest, though. Historical consciousness, for it to be a revitalising force, must necessarily be selective, be critical and targeted at those elements of that history that hold relevance for the present and can galvanise the search for a secure, assured and promising future. As Chinua Achebe, the Nigerian novelist has observed, it is not enough to celebrate the past without interrogating it. For resident within the labyrinths of the past are certain imperfections which must be consigned to the eaves of history. The tragic dimensions of Things Fall Apart and the cultural contest which haunt its novelistic contours issue partly from this ossified, mechanical attachment to tradition and the past without adequate introspection on the part of Okonkwo, the hero who wilfully ignores the arrival of a new cultural ethos. But to appropriate Wole Soyinka’s magisterial framing of this reality, the past must address its present. Soyinka, however, leaves out the future which is equally important, if not more important, than the present. For to summon the past to attend to the present without focusing penetratingly on what reposes in the womb of the future will be limiting vision which can be dangerous. For the future being of African people and culture is what really constitutes our humanity, the sum-total of the grammar of our lives which have been brutalised and violated by the insolence and violence of history. Much more importantly, it is obvious that in our future history, our past history and present history will necessarily be present. This is why visionary governments have visions that prospect into the future; peoples and societies also plan for the future with their present policies and resources drawing from the informing lessons of past and present history. Part of the crisis of knowledge and cultural production as well as the constitutive arrested development historical amnesia engenders in Africa today is because the sights of the political leadership, but also the acquiescent led, are almost exclusively concentrated on the present. And where there is no clear vision about the future, the people perish especially when they are plagued by an unthinking and pestilential leadership. Postcolonial leaders and policy makers also think – if they do really think – in only one direction: the present which also means themselves, not the people and their future, but their hedonistic and sybaritic pleasures. Leadership here is all incorporating and does not particularise or essentialise the political elite even though they are more fully implicated. It, indeed, involves the entire spectrum of the intellectual, professional,

African Literature and the Politics of Culture


cultural and commercial elite in positions to make decisions on behalf of the entire community. Talking about the leadership deficit and crisis of vision on the continent, it is compelling to seek attributions to the pestilence in the alienation of women. The fact is that African women have in some ways been erased from the contours of social and cultural production, as well as political participation and hence the absence of a counterbalancing and complementary force that will galvanise development. The continued exclusion of women from untrammelled political participation and visibility in other diverse publics is itself an enduring contradiction. This is because this negates their centrality to society and culture which has been envisioned in the trope of the woman as the mother of the nation. The situation is changing, though. With the increased allocation of space to women and their enhanced participation in the political process in many African countries like Liberia, Rwanda, Nigeria, South Africa and Malawi, women are beginning to be the true mothers of their nations. But more can still be done for African womanhood. This is because of her centrality to the general well-being of society. This is the substrating argument of the second and sixth chapters of this book: the imperative need to resolve the disquieting paradox of African patriarchal cultures inscribed in the idea of the woman as the mother of the nation where women are excluded through inclusion. If women are mothers of the nation, as they truly are, then they should be so not only when it privileges phallocentric ideology. In particular, the objectification of women as prostitutes, mistresses or courtesans by some male writers without a progressive attitude represents the flagellation of patriarchal power and hegemony which occludes female agency and subjectivity. To be sure, many male African writers with a socialist orientation have delineated female characters as prostitutes but have endowed them with the charisma and temperament to change the course of history and the destiny of society. Sembene Ousmane, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, and Ayi Kwei Armah are eloquent examples here. Such delineations uphold and enable women. They portray women as makers of history who are strategic to the narratives of their nations, the discourses which they institute and endow them with a viable voice and crucial role to play in the engineering of society. Needless to say that some will find this argument rather offensive, even nauseating because they either think women are the problem rather than the solution or that they have never been marginalised in the constitution of nationhood, or even both. But like Pilate said, what I have written, I have written. I have long been proselytised by the persuasive



theology of women’s liberation and I am even casting around to convert some agnostics to this cause among my male chauvinists. It is my conviction that the men have largely failed to make the desired difference on the continent. Perhaps, they are too slow in causing the difference. Let the women occupy the centre stage to see if a balancing act can retrieve society from the gaping precipice. Some of the discourses I have put forward in this book, I must admit, are not so new, and that is if there are really any new discourses anyway. In that regard, I do not lay claims to freshness of thought or originality of vision so much as I understand and appreciate that the continued currency of the discourses is validated by the fact that the malodorous putrefaction of their carrion continues to assault our collective unconscious as a people. This, to me, is a stimulus, a call for the re-imagining of the discomfiting challenges they present so as to crystallise the contradictions of the moment. Even though the discursive skirmishes occasioned especially by the oral – written interface are not new and have endured, I still believe that there is a complex of literary/cultural interpretive possibilities which benefit from the memory archive of pre-scientific society which is dominantly oral and which is relevant for the challenges of modernity. Chapters Three and Four belong to this discursive category. In reimagining the role of pre-industrial orality in the age of a scribal and digital/satellite communication technology employing the epic narrative mode in J. P. Clark-Bekederemo’s Ozidi Saga and D. T. Niane’s Sundiata, my argument gestures towards the interfaces that subsist between tradition and modernity not in the Manichaeism of Western intellection but as coterminous, co-eval expressive categories. Orality here ceases to be an objectified and subsidiarised medium of artistic articulation. Rather it engages in a robust and mutually beneficial and catalytic relationship with the written tradition. The power the oral or spoken word holds for modernity and its integralness to today’s wor(l)d is underscored by the radical instabilities that cyberspace has instituted including secondary orality which thrives on the instrumentality of the oral wor(l)d. In this regard, it is impoverishing to continue to construct essential differences between orality and writing as if they are monads whereas the realities of our post/modern existence prove otherwise that they reinforce each other. But in the relentless engagements with past history as a dialectical continuum with present and future history, African/Black peoples must be necessarily self-critical, selective and also problematise that historical heritage by interrogating it. This is because a nativist imagination which mechanically enthrones narcissism can return us to the past with all its imperfections. A culture and people desirous of participating meaningfully

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in modernity must be dynamic and move with the motions of history. In praising the cogency and relevance of Afrocentricity as a cultural discourse, we must also not lose sight of its potential pitfalls which include an uncritical flight into the past as if it is the only available viable and authentic source of cultural knowledge without recognising and appreciating the rich legacies of modernity. Chapter Five addresses this focal concern: the paramount need to avoid the limiting possibilities of the Afrocentric and Eurocentric cultural discourses by negotiating our way through an alternative liminal discourse, the post-Afrocentric, which emphasises the strength in the two adversarial discourses to engage the contingencies of the present and the future. The imperative for this alternative inheres in the fact that the two oppositional discursive binaries are not self-sufficient in themselves. Indeed, they are fraught with shortcomings. The Afrocentric discourse insists on the validity and authenticity of African culture, an argument which is compelling and persuasive. However, when this culture is conceived in a romanticist or idealist perspective as essentialist, invariant and unchanging, it negates the very idea of culture as a dynamic and living tissue which is in a state of flux and exists in fidelity to the verities of history. It is this imperative of the narcissistic imagination that the Eurocentric discourse is guilty of and which the Afrocentric discourse revisions. The Eurocentric discourse comes to culture on a high horse and with a superior tendency, a posture which announces itself in holier-than-thou habits. This singular understanding of culture in the dynamics of superiority/inferiority by the Eurocentric discourse renders it vulnerable and exposes its flanks to critical attacks. Its arrogant assumption that it is the only cultural discourse that exists negates the existence of other alternative discourses. Indeed, it is the materiality of the oppositional cultural discourse(s) that validates the Eurocentric discourse. For without the former, the latter will lose its appeal. There is, therefore, the need for some measure of cultural self-denial to create space for mutual dialogue and accommodation between the two cultural discourses. This creative approach recognises the validity of the two discourses, appreciates their strengths and weaknesses, and maps out the terrain where cultural exchange and interaction can occur. The exclusionary politics against North African literature - as if it does not belong to the larger corpus of African literature which is its parent – constitutes the driving force for the argument in Chapter Seven. This politics is practised mainly by those who can be called purists of African aesthetics. The contention here is that North African (Maghrebi) literature lacks rootedness in the African continent because of Arabic linguistic and



cultural influences. However, the validity and valence of this perspective self-destruct because apart from the indigenous African languages, all the other languages through which African literatures receive expression are colonial and hegemonic languages. In this regard, they are as guilty and alienating as Arabic. It is, therefore, intriguing and uncharitable to single out Arabic as the lone culprit. North African literature, therefore, qualifies as African literature, if not for anything else, because of its cartographic location. In an attempt to establish the filiation of North African literature to African letters, I have appropriately examined the work of Naguib Mahfouz, Egypt’s 1988 Nobel laureate for Literature and a representative voice from the region, to demonstrate the shared historical and cultural experiences that structure the African postcolonial condition. My argument is that through the fiction of Mahfouz’s, it is possible to mine meaning systems whose historical particularity which is moored in the colonial and imperial encounter continue to bear relevance on Egypt’s and Africa’s postcolonial condition. Specifically, I have deployed his novels, Miramar and Children of Gebelawi as analytic typologies to underscore the violent and disruptive legacies of colonialism on the postcolony and how this in turn exerts profound impact on present-day political, economic and socio-cultural developments. That Egypt has been a boiling political cauldron in recent history eloquently validates and testifies to the burdens placed on postcolonial becoming by the antimonies of history. The fall of long time ruler, Hosni Mubarak in a violent revolution – in what has become known as the Arab Spring - and the accession to power by the Islamic group, the Muslim Brotherhood (which only recently has been overthrown in a coup), shows that Egypt is still in the throes of transformation and is unrelentingly struggling with the demons of modernity. What is focal here is the defining role narratives can play in the negotiation of the perennial national question. Mahfouz has sufficiently hinted in his fiction that the future of Egypt lies in democracy, the rule of law, religious moderation and tolerance and the enforcement of human rights and freedoms. These concerns remain central to his patriotic vision as a writer who invests his oeuvre with meaning modes which appeal to Egyptian national sensibility. Embedded in the very thematic structure of this book is the power of myth and the mythic in Africa. The idea of myth as history or culture or both has been of especial appeal to me in recent times. In this book, therefore, I playfully engage myth and the mythic in the African imagination not as an end in itself but as a means to foregrounding its interminable and indeterminate intersection with modernity. In some

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regressive critical discourses, myth has been constituted as a frozen and monumentalized cultural event which bears no relevance to the historical present. The critical strategy here is to re/present myth as a cultural stasis which belongs to prehistory. However, myth participates in active and dynamic dimensions in re/engaging and re/visioning present and future history even as it is rooted in past history. In myth, therefore, resides the presence of the past in the present and in the future. This is what endows myths with dynamism, freshness and currency in the relentless kinesis of history. As such, I negotiate myth as a modernising agent in African culture and politics. The novelistic universes of many African writers, among them Ngugi wa Thiongó and Ayi Kwei Armah, two African writers with a progressive vision and temperament is very illustrative in this circumstance. My contention here is that the narrative and cultural properties inherent in the African myths deployed by the writers constitute a sufficient discursive engagement with the present realities and contradictions in which the continent is enmeshed. The myth of national independence by African nation-states following the wresting of political autonomy from European colonial powers provides a constitutive sieve through which African novelists negotiate the re/invention of nationhood in Africa. For instance, using the Mau Mau nationalist resistance initiative against British imperial stranglehold in Kenya, Ngugi locates the struggle within the dynamic of economic and cultural imperialism. By recuperating the Anoa myth and harnessing it for the present, Armah also argues that true political independence has remained elusive in Ghana and Africa because external and internal colonialism have taken turns to exploit, oppress and marginalise the peasantry and the mass of the people who are the true makers of history. It is my steadfast hope and sincere expectation that the present book will be useful to scholars and students of African literature and culture as well as the general reader. I admit that in this kind of effort, it is notoriously difficult, if not impossible, to speak to everyone using the same language. What is, however, undeniable is that African literature has developed in strict fidelity to history and politics. Much of this history has been fabricated by others on behalf, and in spite, of Africa. To think otherwise is to visit violence on the historical process. Indeed, to think otherwise is also to negate the reality of the African postcolonial condition and the politics of culture which over-determines literary and artistic production on the continent. The arguments here now have a definitive and autonomous life of their own. Let the reader acknowledge their autonomy and make sense of them in the house of textual and cultural signification.


[…] we can also begin to see, and to question, those arrangements of foregrounding and backgrounding, of stressing and repressing, of placing at the centre and of restricting to the periphery, that give our own way of life its distinctive character. (Hawkes, “Preface”. The Empire Writes Back, viii). While the imperial metropolis tends to understand itself as determining the periphery…it habitually blinds itself to the ways in which the periphery determines the metropolis – beginning perhaps, with the latter’s obsessive need to present its peripheries and its other continually to itself. (Pratt, Imperial Eyes, 6). […] one of the striking features of colonial writing is that the knowledge which is so central to the maintenance of colonial rule could have been produced through interaction and dialogue with ‘native’ guides and interpreters… Even though the knowledge which is produced from those indigenous sources is often manipulated by the colonisers, and the aim of this knowledge is often to make clear differentiation between colonised and colonising cultures, the source of this information does not have a profound effect as the type of information structures which are constituted. (Mills, Discourse, 122).

Introduction In their controversial but also undeniably seminal book, Toward the Decolonization of African Literature,1 Chinweizu, Onwuchekwa Jemie and Ihechukwu Madubuike have distilled an eminently compelling argument about the integrity of African aesthetics and culture and their autochthony in African history and cosmologies. This radical triumvirate has denounced the imperial onslaught of the Western academy and the imposition of its canonical standards and hermeneutic paradigms on


Chapter One

African literature by establishing its historical uniqueness and cultural autonomy in the African ontology. Implicitly implicated in their position is the denial of the filiation of African literature to European letters, an idea that has perennially ruled the Western imagination. In particular, these critics argue that the provenance of African literature can be firmly located in African oral traditions and cultures, and not in foreign nurseries from where literature is believed to have been transplanted onto the fallowed, virgin African humus or alluvial earth.2 Deploying the novelistic tradition as an exemplary paradigm, Chinweizu and Company have convincingly postulated that the genealogy of the novel form can be found in extended African oral narrative forms like epics, legends, sagas and myths. The only problem being the politics of first naming3 since these narratives were not assigned the distinct name as “the novel” before Europe executed its own naming rite. Their names, they reason, existed in their own indigenous African languages. It is their courageous conviction that more than anything else, it is this rich quarry of oral forms that constituted a veritable source of prototypes for the emergence of the modern African novel. This counter-hegemonic perspective undermines the uncritically received dominant idea that exclusively locates the ancestry of the novel in the historical specificity of the 18th century industrial revolution in Europe4 which produced a nascent elitist class with an overweening desire for fantasia and exotica. Through their cultural politics which privileges Africa, these three critics have largely wilted European cultural imperialism and its empire-building project which violates and tyrannises other alternative epistemologies of seeing and making sense of the world. In this particular case, their counter-hegemonic practice inserts a rite of cultural resistance against the Western constitution of African literature as a mere appendage or satellite of mainstream European literary traditions. To be sure, any analytic paradigm which ignores or overlooks the provenance of the African novel in the rich fund of African oral traditions and cultures but rather seeks to locate it exclusively in European literary sources is at best ahistorical and represents wilful violence to truth. Indeed, Chinweizu et al’s position is corroborated by Abiola Irele who also establishes the indebtedness of the African novel to African oral forms. Acording to Irele, [...] there can be no doubt that the appeal of the novel has to do with the integrative function that oral narratives have always played in African societies, a role that is well illustrated not only by the didactic and reflexive purpose of the folk tales and fables that inform the sensibility and define a primary level of the imaginative faculty in traditional African

The Politics of Knowledge Production and Circulation


societies, but also by the centrality of the mythical tale, extending to the great oral epics – as exemplified by the Sundiata epic of Mali and the Ozidi saga of the Ijaws (sic) – with the ideological and symbolic significance these varieties of the narrative form assumed in precolonial and their continued relevance in the contemporaray period. In short, the novel has acquired today a cultural significance that was once the exclusive province of the oral narrative. (1)

Though this Afrocentric critical collective has been pilloried and characterized as “nativist”, “traditionalist”, “idealist”, “romanticist” and “essentialist”,5 their very demonization itself smacks of another form of essentialism which is even more deleterious. The welter of acerbic criticisms their book precipitated notably from vocal critics like Wole Soyinka, Chidi Amuta, and Anthony Appiah follows the familiar path (mis)taken by critical juggernauts against Senghorian Negritude.6 The ironic edge in these censures is that the literary and critical practices of some of these critics betray them also as purveyors of traditionalism or nativism of some sort. For instance, the rootedness of Soyinka’s mythopoiesis in indigenous Yoruba metaphysics and his appropriation of Ogun, one of the deities that populate the elaborate Yoruba pantheon, as his creative daemon, is itself an index of his nativism.7 Indeed, Soyinka himself has been interrogated by Appiah for aggregating African cultures and traditions into a unitary mythic system and presenting them under the rubric of Yoruba culture, a veritable rite of cultural synecdoche, as if there is a monolithic, generalist African culture by which one can be used as a paradigm for all others.8 On his part, Appiah in his In My Father’s House, attempts a negotiation of Africa in the philosophy of culture, a project in which he inscribes the inescapable trajectory of racial hybridity as the defining category of our post/modern lives. The point, however, is that this attempt at cultural self-knowledge by Appiah achieves coherence only in its embeddedness in African cultural codifications and traditional systems even as he celebrates its hybrid manifestations in his appropriation of the homiletic biblical metaphor of many mansions “in my father’s house.”9 In sum, therefore, like the Afrocentric triumvirate of Chinweizu, Jemie and Madubuike, Soyinka and Appiah are also nativists, traditionalists or Afrocentrists, perhaps without fully realising it. The only difference among them is in terms of the magnitude of ideological involvement, impassioned politics and the heightened mode of articulation of this cultural beingness. As African writers and critics, all of these people are involved in a cultural nationalist project, articulating an Afrocentric perspective, espousing to a programme of cultural selfhood and civilisational worth on


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behalf of the African/Black community even as they argue for cultural plurality. They are, therefore, custodians of the communal conscience, word and voice, speaking on behalf of the collectivity, re-presenting the dynamism and resilience of African/Black humanity and culture before the world. They are warriors for the preservation of Black cultural ontology, its integrity and the progressiveness of its vision in a modern world. They are the obasajong, avatars and receptacles of Black cultural sensibilities. Gilbert Doho explains the concept of the obasajong in Cameroonian/African cosmology and it is worth quoting him at length: The warrior for the collective cause is known within the IJagang people of Cameroon as the obasajong. Working as a kind of secret society, the obasajong is the mouthpiece of the people and the guardian of the collective property, the land. The obasajong’s cause is a collective cause, and its struggle is a collective one. Therefore, the obasajong hides behind a mask, not wanting to individualize the fight or the obasajong’s power. The mask makes the cause collective and therefore entails a collective responsibility. Thus the obasajong disregards the modern, singular self or “I”of power and expands it to “We”. The obasajong’s language is carved in riddle, anecdote, and metaphor but not in a way that is hidden to the people... A body radiating messages, he or she is the metaphor of all the arts with the power to carve, dance, ritualize, and perform for the kingdom... Because the obasajong rejects the modern “I” of power, it is postmodern because it is a site of contestation. The obasajong’s discourse indicts any and all modern imperial discourses... I view the obasajong’s ongoing fight for the marginalized masses of Africa within the development narrative of new African nations as marred by the egoistic “I”. Identifying with our suffering masses, most of our committed writers have posited themselves, although in most cases not explicitly, as obasajongs. This kind of writer or obasajong is a fighter who yesterday or today, physically or verbally, in oral or print form is crusading or has crusaded for the oppressed people of Africa (151, 152).

The African/Black writer, artist or critic as obasajong is uncompromisingly committed to the cause of the people, drawing from the inexhaustible pool of African social/cultural history and body of knowledge. But if they are accused as guilty of nativism and traditionalism, it will seem the accuser is an enemy, within or without, who is threatened by the dedicated aesthetics of the obasajong. For the voice of the obasajong is a collective voice which articulates the communal perspective, the perspective of the people, not merely that of the self. There is another dimension to the argument on the so-called traditionalist aesthetics or nativist imperative in the (re)imagining of African literature and culture. This has to do with C. L. Innes who joins the discursive fray

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by positing patronisingly that the cultural nationalist position of the nativists on the essentiality of African literature and its rootedness in African cosmologies and cultures self-contradicts and self-destructs. This is because, according to her, it strengthens the perspective of colonialist representations of Africa rather than weaken it. Innes submits that Eurocentric perceptions of African cultures have therefore received validation from the feeble responses elicited by cultural nationalists/ traditionalist aesthetics and it is worth quoting her at length: In response to the dismissal of ‘native culture’ by the colonizers, many cultural nationalists tended to assert the existence of a culture which was an anthithesis of the colonial one – and hence either antagonistic or complimentary to it. What is striking and paradoxical about the antithesis proclaimed by some nationalists is that it so frequently derives from and affirms the antithetical images already developed by the colonizer in order to justify his presence. Instead of denying the distinctions made by the colonizer to deny his presence, and insisting that the...African is capable of reason and self-discipline as the Englishman, many cultural nationalists celebrated the very characteristics for which they were disparaged – emotionalism, irrationality, primitiveness...Senghor, the spokesman for ‘Negritude’ and later president of Senegal, proclaimed that ‘emotion is completely Negro, as reason is Greek’ and went on to define the essential characteristics of Negro Literature as ‘rhythm, emotion and humour’ – characteristics which sound all too similar to those expected of the stage Negro minstrel. Where the colonizer has contemptuously discussed the native as belonging to the natural rather than the human world cultural nationalists affirmed their peoples’ ‘closeness to nature’, and declared their culture essentially agrarian or peasant in contrast to the urban and mechanistic civilization of the colonizer. Where the colonizer insisted that the native had no history, and had been left out of its linear progression, cultural nationalists pointed to an unchanging tradition, a timelessness, or a circular history which will install the pre-colonial past. Where the colonizer celebrated his literature, his written records, as a mark of his superior and developing civilization, the colonized intellectual emphasized oral traditions, which were claimed to preserve the past, and celebrated the language and voice of the non-literate ‘folk’ (123).

I have chosen to elaborately lift Innes’ words with deliberation. This is because though her position possesses a compelling edge, it also represents one of the most pernicious species of “colonialist criticism”10 of other cultures under European hegemonic domination. To be sure, Africa is not alone in this epistemic violence and cultural imperialism of Europe as Innes herself includes the Celts and Australians in this Eurocentric critical theatrics. But as the Tiv11 say, even when you are with your fiancée and


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you are both attacked by a temperamental swarm of bees, self-preservation dictates that you seek safety first before you think of love. So to our cultural tents, the Celts and Australians! Innes has intrigued me as one of the most unrepentant Eurocentric critics I have encountered. Even in an epoch when some of her kind has charitably accepted guilt over the predation, ruination and flagrant misrepresentations European colonialism and imperialism visited on African culture and civilisation, she still engages in guerrilla criticism which opens gapingly her critical flanks and renders her vulnerable. The first questions Innes needs to attend to before we can launch into the hinterlands of the argument are: who invited the Europeans to Africa? What motivated them to come in the first place? What moral justification did they have besides capital accumulation and mercantilist interests? In any case, must culture conform to that of Europe before it is human culture? Why should Europe set the standards of global culture as if it has exclusive prerogatives to do so? The truth is that African and other socalled marginal cultures of the world have enriched European culture and civilisation through their self-giving and as victims of an exploitative history of imperial appropriation of their resources and cultures for the efflorescence of Europe while these cultures have remained impoverished. There is ample historical evidence to justify this position of African peoples, cultures and civilisation enriching Europe in the course of history. Many African artistic accomplishments, for instance, were looted during the heyday of colonial thievery and now adorn Western museums. The cities of Europe have been built with the flowing blood, sweat, wealth and resources mined from the colonies. This is an incontrovertible fact of history and it does not get vitiated whether Europe admits or acknowledges it or not. The colonies were exploited of their rich resources for the industries of Europe during the industrial revolution and the finished products were sent back to the continent as a profitable market and the accruing profits ploughed back for European industrialisation. Blacks who were forcibly enslaved worked the mines, sugar and cotton plantations to build Europe. These rhythms of historical violence perpetrated and perpetuated by imperial hegemony constitute a residuum which has distorted and continue to distort African/Black societies to date. Wole Soyinka is particular about these historical injustices Western involvement in African societies through slavery, colonialism and imperialism, especially the artificial invention of nations which balkanised Africa into arbitrary boundaries according to European fiat has caused the continent and its Diaspora populations. These historical dislocations and disruptions, according to him, still continue to exert negative repercussions

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on African/Black peoples thus providing a compelling basis for a programme of reparations for these historic wrongs. He states that the Atlantic slave trade “was an enterprise that voided a continent, it is estimated, of some twenty million souls and transported them across the Atlantic under conditions of brutality”. (39) He further elaborates: More than quantifiable humanity was lost to that continent. The slave trade also imposed a rupture in the organic economic systems of much of the continent. It is a distortion that – partially at least, and compounded later by the imposition of colonial priorities in raw materials for Europe’s industrial needs and the advent of multinational conglomerates – must surely account today for the intractable economic problems of that continent. Was the “partitioning of Africa” by the imperial powers simply a geographical violation of the people’s right of coming-into-being as nations? Only if we insist on believing that the political instability within the so-called nations that make up the continent today owes nothing whatsoever to the artificiality, the sheer illogic of their boundaries. It is therefore appropriate to add partitioning to the wrongs that underlie the cry for reparations from Africa.... (39-40)

What Europe needs to do is to acknowledge these facts of history beginning with Eurocentric critics like Innes who misrepresent these immutable facts. Perhaps, Innes should be told that taking refuge in a tissue of sweeping generalisations does not help an argument. In specific terms, when she derides Negritude and inverts it in commas (whatever that means), she should realise that rhythm, emotion and humour are quintessential of the human condition and Europeans are not immune to them. These same human feelings will become celebrated as essentially European when it privileges the European wo/man of culture. Besides, why isolate this claim by Senghor? Is that all that Negritude is about? Certainly, Negritude especially the militant wing of David Diop, gave a serious indictment of, and damning verdict against, European colonial involvement in Africa when he described it deploying the metaphor of vultures, avian creatures that survive on carrion, on death. But critics of Innes’ ideological persuasion will focus on what is convenient for, and affirmative of, them and their prejudiced audiences. It is instructive that Innes does not isolate this metaphor as representative of Negritudinist poetics because of its truthfulness in capturing the devastation and death Europe wrecked on the continent. European science and technology, with all its advantages, has become an albatross even to Europeans themselves and many can confess that the future of humanity in terms of the environment and ecological life is in Africa. And perhaps, Innes should realise that history and a written culture


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in Africa did not originate with the disruptive presence of Europe but rather predated it. When the Europeans first penetrated the continent, they met history but refused to acknowledge it because it was in their interest to deny the presence of history as a justificatory claim for colonial domination in the guise of their civilising and evangelising mission. The running charges against these purveyors of “ancestuous aesthetics”12 and other cultural nationalists of narcissism, romanticism and navelgazing, in some quarters, only reinforce one fact: that the barbed critical arrows that have emerged from their quiver have met the appropriate marks. They have thus carefully unmasked the Western literary and critical establishment and their willing local collaborators who have surrendered their cultural birthright for a mere morsel of porridge or a tragic horn of hemlock. And the ancestral line of the latter group is as long as the list of sins and infidelities the radical trio has accused and found them guilty of.13 In their literary and critical practices, the West advocates tendencies that freeze literature and art into a cultural experience for its sake (the art for art’s sake school) and prescriptively proceed to evaluate culture as a hermetic event without materiality and moorings in its social conditions. They also fashion an impenetrable idiom with solecisms that hark back to Euro-modernist intellection. These discursive altercations are to be expected because they are quintessential of the conflictual cultural formations in the world today and the never-ending ideological contest to control and determine signification. This is because whoever controls and manipulates the discourse on culture inevitably controls the levers of power. Chantal Zabus argues that there “will always be a conflict between traditionalists wanting to construct an ideal past and modernisers embracing change” and that “usually this takes the shape of nationalist (or regionalist) versus internationalist or cosmopolitan” (25). In the African situation, however, the argumentations about the origination of African aesthetics in traditional sources should not be merely self-serving, self-inflicting but should gravitate to an elaboration of how indigenous cultural knowledge production can privilege and galvanise the continent and Black peoples on the path of lasting decolonisation, freedom and sustainable development. In this cultural schema, it is not sufficient to state that African oral traditions provide the substratum for modern African letters (Chinweizu & Co), though this is a legitimate and commendable project; or that such an argument is ahistorical and nativist (Soyinka and Appiah). Both critical formations possess merits but also disabling flaws. It is my proposition that where the real argument congeals precisely is to what useful ends we can put our multiple heritages: how African literatures and cultures can be

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productively engaged and harnessed in the monumental task of rehumanising African humanity as a people who have been violated and brutalised in the course of history. But I must hasten to qualify this historical derivation of the African/Black predicament. This is important because ascribing it to the violence of history is not synonymous with abdicating responsibility for the African predicament or absolving Africns of their iniquities and accusing others exclusively and self-righteously. Such a body of discourses, according to Iye, will only “overestimate the external causes of the moral crisis...and entirely overlooks the crucial notion of individual responsibility and ignores the role of peoples in the making of their own fate”. To do so will align Africans with the categories of people who “have a tendency to believe in discourses that seek the source of their troubles outside them and their sphere of influence. They do not like to disturb their soul and to question their conscience in order to determine their part and take responsibility in the moral crisis of their society” (Iye 91). Thus while Aricans rail against others for hyphenating their humanity, they must also dispassionately look into themselves and discover where they have compromised and reduced their humanity, too. Blamocracy, as the Somali writer, Nuruddin Farah calls it, will not advance the African/Black cause for development in a modern world but rather aggravate the condition. Reason: if African/Black peoples “do not place themselves, as individuals, in the geography of the collective collapse, but outside of it” (188), it will be tantamount to defecating in the hut and accusing another individual of the peculiar mess. Such escapist tactics seek only to renounce individual responsibility and to hide ostrich-like in “collective definitions” (Cingal 342). As the above epigraphs which preface this chapter eloquently attest, an elemental cultural struggle has always structured the relations between Europe, Africa and other cultures of the world. The putative superiority of European culture and its unbridled arrogance has made it to trample and unleash violence on other subjugated cultures. Consistent with this imperial project of violently predating on other endangered cultural formations is the ideological manipulation of these cultures and their appropriation by Europe for its self-enrichment. Slavery and slave trade, colonialism and imperialism, and now globalization and the postmodern turn have all been complicit in this regime of imperial containment and domination of others. In all this, the production and circulation of dominant knowledge grids has been central and strategic to the imperial programme. Complicit in this epistemic network were a violent European history,


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politics, ideology and racism. Thus positioned as a monumental historical event, the colonial encounter magnificently (re)fashioned an elaborate body of knowledge(s) whose hegemony and discursive temperament were mediated by cultural politics and ideology. While colonialist knowledge systems exercised epistemological domination over the indigenous order and ideologically sought to interiorise it within its dominant fabrics, the dominated, indigenous tradition also devised strategies of refusing and resisting this regime of containment. Involved in this contestation were the various conduits of hegemonic and counter-hegemonic discourses and their informing political and ideological apparatuses. These were mobilised in the production and distribution of dominant knowledges during the heyday of colonialism and imperialism and in turn generated the counterhegemonic processes that were deployed in the indigenous forms of knowledge to subvert this hegemony. The fabrication of this corpus of knowledges is now hypostasised in African literary traditions and cultures. Thus, these tissues of issues are inescapably implicated in discursive strategies surrounding the politics of the production and distribution of knowledges in societies and cultures. This politics is particularly pronounced in societies and cultures that are writhing in transitional throes, and are in a state of becoming. And continental Africa is in a state of rapid transition, in a state of becoming perhaps, perpetually. This is particularly so in the nimble – footed, capricious, postmodern global neighbourhood we inhabit today which Rosalind Brunt et al characterise as “the age of satellite transmission and digital storage” where “all that is clear amid the confusion of voices is that old cultural assumptions no longer hold” and that “the difficult distinction now are not only those between high and low cultures but also those between state and market, national and multinational cultures”. Correspondingly, therefore, the discourses - and their institutional frameworks- (re)generated by the postmodern epoch are subject to, and defined by, radical temporal shifts, strategic ideological mutations and political (re)positionings. This is because as Sara Mills informs, “[D]iscourses change over time and depending on the economic and social conditions within which they are generated” (118-9). The amalgam of issues involved in this discursive existence gravitate to the asymmetrical relations of domination and subordination the turbulent currents of change inevitably inaugurate in the reconstitution of the calculus of historical reality. This is precisely what Mary Louise Pratt conceptualises as “the contact zone”, the interstitial transitional gulf of “social spaces where disparate cultures meet, clash and grapple with each other” (4) in their rites of self-presencing and self-definition. This

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is often with unequal access to, and participation in, the manufacturing and merchandising of epistemological moulds. The undemocratic (re)negotiation of the relationships and hierarchies of power in the contact zone is essentially contingent on the fact that while the dominant discourse or culture appropriates more knowledge capital, the dominated is consigned to querulous interrogation as it intensely seeks to subvert the supremacist and totalising grids of knowledge of the hegemonic culture. At the contact zone between the metropolitan Western culture and the indigenous African culture, colonialist discourse distilled forms of knowledge that hyphenated African indigenous knowledge systems and networks of civilisation and culture. This hyphenation went hand in hand with the inferiorisation and labelling of these cultures as sub-human, or even non-human and their interpellation as peripheral or marginal others. In its counter-hegemonic programme, African cultures and civilisation became strategically involved in the politics of transgressive insubordination, self-retrieval and the rewriting of transcendental and totalitarian imperial knowledges with the stratagem of asserting, affirming, authenticating and (re)humanising the African ontology. Negritude was in the vanguard of this monumental racial ferment, cultural awakening and nationalist striving. Intrinsic to Negritude was the (re)production of institutional frames of indigenous knowledge systems which were autochthonous to the African cultural hemisphere as a countervailing discourse to Western imperial knowledge schemas and regimes of universal truth-telling. As Christopher Candlin argues, “particularistic socio-cultural values dominate through being accorded the status of universal significance” (ix). Western values were accorded such universal privilege. With all the critical barbs ranged against Negritude, as well as its energetic exponents, as anti-racist racism, cultural narcissism and the romanticisation of a prehistoric past, Negritude as a political ideology and cultural philosophy succeeded in contesting and subverting particularistic Western values, and universal truth-telling, announcing the cultural sophistication and civilisational arrival of the Black personality in the world. Fundamentally, however, one quintessential temperament of Western civilisation and culture in the continuum of human history has been its (mis)appropriative character. This proclivity to (mis)appropriativeness, compellingly, makes Western culture and civilisation to be predatory and parasitic, preying on other vulnerable cultural species peripheral to it but, crucially and critically, central to its very constitution and continued ontological existence. What this neatly translates to be is that the emasculation, ruination and desecration of other marginal and


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dominated cultures mean the ebullience, luxuriance or magnificence of the Western cultural category. Similarly, the denudation and impoverishment of other cultures imply the enrichment and privileging of the metropolitan or Western culture. This situation is analogous to the narrative involving Ali Baba and the forty thieves in the famous Arabian Nights story-telling tradition.14 Through their brigandage, the thieves fraudulently amass stupendous wealth and property which ideally does not belong to them. It is ironic that when another thief in Cassim helps himself to a fraction of that stolen wealth, he is paid with death. The wisdom here which Cassim seems not to possess is that as a thief, you must not be discovered. And you must be powerful, physically and epistemologically, to protect yourself and fight back when attacked. Europe learnt this wisdom long ago. The wealth of colonised nations peripheral to Europe became the veritable source of wealth of the West through guile and superior military weaponry. In the case of British imperial empire-building, the Commonwealth became the socio-economic, cultural and political constellation Britain has dominated and exploited over the years. Many historical events in Western Europe were precipitants to these predatory rites. One of such epochal events was the industrial revolution of the 18th century. The industrial revolution was primarily an economic ferment. But simultaneously, it was also a social, cultural, political and ideological moment of European civilisational arrival. Concomitant with this industrial watershed was an emergent mercantilist class, a nouveau riche with distinctly new tastes, an unconquerable will, an adventurous spirit and an overweening passion for exotica. The revolution in industrial production consistent with the epoch necessarily informed variegated rationalisations fundamental to contingencies of economic and sociocultural production. For instance, where were the products from the throes of the machines to be profitably disposed? How could the thriving economy and the culture it midwifed be sustained? How were profits to be maximised? Ideologically, the appropriate answers to the burden of these questions were borne by the passion for markets, profits, raw materials, labour sources and wherever these could be found. G. D. Killam corroborates that “the primary reason for European activity in Africa was for commercial gain” (4). European explorers, merchants, adventurers, funseekers, etc. enlisted as agents and satraps to stand sentinel at the cult of this new economic, political and cultural ethos in industrial Europe. Through their legendary odysseys of exploration, the Europeans “discovered” other spaces, which, to appropriate an ingenious geometric metaphor, were

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tangential to the circumference of metropolitan Europe. And in these marginal spaces, they found abundant markets, prodigious raw materials and great prospects for profits, the propelling forces to their voyages of “discovery”. Jyotsna Singh negotiates insightfully this “discovery” motif and the dialectic of conquest and domination by the European imperial and colonising culture. According to him, […] this discovery motif has frequently emerged in the language of colonisation enabling European travellers-writers to represent the newly “discovered” lands as an empty space, a tabula rasa on which they could inscribe their linguistic, cultural and later, territorial claims… Rhetorically, however, the trope of discovery took on shifting, multiple meanings…being constantly refurbished and mobilised in the service of other colonising, rescuing, and idealising or demonising their…subjects as “others” (1-2).

With these images of discovery and their intrinsic meaning systems, the econo-cultural hymen of Africa and other similarly marginal spaces of the world was irredeemably violated and their nascent economies circumscribed within the orbit of European metropolitan economic networks. The bridges and the rail lines became veritable metonymic tropes of economic exploitation and cultural strangulation in this imperial empire-building enterprise and strategy. As A. T. Nzula observes, “Every railway has been built by forced labour” for “pumping raw materials out of the colonies… for crushing anti-imperialist rebellions” (33)and “for the transport of black troops to European theatres of war” (44). The strategic location of the Suez Canal in Egypt as a gateway to the Indian sub-continent and much of the Far East explains the imperial feud between Britain and France as to its control and by extension the economies of Egypt and that of others. Significantly, what transpired economically with the expropriation of raw materials to the metropolitan industries and their subsequent repatriation as finished products replicated itself culturally. Indigenous forms of cultural knowledge were expropriated by the West, processed and brought back elegantly marked with the seal of superiority for local consumption. Edward Said’s Orientalist project is a fitting cultural exposition of this appropriation and yet without acknowledgement. European explorers nourished a desperate predatory quest for cotton, cocoa, coffee, beniseed, and groundnut; gold, diamond, bauxite and other precious mineral deposits, as well as profitable markets and later a steady stream of human chattels. But they were also strategically involved in another imperialist ideological programme that was equally deleterious


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and damaging. They religiously distilled narratives from their expeditions of “discovery” to their home governments and peoples with emergent tastes. These were captivated not only by the exotic flavour of the narratives but also by the infinite prospects of sustaining the gains of the industrial revolution at home. The narratives exquisitely woven by explorers like David Livingstone, Christopher Columbus, Mungo Park, Hugh Clapperton, and the Lander Brothers, Richard and John, among several others, intrinsically had a Eurocentric trajectory coursing through them. The narratives were neither ideologically neutral nor politically innocent. They were insidiously invested with racial, cultural and epistemological capital and deliberately called to service to privilege their home governments and the cause of imperialist culture and colonialist hegemony and domination. Diametrically divergent to privileging the imperial ethos, these tendentious narrative discourses were decidedly uncharitable to the newly “discovered” peoples as against their will they actively participated in their stereotypification. In the narratives, these peripheral categories were constituted, named and evaluated patronisingly as “primitive”, “uncultured”, “heathenish”, “apelike”, “uncivilised”, and “untamed”15 still greedily suckling the pristine nipple of prehistory. This naming process was simultaneously political and ideological and heaved with symbolic significance. This is because as David Goldberg observes, “power is exercised epistemologically in the dual process of naming and evaluating” as “in naming or refusing to name things in the order of thought, existence is recognised or refused, significance assigned or ignored, beings elevated or rendered invisible” (150). Fundamentally too, a name can be mobilised ideologically to blame, lame, tame, shame and declaim the person named while it ennobles, enables and empowers epistemologically the subject who is doing the naming rite, and makes him visible while rendering the named invisible and powerless. This is what the European imperialist and colonialist naming of Africa ideologically accomplished. This reality is again adequately foregrounded by Jyotsna Singh when he observes: […] if one recognises that all colonial interactions are an effect of power relations inscribed within cultural and linguistic forms, then it becomes apparent how colonial representational practices draw on strategies of naming and classifying as implicit modes of political and territorial domination (14).

Thus, in this mould of paradigmatic classifying and naming, the European man of culture proceeded to construct the elaborate cultural and

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racist binaries of Selfness-Otherness, Centre-Periphery, Core-Margin, Civilisation-Primitivity, Metropolis-Province, High-Low, Superior-Inferior, Dominant-Dominated, Coloniser-Colonised, among other oppositional schemata. These essentialist and monadic identities and categories were carefully mummified into racial sarcophagi; naturalised and willed into epistemological, ideological and discursive existence. Significantly, therefore, the imperial naming of Africa and other marginal spaces like the Orient as peripheral others by the narratives of European explorers and travellers yielded potent forms of political ablutions and became testaments of powerful sacramental rites of inevitable conquest and domination. These binarist classificatory paradigms and naming strategies, in the fullness of time, revealed the feline instincts, predatory brutality and ferocity of the imperialist cat in the threshold of the hospitable and accommodating but unsuspecting mouse. These narratives, therefore, constituted a veritable body of imperial epistemes and hegemonic discourses that was processed and mobilised by the metropolitan governments and deployed in their rich arsenal to conquer, dominate and exploit their colonies. Philip Curtin delineates the negative and negating image these narratives threaded of Africa and the impact they exerted on the imperial government and people at home. According to Curtin, The image of Africa which began to emerge in the 1870s drew some of its novelty from a new data that began to pour in first from coastal travellers and then from explorers into the interior (and the nineteenth century was the great age of African exploration), finally from the refinements and synthesis of these data in the hands of stay-at-home scholars and publicists. As the decades passed British ideas about Africa became more and more detailed and publicised. By 1950, the image had hardened. It was in children’s books, in Sunday school tracts, in the popular press. Its major affirmations were the ‘common knowledge’ of the educated classes. Thereafter, when new generations of explorers and administrators went to Africa, they went with a prior impression of what they would find. Most often, they found it, and their writings in turn confirmed the older image – or at most altered it only slightly (vi, my emphasis).

Curtin is himself guilty as a receptacle of this imperial and racist narrative discourse that derogatorily named Africa and spun unrepresentative and uncomplimentary images of the continent. He subscribes to this racist construction of Africa’s image and so becomes heir to the tradition of epistemic violence unleashed on others by European imperial ideology which defines other racial categories in terms of essential difference. The emphasised portion of the above quote offers abundant evidence in this


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regard. But what is even more disturbing is the uncritical acceptance of these pejorative images by the racist European public. Thus the production, circulation and consumption of this dehumanising image became so catholicised that it ramified broadly in all spatial and temporal formations. It resonated even with school children and was etched in the consciousness of the Church which should have known better as a purveyor of Christian values which foster the ideals of a common humanity. It is in this regard that the narratives of imperial writers like Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad, Joyce Cary, Elspeth Huxley, Rider Haggard, Karen Blixen, Fred Majdalany and, Robert Ruark, etc constitute what Ngugi wa Thiong’o, the Kenyan writer calls “the creators of Tarzan” (42) and Nigerian novelist, Chinua Achebe characterises as “colonialist writing” or “colonialist criticism”, continuing the flagellations of imperialist tradition and colonialist culture. In the imagination of these European writers, Africa was a vast jungle, expansive wilderness, a thick forested landscape teeming with dangerous wild animals, the very heart of dense darkness. As if this was not scary enough, its peoples were still in a state of prehistory, cannibals who fed on one another, ape-like creatures who jumped from one branch to the other, with benighted, heathenish and ungodly ways. Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Cary’s Mister Johnson are perhaps the most notorious of these narratives that spun this varnished image of Africa. This tradition of writing and culture of criticism portray the African, according to Ngugi, as “the natural man and his completely wild and untammed state”, “a child at the mercy of irrational forces” and who has “no vital relationship with his environment, with his past. He does not create; he is created” (42, 43). This imperialist tradition is itself a repository of colonial domination, economic exploitation, cultural deracination and discursive hegemony as it was invested with ideological markers and political trajectories that denied the very humanity of the peripheral personality and defined him in terms of hyphenatedness and “subness” – sub-human, sub-culture, sub-altern. Appropriately, therefore, with the military precision of superior weaponry and diplomatic aggression or what Frantz Fanon refers to as “a great array of bayonets and cannons” (36) and also Edward Said apprehends as “persuasive means” (131), the Western imperial man of culture penetrated the stronghold of the African periphery. He conquered and laid inalienable territorial claims to the marginal spaces, named them his spheres of influence and inscribed himself indelibly onto their contours. But transcendent to this, he also exercised epistemological

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control, cultural hegemony, economic exploitation and ideo-political domination over it. The territorial subjugation of Africa was accomplished officially during the 1884-85 Berlin conference which ratified the scramble for and partition of Africa. This is what has become known as “the curse of Berlin”16 which the criminal gang of European nations under Germany’s Otto von Bismarck visited on the African continent in a shameless and inhuman competition for colonial territories during the scramble for and partition of the continent. Besides Germany, the host of the conference, there were Britain, Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal, and Spain who arrogantly shared the rich patrimony of a whole continent among themselves in a hall far away from the continent. But the rules they set for the harmonious and peaceful balkanisation of the African continent have had devastating repercussions of historic proportions as “The European curse of artificial nation-states has thus caused untold suffering in postcolonial Africa, resulting in unviable, dependent economies, artificially imported political systems, weak and Balkanised states, and insecure borders” (Adebajo 2). The colonising, civilising and evangelising mission was a quintessence of this imperialist and colonialist enterprise to epistemologically, culturally, politically and economically denude Africa. This is what V. Y. Mudimbe conceptualises as the tripartite “colonising structure”. The domination of physical space, the reformation of natives’ minds, and the integration of local economic histories into the Western perspective, to Mudimbe “completely embraces the physical, human and spiritual aspects of the colonising experience”(2). The colonising experience and culture constituted the colonised as a mimic personality, who, according to Homi Bhabha, became “a reformed, recognisable Other, as a subject of a difference that is almost the same, but not quite” (86). The articulation of essential difference in the imperial imagination became the governing concern in the constitution of social and cultural relations between the coloniser and the colonised. That the colonial enterprise was a co-ordinated and well rehearsed process is remarkably underscored by the unholy alliance between missionary activity and the colonising agents. Whereas the evangelising mission cleverly hid itself under the garb of Christian proselytisation and benefitted from the name of God to confer legitimacy on the imperial project which negated the very tenets of the gospel they avowedly committed themselves to, the colonial administrators employed the trick of pacification and protection through spurious treaties. Robert Frazer demonstrates the complicity between the colonising, civilising and evangelising mission and commercial interest to execute the imperialist

Chapter One


agenda. He states: The complicity between the commercial interest, herald of a future colonial administration, and the indigenous leadership thus supplies us, not merely with an understanding of the mechanics of imperialism itself, but also with a glimpse of the combination of spiritual and secular leverage… (76).

But Frazer is not alone in unmasking the missionaries as agents of commercial interest who actively collaborated with the colonial establishment to pillage the colonies of their resources. W. H. New corroborates him when he observes that economic concerns ranked high in the priorities of the colonising and evangelising missions and that the knowledge of the indigenous peoples they sought and the competition amongst them were in furtherance of the imperial interest in the wealth and resources of the people. He elaborates: Behind European actions lay a desire for knowledge, and for the wealth and control that knowledge permitted. Often competitive (the European nations were primarily at war with other in their quest for colonies), imperial actions thus had economic base...Even the Christian missionaries were competitive, each sect seeking a greater number of conversions than the next; motivated by economic supremacy sometimes as much often than by faith, they turned each converted territory into a resource basin. The imperial enterprise, that is, turned ‘other’ places and ‘other’ peoples into commodities that would serve the needs of the imperial ‘centre’ (106).

The thinking of difference, essential and irreconcilable difference distinct from European sameness, has always animated colonial ideology and the discourses it manufactures from its epistemological factories. Difference is then processed into social and racial hierarchies interpellating Others as antinomies of the Self. This is why to Frantz Fanon, “the real Other for the white man is and will continue to be the black man” (161). This essentialist racist constitution of the black personality thinly veiled and undergirded European cultural imperialism and aggression in Africa. Through a subtle process of writing the Other into existence, the colonial Self structures the colonised Other to imagine himself based on the stereotypes he has constructed for the Other so that he fits into them. Concomitant with this strategy was also the invention of the new black elite, the heir apparent to the colonial lord whose deep assimilationist tendencies betrayed it, according to Neil Lazarus, “in all its ruthlessness and vulgarity…its ethic of conspicuous consumption, its corruption, its greed and crass materialism…Its atrocious lack of vision” (20). Imperialist ideology and colonialist cultural hegemony with their dominant discourses

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occluded even the nationalist stirrings that remained in the emergent petit bourgeoisie and rendered it, according to Aijaz Ahmad, “a nationalism of mourning, a form of valediction” (119). No doubt, Western cultural imperialism nurtured in its epistemological womb dominant forms of epistemes and flagellated a phalanx of dutiful handmaidens who were ideologically positioned to imbue such epistemes with institutional power and legitimacy in the tyrannisation of indigenous knowledge systems. However, these dominant grids of knowledge (and their ideological and political production in the imperial centre), with the hegemonic discourses they ventilated, soon came under intense challenge and interrogation. Indigenous knowledge networks also deployed epistemological strategies to contest their interpellation as peripheral and to countervail these dominant, hegemonic and imperial knowledges. This counterhegemonic offensive was ideologically launched through the instrumentality of a vast repertoire or heaving body of oral traditions and rhetorical narrative strategies. In their “General Introduction” to the The Post-Colonial Studies Reader, the editors, Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin articulate the variegated forms that European imperialism expressed itself and how it was an orchestrated process of Western cultural imposition on Others. But they quickly point out that this hegemony could not be maintained eternally as indigenous cultures soon discovered viable ways of subverting and compromising imperial knowledge forms with counterhegemonic strategies. According to them, European imperialism took various forms in different times and places and proceeded both through conscious planning and contingent occurrences. As a result of this complex development something occurred for which the plan of imperial expansion had not bargained: the immensely prestigious and powerful imperial centre found itself appropriated in projects of counter-colonial resistance which drew upon the many different indigenous local and hybrid processes of self-determination to defy, erode and sometimes supplant the prodigious power of imperial cultural knowledge. Post-colonial literatures are a result of this interaction between imperial culture and the complex of indigenous cultural practices (1).

In affirmation of the position by Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin, postcolonial literatures as counterdiscourse employed the full range of indigenous knowledge schemas in their contestation against imperial narrativisation of the postcolony as Other and so different. This involved the recuperation of cultural histories as a memory archive, the mobilisation of oral traditions and the flaunting of social and political institutional practices as modes of validation of the African philosophy of life, culture


Chapter One

and civilisation. Within the interstitial fabrics of the oral traditional media like folktales, myths, legends, epics, sagas, proverbs, fables, songs, rituals, aphorisms, and poetry, among others were deeply etched and immanently existed counterhegemonic metaphors and tropes. These metaphors and tropes were also invested with the requisite ideological and political potency as anti-imperialist epistemic strategies and anti-colonialist discourses aimed at containing, refusing and resisting the epistemic tyranny and hegemony of the West. African oral traditions became a viable expressive mechanism which bore the burden of history in the articulation of the people’s anti-colonial struggle. The heroic resistance of African peoples against Arab colonialism which predated European penetration of the continent became inscribed as thematic materials in songs and chants in a renewed counteroffensive against another brand of imperialism: that of Europe. Ayi Kwei Armah’s Two Thousand Seasons represents a historical rendering in a fictional mode the African resistance spirit against the combined Arab and European imperial stranglehold on the continent. The rebellious tendencies of Isanusi, Anoa and the youth under initiation against alien enslavement are an unambiguous index of the subversive logic. The lineaments of counterhegemony are also resident in songs and chants especially when sieved through the Mau Mau nationalist uprising in Kenya. The Mau Mau rebellion against British colonial vandalism and exploitation in Kenya precipitated the distillation of songs and chants which extolled the heroism and fighting spirits of nationalist fighters like Dedan Kimathi, Harry Thuku, and others who lay down their lives for freedom. In his fiction and dramaturgy, Ngugi wa Thiongo, the Kenyan socialist writer, establishes the powerful connection between oral traditions, as embodied in songs, and nationalism in the transcending of colonial domination. These songs form the integral world of his writings especially in The Trial of Dedan Kimathi (with Micere Mugo) and I Will Marry When I Want (with Ngugi wa Miiri) and structure their ideological vision and temperament. Other counterhegemonic tendencies against European colonisation involving indigenous knowledge regimes involved the recovery of African epic heroes, warriors and legendary personages some of whom were illustrious emperors who admirably shielded their people against Western imperial aggression. An example is Sundiata (Sunjata, Sunyetta, Sun Jara or Soundjata), the legendary emperor of the ancient Mali Empire who fought heroically against Sumanguru of Susu and restored the dignity of the Mandinka people. This epic has been codified by D. T. Niane in Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali and Gordon Innes Sunjata: The Three

The Politics of Knowledge Production and Circulation


Mandinka Versions, chronicling the achievements of the Malian emperor. Sundiata’s epic has assumed considerable importance as a communal property of the peoples in the Senegambia region of West Africa such that his chivalric courage became an inspiration to many modern nations in the region in their anti-colonial struggle against European domination and oppression. The neat seal of negation fixed on these indigenous forms of knowledge and their outright erasure from the contours of world literature by the Western cultural establishment in the past is significant in this regard. This is not just contingent on their essential oralness, a gratuitous charge often valorised by the tetrarchs of a scribal culture, but fundamentally because of their efficacy in (re)defining the African world, affirming its civilisation, asserting its culturality. This is an eloquent testament to their powerful counterhegemonic potentialities in subverting the dominant and hegemonic Master textual discourse of the West. For instance, the Western cultural intelligentsia denied the existence of indigenous forms of drama, myth, epic, and indeed, literature as oral and lacking aesthetic distillates, literary sophistication and creative soulfulness. This, to Chinweizu et al, is “blindness” as “they have, out of various cultural biases, constructed a grand mountain that separates oral and written literatures, and are unable to look beyond that divide” (29). To accuse the Western establishment of blindness is to be charitable. This is intentional, deliberate blindness or blindness with a method. Elsewhere, Chinweizu again comments, Eurocentric literary academics, in and outside Africa, have long been prejudiced against oral works; against works in African languages; against works by anonymous authors, against works by and for the non-elite ‘folk’, against works of ‘impure’ or ‘applied’ literature which address themselves to social issues of the moment (xx).

These rites of denial and prejudice are deliberate ideological and political strategies to institute binary oppositionalities between the core and the periphery so as to foreground the cultural supremacy of the West and the simplicity or inferiority of the African. It is also aimed at erecting uneven and undemocratic hierarchies and institutional structures that privilege the written wor(l)d, interpreted as Western scribal culture, to the detriment of the oral which is synonymous with a primal African world. Counterhegemonic discursive strategies have, however, been deployed by African scholars to deconstruct these Western cultural essentialisms, negations and erasures. In Myth, Literature and the African World


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(1976),17 Wole Soyinka affirms the existence of drama and myth in Africa and refracts Africa as their aboriginal abode. Similarly in Epic in Africa (1979),18 and Myth in Africa (1983),19 Isidore Okpewho contests and rewrites hegemonic imperial knowledges by establishing the materiality of epic and myth in Africa as forms of indigenous oral traditions and knowledge constitutive of socio-cultural, political and economic engineering in Africa. These indigenous forms have been creatively mobilised by modern writers like Achebe in Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God; Ngugi in The River Between and Petals of Blood; Armah in Fragments and The Healers, etc to demonstrate that Africa is the centre of the world and the cradle of civilisation. Michael Pecheux constructs a tripartite schema of the dominated subject’s relationship to the dominating or hegemonic discourse. First is the “good subject” who “consents” to domination. The second is the rebellious “bad subject” who “counter-identifies” with existing discursive dominant structures; and third, the subject who “disidentifies” and points to “transformation-displacement”, or “overthrow – rearrangement” (12). The counterhegemonic discourse of indigenous oral traditions or knowledge formation is concretely located in the labyrinthine interstices of the second and third discursive temperaments sketched by Pecheux. It is rebellious in its counter-identification and aims to re-arrange the regime of cultural knowledge regimes which subjugate other knowledge systems. The intrinsic embeddedness of African culturality, sociality and civilisation in the oral traditional or indigenous forms of knowledge has consistently proved a counterhegemonic and revolutionary strategy in transcending dominant, hegemonic forms of knowledge from the West. For instance, aetiological narratives have (re)fashioned with new significations the origins of the world in Africa. Tiv and Yoruba tales of origin in Nigeria and the Gikuyu myth of creation in Kenya radically contest the Graeco-Roman mythology of creation and situate the space for the originary creative enterprise in Africa. The African tale of Tortoise borrowing feathers from the birds in a desperate flight to the sky during a raging famine on earth may as well suggest the African’s strivings to conquer space and its planetary bodies. In a variant perspective, the uncanny wisdom of the Squirrel by hiding his mother in the sky during a pronounced famine when all the other animals killed their mothers for food is an index of wisdom. Squirrel, through the help of Spider’s web, climbs to have his fair share of food from his mother. The Ananse (Spider) tales among Akan communities in Ghana also constitute a treasure of native wisdom. In the same oral tradition, the epics of Mwindo, Silamaka, Shaka,

The Politics of Knowledge Production and Circulation


Sundiata, etc have been instrumental to the fabrication of indigenous knowledges about the unconquerable will and resistance spirit of Africans against what Michael Mann says is the variegated sources of European power evidenced in “political, military, ideological or economic ramifications” (10) and in the formations of empires and kingdoms and nations comparable to Europe. Legendary exploits by superhuman characters in African legends like Ozidi of the Ijo, Nigeria are narratives negotiating uncommon courage and the fight against injustice, domination, oppression and repression by totalitarian structures of power. Indigenous knowledge schemas can be creatively appropriated, dexterously manipulated and exquisitely processed in the African cultural laboratory as counter-hegemonic discursive strategies and engagements with the other knowledges that are dominant, transcendental and hegemonic. Fundamentally, this indigenous epistemological trajectory must not be essentialist, Manichean, binarist, oppositional or unnecessarily Afrocentric. It must be eclectic, hybrid, open-ended, receptive, non-essentialist and, where necessary, also post–Afrocentric. The potentialities inherent in, and constitutive of this dynamic and fluid attitude, are its imbrication of essential differences, reification of identity and the broad extension of the boundaries of knowledge in a post-modernist world that has significantly occluded the marked edges of difference and identity. The African Union and the New Economic Partnership for African Development as socio-economic, political and cultural surrogates to the ideology of African renaissance, and as forms of indigenous epistemologies must benefit non-essentially from the corpus of indigenous knowledges which are requisite vectors for African anti-imperialist and counterhegemonic discourse. For Africa to transcend her violent and sanguinary history fraught with blood, treachery, slavery, slave trade, colonialism, imperialism, post-colonial perfidies, war, disease, poverty and wilful dastard death, this hostile history must be exhumed. But this must not be with an idealist bent or romanticist fixity. It must be with creativity, imaginative twist and the political will to inaugurate a positive difference in the political economy and the cultural dynamics of postcolonial and postmodern becoming. Indigenous forms of knowledge are crucial and strategic to this politics and ideology of counter-hegemony.

Works Cited Achebe, Chinua. Hopes and Impediments. London: Heinemann, 1988. Adebajo, Adekeye. The Curse of Berlin: Africa After the Cold War. London: Hurst and Company, 2010.


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Ahmad, Aijaz. In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures. London: Verso, 1992. Ashroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin. “General Introduction”. In Bill Ashcroft et al. (eds.). The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. London and New York: Routledge, 1995. 1-3. Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994. Brunt, Rosalind et al (eds.). “Communications and Culture”. In Janet Wolff. The Social Production of Art. London: Macmillan Press, 1993. Candlin, Christopher. “General Editor’s Preface”. In John Stephens. Language and Ideology in Children’s Fiction. London & New York: Longman Limited, 1996. Chinweizu, O. Jemie and I. Madubuike. Toward the Decolonisation of African Literature. Enugu: Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1980. Chinweizu. Voices From Twentieth Century Africa: Griots and Towncriers. London & Boston: Faber & Faber, 1990. Curtin, Philip. The Image of Africa; British Ideas and Actions. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1964. Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. C. L. Markmann (tran.). New York: Groove Press, 1967. —. The Wretched of the Earth. Constance Farrington (tran). New York: Groove Press, 1968. Frazer, Robert. The Novels of Ayi Kwei Armah. London: Heinemann, 1980. Goldberg, David Theo. Racist Culture: Philosophy and the Politics of Meaning. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1993. Hawkes, Terence. “General Editor’s Preface”. In Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin. The Empire Writes Back. London: Routledge, 1989. vii-viii. Innes, C. L. “Forging the Conscience of Their Race.” In Bruce King (ed.). New National and Post-Colonial Literatures: An Introduction. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996. 120 – 139. Killam, G. D. Africa in English Fiction, 1874 – 1939. Ibadan: Ibadan University Press, 1968. Lazarus, Neil. Resistance in Postcolonial African Fiction. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1990. Mann, Michael. The Sources of Power, Vol. 1: A History of Power From the Beginning to A.D 1760. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986. Mills, Sara. Discourse. London and New York: Routledge, 1997. Mudimbe, Valentin. The Invention of Africa: Gnosis, Philosophy, and the Order of Knowledge. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988. New, W. H. “Colonial Literatures”. In Bruce King (ed.). New National and Post-Colonial Literatures: An Introduction. Oxford: Clarendon

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Press, 1996. 102 - 119. Nzula, A.T et al. Forced Labour in Colonial Africa. Robin Cohen (ed.). London: Zed Press, 1979. Okpewho, Isidore. Epic in Africa: Towards a Poetics of the Oral Performance. New York: Columbia University Press, 1979. —. Myth in Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983. Olaniyan, Tejumola. Scars of Conquest, Masks of Resistance. New York & London: Oxford University Press, 1995. Pecheux, Michael. Language, Semantics and Ideology. Harbans Nagpal (tran.). New York: St. Martins Press, 1982. Pratt, Mary Louise. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. London: Routledge, 1992. Said, Edward. Culture and Imperialism. London: Vintage, 1994. Singh, Jyotsna. Colonial Narratives, Cultural Dialogues. London & New York: Routledge, 1996. Soyinka, Wole. Myth, Literature and the African World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976. wa, Thiong’o, Ngugi. Homecoming. London: Heinemann, 1972. Zabus, Chantal. “Language, Orality, and Literature.” In Bruce King (ed.). New National and Post-Colonial Literatures: An Introduction. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996. 29 – 4


Narrating a nation commands the acknowledgement of all the sacrifices, in men and women...A common feature of neo-colonial nations is the ability to create a national narrative based on a void, on emptiness, and on the deliberate erasure of the other. Too timid to reconstruct the truth, the male historian (and also writer and critic) has committed the same mistake as the colonialist: erasing the female freedom fighter, the female nation builder. (Doho, “We Have Our Voice”, 160; my parenthesis) One area of the female principle that is overlooked is that of woman as the conscience of the nation which she in turn symbolizes. (Egejuru, Nwanyibu, 14) Stories are told from some body’s position, stories that can be rewritten. (Threadgold, Feminist Poetics, 1; original emphasis) In some nationalist movements, women became involved to further the goal of national independence, but their own specific gender-based goals were either subsumed or ignored within the more general nationalist movement. This influenced the way in which women’s policies were addressed in the post-independence period. Nevertheless, women’s commitment to independence often made them loyal supporters of the liberation movements, even when their own demands were forced into the backburner or denied altogether. (Tripp et al, African Women’s Movements, 36)

Introduction One of the most persistent and ubiquitous images that has become definitive of the African literary tradition is that of the woman as the mother of the nation. The ritualised inscription of this image in the contours of African national literatures is ostensibly executed to foreground the centrality of the African woman as a mother, care-giver, nurturer, producer,

Canons and Canonicity


etc. The woman is delineated as occupying a strategic place in national engineering processes. The beginning, in the invention of nationhood in Africa, was with the politics of nationalist resistance against European colonisation and imperial domination. However, this portraiture, especially in phallic texts willed into existence by male authors, is not without its startling ambiguities and ambivalences which notoriously problematise this image. The woman who embodies the noble notion of the nation as mother also assumes the contradictory manifestation of the (m)other. The inherent contradictions that structure and haunt this image of the nation as mother can be found located in an agonistic and contingent African historical trajectory. In pre-colonial African societies, women occupied strategic positions which conferred on them enormous political, social, economic and cultural capital. For instance, women constituted a veritable and dynamic agency in artistic and cultural production processes in ways that were sufficiently identified and appreciated. Beginning with their strategic positions as mothers, women dutifully initiated and nurtured their young in the grammar of societal values and cultural mores thereby preparing them for the challenges of adult life. One way they achieved this was through informal forms of education. Through the instrumentality of oral forms like riddles, jokes, songs and folk narratives like tales, legends, epics, sagas, myths and fables, women inculcated in their young a sound education with a unique pedagogic value on private/public morality and norms of propriety. As the first schools in the lives of their children, women as mothers became surrogate agents and instructional manuals in the social and cultural curriculum for the inchoate enlightenment process of the young and so gave not only the children but the entire society an assured and secure future. The critical role of women was not limited to the private sphere. Women occupied sensitive public offices as priestesses of cults some of which were male cults. In Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Chielo is the priestess of Agbala, a male cult, a powerful ritual position which confers on her an unusual prerogative in a phallic culture. This is to invade Okonkwo’s home in the heart of the night without any reprisals from the martial hero of the novel. The symbolic religious value of this important ritual office is that women were recognized in the patriarchal traditional order as complementary agents in the maintenance of cultural sanctity and integrity. The traditional economies of African societies also benefitted immensely from the enterprise of women as long distance traders, merchants and custodians of markets. Women were also vital in the vanguard of protecting and preserving the territorial fortunes of their societies. The Amazons of Dahomey, for instance, constituted the military


Chapter Two

wing of the empire in its struggle against external aggression. The Aba market women’s war of 1929 in Eastern Nigeria and the Egba women’s uprisings of the 1940s in Western Nigeria were also cases of women’s self-inscription in the nationalist struggle. These acts of resistance against British colonial policies especially the imposition of an obnoxious taxation system galvanised the agitations against British colonial empire-building in Nigeria.1 Women were also part of the vanguard during the nationalist ferment in many African societies and so formed the integral fabric of the politics of resistance against colonialism and imperialism. In Guinea, for instance, women created cultures of counterhegemony against imperialism by framing resistance songs, dance and performance patterns, dress codes, rallies and demonstrations (Schmidt 2005).2 The very historicity of this fact is attested to by Tripp et al when they posit that “[W]omen were integral to nationalist movements throughout Africa” and that “[I]n some nationalist movements, women became involved to further the goal of attaining independence, but their specific gender-based goals were either subsumed or ignored within the general nationalist movement” (35, 36). Women have, therefore, always functioned as important vectors in Africa’s developmental drive and agenda. These gains were however significantly eroded by colonialism when it introduced a Victorian culture which sequestered women from diverse publics and restricted them to domesticity and the private space. The social and cultural disruptions occasioned by the colonial encounter destroyed women’s potential sources of feminine energy and agency thereby significantly erasing them from the contours of mainstream society. With this erosion of their traditional power bases, women became more subordinated and ended up in the fringes of patriarchal society. As Jean O’Barr and Firmin–Sellers argue, “Colonialism altered the status of women and reduced their power through the imposition of Western conceptions of state and society, women, family and gender” (189). One way colonial administrations in Africa achieved the inferiorisation of women and compromised their strategic prominence in societal structures was through an emergent social and economic ethos which depended on labour wages and the development of towns and cities. With the introduction of paid labour in the emerging urban centres and a cash economy, men were privileged as exclusive occupiers of the public frontier who could go out to work and fend for their families. The invisibility of women in the public frontier was accomplished. The patriarchal insurrection against women’s power by the combined forces of tradition and modernity was finally executed when colonialism

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discriminated against women in its restrictive and gender insensitive education policies.3 Women’s traditional sources of power became severely undermined under the peremptory shadows of a phallocentric colonial system which was hostile to the interests of women.

The Absence of Presence: African Women in Male Canonical Writing In a prioristic perspective, therefore, the mother-nation dialectic has become a settled philosophical and ideological assumption in African literature defining woman as mother of the nation. However, this mother trope of the nation is not without its problematic concomitants. Its inherent paradoxes in the dominant male canon compel the refraction of women as active creators of history with their men but this assumed image suffers inflection when women are simultaneously presented as passive, and merely standing on the shores of history to contemplate its turbulent currents without flowing in them. It embodies ideological prejudices and political biases as it is deployed to privilege a particular group, the male, and the texts that are produced by men. While the male canon sometimes represents women as possessing an ideal with revolutionary aspirations, this representation is negated with the constitution of womanhood as mistress, prostitute, witch, and the primal source of evil invoking the archetype of Eve.4 In the very politics of artistic and cultural production in Africa, the patriarchal principle takes significant precedence over the matriarchal. Thus, what constitute canons and determine canonicity are privileged texts by male writers while those of women are regarded as marginal others without significant status allocated to them. But an exclusivist attitude to canons which exalts, celebrates and deifies male texts and excludes female ones is a grand contradiction of the tropological essence that defines nationhood in terms of womanhood or motherhood. As mothers of the nation whose texts also bear the existential burden of the nation, female texts deserve a strategic space in canons as only an androgynous canon can be the most truly and genuinely representative of the African literary tradition and historical experience. This ideal is, however, foreclosed by politics of patriarchal domination which excludes the womanist5 tradition of writing from mainstream African literature. The inscription of the woman in the textual practices of African literature in the mother-nation dialectic and the contradictions it encodes is often wrongly thought to have started with written literature. Here, Leopold Senghor, Senegalese poet and prince, and his symbolic


Chapter Two

femininisation of the nation in his negritudinist poetics, is quickly identified as the prime suspect and so accused in this textual/sexual politics.6 In truth, this ambiguous inscription casts its long shadows diachronically into the past as it manifests itself in rhythms of pre-colonial African literary sensibilities. For even though women constituted themselves into a prominent and powerful agency in the artistic and cultural production process, their involvement was ultimately in service of a phallogocentric tradition.7 This textual representation has its moorings in the lullabies women constructed to coax their young children to bed. It is present in the riddles, jokes, tales by moonlight, fables and other narratives rich in fantasia and exotica. As already observed, the cultural fortification of the young by their mothers through informal forms of education employing these oral literary modes prepared them to fully assume their place in the patriarchal structures of many traditional African societies for the perpetuation of phallic ideology and its dynamic or logic of primacy. It was not particularly to privilege women as a marginal category even though women sometimes manipulated the fabric of these oral modes to undermine patriarchy and score a point about their strategic importance to society. Gender/sexual politics are actually encoded in the structural interstices of many oral forms including proverbs, folktales, legends and myths. These gender constructs and biases embody images and representations that ideologically privilege the patrilineal principle while they subtly undermine the subjectivity and dynamic agency of matrilineal energies. To affirm the participation of oral forms in this genderic8 textual politics, Maryse Conde argues that male constructed texts have buried the image of women “under such a heap of myths” (132). Mary Kolawole on her part underscores how orality embodies “social roles, gender socialisation and a society’s sense of identity and collective acceptance” (7). This often negates the status of women as a social category and subsidiarises them and their role in phallic societies. Obioma Nnaemeka also notes this exclusivist proclivity when she states that African folklore ‘in its articulation of “wisdom”, folklore foregrounds age not gender’ (10). In negotiating the textual representation of women in Shona songs in Zimbabwe, Herbert Chimhundu observes that women are patronisingly depicted and idealised by song-makers as beautiful, alluring symbols of family stability and as moral fibres of the nation to conform to the sexual stereotypes constructed for them by society. However, when they rebelliously challenge and negate these images and stereotypes, “the poets, playwrights and singers alike all portray those women characters... as

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deviant and then punish them by ridicule, marginalisation, ostracism and sometimes even death” (148). As James Tar Tsaaior has indicated, gender/ textual politics is at the heart of African oral narratives and women in “these masculinised narratives function, not as speaking subjects, but as signs and as an ideological means of creating political and hierarchical differences.” (130) The questions raised by F.E.M. Senkoro about the processes implicated in oral literary production and the politics they embed are significant here. Their significance inheres in the reality that a subtle and hidden politics interlace cultural production activities in oral media arts in ways that have not been fully appreciated and articulated. Thus to him, [...] how do male and female narrators resemble or differ in the oral literary delivery process? How do male narrators depict female and male characters and how do female narrators depict the same in such a process? Are there any similarities and/or differences? If so, how and why? How does the listener perceive of such differences or similarities of treatment and portrayal? (1)

These questions are compelling because they touch the very heart of the complex of issues that exist at the intersection of artistic and cultural production and participation in society, especially patriarchal societies. They clearly implicate the issues of politics and ideology and how they function in the overdetermination of narrative structures and strategies, how they define discourses and constitute performance itself. Equally integral to the questions is the role of the active audience which participates as an involved jury but is often influenced by political affiliations and ideological persuasions. Though African oral forms are guilty of the ambiguous delineation and sometimes outright pejoration of women, the mother-nation dialectic is more fully expressed in the canon of men’s writing in the literatures of the new nations. As sites of modern consciousness, these male-centred texts patronise this womanist image with an ambivalent attitude. And it is here that Senghor’s poetry features prominently as it initiates this representational trajectory. In one of his poems, “Black Woman”, Senghor describes the African woman as a naked black beauty and equates her with the black nation. This metaphoric appropriation of the woman and her approximation with nationhood however suffers inflections. It ends up representing the African woman as simplistic and innocent to the point of remaining static in the kinesis of history, a characterisation which is radically at variance with the dynamism of African womanhood. Many other African writers have followed this tradition of literary


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engagement with the woman as a trope for the nation and yet without ennobling her image as is it fitting for a mother. In his urban novels, Cyprian Ekwensi, the Nigerian writer portrays many of his female characters as licentious and permissive women whose penchant for the easy public life of prostitution is natural to them and not a systemic malady foisted on women by a male-dominated society. The paradoxical image of the woman as mother of the nation and yet embodied in the role of a prostitute is also registered in the fiction of other African writers with canonic capital like Wole Soyinka in The Interpreters, Chinua Achebe in Girls at War, Sembene Ousmane in God’s Bits of Wood, Ngugi wa Thiong’o in Petals of Blood, and Nuriddin Farah in Perpetua and the Habit of Happiness, among several others.9 These prejudicial and inherently contradictory representations are not only arbitrary but also fundamentally compromise the constitution of woman as mother of the nation and etch her in the male canonical tradition as a subjugated and marginalised category. This representation is apparently inclusionary but ends up excluding in a more distressing and disappointing fashion. It is an exclusionary textual practice that casts itself as a doubleedged sword, cutting both ways; giving with one hand and taking back with the other; conferring a voice and at the same time silencing it with the male guttural, falsetto voice; endowing agency but withdrawing and replacing it with subordination and alterity. Juliana Makuchi Nfa-Abbenyi captures this conundrum of the male canon when she observes that the idealisation of the African woman as paradigmatic of the nation and all that is affirmative and its simultaneous supplantation of women is consistent with male ideology. She further argues, This idealization of the African woman that posits her status as a transcendental symbol found itself duplicated in African literature with a parallel stress on the supremacy of motherhood, of the fertile mother, of fecundity. This emphasis held the adverse effect of affirming women’s subordinate roles, given that in the writing and thinking of these male authors, African women were virtually silent observers who simply fulfilled their destiny without questioning it or the structures that sanctioned the roles they were made to assume (5, italics mine).

She concludes that in appropriating public space as speaking and writing subjects, women ‘have therefore posited the African woman as speaking subject making her “self-descriptions” the nucleus of challenging “uniform generalizations” by many male authors’ (6). Perhaps, NfaAbbenyi does not realise that she has unwittingly driven herself into the

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male trap by constituting the female writer as no longer a silent observer but a speaking subject. This falls into the all familiar stereotype of the woman as garrulous, talkative and without a substantial voice to articulate anything besides gossip and inanities. Perhaps, Nfa-Abbenyi and other African women should transcend the limited and limiting image of the woman as merely a speaking subject to that of an acting subject; a subjectivity that does not only talk but matches the words with concrete action. The distinction between being silent with its rebellious connotation and being silenced by a dominant disembodied subject is also important here.10 In all this, the exclusionary politics against women in the male canon is ideologically imperative because totalising and transcendental forms of epistemes manufactured, packaged and deployed from the rich armoury of dominant ideologies see the nation as a dutiful, hardworking and nurturing mother. Implicitly implicated in this femininisation of the nation and nationalisation of the feminine are the now traditional and ideologically potent notions of fecundity, warmth, grace and the caring arms of a woman who labours and slaves for her children. Thus, the nation is the mother of us all. In her capacious womb we all reposed before the arrival of the momentous moment of our nativity. This is eloquently proclaimed by a Mozambican nationalist guerilla war song richly woven together by FRELIMO combatants during the liberation war.11 As recorded by Chris Searle, “Us, sons of Mozambique /for the country (nation) which carried us in its (her) womb” (156), the mother-nation dialectic is a metaphor for the umbilical cord that unites and holds mother and child. In the mothering arms of the nation also, we suckle the nourishing, refreshing, life-giving milk. In her large, generous bosom, we all find a cosy, congenial space to live our lives as subjectivities and express ourselves in the grand narrative of life.

Womanhood as Trope for Nationhood Ali Mazrui has appropriated the mother trope of the nation in his negotiation of the beleaguered African postcolonial condition in terms of development strategies and the African renaissance. In his non-essentialist genderisation of roles as an ideological strategy towards saving Africa from the depthless quagmire of underdevelopment, Mazrui identifies what he calls the “triple custodial role” apportioned to woman as mother (of the nation) in sub-Saharan African societies. These include woman as custodian of fire, water and earth. Mazrui further elaborates: As custodian of fire the sub-Saharan African woman finds herself in charge


Chapter Two of rural Africa's most important source of domestic energy-firewood. She treks long distances to collect it. As custodian of water, the African woman ensures water-supply for the home and for the extended family. Again she often walks a mile or two to the lake or river…As for the woman's role as custodian of earth, this is linked to the concept of dual fertility - The fertility of the womb (woman as mother) and the fertility of the soil (woman as cultivator) (2).

Mazrui’s perspective on the woman as mother and cultivator further illuminate the dialectic of motherhood and nationhood. These roles cast women as intrinsically involved in the fabric of African subsistence economies and inscribe them as an indispensable economic category. But affirmative as this representation may seem, it falls within the formulaic rubric of phallic objectification of women through the apportionment of roles which are ideologically thought to be natural to them and restricts them within specific frontiers or domains of social and cultural production. It is also difficult to rationalise Mazrui’s compartmentalisation of Africa into sub-Saharan and, perhaps, Maghrebi Africa. It is as if the discriminatory and exclusionary conditions women face in other regions of Africa is remarkably different to warrant this territorial bifurcation. Thus, even if this balkanisation is determined by religious considerations, it is less plausible because women suffer more restrictions in Islamic societies than more traditional ones. Besides, much of sub-Saharan Africa is also Islamic. Though Mazrui may be tainted by the guilt of patriarchal politics, these triple custodial roles of women he has identified are veritable traditional sacraments of life and nationhood. Fire, water and earth are the three indispensable elements that constitute, define and determine life. The narrative of creation in the Graeco-Roman tradition rendered in the Biblical accounts of Genesis, cascades with the presence of water and earth as veritable indices of life and, by association, nationhood. It was the parting of the multitudinous body of formless, meditative waters by the creative essence that gave the world its present continents and the nations that populate them. Besides, the elements of fire, water and earth are significant in the making and ordering of nationhood. Fire is a metaphor for science and technology. Water is a source of life and rite of purification. And the earth, the treasure house of minerals and other resources, constitutes the wealth of nations. Fundamentally too, the earth is the womb that nurses the spirits of the dead gathered to the ancestral world. So if the woman is custodian of all these, as Mazrui postulates, woman is, indeed, the mother of the nation.

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Analogous to Mazrui’s foregrounding of the intrinsic value and contribution of women to African political economy and culture as an embodiment of the nation is the perspective which Phanuel Egejuru ventilates. In her creative manipulation and appropriation of the term womanbeing, Egejuru clearly deconstructs and decentres the gender biases inscribed in the seemingly generic concepts like mankind, human being, humanity, and humankind and unmasks them as genderic. She implicates these concepts as espousing a phallic ideology. Focusing on her Igbo culture and cosmology, she focalises the symbolic centrality of women to society much in the same manner as Mazrui does: Among the Igbo, both earth and water are represented as female. The earth is the primordial womb which brings forth life and sustains it. Water is the giver of life and without her there will be no life on earth. The hearth of the fireplace is symbolised by woman and without her no food can be prepared to feed the family. Several concepts about the Igbo are identified with women, for instance, freedom, stability, morality and justice (12).

Egejuru’s perspective is culture-specific in an Igbo social configuration in eastern Nigeria, and so bound to be controversial and unacceptable to some societies with different perceptions about the integral roles and contributions of women. For instance, masculinised perceptions will be quick to puncture the idea of women fostering freedom and stability by arguing that women are the primal source of evil as archetypal Eves and hence the originators of human suffering, pain and continued enslavement to evil. Despite this counter-reading, her position generally comes off as an acceptable affirmation of the strategic place of women in Igbo and many other African communities. The idea of the earth as mother is also pursued by Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first president, though in a somewhat different light. Kenyatta metaphorises the earth as a nurturer who is more dutiful than the human mother. This is because the time the biological mother carries the child in the womb is only nine months, another fairly long moment of suckling and nursing after which the child is left to fend for itself as an adult. The earth on the other hand, he argues, carries the child for eternity for it is to the earth’s womb that all of humanity returns after the exigencies of our existential life. The maternity of the earth is in this regard more enduring than that of the biological mother since it is eternal (Kenyatta 36). Though Kenyatta’s argument is penetrating, it is not without its gender connotations which mothers will find objectionable as a valorisation of patriarchal prejudice. The paradox of the mother-nation dialectic is also present in the


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appropriation of national symbols as markers of nationhood by African nation-states. The anthems and pledges of many nation-states in Africa proclaim and idealise women as the mothers of their nations and citizens who yearn for their maternal care, protection and attention. Concomitant with the motherisation or womanisation of nationhood is the specially significant and strategically enduring phenomenon of the fabrication of “new symbols and devices” which Eric Hobsbawn corroboratively identifies as “the national anthem…or the personification of ‘the nation’ in symbol or image” (7). Inherent and profoundly inscribed within this personification process is the preferred image or symbol of womanhood as the universal paradigm for nationhood. Nigeria, for instance, affords a generous exemplification of this phenomenon and its contradictions. In the nation’s anthem, the phallic principle is deified and glorified in the personages of the nationalists like Nnamdi Azikiwe, Herbert Macaulay, Tafawa Balewa, Ahmadu Bello, Obafemi Awolowo, Anthony Enahoro, Alvan Ikoku, as heroes of the nationalist struggle whose labour must “never be in vain”etc. This malecentric romanticisation of the nationalist ferment proceeds as if there were no women who shaped the course of the nationalist resistance against colonialism with the “heroes” who are the patriarchs of the nation. But the text of national history reveals that women like Margaret Ekpo, Oyinkan Morenike Abayomi and Fumilayo Ransome–Kuti were actively involved in the ranks as counterparts with the men in the elemental struggle against imperial domination and oppression. Why then are they not included in the anthem as sheroines12 of the nationalist struggle and matriarchs of the nation? Inherent in the texts of the anthem and pledge can be located “the ambiguities, ambivalences and contradictions within the Nigerian nation-state” (Tsaaior 36). It will seem that women are included in nationalist liberation politics when it privileges phallocentric ideological intents but as soon as the moment for the spoils of freedom arrives, women are made to revert to their marginal zones of comfort in the eaves of the bedroom and kitchen. The guilt of the Nigerian anthem is, however, compensated for and immolated by the pledge which characterises the nation as mother. Through the deployment of the pronominal her as a marker of femininity, the pledge constitutes womanhood as a quintessential metonym of nationhood and a co-creator of history. But this recognition is not without a price. It comes with a harmless, votive pledge. This is suggestive of submission, subservience and fidelity to the male constructed image of the nation. The national pledge which is composed as an idealisation and celebration of matriarchy is ideologically interlaced with nuances of

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deference and subjectivity to the patriarchal regime thereby subverting and weakening female agency and limiting her energies as a complementary vector in the kinesis of national history. This ambivalence of the mother-nation metaphor is not peculiar to Nigeria alone. In many anti-apartheid South African freedom songs, the mother trope was invoked and deployed idolising Winnie Madekizela Mandela as the mother of the rainbow nation of South Africa. She became the personification of a new South Africa. But now that the anti-apartheid struggle has become an archive of history with the achievement of Black majority rule in 1994, the real heroes of the revolution and owners of the nation have emerged. Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, Jacob Zuma, etc are now the themes of nationalist songs and the larger paercentage of women have been largely consigned to the peripheries of mainstream political life. But given the prism through which the notion of the nation is refracted as mother and defined as woman with pronominal realities like she, her, hers striking a strong and somewhat intriguing synonymy between motherhood and nationhood, there emerges an enduring paradox. The paradox resonates with the fact that many national literatures and the narrative texts that veritably constitute their canons are dominated, governed and determined by the phallic ideal. This phallic imperative that rules and legitimises national literatures and weaves codes that determine canons and canonicity, ideologically privilege the phallus. Thus, while the nation is realised as the nurturing and often prolific mother, this motherhood is subtly subverted and undermined by phallocentric ideological hegemony. At the politically signifying level, this paradox is strengthened by the ambivalence resident in the anthem and pledge of a nation like Nigeria which masculinises the nation with lexical realities like “fatherland” and “ heroes past” in the anthem but femininises her in the pledge with the pronoun “her” honour and “her” unity and “her” glory. In terms of phallic epistemological concerns and the production and distribution of various modes of knowledge that negotiate nationhood, mother becomes a marginal, peripheral category. She exists on the fringes with a regime of imposed silence, silence which is nevertheless resounding and reverberative. For, indeed, there is a silence that speaks more eloquently than words. While the hegemonic claims and assumptions of the phallus assume centre stage with their ideological dominance and imperial majesty, woman’s querulous rebellion goes on. The soul of the nation as mother, the signifying codes of the narratives that congeal around her, moulding her canons, kneading and firing her texts of meanings through the kiln of time, all bear the ideological incisions of


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phallocentricity. The notion of the nation as mother valorises the phallus and becomes male-centric paling into insignificance the female-centric essence of the nation. Canonicity becomes synonymous with the dictatorship of the phallus which is imagined as a producer and custodian of meanings secreted by national texts. The seeming apologia that women arrived late on the writing stage is at best self-serving and diversionary. Women have always been part of the process of literary production in African societies both as oral raconteurs, griottes, song-makers, dancers, etc. That they started writing late should actually be sufficient cause for the dominant male tradition to encourage them so as to remedy the imbalance instituted by colonialism and reinforced by the nascent literary intelligentsia and critical establishment that emerged at independence. Women like Flora Nwapa, Grace Ogot, Mabel Segun, Ama Ata Aidoo, Nawal El Saadawi, Efua Sutherland, Mabel Segun, Peggy Appiah, etc were contemporaries of the early male writers but they were ignored or patronisingly broached in the male-dominated critical intellection of the time as fringe writers who lacked the sophistication and mastery of the art.13 These ruminations on the mother-nation tropological trajectory throw into relief the Achebean anecdote of the child and the goat and make it both illuminating and elucidating. For, indeed, while the goat is alive, the child is its proud owner and rules its life. (S)he can tether, forage and provide it with water. (S)he can even play games with it and give it protection. Not when the goat is slaughtered. Ownership soon changes hands and the real owner emerges. The child may be lucky to end up with an insignificant portion of the meat, the negligible entrails, as a fitting testament and reward for dutifulness. The choice parts end up in the large bellies of the real owners-the elders. Just like the child is the owner of the goat, the woman is mother of the nation insofar as it privileges male ideological concerns. In her engagement with the deployment and representation of the mother-nation trope in African literature and criticism, Florence Stratton implicates this textual politics of phallic ideology and calls it retrogressive and ahistorical. In her argument, “the embodiment of Africa in the figure of a woman” (39), is only an ideological smokescreen to subtly alienate her. This ideological and political trajectory is resonated by Eileen Julien when she avers that “The literature of Africa is replete with valiant and noble heroes - warriors, emperors and kings like Chaka, Mwindo, Sundiata and Silamaka” (15) while women, where they exist, are mere appendages of these heroes. Thus, in the literary traditions of many African nations, narratives that

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achieve elect status as canonical texts, and in turn determine the paradigms of canonicity, are exclusivist and essentialist with a phallocentric bias and halo. Two monadic, Manichean sarcophagi are pietistically constructed. While male authors occupy the binarist sarcophagus of Selfness, female ones are forced into that of Otherness. While the male occupies the centre, the female is on the periphery. While the phallocentric ideology interpellates the female as the Other without a voice, hegemonic assumptions of Selfness confer eloquence, rhetorical/oratorical prowess on the male. The female voice, voluble and sonorous as it may be, is drowned by the carnivalesque cacophony of the male guttural voice. Canonicity becomes a privileged cult where only initiates and kindred souls of the charmed circle have a space. Woman is barred from this hallowed portal; shut out almost in the dark. This phallocentric canon, simultaneously and pretentiously aestheticist and universalist in mood and temperament, is mediated by gender politics and ideology in its very constitution. It is configured by a constellation of malecentric writers with enormous literary, epistemological and hermeneutic capital: Achebe, Abraham, Armah, Awoonor, Brutus, Beti, Clark– Bekederemo, Coetzee, Kourouma, Laye, Mahfouz, Mwangi, Ngugi, Okigbo, Ousmane, Oyono, p’Bitek, Soyinka, Salih, U’Tamsi, etc. In this male-dominated canon, there is no space for women, mothers, nurturers and protectors of the nations. If anything, they exist in the suburbs of the canonical tradition. Alkali, Appiah, Aidoo, Ba, Djebar, Emecheta, Ezeigbo, Fall, Gordimer, Saadawi, Sofola, Sutherland, Ogot, Head, etc are marginalised by their brothers. It is as if these brothers do not have sisters they can call their own! An explication of the term canon is here apposite. Its etymology is located in Latin and is closely related to biblical theology and hermeneutics, drawing distinctions between biblical texts that have the seal of authority such as the Pentateuch and the Apocrypha, those that do not.14 I do not use canon in an exclusivist perspective. I do so because of compelling literary mechanisms, political persuasions and ideological gravitations that decidedly make it so. I use the term in the same breath as Harry Garuba does: There is a commonly held but mistaken notion that the literary tradition of a people is the totality of their ‘canonical’ works-all the ‘significant’ poems, plays and novels written by that people. A literary tradition is only partially this and much more: it also includes all the essays, opinions, debates and that special orientation of conscious men stimulated by all those activities of thought and imagination which we vaguely refer to as literary (269).


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This perspective on the canon and, by extension, the literary tradition of a people, casts a wide dragnet that hauls in anything literary making it universal and inclusive. But it achieves this ambitious project with stunning silence on the gender politics and constitution of the literary tradition which is an inescapable ideological site of contest and warring realities and which necessarily privileges the male. In fact, Garuba names and conceptualises this canon as masculinist by labeling it as the creative product of “conscious men”. This is concomitant with the supposedly generic pronominal reality of “he” which is, in any case, ideologically genderic and bereft of innocence having been infused with gender politics, encoded with social hierarchies and binarist schemata. It is, however, convenient for the male literary tradition to demonstrate some semblance of neutrality and inclusiveness. This is particularly so in patriarchal Africa where gender consciousness has been ideologically occluded as a social category and an exegetical typology in literature as Stratton again argues: In characterising African literature, critics have ignored gender as a social and analytic category. Such characterisations operate to exclude women’s literary expression as part of African literature. Hence what they define is the male literary tradition. When African literary discourse is considered from the perspective of gender, it becomes evident that the dialogic interaction between men’s and women’s writing is one of the defining features of the contemporary African literary tradition…what it indicates is that neither men’s nor women’s writing can be fully appreciated in isolation from the other (1).

The advocacy by Stratton is simultaneously corrective and transgressive in its vision. Corrective because it calls for what I like to call a dualisticmonistic African literary tradition that is bifurcated but is also all inclusive and also recognises and appreciates the gender integer or calculus of the literary tradition. It is also an invitation to the healthy appreciation of the peculiar experiential gender realities that name and even betray this tradition, its identical differences and different identities all of which should constitute a single, coherent loom. Stratton’s vision is transgressive because it seeks to re-vision, redefine and rewrite womanhood into strategic ideological significance in a literary tradition that is dominantly phallocentric and excludes women from its cultic rites and esoteric puritanism. This, in itself, is a subversion and delegitimation of the exclusionary politics, practices and ideological hegemony of the tradition which is dominantly phallic. All these suggest that a truly representative canon of African literature should transcend gender essentialism that decidedly privileges the male. It should be a

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melting pot of significant texts that are meaningfully engaged in an intertextual dialogic project of nation and narration. It is this inclusivist canon which is simultaneously masculinist and feminist in constitution that Marian Arkin and Barbara Sholler advocate. According to them, a canon is “a list of works that are accepted as representative of a particular tradition or literature. It is consciously or unconsciously – a political, or ideological, project, preserving certain texts over others, and, almost equally a conservative one, tending to preserve those texts previously considered worthy of preservation”(xxx). Implicated here too are politics and ideology which remain the defining markers of, and determining apparatuses, for the fashioning of canons. But oblivious and perhaps unknown to the two critics, the preservation of certain texts over others and the conservatism that mediates the process proceed with rigidity and the paradigm for textual preservation of the canon is religiously presided over, and piously supervised, by male literary tetrarchs and critical zealots. Dominant ruling ideologies and the political mechanisms that they institute sometimes assume prominence over aesthetic criteria, literary sophistication and thematic appropriateness. Arkin and Sholler again observe: […] as prevailing literary philosophies have been examined critically, feminism has led critics and scholars to reassess both who became part of the canon and what aesthetic criteria or literary values were used to define that canon. They found that works were “canonised” because of values that, arguably, were more gender-defined than they were “national” or “universal”; that is, a phallocentric (patriarchal or “masculinist”) aesthetic rather than an abstract or pure aesthetic or literary value was at work to determine both the process of selection and its “representative nature” (xxx – xxxi).

This project of narrating the nation has a sacred vision and mission to accomplish. It should, as a matter of paramountcy, harbour a national concern that invades the inner reaches and penetrates the soul of the nation and the very lives of the people. The narratives that constitute the canon should have vatic insights into the life of the nation and her peoples. They should be able to divine, define and refine the nation’s soul and serve as a pillar of light that will chart the course and direction of the nation. But that is not all that the narratives must do. They must also gnaw at the soul of the nation, rankle her bleeding, festering wounds and apply the healing, balming herb to the gangrenes inflicted by a violent history. They must engage contemporary realities and perhaps peep into the uncertain future that lies in the womb of time, pulsating with vast possibilities and impossibilities. Time in its variegated manifestations is


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vital to the making of a nation and her narration. This is because time past and time present both exist in time future just like in the future, the past and present will necessarily be present. Canon and canonicity should, as such, be defined in terms of those grounding, significant and epochal texts that negotiate and interrogate nationhood with a marked, penetrating vision and grand sense of mission. Canons and canonicity should be bereft and shorn of gender narcissism and essentialism.

Nation and Narration: Gestures of History and Politics It is now important to say a word on the nation. Ernest Renan’s powerful theoretical crystallisations beam brilliant light on the notion of the nation as a mother. In an astounding historical sweep that spans the gamut of empire-building by humanity, Renan covers the vast expanse of landscape of empires in what is today modern Europe and Asia. All of these empires: Roman, Charlemagne, Assyrian, Persian and Frankish, among others, had their rites of passage in the continuum of life. They all experienced the throes of birth, flourished, reached their majority and territorial expansions through imperial conquests and returned to the ashes of disintegration before their self-regeneration like the proverbial phoenix. Though they regenerated, it was not as legendary empires but as states, republics, confederations, etc that may even negate our modern understanding of the nation. Thus, Renan (1995) talks of the “vast agglomerations of men found in China, Egypt or ancient Babylonia, the tribes of the Hebrews and the Arabs…Athens and Sparta… the Carolingnan Empire…nations such as France, England and majority of the modern European sovereign states, confederations…” (8). Significantly, besides Egypt, Africa has been, conveniently, left out of Renan's jaundiced and Eurocentric historical sweep. For where are the legendary empires like Ghana, Mali, Songhai, Kanem-Bornu, Oyo, Benin, Dahomey, etc of the western Sudan some of which have transformed into modern nationstates?15 It is, however, important to point out that the coming into existence of these entities was mediated by a plethora of factors: racial solidarity, linguistic affinities, religion, culture and colonial military conquest. This agglomeration was also achieved, perhaps most fundamentally, by narratives, some of which were aetiological and mythical but nevertheless served as a fulcrum and an infinitely propelling force for the emergence and sustenance of these entities. But all of these factors existed in the womb of Time, and History which Renan himself acknowledges. Thus, Time becomes the smith and History the forge in the fashioning of

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metallic nations with the anvil and sledgehammer of plethoric factors as well as ideological and political contingencies. Considering the fundamentality of Time and History to the emergence of nationhood, Timothy Brennan locates the rise of the modern nation-state in Europe in the temporal frame of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and attributes it to literary narrative scripts or “imaginative literature”. He elaborates further: The rise of the modern nation-state in Europe in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries is inseparable from the forms and subjects of imaginative literature. On the one hand, the political tasks of modern nationalism directed the course of literature, leading through the Romantic concepts of ‘folk character’ and ‘national language’… On the other hand, and just as fundamentally, literature participated in the formation of nations through the creation of ‘national print media’ – the newspaper and the novel… it was specially the novel as a composite but clearly bordered work of art that was crucial in defining the nation… (48).

Brennan here establishes a harmonious dialectic between nationhood and narrative (literature) arguing courageously and convincingly that both nationhood and literature are coterminous or co-existensive, nourishing each other. Consistent with the preceding argument, Brennan again postulates on the organic link between the nation and narratives and implicates the latter in the invention of nationhood: The idea that nations are invented has become more widely recognised… literary myth too has been complicit in the creation of nations-above all, through the genre that accompanied the rise of the European vernaculars, their institution as language of state after 1820 and the separation of literature into various ‘national’ literatures by the German Romantics at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries. Nations, then, are imaginary constructs that depend for their existence on an apparatus of cultural fictions in which imaginative literature plays a decisive role. And the rise of European nationalism coincides especially with one form of literature – the novel… It was the novel that historically accompanied the rise of nations by objectifying the ‘one’, yet many of national life, and by mimicking the structure of the nation, a clearly bordered jumble of languages and styles. Socially, the novel joined the newspaper as the major vehicle of the national print media, helping to standardise language, encourage literacy, and remove mutual incomprehensibility. But it did much more than that. Its manner of presentation allowed people to imagine the special community that was the nation (49).


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Solid as Brennan’s argument stands, it suffers from inflectionary imbrications which parochially refract ‘imaginative literature’ (narratives) unidimensionally and limitedly as only scribal and not oral. This attitude replicates the artificial hierarchies that are routinely constructed by the West between the oral and written traditions. However, its redeeming character lies in its identification of nationhood as a veritable product of narratives. The Sundiata (Sunjata) epic, for instance, is a narrative communally shared by the peoples of the Senegambia region of West Africa narrating the legendary life of Sundiata, the patriarch of what can be vaguely termed the modern nation-state of Mali. Much of old Mali which the warrior –king presided over extended its imperial boundaries and suzerainty to the present-day nations of Ghana, Guinea, The Gambia, Senegal, Mauritania and Burkina Faso. This epic narrative still narrates the nations in this region and governs their cultural institutions and political histories and is a source of national pride and heirloom. Renan's further magisterial postulations on, and negotiation, of the notion of the nation is no less gripping and fascinating. And in this also, Time and History are the motifs, indeed, the protagonising dramatis personae in the enactment of this drama. According to him: A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. Two things, which in truth are one, constitute this spiritual soul. One lies in the past, one in the present. One is the possession in common of a rich legacy of memories; the other is present day consent, the desire to live together, the will to perpetuate the value of the heritage that one has received in an undivided form… (19).

Many African states -certainly not nations-lack this spiritual principle, the desire, the consent and the will to co-exist as Renan prescribes. And this explains why they are perpetually enmeshed in a sticky and inextricable web as they continue in an ever-receding, never-ending journey in the desert in search of a centre and true nationhood. The result is that they continue to sink in the ever-deepening quagmire of the realities of their postcolonial existential vagaries. But this is not inexplicable. The idea of the nation largely hardly exists in modern Africa in a conventional sense. The mass of nations that populate the continent are historical mishaps and testaments of rites of violence. They are products of the vast, internal, external and, perhaps, eternal conspiracies of History all of which found eruption in the colonialist and imperialist project of Europe. The dramatist and critic, Femi Osofisan comments concerning his native Nigeria in its failed attempts at re-inventing coherent nationhood. In his observation, “[…] formed by colonial fiat from disparate ethnic groups and rival kingdoms - can one call it a nation when… the old suspicions

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and animosities have refused to die” and that the “nation is still in the process of becoming” and “our national ethos is still undefined, chaotic, self-contradictory”, “our present state of incoherence that is, paradoxically and tragically our nations lack of a national ethos” (26, 35, 37). The conquest of these hitherto largely coherent, sovereign nations by colonial vandals and their incorporation proceeded without a scintilla of concern for their homogeneity or heterogeneity in terms of language, culture, religion, shared origins and beliefs. It was random, wilfully arbitrary insofar as it was in the imperial interest of Europe. Kingdoms and empires like Ghana, Mali, Songhai and Kanem-Bornu, etc existed but these had some semblance of homogeneity despite their military campaigns and conquests of others. Thus, coherence became incoherence with nations grafted on other nations with the offshoot not coming up with coherent fruits. And here congeals, and will continue to congeal, the riddling puzzle of African nation-states in a perpetual state of becoming. The psychology of military conquest, territorial expansionism and imperial empire-building was complicit in this violence of History. Unfortunately, African nations have refused to benefit from their internal differences and contradictions which should be veritable sources of strength and propellers for development. This is because in difference also lies tremendous strength just like in identity could sometimes be found weakness. But the carrion of the fundamental issues Renan raises remains putrid and call for attention. This is so because these fundaments exert considerable strain on the mind when narrating the nation in Africa. Renan's divination of the nation sees it as a soul; a spiritual principle. This is not without its discomfiting and even prohibitive implications in Africa where whole nations have been massed into other “nations” (by the combined project of European imperialism and colonialism). This is usually sometimes without any fulcrum, without any lubricant to facilitate the oscillation of the spoke of nationhood. How can a soul that is soulless survive? How can a spiritual principle cohere and endure when its very essence and existence are severely negated and compromised to the very substratum? All these impact significantly on the nation and narration. As Homi Bhabha illuminatingly demonstrates: It is the mark of the ambivalence of the nation as a narrative strategy-and an apparatus of power-that it produces a continual slippage into analogous, even metonymic categories, like the people, minorities or 'cultural difference' that continually overlap in the act of writing the nation. What is displayed in this displacement and repetition of terms is the nation as the measure of the liminality of cultural modernity (292).


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As vast as the impossibilities, ambivalences and slippages for coherent nationhood in Africa may be, a reprieve exists. It is very difficult, if not practically impossible, to find a pure, untainted nation in this increasingly post-modernist global neighborhood we inhabit. But rich legacies of memories, shared experiences in history, enduring pasts of communal endeavours and the healing, moulding hands of Time still exist. And these can be veritable substrating pillars for modern nationhood in Africa in spite of the dense sheets of misty differences. Renan again states corroboratively: More valuable by far than common customs, posts and frontiers conforming to strategic ideas is the fact of sharing, in the past, a glorious heritage of regrets and of having in the future, (a shared) programme to put into effect or the fact of having suffered, enjoyed, and hoped together. These are the kinds of things that can be understood in spite of differences of race and language… Where national memories are concerned, griefs are of the more value than triumphs, for they impose duties, and require a common effort (19).

In Africa particularly, the legacies of a rich cultural continuum exist. Common origins and, above all, the harrows, throes, pains and perfidies which were the leitmotifs of the imperialist and colonialist narrative threaded by metropolitan European writers like Joyce Cary, Elspeth Huxley, Joseph Conrad, Ridder Haggard, Rudyard Kipling, etc still endure even as they, in subtle manifestations, continue to sear the psyche, split the soul, wilt the dreams and scorch the aspirations that should yield national arrival and coherent narratives. Ali Mazrui argues that besides wars, imperial or colonial conquests among other historical exigencies, literature also constitutes a veritable potent force in the making of nations. “Pan-Europeanism had two parents – poetry and war. The poetry provided the vision and the sensibilities of being European” (20). To Mazrui, narratives penetrate the national soulespecially those that lay claim to true canonicity-stir it, raise its hibernating consciousness and nourish its nationalist ferment and fervour. This has happened and is still happening. In Mazrui's Kenya, for instance, the Gikuyu myth of creation so richly woven together and recounted by his Kenyan compatriot, Ngugi wa Thiong’o in Weep Not Child, A Grain of Wheat and Petals of Blood became a formidable bulwark of strength in the Mau Mau nationalist struggle against the fiendish forces of British colonialism and imperialism. Land was the Kenyan people's ageless heirloom to which they were physically, spiritually, psychologically and emotionally attached as a

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metaphor for the ancestors. The forceful expropriation of this invaluable resource, and the alienation of the people from it, provided the concrete socio-cultural, economic and political canvas on which the warfare against the British was waged and prosecuted. In the same tradition of nationalist resistance against the internal forces of colonialism and imperialism, the people of the Old Tanganyika massed themselves under the Maji Maji revolutionary uprising as an anti-colonialist and counter-hegemonic strategy aimed at countervailing and containing German imperialist stranglehold and exploitation. The creative energies of the people through their songs, stories and other narratives were mobilised as part of the history of nationalist struggle. This historical reality has received dramatic reconstruction in the dramaturgy of Ebrahim Hussein particularly Kinjeketile. In the Kenyan situation as it regards the appropriation of narratives that weave into existence nationhood, G.D. Killam comments on the Gikuyu myth of creation and the land issue as being central to Ngugi's fictional world: […] Ngugi's artistic recreation of the cultural history of his people…has its origins in promises made to the Gikuyu people in their Creation Myth as the promise is modified in the prophecy of the legendary seer of the tribe. Murungu, the great god, when he created Gikuyu and Mumbi, the original parents of the tribe told them: 'This land I give to you, o man and woman. It is yours to rule and till, you and your posterity’ (20).

Killam adds that the “founding legend is the cornerstone of Ngugi’s art, reiterated in each of his novels. His fiction is a systematic fictional examination of the consequences of the alienation of the people from their land, thus effectively from life” (20). Even at the level of performance, Ngugi’s dramaturgic and theatrical engagements and collaborations with other Kenyan playwrights like Micere Mugo in The Trial of Dedan Kimathi and Ngugi wa Miiri in I Will Marry When I Want, benefit significantly from a congealed history of heroic resistance by the Kenyan people, a resistance which also fed on narratives negotiating the lives of the legendary heroes and heroines. It is this same narratives hypostasised in songs and chants that fired the nationalist zeal of personages like Kimathi, Harry Thuku, etc and which also moulded Kenya as a modern nation of black peoples. It is this amalgam of historical forces that drives Ngugi to proclaim boldly that: Literature does not grow or develop in a vacuum; it is given impetus, shape, direction and even area of concern by social, political and economic forces in a particular society. The relationship between creative literature


Chapter Two and these other forces cannot be ignored, especially in Africa where modern literature has grown against the gory background of European imperialism and its changing manifestations: slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism (xv).

In the Lusophone nations of Equitorial Guinea, Angola, Mozambique, and also apartheid South Africa and much of Southern Africa, textual narratives were also deployed to negotiate nationhood and to exorcise the stubborn demon of settler colonial totalitarianism. The freedom fighters in these colonised enclaves, according to Chris Searle, were engaged in the mobilisation of words in their legendary resistance against colonial exploitation, oppression and repression. Searle states particularly of Mozambique: Words of resistance always broke the oppression of Mozambique’s four centuries of Portuguese colonial rule. From chants which accompanied dances…to the 'poem of combat' written by FRELIMO (Mozambique Liberation Front) soldiers and militants during the years of armed struggle, poetry was a weapon, its words like bullets (150).

These words came from the granaries of the people's violent history, the myths of their shared heritage and common legacies of descent all weaving into national narratives that negotiated a nation in throes of birth. The reality of a free, democratic and deracialised South Africa also issues from this imperative of national narratives weaving nations into existence. For apart from the sustained military and diplomatic campaign and the opprobrium apartheid generated from the international community, the vast corpus of South African narratives ranging from B.W. Vilakazi, Thomas Mofolo, Sol Plaatje, Ezekiel Mphalele, Peter Abrahams, Alex La Guma, Mazisi Kunene, J.M. Coetzee, Athol Fugard but also Nadine Gordimer and Bessie Head, etc became a subversive, counter-hegemonic force against the apartheid minority regime. Barry Feinberg comments insightfully concerning the fundamental relevance and instrumentality of poetic narrative and songs to the anti-apartheid revolutionary struggle when he states: Undoubtedly, poetry and song are the most popular and accessible means of creative expression and communication in South Africa. Indeed, to the vast majority of South Africans, these art forms are often the only means of expressing feelings about the life under apartheid; a life where human concern and assertion have been systematically stifled and stamped upon by the most outrageously ruthless and exploitative state system since Nazi Germany. It is this brutal oppression, with its unique codification of racial

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discrimination, which has generated the immense popular engagement and passion of South African song and poetry – most often in circumstances where other forms of political expression are too hazardous but, also, as an increasingly conscious component of revolutionary action (xi).

In particular, Mofolo’s Chaka, a chronicle of the heroic resistance of the eponymous character and Zulu king against the colonialist and imperialist forces, represents a monumental counter-hegemonic narrative of African nationalism and denunciation of European penetration, conquest and domination of Africa. This nationalist spirit and fervour by Chaka (Shaka) became a residual propellent that galvanised the anti-apartheid stirrings that inevitably culminated in a free South Africa with black majority rule in 1994 and with Nelson Mandela as president. Edgar Wright comments on this literary tradition in South Africa as a weapon for national liberation and rebirth: [...] Plaatje brought together in his 'epic of South African native life a hundred years ago' imaginative narrative, propaganda, and cultural documentation. Thomas Mofolo's historical novel, Chaka (1925)…is even more interesting. Using techniques and mythology of the oral literary tradition, Mofolo goes beyond narrative to a fascinating revelation of the psychology of Chaka's complex personality; alienated child, heroic warrior and nation builder… (28-29).

It is against the backdrop of the strategic significance of the national narrative in forging nationhood that Gcina Mhlophe, the South African culture exponent states: “In the beginning was the word/ The word gave birth to language/Language gave birth to stories/ Through stories, real fun began” (109). The stories Mhlophe celebrates are national stories, narratives of national birth, rebirth and existence. They are narratives of memory and rememory. They may be folktales but folktales that negotiate nationhood. They may be myths and legends but myths and legends that attend national nativity. They may also be epics but epics that midwife nationhood, a whole repertoire that gives meaning to the nation. In the same token, the “fun” he talks about issues from stories and is not a metaphor for juvenility or infantile, puerile hide and seek in the eaves of a thatched roof in an obscure idyllic village. The fun here refers to the vicissitudes of national life, of national existential realities. Thus, a dialectical bond exists between the nation and na(rra)tion: while nations will and weave into life their narratives, narratives also incarnate nations and breathe life into them.16 Inevitably, to theorise the nation and, invariably, its nation-ness, necessarily implicates the participation of time in the invention of the


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nation through the kinesis of human history. This historical determination of what the nation is yields symbolic value and confers enormous political and spiritual capital. This is, perhaps, why Brennan initiates a discourse concerning the distinction between the nation as a product of (post)modernity and ancientness. He states: As for the ‘nation’, it is both historically determined and general. As a term, it refers both to the modern nation-state and to something more ancient and nebulous – the ‘natio’ – a local community, domicile, family, condition of belonging. The distinction is often obscured by nationalists who seek to place their own country in an ‘immemorial past’ where its arbitrariness cannot be questioned (45).

Ideationally, Brennan’s concept of the ‘natio’, though too restrictive in a (post)modern sense, affords us a historical vision of the originary essence of the nation and its authentic character, hence the nebulousness of its very nature today. It is this same idea of the ‘natio’ that Raymond Williams mobilises in his reification of the nation: ‘Nation’ as a term is radically connected with ‘native’. We are born into relationships which are typically settled in a place. This form of primary and ‘placeable’ bonding is of quite fundamental human and natural importance. Yet the jump from that to anything like the modern nationstate is entirely artificial.

Raymond’s perspective on the original beingness of the nation gravitates precariously to what can be said to be its folk character. However, it teleologically establishes and accentuates the tension between the negotiation of the nation in its historical sense and the artificial fabrication of modern nations contemporaneous with eighteenth and nineteenth century Europe. This also impacted positively or negatively on other marginal spaces during the defining moment of the colonialist and imperialist encounter. The artificiality of national territorial boundaries concomitant with colonial empire building, according to Paul Ricouer, requires that indigenous colonised peoples massed in the ‘natio’ “forge a national spirit, and unfurl this spiritual and cultural revendication before the colonialist’s personality”. He further observes: “But in order to take part in modern civilisation, it is necessary at the same time to take part in scientific, technical, and political rationality, something which very often requires the pure and simple abandonment of a whole cultural past” (276277). In the formerly colonised world, this appears to be the grand paradox of nationhood and national becoming, particularly in Africa.17

Canons and Canonicity


The theory of the nation and nation-ness also produces a spiritual dimension reminiscent of Renan’s “spiritual principle” and “soul” earlier mentioned. The spiritual dimension revisions the purely historical extrapolations that determined the rise of the nation in Europe and elsewhere. In constructing this dichotomy between the historical and spiritual axes, Regis Debray envisions the nation in terms of sacredness, spirituality, thus: […] the nation is an invariable which cuts across modes of production… We should not become obsessed by the determinate historical form of the nation-state but try to see what that form is made out of. It is created from a natural organisational proper to homo – sapiens, one through which life itself is rendered untouchable or sacred. This sacred character constitutes the real national question (26).

The binaries constructed between the two theories of the nation and nation-ness represent a gratuitous dichotomous schema which is contradictory, unnecessary and refracts the two theories as if they are mutually exclusive. The historical and the spiritual are both quintessential of the nation and national determination. Debray finally strikes the concordant note when he attempts a fusion or coalescence of the two theories in the focal episteme of “time”, referring obliquely to history and the Ark, and the Temple, suggesting the spiritual dimension. He states of these two principles that attend nationhood: These are, first of all, delimitation in time, or the assignation of origins, in the sense of an Ark. This means that society does not derive from an infinite regression of cause and effect. A point of origin is fixed, the mythic birth of the Polis, the birth of civilisation or of the Christian era, the Muslim Hejira, and so on. This zero point or starting point is what allows ritual repetition of memory, celebration, commemoration – in short, all these forms of magical behaviour, signifying defeat of the irreversibility of time. The second founding gesture of any human society is its delimitation within an enclosed space. Here also there takes place an encounter with the sacred in the sense of the Temple. What is the Temple, etymologically? It was what the ancient priest or diviner traced out, raising his wand heavenwards, the outline of a sacred space within which divination could be undertaken. This fundamental gesture is found at the birth of all societies in their mythology at least (27, original emphases).

Debray’s postulate, though not without ambiguities, crystallises the fundamental matrices of the nation even as it reeks with theological, historical, philosophical and literary significations about the nation and narration.


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Renan’s “spiritual principle” and Debray’s “sacredness” dovetail; indeed, culminate and become built up in Hans Kohn’s idea of modern nationalism and the national question. This is in turn indelibly linked to theological concerns enshrined in the Old Testament mythological renderings of the history of the world and the emergence of ‘imagined communities’ and hence nations. According to Kohn, these mythologies include “the idea of a chosen people, the emphasis on a common stock of memory of the past and of hopes for the future, and finally national messianism” (11). Kohn further observes: Not only oppressed nationalities took refuge in the hope of a messianic mission…it expressed also the struggle of heretical sects and oppressed classes for the realisation of their dreams and aspirations, and as the secular idea of historical progress it still retains today some of its religious force (12).

The strategic import of Kohn’s compelling perspective radiates rays in variegated directions and illuminates the historical and spiritual issues central to and complicit in the invention of nations and what constitute the soul of nationhood, its very essence, its nation-ness. The Pentateuch particularly enunciates the pact the Godhead fashioned in the Abrahamic ideal making the progeny of Abraham the “chosen people”, the nation after God’s heart. The oppression of the Hebraic people in Egypt, ultimately occasioned the exodus and the originary invention of the nation of Israel in Judaeo – Christian mythology. Ironically, the settlement of the “chosen” nation meant the displacement of other nations in Palestine, a historical moment which reverberates in the contemporary world order. But even for the nation of Israel, nationhood was not settled and given as it underwent severe trials, stresses and strains in imperial conquests and dominations inaugurating a messianic spirit and an apocalyptic longing for national reconstitution. Present in the formation of nations through history are these concerns Kohn beams brilliant light on. But also strategic to the materiality of the nation is also the narrative, literature which has remained a potent force in the making of nations. National narratives which include the myth of the chosen people of Israel and its variants in different racial and national narratives corroborate and authenticate the power that inheres in literature and its instrumentality in national longing and becoming. But from the historical exigencies that are consistent with nationhood, it becomes imperative to conceptualise the nation as a continuous and constant negotiation and renegotiation. It is a soul, a spiritual principle that is processual, never finished, always in a state of flux in its identity

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formation processes, always in a state of becoming, in the setting and meeting of national goals and aspirations. Nationhood, therefore, is not arrival but a perpetual process of parturition, birth and rebirth. Similarly, narratives that navigate nationhood are also created and recreated processually to grapple with emerging and recurrent challenges that confront nations in their (re)engineering processes.

Canons, Representativeness and the Politics of Authenticity The reality of negotiating nationhood through narratives necessarily inaugurates a Jamesonian political unconscious. It also initiates a Lacanian literary imaginary and symbolic order all of which impact heavily on the notion of the nation and the canons such a nation has born the burden of willing into being. A huge contest of political and cultural ideologies, whether national, phallic or otherwise, is already in place. Thus, the mother trope in African literature, as already observed, is an insidious ideological strategy to privilege both the male text (that reposes in the cocoon of canonicity) and its hegemonic assumptions and pretensions meant to eclipse and negate the energies of womanhood. A whole range of political issues is involved and implicated and this necessarily provides a site of fierce ideological contest. As Florence Stratton lucidly observes, this mother trope as a veritable ideological representation of the nation is a “trope deeply entrenched in the male literary tradition and the sexual imperatives it encodes” (39). These sexual imperatives end up as a neat negation and hypenation of motherhood/womanhood. It is, no doubt, the male literary tradition that is not only constitutive of the national canon, but also lays the rubrics and fashions out the codes that affirm or negate canonicity. In this phallo(go)centric cult of literary production and epistemological ordering, difference is not identity and identity is not difference. Fundamentally then, through the appropriation of the mother trope as representative of nationhood, a subtle ideological strategy of exclusion through inclusion is firmly in place as the mother of the nation does not have a place in the pantheon of the canonised in the very threshold where she is mother. Achebe's narratives, especially the historical novels, Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God negotiate Nigerian nationhood (or is it statehood?) though with a micro-historical temper. These are legendary narrative renditions that represent grandiose literary accomplishments. They also meet the phallocentric prescriptions, which are prerequisites for admittance into the national canon. Achebe, to employ the antonomasia, is the


Chapter Two

modern Aristotle who sculpts his protagonist figures of Okonkwo and Ezeulu in the classicist fashion. In this novelistic tradition, Achebe informs us that he is engaged in a counter-colonialist and counter-hegemonic revolutionary project as these novels are counter-narratives to the Joyce Carys, Elspeth Huxleys, Rudyard Kiplings, and Joseph Conrads.18 And Achebe executes brilliantly a worthy nationalistic-literary project in which he reifies and unmasks the colonialist lie by demonstrating that Africa was not in the suburbs, peripheries, or backwaters of culture and civilisation before Europe came with its colonising, evangelising and civilising mission, but was at the core. That the African past of colonial conquest and humiliation was not and should not constitute a festering wound of self-denigration and selfabasement underlie Achebe’s narrative strategies. Achebe further attests: It is natural for a people at the hour of their rebirth to cast around for an illustrious ancestor. The first negro African state to win independence in recent times chose the name of the ancient kingdom of Ghana. Then Mali followed Ghana's example. Here in Nigeria, as you know, there was a suggestion to change the country's name to Songhai, the third of the great empires of the Sudan. Historians everywhere are re-writing the stories of the new nations… (7).

Rewriting the African narrative to privilege the African perspective is the consuming preoccupation of Achebe (and other African writers). As salutary as Achebe's literary achievements in these two narratives are, there obtrudes the Aristotelean dogma of creating larger than life characters, usually male, who dominate and name their environments as seen in the protagonists. Okonkwo, for instance, personifies his society. Ezeulu too wields enormous powers. This is until the hubris or hamartia of the two protagonists consumes them. And this is only in deference to the time-honoured republican tradition of the Igbo that no individual, no matter how powerful, can fall the society in a duel, and in fidelity to the imperative of mutability of cultures and the permanence of impermanence. Achebe's creative oeuvre negotiates nationhood as he reveals the inherent crevices that can rock the boulder of the nation and shatter her. But a feminist-revisionist reading of the Achebean narratives also reveals that the mother trope and nationhood dialectic exists only insofar as it privileges male ideological dominance. Achebe's women (as mothers of the nation) are consigned to a peripheral or marginal space in the sociopolitical and economic ordering of society. They constitute a deprivileged caste and though some like Chielo occupy strategic offices as priestesses of cults, this is also in service of a phallic order. Okonkwo is cautioned for

Canons and Canonicity


flogging his wife not because the act dehumanises and negates her selfworth but because it is the week of peace which offends a male constructed tradition. The textual world of Arrow of God is also populated with male subjectivities led by Ezeulu, the chief priest where exclusionary politics, practices and traditions define and name womanhood as the other.19 Other African narratives that bear the imprimatur of canonicity are not particularly redemptive in their vision in negotiating woman as mother of the nation. Soyinka's The Interpreters teems with male subjectivities who are ideological protrusions of the pantheon they represent. Mongo Beti’s narrative trajectories are also largely exclusivist against woman as mother of the nation. So are the narratives of Naguib Mahfouz, Nuruddin Farah, Meja Mwangi, Tayeb Salih, J.M. Coetzee, David Maillu, etc. All these cascade with male supremacist ideology and hegemony, denying woman, the mother of the nation, a space to come into existence. The mother of the nation is an object, never a subject in these narratives. At best she is a whore, a mistress or courtesan who exists in the inner recesses of the bedroom and kitchen for the gratification of the male master. She is the mule of society. In the male dominated canon, narratives which have issued from the creative womb of the woman do not always win the imprint of canonicity. They end up as apocryphal, minority texts. The sexual and textual politics, as Toril Moi20 calls it, make this the norm even when these female texts bear the cumbersome yoke of history and its interplay of forces in the determination and making of the nation. The narratives of Nigeria's Flora Nwapa, Zaynab Alkali, Buchi Emecheta; Ghana's Ama Ata Aidoo, Senegal's Mariama Ba, Uganda's Grace Ogot, Egypt's Nawar El Saadawi and South Africa's Bessie Head and Nadine Gordimer, the last a Nobel laureate for literature, suffer the exclusionary politics and dominance of the phallus negating their legitimate canonical status. Stratton laments this phallic exclusion of the female text in critical circles: “African women writers and their works have been rendered invisible in literary criticism”. But this ideological erasure and negation of the female in male narratives is not absolute. Male narratives that negotiate nationhood in Africa and have attained canonical status but with marked sympathies for the mother of the nation issue from the creative oeuvre and sensibilities of decidedly progressive and radical writers like Ngugi, Sembene Ousmane, Ayi Kwei Armah and Festus Iyayi, among others. They are however, a significant minority in a nation of majorities and are ideologically gravitated to the womenfolk, the marginalised majority. Ngugi's narratives especially Petals of Blood, Ousmane's God's Bits of Wood, Armah's Two Thousand Seasons and Iyayi's Violence have a programme for the mother


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of the nation. These privileged texts in turn privilege women and give them a viable, virile voice and visible presence thereby tempering the totalitarian regime of imposed silence and forced invisibility. They are revisionist in their vision. Woman as mother of the nation is rehumanised and rewritten into life and, as Dominic Mulaisho says, the tongue of the dumb is allowed to speak eloquently.21

Narrating the Nation: The Political Minefield It is not as if the rite of negotiating nationhood through narratives has altogether been an exhilarating, fulfilling, pleasant and rewarding enterprise even for the larger than life male. It has not been so in a purely political sense. Experientially, and in contradistinction, it has remained an agonistic, brutalising, nightmarish and unnerving terrain planted with landmines in the conflictual engagement with the nation-state, the very subject of narration. The state, with its Althusserian superstructural architecture of ideological apparatuses sitting and weighing heavily on the base, tyrannises, represses and hounds the narrator like the proverbial predator boa-constrictor that restlessly strives after the hapless toad to its sheltering hole. Thus, the business of narrating the nation is fraught with physical strains, spiritual tensions, psychic traumas and emotional stresses. It is in culmination of all these that Jeremy Harding comments on the African situation: Throughout Africa, authors and journalists have paid for their views with their careers, or with exile, with detention, and in certain cases…with their lives… The highly politicised environment in which most writers work is reflected in the texts themselves, and in the terms in which literary debate is conducted (2-3).

Wole Soyinka’s political activism in Nigeria, a fitting testament to his irrepressible interrogation of Nigeria’s postcolonial condition, earned him incarceration in solitary confinement during the civil war years. In the midst of the miasma, he underwent the creative throes of incarnating The Man Died, his prison memoirs. Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Nigerian writer, environmentalist and minority rights activist, was judicially murdered by being sent to the gallows and the hangman’s graceless noose for engaging Nigeria’s military fascist authoritarianism. A Month and a Day now survives him to tell the jeremiad and sepulchral tale. In Malawi, Jack Mapanje, poet was persecuted for his nationalist poetry which negotiated Malawian nationhood and its attendant contradictions under Kamuzu

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Banda in 1987. The reactionary response of African dictatorships and authoritarian regimes, what Chinua Achebe calls “Anthills of the Savannah”22 and others around the world is unmitigated harassment, angry media chastisement, summary imprisonment, execution or judicial murder or in mild situations forced exile. Africa has its fair share of such endangered writers, many of whom have been murdered while some roam the world like nomads and cosmopolitans. As Bruce King indicates, especially in the African situation, Many writers, including Wole Soyinka, and Jack Mapanje, have been imprisoned or forced into exile as a result of actual political struggle against the tyrannies of their governments; others, notably Salman Rushdie, have lived in fear of their lives because of their writings. Ken Saro-Wiwa was often imprisoned for his criticism of corruption and tyranny in Nigeria; due to his leadership in defending the Ogoni people he was killed by the government. They are the brave, the rebels, the resisters. Too often others, especially literary critics, have assumed the honours of the struggle against colonialism and post-colonial tyrannies (24).

To this group also belongs Ngugi wa Thiong’o. The Kenyan novelist and socialist critic also stirred the political hornet’s nest when he appropriated the rites of public space in his narratives that indicted the national bourgeoisie. He was expectedly hurled into detention in communicado during Jomo Kenyatta’s dictatorship in 1977. Detained: A Writer’s Prison Diary emerged as an enduring mnemonic to that enervating experience. Ngugi finally fled Kenya during Arap Moi’s despotism. Nuruddin Farah, the Somali novelist also took the back door, the only viable alternative to life, and continued the narration of the Somali nation under the tyranny and maximum rulership of Siad Barre. Farah’s unmitigated sin was that he declared in unambiguous cadences that, like the political class in Somalia, the African politician thinks and acts in only one direction: towards himself. These barbed, venomous words sent the state and its brutal agents to silence his restless soul. In South Africa, the apartheid minority regime hounded Dennis Brutus, among several others, into exile and some to death because of the narratives they weaved around South Africa’s tottering and manacled nationhood. Exile for Brutus became access to unrestricted and boundless space to strike back at the apartheid fascist government and its repressive policies. Several other writers were run aground where, like Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, became guests to claustrophobia and other prohibitive conditions. These, among others, became avatars to a long tradition of cosmopolitan writers who negotiated nationhood through their narratives


Chapter Two

and paid dearly for it. Despite their brutalising and harrowing experiences in the hands of decadent political hegemonies, they have always triumphed ultimately in midwifing a positive difference through their narrative engagements. The tensions of the struggle remain formidable when narrating the nation in a post-colonial situation as elsewhere. Ngugi apprehends this conflictual terrain which places the writer or artist as chronicler, griot, vate, narrator and custodian of nationhood against the massive state machinery using the metaphors of performance space and enactments of raw, crude power as a historic and historical struggle. He states: The struggle between the arts and the state can best be seen in performance in general and in the battle over performance space in particular… The community learnt and passed on its moral codes and aesthetic judgements through narratives, dance, theatre, rituals, music, games and sports. With the emergence of the state, the artist and the state became not only rivals in articulating the laws, moral or formal, that regulate life in society, but also rivals in determining the manner and circumstances of their delivery… The war between art and the state is really a struggle between the power of performance in the arts and the performance of power by the state- in short, enactments of power. The conflict in the enactments of power is sharper where the state is externally imposed, a situation of the conqueror and the conquered, for instance as in colonialism (460-61).

Ngugi will agree that the power of the state remains violent and corrosive and colonialism or neo-colonialism valorises the same complexion of crudity of state power. If repressive state power can be vile for the male writer, how much more will it be for the marginalised female? Bessie Head abandoned South Africa’s boiling racial cauldron for exile in Botswana. In the same manner, Nawal El- Saadawi also suffered the loneliness of exile from the hands of the Egyptian authorities. Understandably, the condition of the female writer is much grimmer than that of the privileged male. But in all, it is the rivalry between the writer and state power, a struggle that is ideologically contingent and politically over-determined that accounts for the continued significance and relevance of narratives which negotiate and interrogate nations as aggregations of peoples and imagined communities.23

Conclusion For the canon of African aesthetics to be representative, an androgynous character that is appropriative of, and sympathetic to, gender should be employed such that canonicity is not an essentialised ideological,

Canons and Canonicity


hegemonic determination privileging maleness and the male ideal alone. This is so because woman is not only the mother of the nation but also a veritable creative agent whose literary and artistic productions eminently merit a space in the canons of nations. Motherhood as nationhood should be etched in the pantheon of canonical texts and accorded the halo of canonicity. As genuine co-travellers with men in the historical struggles and legendary revolutionary engagements against the infernal forces of slavery and slave trade, colonialism and imperialism, as well as the (post)modern contradictions that define the postcolonial African condition, the textual productions of women have yielded a harvest of narratives that authentically negotiate the historical vicissitudes of Africa and dialogue with its present. Their canonical status as narratives that midwife nationhood cannot be reasonably interrogated. The narratives by women constitute a canonical tradition in their own right and excluding them from mainstream African literature translates to retrogressive gender and sexual politics which is not healthy for the development and dynamism of African letters. A more inclusive canon which recognises the creativity and strategic significance of woman as mother of the nation (and, indeed, the continent) enables and ennobles the literary tradition, strengthens its anti-imperialist and counter-hegemonic strategies and makes it a truly representative canon whose canonicity is not tainted or undermined by phallic politics and doctrinaire gender biases and prejudices. The imperative of representativeness is contingent on the fact that the African literary tradition cannot afford to be perennially monologistic if it must be holistic and inclusive. Indeed, only a dialogic canon, incorporating the creative energies of male and female writers with full valued voices, can be truly democratic and representative and achieve authentic canonicity. Above all, there is the paramountcy of a vigorous and energetic programme of discovery and recovery of female voices muffled or drowned by the cacophony of male falsetto voices, to lift the veil of invisibility in the public domain and provide opportunities for free access to publishing for women. This is because the political economy of publishing in much of Africa is not only compromised by weak and writhing economies but it is also characterised by a famished book industry which is compounded by a dying reading culture. In these straitened circumstances and lean times, even men who are better equipped and provided economically are finding it difficult to survive meaningfully. It, therefore, means that women are in a far worse situation as their conditions are more severe because of the prohibitive economic and cultural practices they have to live with.


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For the African literary canon to achieve authenticity, it must gesture, significantly, towards representativeness and inclusivity by providing ample space for narratives by women. After all, woman is the metaphoric extension of nationhood, the mother of us all, and must be inscribed within the matrices of the canon of narratives that negotiate the nation. An affirmative action agenda which is devoid of paternalism but is genuinely devoted to the progressive politics of gender inclusivity and will democratise sexual and gender relations to favour alterities such as women and inscribe them in the canon should be vigorously pursued. For women’s issues are also human issues; just like women’s rights are also human rights. And as Phanuel Egejuru has remarked, “women’s issues constitute important aspects of working towards a most just and humane future for African society.” (8)

Works Cited Achebe, Chinua. “The Role of the Writer in a New Nation”. In G.D. Killam (ed.). African Writers on African Writing. London: Heinemann Educational Books, 1964. 7 – 13. —. Morning Yet on Creation Day. London: Heinemann Books, 1975. Arkin, Marian & Barbara Sholler (eds.) Longman Anthology of World Literature by Women, 1875 – 1975. New York: Longman, 1989. Brennan, Timothy. “The National Longing for Form”. In Homi K. Bhabha (ed.). Nation and Narration. London & New York: Routledge, 1990. 44-70. Bhabha, Homi. "Introduction: Narrating the Nation". In Homi Bhabha (ed.). Nation and Narration. London and New York: Routledge, 1990. 1-9. —."DissemiNation: Time, Narrative and the Margins of the Modern Nation". In Homi Bhabha (ed.). Nation and Narration. London and New York: Routledge, 1990. 291-322. Debray, Regis. “Marxism and the National Question”. New Left Review. No. 105, September – October, 1977. Egejuru, Phanuel and Ketu Ketrak. “Introduction”. In Phanuel Egejuru and Ketu Ketrak (eds.). Nwanyibu: Womanbeing and African Literature. Trenton, New Jersey and Asmara: Africa World Press, 1997. 7 – 10. Egejuru, Phanuel. “The Paradox of Womanbeing and the Female Principle in Igbo Cosmology.” In Phanuel Egejuru and Ketu Ketrak (eds.). Nwanyibu: Womanbeing and African Literature. Trenton, New Jersey and Asmara: Africa World Press, 1997. 11 - 19.

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Feinberg, Barry. “Introduction”. In Barry Feinberg (ed.). Poets to the People: South African Freedom Poems. London: Heinemann, 1980. xi-xiii. Garuba, Harry. "Odia Ofeimun and Femi Fatoba". In Yemi Ogunbiyi (ed.). Perspectives on Nigerian Literature Vol.2. Lagos, Nigeria: Guardian Books Nigeria Limited, 1988. 269-276. Hobsbawm, Eric. The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983. Julien, Eileen. African Novels and the Question of Orality. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992. Killam, G.D. An Introduction to the Writings of Ngugi. London: Heinemann Educational Books, 1980. King, Bruce. “New Centres of Consciousness: New, Post-Colonial, and International English Literatures.” In Bruce King (ed.). New National and Post-Colonial Literatures: An Introduction. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996. 3 Kohn, Hans. Nationalism: Its Meaning and History. New York & Cincinnati: Van Nostrand Company, 1965. Marietegui, Carlos Jose. Seven Interpretive Essays on Peruvian Reality. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1971. Mattelart, Armand. “Introduction”. In Communication and Class Struggle Vol. 2. New York: International General, 1983. Mazrui, A. The African Renaissance: A Triple Legacy of Skills, Values and Gender. Lagos: CBAAC, 2000. —. "Perspective: The Muse of Modernity and the Quest for Development". In Philip Altbach & Salah Hassan. (eds).The Muse of Modernity: Essays on Culture and Development in Africa. New York: Africa World Press, 1996. Mhlophe, Gcina. "Storytelling: A Part of Our Heritage". In The Muse of Modernity: Essays on Culture and Development in Africa, 1996. Nna-Abbenyi, Juliana Makuchi. Gender in African Women’s Writing: Identity, Sexuality and Difference. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1997. Renan, Ernest. "What is a Nation?" In Homi Bhabha (ed.). Nation and Narration. London and New York: Routledge, 1990. 8 - 22. Ricouer, Paul. “Civilisation and National Culture”. In History and Truth. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1965. 276 - 277. Schmidt, Elizabeth. Mobilizing the Masses: Gender, Ethnicity, and Class in the Nationalist Movement in Guinea 1939 – 1958. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2005.


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Searle, Chris: "The Mobilization of Words: Poetry and Resistance in Mozambique". In Georg N. Gugelberger (ed.). Marxism and African Literature. Trenton, New Jersey: Africa World Press, 1985. 150-164. Seton – Watson, Hugh. Nations and States: An Enquiry into the Origins of Nations and the Politics of Nationalism. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1977. Senkoro, F.E.M. “Understanding Gender Through Genre: Oral Literature as Vehicle for Gendeer Studies in East Africa”. In Gender, Literature and Religion in Africa. Dakar: Codesria Series 4, 2005. Stratton, Florence. Contemporary African Literature and the Politics of Gender. London: Routledge, 1994. Threadgold, Terry. Feminist Poetics: Poiesis, Performance, Histories. London & New York: Routledge, 1997. wa Thiong’o, Ngugi. Homecoming. London: Heinemann Educational Books, 1972. wa Thiong’o, Ngugi. “Enactments of Power: The Politics of Performance Space”. Darlene A. Forres et al (eds.). Writing the Essay, Art in the World and the World Through Art. New York: New York University, 2003. 460-492. Williams, Raymond. The Year 2000. New York: Pantheon, 1983. Young, Peter. "Tradition, Language and the Reintegration of Identity in West African Literature in English". In The Critical Evaluation of African Literature. Edgar Wright (ed.). London: Heinemann Educational Books, 1973. 23-50.


[…] a written language came to Africa only with the arrival of the Europeans. (Wauthier, The Literature and Thought of Modern Africa, 33) Until recently, traditional African art of all genres was studied exclusively by European anthropologists and art historians. Often, they did not go beyond identifying the art by region of origin or of distribution… They seldom tried to get to the roots of the aesthetic principles on which the art was executed; as a result, they generally devised blanket theories that had an exotic appeal but were incapable of giving us an insight into the fundamental creative spirit that brought such art to be. (Isidore Okpewho, African Oral Literature, 1) Africa today is therefore a language laboratory for the transition from the oral tradition to the written word. (Ali Mazrui & Alamin Mazrui, The Power of Babel, 69).

Introduction An uneven, undemocratic and vertical relationship is often constructed and assumed to exist between the oral and written wor(l)ds. Indeed, the whole Western metaphysical and philosophical tradition, with its dominant grids of epistemologies, privileges the written over the oral wor(l)d. This ignores the primacy of the oral over the written. And even though the oral predates the written, the former ranks lower in the violent hierarchy erected and is considered pale, inferior and insignificant to the latter. In this binarist schema, the oral is synonymous with tradition, prehistory, absence of culture and philistinism while the written equates modernity, development, culture and civilisation. Orality represents a “low”, static culture; writing a “high”, dynamic one.1 This chapter, therefore, navigates


Chapter Three

the oral – written dialectic and situates it within the fabric of J.P. Clark’s (Bekederemo) The Ozidi Saga. The substrating argument articulated is that a healthy, dynamic, fluid and thriving relationship exists between the oral and written moulds and anaesthetising this soulful interaction represents wilful violence to the facts of history. It is, as such, significant to call for the democratisation of this relationship as Clark- Bekederemo has done in The Ozidi Saga. In achieving this, it is imperative that the received, uncritical and unexamined episteme that legitimates the ascendancy of the written and the subordination of the oral and constructs elaborate hierarchical systems of inferiority and superiority in defining the oral and the written, respectively, must be deconstructed. Concomitant with this deconstruction is the smug notion which, until recently, was modish in the Western academic and intellectual establishment that peripheral or marginal spaces (like Africa) outside the circumference of Europe had no written traditions prior to the imperialist and colonialist encounter.2 This supremacist postulate, which essentially privileges the West, is what Claude Wauthier alludes to in the epigraph above. It translates to the argument which has since been indelibly inscribed in the Western imagination that Africa and other marginal non-Aryan racial categories were in a state of nature or pre-history until the colonial encounter saved them from the eaves of a dark, pristine existence. But this position is historically apocryphal and uncharitable to other cultures and civilisations outside of the orbit of Europe, which were inured to traditions of writing. The postulate, therefore, undermines itself from within as lacking historical validity and a centre as there exists abundant historical evidence that parts of Africa, especially in the Mediterranean and Nordic regions, were known to a scribal culture long before the Europeans and their disruptive presence. Indeed, it is this disruptive presence that disturbed the trajectory of African culture and history.3 It is expedient to state that ancient Egyptian civilisation, for instance, is known to have impacted greatly on Europe especially in the tradition of writing. Egyptian hieroglyphics, cave paintings and papyri as well as mathematical calculations, among other scientific endeavours, have revealed a vibrant and luxuriant tradition in the Nile Valley involving pharoahnic Egypt, Ethiopia, Cush and other civilisations that thrived around the region with a viable scribal culture. These contributed significantly to European culture and civilisation. Ivan Van Sertima identifies the Moors, a distinctive African people, as contributing immensely to European science, technology and the industrial revolution.4 He states:

(Re)Inscribing the Oral (Con)Text in the Texture of the Written I


The Moors can be credited with many achievements in the arts and science. In Mathematics, the solving of quadratic equations and the development of new concepts of trigonometry. Advances were also made in astronomy, medicine, architecture and chemistry. Moorish chemistry, in fact, gave birth to gun powder and the Moors also introduced the first shooting mechanism. These were rifles, known as firesticks. The Moors excelled in botany and in horticulture… The list of their contribution to European science and industry is so startling that it is a wonder they are almost never mentioned in any discussion of the beginnings of the industrial revolution (12).

Concomitant with this perspective concerning a written culture in Africa prior to European presence is the Arabic factor. Arabic culture and its Islamisation policy had established earlier contact with Africa than the Europeans who were historically late-comers. The Arab conquerors had arrived with their colonialist policies which necessitated the culture of writing using the Arabic alphabet. It is, therefore, historically sweeping to state with magisterial certitude that writing was unknown to Africa before European missionary proselytisation and colonisation. It is to counter this historical distortion that Ali and Alamin Mazrui piously observe of Arabic colonial influence and Islamic culture on early Western Sudanese empires in their expansions: […] most of these expansionist societies – builders of ancient Mali, Ghana and Songhay, for example – had been initiated into capital accumulation and the culture of writing and elaborate calculation through the process of Islamisation (2).

Wauthier’s argument about the absence of a writing culture in Africa prior to the coming of the Europeans can be reconstructed, in a postcolonial and deconstructive fashion, to read alternatively: that Europe appropriated a scribal culture and other civilisational modes like science and mathematical calculations from other cultures. And like it is expressed it Nigerian pidgin, “borrow borrow makes man rich”.5 This means that a man’s wealth does not necessarily mean that all he has belongs to him directly. He has borrowed it and so it is received wealth. The richness of European culture and civilisation as well as its vertiginous scientific and technological heights rest on its appropriative nature and predation on others.


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Interfaces: The Voice of Orality, the Scroll of Writtenness in Ozidi Saga In multiple ways, Nigerian scholar, J. P. Clark’s (Bekederemo) The Ozidi Saga represents a truly monumental moment in Africa’s (oral) literary history and cultural heritage. Its recording in 1963 and subsequent publication in 1977 came against the backdrop of the gross injustices, rehearsed prejudices and untold indignities African oral literary forms were subjected to by Western anthropologists, ethnologists, missionaries and colonial administrators. These Western scholars were massed under the evolutionist, diffusionist and functionalist schools. They included Charles Darwin, the arch-apostle of evolutionism, James George Frazer, the Grimms brothers, Jacob and Wilhelm, Stith Thompson, Marcel Griaule, Henri Junod, John Roscoe, Robert Rattray, Andrew Dale, Edwin Smith, P.A. Talbot, Bronislaw Malinowski, and A. R. Radcliffe-Brown. Others in this eminent group were Franz Boas, William Bascom, S. F. Nadel, Geoffrey Lienhardt, E. E. Evans–Pritchard, among other keen scholars and experts with immense epistemological capital and enormous influence in the imperial centre of Euro-American literary, ethnological and anthropological establishment.6 These scholars were mainly concerned with the origins of cultures, their pattern of dispersal or distribution around the world and their functional relevance to the peoples’ cultures. This was to ideologically authenticate the superiority of Indo-European culture over marginal others and to establish the purity of the Caucasian race over other races. With this preoccupation, it was difficult for them to acknowledge and appreciate the socio-culural contexts that gave birth to the oral forms that emanated from other cultural spaces. These scholars, some of whom never visited Africa, constituted themselves into a stern, unsparing and pious jury which presided over the trial and sentencing of African oral forms and pronounced a prejudiced verdict on this oral traditional literature as “low”, “substandard”, “primitive”, “uninspiring”, “morally unsavoury” and lacking in aesthetic distillates, and hence, not aspiring to the paradigm of “high” literary creativity and sophisticated imagination. Such a paradigm was defined rigidly and fixedly as “European”, “American”, “Western” and since these oral forms from the periphery could not meet such vaunted standards, they were constituted as soulless inanities that had nothing to do with literature. In alternative situations where the literary merits of these oral forms, (rare as they were) were acknowledged or affirmed, it was with a grudging mind and belaboured rationalisations which ultimately paled into derogatory and paternalistic commentaries. Driven by deep pathological

(Re)Inscribing the Oral (Con)Text in the Texture of the Written I


cultural biases, their supremacist, racist assumptions led the Eurocentric scholars to the hasty conclusions that because these oral forms emanated from ostensibly “primitive”, “uncultured” and “uncivilized” peoples, they lacked the sophistication that should have qualified them as “high” literature and hence admit them into the charmed circle of Euro-American canonical standards and aesthetic traditions. Isidore Okpewho underscores this brand of Western scholarship which was decidedly uncharitable to African oral literature. As he states succinctly: […] the oral literature of Africa suffered at the hands of these early scholars. Apart from reducing the texts to bare summaries which contained mainly what were considered the essential points, the scholars also took the liberty to edit the texts so as to get rid of the material they considered “unclean” by European standards… the peculiar nature of African oral literature could not be fully recognized because the colonial government felt it had a mission to “civilize” the African peoples away from their “crude”, “primitive” habits of life and expression (9).

These Western scholars also constructed elaborate binary oppositionalities that defined the African and Western worlds in essentialist aesthetic and cultural terms: nature/culture, prehistory/ modernity, colonised/coloniser, low/high other/self, periphery/core, province/metropole, oral/written, what Abdul JanMohamed characterises as “Manichean” epistemologies and aesthetics. But to be charitable to them, these misrepresentations of Africa and African cultures through their corpus of oral forms helped in some ways in opening up the vast field to study by a succeeding generation of African and other Africanist scholars to which Clark-Bekederemo belongs. Clark-Bekederemo’s The Ozidi Saga serves as a counter-hegemonic, anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist text that radically contests and revises these Western racial prejudices and cultural attitudes. It inaugurated a (re)awakening or renascence in African oral literature and culture and helped to de(re)fine them. But Clark–Bekederemo was not alone in this revolutionary literary and cultural ferment. Earlier, his compatriot, Adeboye Babalola had published The Content and Form of Yoruba Ijala (1966), a study of Yoruba hunting sub-generic poetry. In 1971, Daniel Kunene also published Heroic Poetry of the Basotho, which negotiates the heroic poetry of the Sotho of South Africa. And in Ghana, Kofi Awoonor’s Guardians of the Sacred Word (1974) was published in which the Ghanaian poet explored the rich poetic sensibilities of the Ewe. Isidore Okpewho also affirmed the existence of the epic and myth in


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Africa in Epic in Africa (1979); and Myth in Africa (1983). What is, however, unique and refreshing about Clark-Bekederemo’s revisionist project in The Ozidi Saga is that it marks a watershed in oral literary scholarship as it places high premium on unalloyed fidelity to the oral performance process, emphasising its socio-cultural context, capturing its rich nuances, psycho-dynamics, aesthetics, paralinguistics, metanarrative flourishes and the strategic significance of the performing audience in the performative process. Indeed, his greatest contribution lies in the fact that he underscores the dialectical relationship between the narrator– performer and his active, performing audience in the performance process and how the former manipulates the sensibilities of the latter to achieve the overall gestalt of the performance. Okpewho observes concerning the relationship between the narrator-performer and the audience: One of the most effective ways whereby an artist achieves this measure of approbation is by his skill in manipulating traditional turns of phrase and the histrionic resources of speech and art to good affective account (163).

Two types of audiences can be critically identified in this context of oral performance: the approbative and the reprobative. In their spontaneous and often immediate critical interventions, the latter interrogates the narrator–performer concerning certain cultural facts of the performance which have not been scrupulously and faithfully represented, the inability of the artist to strike harmony between the images he moulds and the language of delivery. Included in the reprobative critical corpus also is an uninspiring performance atmosphere which generates boredom, ennui and lacks character and profundity, generally. In the former, the artist may be proficient in his linguistic deployment, with a fund of cultural knowledge that accurately meets the anticipation and expectations of the active and immediate audience and may also possess the requisite improvisational power to manipulate the audience’s keen sense of cognition and aesthetic experience. Both types of audiences are crucial and critical to the performance process or enterprise, and depending on the artist’s performance, they are instrumental to the (re)shaping and (re)ordering of the performance for its overall harmony and success. In the case of The Ozidi Saga, Isidore Okpewho observes concerning the approbation of the audience: Much more frequently in this performance, however, are those instances in which the bard seems to carry the audience along by the affective force of his speech and art so that they react favourably with expressions such as

(Re)Inscribing the Oral (Con)Text in the Texture of the Written I


laughter, gasping and ululation. Whether in these instances the bard touches them with an emphatic recognition of which are part of the stock of their cultural life, or successfully sweeps them off the ground of reality so that they accept the fantasy of his portraits, there is no doubt that he has made a positive impact on their senses (164).

Given that the artist sometimes simultaneously composes while performing before a live audience with immediate pressures on the performative act, the creative burden on him is real and requires the power of improvisation and formulaic expressions, an extemporisation of a stock of phrases to be readily deployed to keep the tempo of performance high. Jack Mapanje and Landeg White corroborate by saying that this formulaic strategy is intrinsic to the oral performance logic: If a phrase or an image has gone down well with his audience, he will repeat it and enlarge upon it. Sometimes, it takes him a while to get into his stride, and there are moments he almost dries up, and pads his lines waiting for inspiration. He cannot, like the poet with a pen, address his work to eternity, waiting to be appreciated by a later generation. The audience is there in front of him, the only one available, and his first business is to hold their attention (6).

In a fundamental way too, The Ozidi Saga demonstrates the co-eval, dynamic, fluid and symbiotic relationship that subsists between the oral and written textual wor(l)ds. The democratisation of the relationship between the oral and scribal radically interrogates and subverts critical assumptions or postulations by Walter Benjamin about the essential differences between the oral and the written. According to Benjamin, “What differentiates the novel from all other forms of prose literature – the fairy tale, the legend, even the novella – is that it neither comes from oral tradition nor goes into it. This distinguishes it from storytelling in particular” (87). Roman Ingarden identifies the difference as the “main or primary” (oral) and the “side or secondary” (written) (208, 210). To Manfred Pfister, “This distinction is often expressed typographically” (13), that is, in writtenness as distinct from oralness. To James Snead, the dichotomous relationship between the two is simple: “the distinction based on writing, between ‘traditional’ (oral) and ‘modern’ (written)…literature is common” (237). These positions also strengthen what Yakubu Nasidi constructs and calls “the huge gulf that lies between the oral and written” (28). What is conceptualised as the essential difference between the oral and the written wor(l)ds is a Western construction to interpellate so-called marginal or peripheral cultures as having a fundamental lack. This


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assumed lack which crystallises in what the West believes to be a lack of culture, civilisation, institutions, values, mores and history that conform to Western standards, translates to a mechanical ordering and patterning of the relations between the oral and the written as representative of the primitive, peripheral (African) world and the cultured West. Chinweizu, Onwuchekwa Jemie and Ihechukwu Madubuike reify this Eurocentric politics and prejudice when they concretely identify and locate the denigration of African (oral) literary forms by Europeans and Americans within the matrices of their oralness or unwritten provenance in African countries. They further state: The prejudice against the oral form manifests itself most strongly in the claim that whatever there was in the African narrative tradition has had a negative influence…with the “deficiencies” of the oral medium. This prejudice is inculcated and employed by eurocentric critics to shore up the eminence and authority they would like permanently to confer upon English literature over the minds of Africans. The schema of their argument is as follows: oral is bad, written is good. African narrative is oral, therefore bad; European narrative is written, therefore good. If Africans desire to progress from bad to good they must ape European narrative… African narrative… being oral, is of course indelibly bad, or beyond redemption (32).

Though the critical interventions and articulations of the bolekaja triumvirate have been deplored as too irreducibly and irredeemably “Afrocentric”, “nativist” and “traditionalist”, they have succeeded largely in rescuing African oral literature from the satraps and tetrarchs of the scribal word who stand sentinel at the cult of the written tradition as exclusively Western. Though from the European tradition, Ruth Finnegan, an Africanist scholar of African oral literature, deplores this self-serving politics of freezing the relations between the oral and the written by emphasising the healthy interaction between the two media, thus: In practice, interaction between the oral and written forms is extremely common, and the idea that the use of writing automatically deals a deathblow to oral literary forms has nothing to support it… The essential point in this context is that writing in this context has been in existence for a longer period and over a wider area of the world than is often realised. The image of the non-literate, untouched and remote ‘primitive society’ goes so deep in Western thinking over the last few centuries that it is easy to think that it was only in certain favoured areas of, say, Western civilisation that writing has for a long period played a significant part in society; and that elsewhere…writing has been introduced recently as a

(Re)Inscribing the Oral (Con)Text in the Texture of the Written I


foreign innovation brought by Western penetration. This is seriously misleading (160 – 161, my emphasis).

Finnegan’s comment is definitive enough even to the point of articulating the ahistoricity of the claim that Europe inaugurated the culture of writing on the African continent with colonialism. On his part, Christopher New questions the essentialist and exclusivist definition of the “literary” in terms of writtenness alone based on etymological considerations: Since many literary works were composed, and hence existed, before they were written down… it is clearly wrong, despite the etymology of the word, to define literature… in terms of writing, alone. Literature may exist either in written or oral form. Indeed, all the earliest literature existed only in oral form; the market place storyteller, the ancestor of today’s novelist, recited oral not written stories (5).

It is against this significant backdrop and in culmination of this argument that Jack Mapanje and Landeg White enter a cautionary comment about the oral – written dialectic that there is “a danger of exaggerating the difference between written and oral literatures” (3) as if they are antipodal. Even on the generic score, it is reasonable to state that literature has broadened or shifted beyond its narrow etymological boundaries or confines such that it is no longer defined monistically as constitutive only of the written. If differences inhere between the oral and the written modes of transmission, they congeal at two levels. The first gravitates to the assumed ephemerality or transience of the oral or spoken wor(l)d as the human memory, no matter how retentive, may fail with the intervention of time.7 On the other hand, the written assumes near permanence or lasting value as it is committed to an irreducibly cold, frozen or closed and finished system and stored in a permanent scribal form that can withstand the vagaries of the human memory and the mutability of time. But even here, the sustenance of the oral word over the ages with abiding purity and credibility suggests the irrepressible resilience of human memory as a veritable carrier of oral tradition from generation to generation. The assumed permanence of the written can also be severely tested and undermined in circumstances of fire disasters or failure of electronic gadgets. Secondly, there is an assumed anonymity that defines the oral as no deliberate attempt is made at concretely inscribing the self in the fabrics of the oral text. This lack of self-inscription implies that a polyphony of voices contribute and mobilise their individual, creative energies in the


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composition process. But even here, individual interventions in the creative process are distinct and possible as every artist brings into the pool their unique personalities and artistic sensibilities. As will be evidently clear in the next chapter, individual oral artists also etch their distinctive identities on the texts of performance with relevant autobiographical information that reckon them with and embed them in the textual material. With this, they erase the anonymous consciousness and character normally associated, often derogatorily, with the oral. This also becomes a powerful stamp of individual authorship of the performance.8 It moreso demonstrates the need for an abrasion of the rigid boundaries constructed between the oral and the written as they intermesh and interpenetrate each other as modes of communication. The written, on the one hand, has a mark of selfness indelibly stamped on it as an imprimatur of individual ownership, of private property, of sole proprietorship. Thus, while the oral is communal, the written is private or individual. The individuation of the written world and the privatist consciousness associated with it is consistent with the ascendancy of a commodified world culture where goods manufactured are branded with names that give them a mark of distinct identity. These differences, however, should not constitute a Manichean relationship that can be frozen into mummified sarcophagi housing essentialist, mutually exclusive bodies of knowledge. The oral and the written should be conceived as sharing a soulful kinship and a robust relationship even as the oral enjoys primacy over the written and provides the substratum for it. This relationship is also without prejudices to the durability of the written over the assumed evanescence of the oral. The Ozidi Saga is, therefore, a bold and courageous attempt at (re)inscribing the oral text in the texture of the written with healthy and compelling results on the soul of the oral performance.

The Contest of Text and Context: The Harmonic Discourse in Ozidi Saga The Ozidi Saga9 has its cultural moorings and provenance in the Ijo (Ijaw) of the Niger Delta in Nigeria’s South-South geo-political region. It is a seven-day or night festival performance event celebrated against a gaudy background of a delectable musical ensemble with a vast repertoire of songs, elaborate dances and the dramatic enactment of significant episodes. Pomp and pageantry are the defining markers of the performance process. The centrality or strategic significance of the festival to the Ijo nation is underscored by its multivalent versions as Robert Wren observes:

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“Ozidi in a multiple of versions – a different one for every teller, a variation for every occasion-seems to be a, or the, central legend of the Ijo” (90). Though there are plural versions of the epic as there are multiple raconteurs, the narrative kinesis of Ozidi Saga revolves around the culture hero, Ozidi, Jnr who, driven by an elemental retributive spirit, avenges his father, Ozidi, Snr’s murder in the hands of a corrupt and wicked patrilineage. The causal factors in this enthralling narrative have to do with disputes over chieftaincy and Ozidi’s father is killed even before he is born. It will seem he is born to avenge his father’s assassins. And as is to be expected, through a combination of personal bravery and chivalric courage as well as a powerful fund of metaphysical powers aided by his grandmother, Oreame, Ozidi subdues his father’s killers one after the other until he establishes himself as the supreme authority in the land. As it may be apparent from the plot of the narrative, apart from the declarative and programmatic statement Ozidi Saga makes concering the integrity of oral narrative as an invoved artistic experience, it also implicates other social and cultural issues framed by ideology and politics with their institutional structures. The first issue gravitates to the power of the spoken word, its vitality and dynamism in shaping and re-shaping life. This is clear in its resilience as a vehicle for transition and the preservation of history and memory. For instance, Ozidi still resides in the womb when his father is killed by enemies. But through the instrumentality of the oral word, the reality of the murder is transmitted to him. This is what necessitates the expeditions for revenge against the perpetrators of the crime. Secondly, the narrative institutes political discourses which are of a gender complexion and character. The primacy of the woman as mother in traditional African societies and as the carrier of life is foregrounded in the narrative. Understandably, it is Ozidi’s mother who relates to him the fate that befell his father in the hands of his fellow jealous warriors. In the recrudescent belligerent encounters Ozidi has with his father’s killers, it is also a woman, his grandmother who intervenes at crucial and defining moments to save him from danger and tilt the balance of victory in his favour. The agency of womanhood and her energies are affirmed while masculinity is subverted as wicked for it is the patrilineage that kills Ozidi’s father in the first instance. The other issue is of spiritual relevance as it concerns religious science: the fact that one’s fate and destiny are not entirely within one’s husbandry as there are metaphysical forces that mediate between the mundane and the mystical universes. And in this, justice is very crucial in the


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determination of one’s fate and cause. It will seem Ozidi succeeds in his mission of eliminating his father’s murderers because besides his personal epic prowess and magical accomplishments, the religionic dimension is also crucial because justice is his ally and the spiritual realm in his support. Isidore Okpewho provides valuable insights into the peculiar mise en scene of the performance and the recording of J. P. Clark -Bekederemo’s version in Ibadan,10 far from its cultural roots and social context and it is worth quoting him elaborately as he states: … it is important to know something of the circumstances in which this version of the Ozidi tale of the Ijo was recorded. This story of a posthumously born hero, who avenges the assassination of this father by fellow-warriors and never stops his slaughter until he eliminates all the forces in his community and reigns in uncontested supremacy, is traditionally told during a festival among the Turakiri Onia, a sub-group of the Ijo of the Niger Delta … traditionally, the performance spans a period of seven nights. In this particular instance, the story was performed in Ibadan, in the Yoruba West of Nigeria, several hundred kilometres from its origin. In spite of this remove, however, the atmosphere of the recording managed to retain something of the traditional setting. Though there were a number of European and other non-Ijo colleagues who accompanied Clark to the event, the audience was essentially made up of Ijo residents at Ibadan; the performance itself was hosted by Madam Yakubu, an Ijo matron who has led Ijo groups in the performance of traditional songs for Radio Nigeria; the recording was done by Clark, himself an Ijo; and the entire business was accomplished in a total of seven nights dictated by tradition. We can safely say therefore that, though the story was performed far from home and outside of the festival circumstances in which it was regularly enacted in the home setting, the artist (who was also backed by a group of musical accompanists and cheer-leaders), had an adequate socio-cultural climate for the performance of the story (163).

The proceedings of the festival performance thrive on, and are sustained by, conflict, revenge and a series of intrigues, counter–intrigues and magic or witch-craft. Conflict here, with its associated series of intrigues and subterfuges, is conceptualised by Julian Hilton in Aristotelean dialectics as being central and strategic to the dramatic proceedings. The critic observes: Conflict is at the centre of the dramatic. Two forces come into opposition and out of opposition emerges action. This opposition may be in the form of a moral dilemma, the confrontation of a good man with an evil destiny leading to moral conflict, suffering and purgation (146).

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This Aristotelean conception of conflict, and by implication, tragedy, is at the very heart of The Ozidi Saga where the narrative motions are propelled and galvanised by the concatenation of fights the hero engages in with enemies who murdered his father over the chieftaincy of the land spanning the temporal frame of seven festival days or nights. Each of the strings of conflicts against his foes represents a story in itself spawning its own violent action and confrontation which organises the entire narrative. Ozidi’s ability to vanquish all the enemies, the last being the Small Pox King fits into the classicist schema of the good, moral man transcending an evil destiny leading climactically to the denouement. Lewis Nkosi beautifully captures the spirit of the seven-day or night festival at whose centre is Ozidi, the eponymous character and the welter of conflictual situations and intrigues that sustain its narrative kinesis and action: Ozidi is a revenge tragedy. The plot turns around the story of a child brought up by his grandmother, Oreame, the witch, in order to avenge his father, an aspirant to the throne who was treacherously killed by his clansmen. Having been invested with magical powers Ozidi II embarks on his murderous career, slaying the guilty and the innocent alike until no longer able to arrest the process, he kills his grandmother (186).

Wren himself captures the plot of the story in these words: The war hero Ozidi protests against his idiot brother’s being named King of “Ado”, but, when the thing is done, he demands that the new king be honoured as tradition requires. For this insolence, the war chiefs of the town murder Ozidi, using magic to overcome the hero’s invincibility. Simultaneous with Ozidi’s death, his wife/widow is pregnant with a new Ozidi. She flees to her mother, Oreame, who trains the child in the arts of death and revenge, and she procures for him charms for invincibility and a sword appropriate to such a hero. Young Ozidi returns to his father’s town, avenges the murder on the many guilty warriors, and then fights other enemies until at last he confronts the terrible Smallpox King. Even Smallpox, however, falls Ozidi’s victim at the end (89).

The festival performance is a unique fusion of dramaturgic, theatrical, dance and musical forms all of which combine to enrich and enhance the aesthetic essence and appeal of the performance.11 This is what Ropo Sekoni calls its significant impact on the “cognitive” and “aesthetic” experience (140) of the audience. As Yemi Ogunbiyi affirms, “these dramatic presentations are overwhelmingly interwoven with songs, drumming, extensive improvisation and dance” (12). The songs and dance clearly evoke a convivial and communal participatory atmosphere which involves the entire community for the celebration of culture. It also


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underwrites the fact that the festival is a communal property and it is the society, rather than an individual, that owns it. Nkosi again articulates the significance of Clark–Bekederemo’s achievement in distilling the written text from the oral when he further states: The recasting of this annual festival drama, first taped and filmed by Clark in his Ijaw region, has had a revitalizing effect… the language is looser, freer, the handling of the larger scenes has the fascination of the pomp and pageantry of all masquerade drama (186).

Clark – Bekederemo’s creative manipulation of the Ijo linguistic medium through an impressive translation into English, constitutes the hallmark of his study. Besides capturing the spirit and mood of the performance, its acoustics or histrionics, the language is rendered so accessible that without even reading the original version, a non-Ijo will also deeply appreciate the translated version. This achievement is commendable because of the intractable difficulties that the transmutation of one language into another can present especially in linguistic circumstances in which there exist no known affinities between the languages. This is also compounded by the multiple layers of signification that sometimes lie buried in language as Wilga Rivers rightly observes: Language is an exceedingly complicated phenomenon that cannot be reduced to simple stimuli and responses without distorting its true nature and function. Each language utterance, no matter how small or seemingly unitary…has several layers of complexity (72).

It is within the fabric of the complexity of language as a science of signs with its lexis, syntactic structures, and semantics which fashion meaning that Peter Ludhow avows that language, with its “words and sentences mean things, or at least we use them to mean things” (3), meanings that can sometimes be simply untranslatable. Herein lies Clark– Bekederemo’s exploit! Music, as an oral form, particularly plays a prominent and strategic role in the overall realisation of the performance. Besides affording a concrete structural essence to the performance, it also encourages active audience participation through songs and dance accompaniment all of which impact positively on the text of the performance. As Glenn Wilson observes, “Music plays an important part in…providing us with pleasure, emotional solace and inspiration…music has power to affect us profoundly”(114). It is also true that besides the pleasurable and emotional appeal of music, musical performances also secrete other affective responses from the human cognition. One of such areas is war where

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music is also employed to fire the spirits of combatants. Ozidi Saga no doubt thrives on war as the eponymous character is a war hero and his entire career is structured and caught up in war. Music, therefore, provides an incentive and becomes an inspirational factor to his belligerent spirit as he surmounts one enemy after the other.12 The cultural particularity or contextual situatedness of the oral text essentially determines its realisation in the performance process and The Ozidi Saga is not immune to this. Context here is conceived and understood in the broadest sense, not the technicist parochialism that restricts its boundaries within the self-sufficient or independent existence of the stable and coherent structures of the text. Jorgen Dines Johansen and Sved Eric Larsen define (performance) context in this perspective as “the concrete setting or situational environment of a sign or a text comprising more than the semiotic systems to which the sign or the text belongs. A literary text”, they further state, “is embedded in a social context constituted by verbal, visual, auditive, gestural and other signs” (203). The incorporative reaches of this foregoing conceptualisation of context by Johansen and Larsen transcend the formalist intellection which rigidly invests the production of meaning and its associated networks exclusively in the sanctity and integrity of the text with its component technical resources. This is done without having any recourse to the social realities extrinsic to the text, but crucial to it, consigning anything outside of the text as irrelevant and insignificant to the modes of signification a text yields. In the text inheres meaning but meaning also resides outside of the textual world and this is equally crucial to textual meanings too. This has since been affirmed by post-structuralist and postmodernist epistemes and theoretical grids. This has important implications, not only for the oral text, but also for the narrator-performer and the performing audience. Ruth Finnegan captures this reality of context when she observes that the text and its informing cultural context are intrinsically or immanently co-extensive and any rupture of this organic unity is a subversion of the text and the constitutive performance process. She states: Every culture has recognized conventions for its forms of poetic expression. Some of these relate to the occasion, the audience, performer or purpose. Among the most fundamental of these conventions are those pertaining to the verbal style of the piece (genre) and, in the case of oral literature, to the mode of performance (89).

The plot weaves a narrative trajectory whose kinesis oscillates between a posed problem and its resolution, what Iyorwuese Hagher refers to as the isomorph of “puzzles” and their “partial solutions” (42) in African oral


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tales. But in The Ozidi Saga, the challenges the hero confronts are unnerving and daunting. Ozidi, it will appear, is born to revenge his father who was killed by his kinsmen for aspiring to the kingship of the land. His mission is, as such, inextricably intertwined with the metaphysical forces that are strategic to the very realisation of his mission. This is where the towering stature of Oreame, his witch-grandmother is called to service. But as a national narrative that embodies the grammar of mores, values and worldviews of the Ijo, the festival performance is familiar to members of the society that constitute the audience. As such, the narrator–performer has the onerous responsibility of rendering the narrative in a culturally scrupulous manner so that it is fascinating and gripping. It is, therefore, a testimony to Clark-Bekederemo’s healthy and impressive credentials that he has faithfully recorded this oral performance that lasts seven whole days and has translated it with painstaking attention to its social milieu, its affective power on the audience through notations like “exclamations”, “laughter”, interpolations, ululations, gaspings, running remarks and questions, grimaces/facial expressions, among other spontaneous interventions the audience elicit as participatory markers. Clark– Bekederemo’s unique achievement consists in his ability to infuse life into the oral text by transforming it from its oralness to the written medium and yet retaining the nuances of the original text as it is clear from the ethnographic details he provides for even the non-native Ijo. This is fundamental to oral literary studies as translation and translation theory are riddled with plethoric difficulties which sometimes impact negatively on the original text. This is best expressed in the very fact of the unpopularity of translation. Theo Hernan comments in this regard: It is nothing new to say that the position occupied by Translation Studies in the study of literature generally today is, at best, marginal… literary histories, even those that cover more than one national literature, rarely make more than a passing reference to the existence of translated texts… If the literary artist is viewed as a uniquely gifted creative genius endowed with profound insight and a mastery of his native language, the work he produces will naturally come to be regarded as exalted, untouchably inimitable, hallowed. If, in addition, language is conceived as closely correlated with nationhood and the national spirit, the canonised set of texts that together make up a given national literature will also assume an aura of sacred untouchability. In such circumstances, any attempt to tamper with a literary text by rendering it into another language must be undermined as foolhardy and barely permissible undertaking, doomed from the start and to be judged, at best, in terms of relative fidelity, and at most as

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outright sacrilege (7-8).

It is within this prohibitive schema that Clark–Bekederemo has appropriated the rites of translation to midwife an oral narrative which belongs to the Ijo national canon, and negotiates its nationhood, and given it written birth and existence. A sacred, untouchable and canonised text among the Ijo, The Ozidi Saga is grafted from its oralness on the bud of writtenness for a more fruitful and fulfilling existence. It is to his eternal credit that the translation defies the untidiness that Mapanje and White talk about: “Transcribed from a recording and translated into English, the results may sometimes look untidy (it is the curse of oral literature that translators cannot resist the urge to tidy up the text!” (6). Clark– Bekederemo lives above this curse and turns it into a blessing for the text. In the same token, he has also captured the soul of the performance together with its moods and temperaments as a vindictive mission highlighting the climactic moments of Ozidi’s encounters with his adversaries and the interventions of his witch-grandmother. Commenting on the healthy intersection that subsists between orality and writing, and the instrumentality of scrupulous translations such as Clark–Bekederemo’s in establishing a dynamic cultural continuum between the historical past and the contemporary moment and, hence, enhancing the fluidity between time past and time present and, by implication, time future as well as the accentuated mobility of the oral through the written, Jeremy Harding comments elaborately: Translations like those tell us that the search for origins can constitute a fair exchange between descendants and predecessors, in which the first undertake to carry the name of the second to the wider world, ostensibly for the good of both. But because the ancestor must be represented in such a way as to make him intelligible, a measure of invention of the original, the translations also enhance it, by giving it the mobility of the written world. Through this paradoxical motion, the modern African writer who returns to ‘traditional sources’ can begin to reproduce himself, and devise his ‘heritage’, carrying both beyond the parochial realm on which he draws for inspiration. The oral and the written are inextricably linked in the emergence of contemporary African literature (6-7, my emphasis).

Inherently, therefore, what exists between the oral and the written dialectic, the original and the translated versions is a symbiosis, a fertilisation of gametes which is mutually beneficial to both categories and ensures their transmission and self-perpetuation. Stylistically, Clark-Bekederemo has exhibited competence in his translation from the oral to the written. This is a quality that was lacking


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in many of the research studies done by the Western scholars who lacked adequate mastery and proficiency in the indigenous languages and were bereft of any appreciation and understanding of the indigenous cultures. The inevitable result was the flagrant errors of evaluative judgements they made about the integrity of these African oral forms. These Western scholars published only the English translations without the original versions so as to cleverly conceal their inadequacies and limitations. They also, through these tidyings of the texts severely expurgated the oral forms of their aesthetic distillates and stylistic beauty thereby rendering them soulless and meaningless.13 Clark–Bekederemo’s impressive effort at (re)inscribing the oral text in the texture of the written marks a counterpoint, a radical departure from the purblind criticism and amateurish sweep by Western oral scholarship. His translation of the oral text into the written, for instance, is crisp, felicitous and down-to-earth as Robert Wren again observes: In the canon of Clark’s work The Ozidi Saga is unique in that it is so purely indigenous: Clark has laboured to recreate, so far as the English language permits, the actuality of the Ijo text in his translation. There is no verbal trickery, no oblique or cryptic allusion, no use of surprising rhythm, no flamboyant imagery… The reader of the English text senses that he is as near the actual circumstances of performance as the printed word is likely to bring him…. The brilliance of Clark’s translation lies to a great degree in the preservation of the liveliness and spontaneity of interaction among the crowd, tape recorder, drummer, researchers…Clark’s daring originality in transcribing and then publishing everything recorded on the tapes is greatly to be admired (93, 94-95).

The encompassing nature of Clark–Bekederemo’s effort has made his translation most compelling, refreshing and intriguing, achieving a near perfect reflection of the Ijo original complete with the histrionics, paralinguistics and other surrounding mechanics and resources intrinsic to the entire performance. The overall outcome is such that Clark–Bekederemo can be said to have safely skirted the beleaguered minefield of translation with bold and definite strides and has come out unscathed with a fulfilling written text which calls back in response to the original oral version. He, therefore, merits to be enrolled in the temple of the canonised. According to Theo Hermans, such a superlative translation, which is itself a rite of performance, can earn the translator a place in the pantheon of the elect in that literary tradition. He states further that the translator can be censured and excoriated when: […] in comparing the rich and the subtle texture of the original with the

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translation, only to find the latter wanting, because its texture was never quite the same as that of the original. In these rare cases where translations seemed to be aesthetically on a par with their originals, a subterfuge could always be used by simply co-opting the translator into the pantheon of creative artists and incorporating his work into the canon on that basis (8).

But transcendent to his linguistic facility, competence and felicity in rendering the oral text in the written, Clark-Bekederemo has also willed to existence through his study, a narrative that inhabits a central and strategic place in the corpus of Ijo oral literary heritage. It is, perhaps, this centrality of place that endows The Ozidi Saga with popularity, appeal and the status of a story that narrates the Ijo nation. It is this same centrality that gives it prominence and ranks the narrative as an epic. The epic magnitude and credentials of the The Ozidi Saga cannot be reasonably interrogated. This is largely because the narrative possesses all the trappings and crystallisations that eminently qualify it as an epic. If an epic must have a grand plot whose story represents the high and noble ideals of a nation, race, people or society, The Ozidi Saga aspires to that story whose narrative trajectory is woven with threads that ennoble the Ijo nation, its culture and civilisation. If the epic hero must have a towering personality and stature and must represent the best in the society, this is distilled through Ozidi, the invincible and powerful eponymous hero, who embodies the ideal of justice which is a cultural imperative among the Ijo of Nigeria’s Niger Delta. Similarly, a quintessential character of the epic is the grandeur of the action revealed in sporadic wars and other significant actions all of which are demonstrated in Ozidi’s unnerving and monumental encounters with Badoba, Azema, Azemaroti, Ofe, the principal assassin of his father, Ogueren, Tebesoma, Azezabife, Tebekawene, the Scrotum King, Odogu, among several others ending climactically in the killing of the Small Pox King. Also, the sheer scope of the narrative setting, the significance of its subject matter and thematic preoccupation as well as the values, mores and worldviews it represents, affirm its status as an epic. But what distinguishes Clark-Bekederemo’s scholarship from that of his Western counterparts is his fidelity to the original Ijo and his ability to appreciate the organic link between the oral and written, a unity he understands in horizontal and not vertical terms. The Ozidi Saga is indubitably a study in the art of narrating the nation. This further foregrounds its epic claims and authenticity as a cultural text whose context derives essentially from its Ijo social milieu. Homi Bhabha demonstrates the unique relationship that subsists between the nation and the texts that narrate its nationhood. He postulates that the constellation of


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significations that construct and define a nation are immanent in the texts of meanings that negotiate its life in the kinesis of history. He argues: To study the nation through its narrative address does not merely draw attention to its language and rhetoric, it also attempts to alter the conceptual object itself. If the problematic ‘closure’ of textuality questions the totalization of national culture, then its positive value lies in displaying the wide dissemination through which we construct the field of meanings and symbols associated with national life (3).

Implicit in Bhabha’s argument about the nation and its narration is its “ambivalences” and “slippages” which congeal around the realities constructed in terms of power, hegemony and domination, on the one hand, and the stubborn will for self-assertion, self autonomy and the irrepressive subversive strategies of counter-hegemony, especially in a heterogeneous cultural configuration like Nigeria, on the other. Clark– Bekederemo’s The Ozidi Saga represents this will for Ijo national arrival through its narration as a rite for soulful existence. Bhabha again states: It is the mark of the ambivalence of the nation as a narrative strategy and an apparatus of power- that it produces a continuous slippage into analogous, even metonymic, categories, like the people, minorities or ‘cultural differences’ that continually overlap in the art of writing the nation.

As a minority nationality that inhabits what is geo-politically called the Niger Delta in the South-South of Nigeria, the Ijo nation belongs to the deprivileged nationalities which are marginalised and oppressed by the imperial ethnic nationalities. Yet the resources that sojourn in this marginal or peripheral sphere constitute the mainstay for Nigeria’s monocultural economy and political life. The culture from which springs the oral text Clark-Bekederemo has harnessed into the written therefore engages the imperial forces of the so-called majority and asserts its distinctive cultural identity and autonomy while at the same time questioning this exploitative economic and unjust political arrangement that denies ample space to the minorities. The fortunes of Clark-Bekederemo’s experimentation with the oral word and its transmission into writtenness through translation and documentation are better assured now with electronic and digital technology. With digital modes, oral literary scholarship njoys greater possibilities of preservation, transmission and mobility. As one critic observes, Today, oral literature production has new possibilities of renewing their

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content and strengthening their impact. Digital recording and the potental of the Internet have opened up new ways to create, excahange and disseminate oral literature...these new communication technologies could even help fill the gap between written and oral literature (Iye 97).

Conclusion The Ozidi Saga eminently constitutes a national discourse. It is a discourse that is decidedly counter-hegemonic, anti-imperialist and anticolonialist in its vision and temperament. It radically contests, ruptures and undermines the supremacist racist and cultural assumptions of the West. It rebelliously interrogates Western epistemologies and hermeneutics whose interpretive practices concerning African oral literary forms are steeped in prejudices and biases which hyphenate African literary heritage and subvert its claims as veritable literature. As a counter-discourse it is as, Sara Mills tells us, “Most important for the questions it allows us to ask about literature and textuality in general” (22). The text, in both its oral and written manifestations, “questions” the dominant knowledges and epistemic hegemony of the Western wor(l)d, puncturing their assumptions and claims to exclusive preserve over knowledge production and the “knowing” of other cultures, a knowing that is always inflected by imperial logic. Ozidi as narrative, drama or film is also a counter-discourse against the structuration of the oral and written moulds as essentially differentiated and Manichean without appreciating the organic relationship between them. It fosters a robust fusion between the oral and the written, and as a discourse with undefinable boundaries, it represents what Mills again calls a tissue of “sanctioned statements which have some institutionalized force, which means that they have a profound influence on the way that individuals act and think” (9). “The narratives of the world”, Roland Barthes informs us, “are numberless”, and “faced with the infinity of narratives, the multiplicity of standpoints– historical, psychological, sociological, ethnological, aesthetic, etc” (46), constitute the various reading and hermeneutic positionalities that can be validly adopted for studying them. Critical to these interpretive strategies is the politics of production and constitution of the text and especially as it affects The Ozidi Saga. The political structures immanent in the text construct an oral narrative universe that heaves with political struggles in a society governed by conspiracies, intrigues, subterfuges and the consuming passion for revenge which is the driving force for the narrative and the life of Ozidi, the hero. The Ozidi Saga is, therefore, politically and ideologically engaged. It is

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steeped in micro-nationalist politics as it interrogates hegemonic domination by the Nigerian state which is a federation but operates a unitary governmental arrangement where the resources of the minorities are appropriated by the majorities who control the centre for their development. This translates to the impoverishment of the minorities and hence foists on them a spectre of perennial underdevelopment, what Ken Saro-Wiwa calls “a slow genocide”.14 This is why apart from its engagement with the Euro-American Master text (usually interpreted as written) which claims superiority over the oral, marginal text, it also counters societal injustice, perfidy or treachery which Ozidi senior has suffered. It condemns the oppression and repression of the individual by the collectivity as in Ozidi Senior’s murder and enters an eloquent denunciatory statement against the political marginalisation and economic exploitation of the powerless minorities by the powerful majorities in an unjust and oppressive Nigerian nation-state which is still in a state of becoming. Like the life of Ozidi, the cultural nationalist illustrates, unless the land is purged of its guilt and injustice, its fabrics will continue to tear apart, its foundation shaky and unstable and the entire household in ruins because justice forms the rubric for coherent nationhood. Herein lie the towering stature and reputation of Clark-Bekederemo as a literary artist who, like Ozidi, the war and cultural hero, abhors injustice, exploitation and oppression. .

Works Cited Awoonor, Kofi. Guardians of the Sacred Word: Ewe Poetry. New York: Nok Publishes, 1974. Babalola, Adeboye. The Content and Form of Yoruba Ijala. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966. Barthes, Roland. “Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narratives”. In Susana Ornega & Garcia Landa (eds.). Narratology: An Introduction. London & New York: Longman, 1996. 45 – 60. Benjamin, Walter. “The Story Tellers”. In Hannah Arrendt (ed.). Illuminations. New York: Schochen, 1969. Bhabha Homi. “Introduction”. In H. Bhabha (ed.). Nation and Narration. London & New York: Routledge, 1990. 1-9. —. “DissemiNation: Time, Narrative and the Margins of the Modern Nation”. In H. Bhabha (ed.). Nation and Narration. London & New York: Routledge, 1990. 291 – 322. Chinweizu et al. Toward the Decolonisation of African Literature. Enugu, Nigeria: Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1980.

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Finnegan, Ruth. Oral Literature in Africa. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970. —. Oral Poetry: Its Nature, Significance and Social Context. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992. Hagher, Iyorwuese. “Performance in Tiv Oral Poetry”. In U.N. Abalogu et al (eds.). Lagos: Nigeria Magazine, 1981. 37 – 56. Harding, Jeremy. “African Countries”. In The Oxford Guide to Contemporary World Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996. 1-21. Hermans, Theo. “Introduction”. In Theo Hermans (ed.). The Manipulation of Literature: Studies in Literary Translation. London & Sydney: Groom Helm, 1985. Hilton, Julian. Performance. London: Macmillan, 1987. Ingarden, Roman. The Literary Work of Art: An Investigation of the Borderliness of Ontology, Logic and Theory of Literature. Evanston, Illinois: Tubigen, 1973. JanMohamed, Abdul. Manichean Aesthetics: The Politics of Literature in Colonial Africa. Amherst: University of Massachusetts, 1983. Jorgen, Johanson & Sved E. Larsen. Signs in Use: An Introduction to Semiotics. London & New York: Routledge, 2002. Kunene, Daniel. Heroic Poetry of the Basotho. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971. Ludlow, Peter. “Introduction”. In Peter Ludlow (ed.). Readings in the Philosophy of Language. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The M. I. T. Press, 1997. 3-7. Mapanje, Jack & Landeg White (Comp.). “Introduction”. Oral Poetry from Africa: An Anthology. New York: Longman, 1983. 1-6. Mazrui, Ali & Alamin. The Power of Babel: Language and Governance in the African Experience. Oxford: James Currey, 1998. Mills, Sara. Discourse. New York.: Routledge, 1997. Nasidi, Yakubu. Beyond the Experience of Limits: Theory, Criticism and Power in African Literature. Ibadan: Caltop Publications, 2001. New, Christopher. Philosophy of Literature. London & New York: Routledge, 1999. Nkosi, Lewis. Tasks and Masks: Themes and Styles of African Literature. Essex: Longman, 1981. Okpewho, Isidore. Epic in Africa: Towards a Poetics of the Oral Performance. New York: Columbia University Press, 1979. —. Myth in Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983. —. African Oral Literature: Backgrounds, Character, and Continuity. Blomington, Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1992.


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—. “The Oral Performer and His Audience” A Case Study of The Ozidi Saga. In Okpewho (ed.). The Oral Performance in Africa. Ibadan: Spectrum Books, 1990. 160-184. Ogunbiyi, Yemi. “Nigerian Theatre and Drama: A Critical Profile”. In Ogunbiyi (ed.). Drama and Theatre in Nigeria: A Critical Source Book. Lagos: Nigeria Magazine, 1981. 3 – 53. Pfister, Manfred. The Theory and Analysis of Drama. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Rivers, Wilga. Speaking in Many Tongues. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983. Sekoni, Ropo. “The Narrator, Narrative – Pattern and Audience Experience of Oral Narrative – Performance” In Okpewho (ed.). The Oral Performance in Africa. Ibadan: Spectrum Books, 1990. 139-159. Sertima, Ivan Van. “Introduction: The African Star Over Europe”. In Ivan Sertima (ed.). African Presence in Early Europe. New Brunswick & Oxford: Transaction Publishers, 1988. 7-16. Snead, James. “European Pedigrees/African Contagions: Nationality, Narrative and Communality in Tutuola, Achebe and Reed”. In Bhabha (ed.). Nation and Narration. London & New York: Routledge, 1990. 231-249. Wauthier, Claude. The Literature and Thought of Modern Africa. London: Heinemann, 1978. Wilson, Glenn. The Psychology of the Performing Arts. London & Sydney: Crown Helm, 1985. Wren, Robert. J.P Clark. Lagos: Lagos University Press, 1984.


Other peoples use writing to record the past, but this invention has killed the faculty of memory among them. They do not feel the past anymore, for writing lacks the warmth of the human voice. With them everybody thinks he knows, whereas learning should be a secret. The prophets did not write and their words have been all the more vivid as a result. What paltry learning is that which is congealed in dumb books! (Niane, Sundiata, 41) Is it possible to reproduce in a foreign language the nuances of meaning and the qualities of expression of the original version? (Mapanje and White, Oral Poetry from Africa, 2) Beyond matters of style and content, the main significance of Sundiata, when it came out in 1960, lay in the fact that it gave textual substance to a concept that was then emerging from the mists of denial, but was still somewhat shadowy in most minds. That concept was not about the existence of one narrative from 13th-century Africa. It was about the historical fact that there was an accessible tradition of oral narratives and epics, with institutional support in the form of professional associations and schools for griots. (Armah, The Eloquence of the Scribes, 178)

Introduction Issuing from the fountainhead of oral tradition, these oracular words in the first epigraph by Djeli Mamoudou Kouyate, the celebrated Mandinka griot, orchestrate the perennial tension and asymmetry in the relationship between the oral and written worlds. Kouyate is a foremost traditional griot of the Sundiata1 epic and the informant of D. T. Niane, the Guinean historian and oral literary scholar who recorded, transliterated and translated the Sundiata epic and transmitted it into written form. Kouyate’s epigraphic words are fundamentally relevant and significant because Niane’s Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali represents a quintessential


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exemplum of the epic tradition which exists in the labyrinthine interstices of orality and writtenness. This is because the epic narrative has undergone “parturition” from an essentially oral text to a scribal one, foregrounding the fusion of two textualities hitherto conceptualised as binaries.2 In Sundiata, Niane presents himself as an oral literary connoisseur, versed in translation theory and immersed in the oral tradition, by distilling with finesse and dexterity, the written text from the oral, rendering the two traditions coterminous and co-extensive. By radically redefining and remapping the traditional boundaries between the oral and the written, Niane participates in a revolution in African oral literary scholarship in the tradition of South African, Thomas Mofolo’s Chaka, another epic narrative translated into English, and Shaka3 by another South African scholar, Mazisi Kunene. This destabilisation of the fixity and hierarchisation of the relationship between the oral and the written intensely interrogates the Western epistemological tradition and literary establishment that refracts the oral and the written as essentialist and mutually exclusivist categories. In redrawing the cartography of the oral and the written worlds, Niane has appropriated the rites of the scribal tradition to wean the Sundiata epic from its oral rubric and provenance in the Senegambia region of West Africa and to breathe life into it. He has endowed it with a new ontological existence and longevity beyond the resilient memory of the traditional griot who is the authentic carrier of the oral tradition and culture. Through his unique translation of the original Mandinka text, Niane has established the dialectical interaction between orality and writtenness, tradition and (post)modernity, continuity and change, nature and culture, as hallmarks of human culture and civilisation. In his reconceptualisation of these hitherto monadic entities, Niane has instituted a new gnosis in literary scholarship: the reconstitution and reinterpretation of the oral and the written moulds as twin trajectories of literature. This has undermined Western literary politics, misperception and subordination of African oral forms as not sophisticated and elevated as high literature in consonance with Euro-American imposed aesthetic norms and canonical standards.

Framing Testaments of Orality, Weaving Tapestries of Writtenness: Niane’s Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali D. T. Niane’s Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali represents a vibrant and resilient oral narrative tradition whose epic dimension or magnitude has endured the vagaries of memory and temporality over the epochs. Woven

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from variegated strands and multivalent threads, the epic constitutes a narrative fabric with a unique sense of culturality, spiritual and liberationist ethos and pan-national vision. The epic eminently celebrates and idealises Sundiata, the legendary founder and emperor of the ancient western Sudanese Mali Empire who was a veritable embodiment or personification of chivalric bravery, valour, honour, dignity and princely courage. In its contours, Sundiata stands tall, towering above all else, dominanting the action, shaping and reshaping its direction with a well-defined and tremendous sense of agency and subjectivity in the making of Malian history. It is, however, significant to observe that the 13th century Mali Empire founded by Sundiata which succeeded the Ghana empire, the first Sudanese empire, and was in turn succeeded by Songhai empire, should not be misconstrued with the modern-day, nation-state of Mali in West Africa. Synecdochically, the present Republic of Mali represents a tiny part of the vast whole historically known as the Mali Empire whose expansive and bewildering territorial fortunes and integrity became redefined with every annexation, conquest or treaty which incorporated the new territory as a tributary or vassal. In terms of geographical spread, the ancient Mali Empire extended its imperial, suzerain boundaries to the whole of the Sene-gambia region and the Niger basin covering roughly what can be said to be the present-day nation-states of Mali, Guinea, The Gambia, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mauritania, and even beyond. Many of these countries are heirs to the Sundiata epic as a national narrative and share it as a communal property. Niane benefits immensely from the griots of the Sundiata epic especially Mamoudou Kouyate and has become identified with the epic as an umbilical cord that sustains and transmits the great bardic or griotic tradition in its contemporary essence and significance. He draws from the undwindling, undrying fountainhead of folk knowledge, wisdom, culture and tradition embodied in the great Mandingo griot, Djeli Mamoudou Kouyate of Djeliba Koro in Siguiri of Guinea who is an artist par excellence. Niane recorded his version of the Sundiata epic from this celebrated artist, transliterated, transcribed and translated it from the original Mandinka to French in 1960. The English version was translated in 1965 by G. D. Pickett. Thus, what we have today as Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali is the product of double or bipartite translation, a translation of another translation.4 Niane, therefore, emerges as a surrogate agent, and ‘narrator–performer’, a secondary carrier of tradition, transmitter of cultural values and custodian of public morality. Niane himself concedes authentic authorship of his

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version to the griot: This book is primarily the work of an obscure griot from the village of Djeliba Koro in the circumscription of Siguiri in Guinea. I owe everything to him. My acquaintance with Mandingo country has allowed me greatly to appreciate the knowledge and talent of Mandingo griots in matters of history (vii).

Though Niane concedes true authorship to Kouyate, the griot, and understandably so, it is not clear if he does the proprietary rights. It does seem he withholds it, and understandably too, because this is consistent with the tension and violent hierarchy erected between the oral and the written, on the one hand, and communal or anonymous and individual authorship of the printed word, on the other. On his own part, Mamoudou Kouyate, to foreclose any ambiguities about his identity and authorship and to establish his healthy credentials and authenticity as the guardian of the oral tradition, and what Dorothy Blair refers to as the “jurist, professor of history and constitutional law” (26) states, and it is worth capturing him elaborately: I am a griot. It is I, Djeli Mamoudou Kouyate, son of Bintou Kouyata and Djeli Kedian Kouyate, master in the art of eloquence. Since time immemorial, the Kouyates have been in the service of the Keita princes of Mali; we are vessels of speech, we are the repositories which harbour secrets many centuries old. The art of eloquence has no secrets for us; without us the names of kings would vanish into oblivion, we are the memory of mankind; by the spoken word we bring to life the deeds and exploits of kings for younger generations. I derive my knowledge from my father Djeli Kedian, who also got it from his father; history holds no mystery for us… for it is we who keep the keys to the twelve doors of Mali… I know the list of all the sovereigns who succeeded to the throne of Mali… My word is pure and free of all untruth; it is the word of my father; it is the word of my father’s father. I will give you my father’s words just as I received them, royal griots do not know what lying is… I, Djeli Mamoudou Kouyate, am the result of a long tradition. For generations we have passed on the history of kings from father to son. The narrative was passed on to me without alteration and I deliver it without alteration, for I received it free from all untruth (1, 41, my italics).

What emerges from this pure, eloquent auto-narrative profile is the repeated emphasis on the transistory but consistent character of the epic as it gets transmitted from one griot to another through the generational trajectory. Truth, an essential quality of personal integrity and the historical documentation of oral traditions, is highly valued in oral

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performance and the griot appropriately implicates it as intrinsic to his art and that of his forebears. As he registers it, griots of his stature who are in the service of royalty are incapable of untruth, of lying. From this impressive personal signature of Kouyate’s, it is clear that he belongs to the long tradition of courtly performers of the epic in the hallowed palaces of Mali princes. In this position, he possesses the singular prerogative of initiating young and old princes alike in the art of the spoken word and instructing them in the secrets of their history and gnomic knowledge. This is an enviable position which can also have its perilous dimensions.5 Transcendent to the haunting lyricism, lucid style, brief and precise syntactic structures packed with elastic significations and an irresistible and palpably resonant oral flavour that mediate the exordium and prefatory flourishes of Kouyate’s, there is the abiding presence of gripping autobiographical truth which he valorises or evokes through his selfinscription into the narrative as a griot of no mean repute and stature in tune with the fundaments of tradition. As Edris Makward, the Gambian oral literary critic and scholar has informed, the veracity of the griot’s genealogical claims, his moral propriety and sense of authenticity are all crucial and strategic to the creative process as they impact heavily on, and are influential, in shaping the cognitive response of the audience. He further states: This insistence on the true griot’s honesty, worthiness and moral distinction appears not only in circumstances… during which the griot speaks of himself – but even within the creative artistic process itself, that is, in the text that the griot may be reciting…the concern with establishing trust and confidence with one’s audience by referring to one’s credentials through one’s own genealogical line… for it is indeed from the knowledge and awareness of the griot’s ancestry that the serious and initiated listener can establish the authenticity of his training and artistic background (24-25).

Kouyate also raises significant issues bordering on the very ontology and pathology of oral forms and their theory of performance. He foregrounds their agelessness or immemorialness as a veritable corpus of cultural and traditional epistemology. He underscores their unique character and identity as literary forms whose transmission is chiefly accomplished through verbal articulation and sustained from generation to generation through the instrumentality of the spoken word. Kouyate also establishes the prominent role of the oral artist as the repository of history and tradition, the custodian of truth in all its reaches and, by that token, the open conscience of society, rankling its wouds sustained in the continuum of history and applying the healing herb to them.


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The griot was, therefore, central and crucial to societal (re)engineering and husbandry in ancient Africa. He was not just a court panegyric singer and an instructor of kings and princes. He was also the moral compass, ideologue and bridge of transition. In other words, he functioned as the chronicler and interpreter of history, the witness to contemporary events and a prophet with vatic insights that penetrated into the future of time. As Niane observes, the griot did not belong to the “class of professional musicians fashioned to live on the back of others” (vii). He further observes: If today the griot is reduced to turning his musical art to account or even to working with his hands in order to live, it was not always so in ancient Africa. Formerly, ‘griots’ were the counsellors of kings, they conserved the constitutions of kingdoms by memory work alone; each princely family had its griot appointed to preserve tradition; it was from among the griots that kings used to choose the tutors for young princes. In the very hierarchical society of Africa before colonisation, where every one found his place, the griot appears as one of the most important of this society, because it is he who, for want of archives, records the customs, traditions and governmental principles of kings. The social upheavals due to the conquest oblige the griots to live otherwise today; thus they turn to account what had been, until now, their fief, viz. the art of eloquence and music (vii).

In corroboration, Bill Freund observes that fundamentally, “the tales of praise-singers, diviners and court officials were actually ideological in purpose. They represented the appropriation of social and cultural knowledge of particular groups for particular ends”(1). Even though the griots espoused to a hierarchical system which characterised traditional society, their art succeeded in holding society together in bonds of social and cultural communion. This was before imperial cultural processes introduced an alternative hierarchy which irretrievably disrupted the rhythm of life of the griots as carriers of tradition. The commodification and fetishisation of this corpus of social knowledge was, no doubt, necessitated by European conquest and imperial hegemony as Freud further articulates: With the conquest and partition of Africa by the European powers and its forcible incorporation into a world system of exchange based on capitalist production, the possibility of an autonomous development of intellectual activity in Africa was cut off as surely as the guillotine severs a head from a body. The praise-singers continued to chant, but what they had to say ceased to have the same relevance (2).

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Here too, the enduring corrosive and disorienting power of European colonialism and imperialism on African oral forms has been foregrounded. Deploying predatory metaphors and the apt imagery of decapitation with a guillotine, Freund registers this ideological and political programme of Europe to emasculate African cultural heritage. This image of decapitation reimagines in a picturesque manner Molefi Kete Asante’s idea of the “decapitated” or “lynched” texts; that is texts “without cultural presence in the historical experiences of the creator” (13). In other words, these are texts that have lost cultural moorings and so have no concrete location within their social contexts. Through the rupture caused by colonisation, the art of the griot persisted but its original situatedness within a particular tradition, namely that of courtly praise and the valorisation of societal values became denuded and devalued. In all these, what is remarkably significant about Niane’s version of the Sundiata epic is his ability to translate the original Mandinka version such that the oral resonances and nuances of the original are effectively captured and reflected in the translation. And like Clark-Bekederemo who brings his remarkable gift of translation to bear on the corpus of the oral text and its performance mechanics, Niane too has piously re-inscribed the oral text in the texture of the written and the outcome is a compelling, gripping and fascinating narrative that cascades with lucidity and musicality.

Difference of Sameness, Sameness of Difference: Versions of the Sundiata Epic Theories of oral performance are decidedly eloquent about the text as a living tissue which issues from an informing context that endows it with birth and ontological existence. Correspondingly, the soul of the oral text is the performance before a live, active and participating audience that shapes and determines its direction, mood, temperament and atmosphere. Indelibly inscribed within the interstices of the text and the fabric of the performance is the very individuality of the performer whose extemporaneous or spontaneous dramatic enactment before the audience is profoundly affected by a rhizome of issues. These include, among others, his creative fund of cultural knowledge, linguistic facility, power of improvisation, voice modulation, kinaesthetics and paralinguistic resources all of which are intrinsic to the text of performance. Fundamentally too, it has become an established and received epistemology in oral literary scholarship that no one artist, no matter how accomplished, can perform the same text twice in the same way without


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subtle variations. If an individual performer distils a particular performance differently from any other performance even of the same form, it, therefore, signifies that different oral artists can incarnate different versions of the same oral form. No one performance is and can be the same even by the same performer. The culmination of the argument remains that there is necessarily bound to be different or variegated versions of the same story, legend, myth or epic performed by one artist, not to mention different artists, at different times and in different circumstances and contexts. As such, it is possible to talk of a difference of sameness whereby a particular tale or story from the same culture assumes different forms or versions when told or performed by a particular artist or artists. The sameness of difference and the difference of sameness congeal at the level of the different versions belonging to the same cultural stock and provenance. This theory of the oral performance provides invaluable insights into the multivalent versions of the Sundiata epic which are the creative output of the individual artists or performers. These versions are, however, united by the cohesiveness of the Sundiata epic which constitutes a single and coherent narrative trajectory even though the individual raconteurs bring their artistic refinements and accomplishments to bear on the text of performance. D.T. Niane’s version, Sundiata: An Epic Old Mali constitutes one version, perhaps the most famous, and most critically acclaimed and most celebrated. But Niane is not alone in the creative enterprise of codifying the Sundiata epic. Like bees to nectar, Gordon Innes too was attracted to the Sundiata epic. His study significantly and informatively titled: Sunjata: The Three Mandinka Versions (1974), has equally demonstrated the greatness of the Sundiata epic, its multiplicity of versions and the polyphony of voices in its rendition. Innes’ versions represent the creative afflatus and sensibilities of three griots from which he collected the epic and translated. These include: Bamba Suso, Dembo Kanute and Banna Kanute whose performances were recorded at different times. Consistent with the theory and, indeed, the praxis of oral performance, there necessarily emerges the possibility of these multiple versions because of the individuality of the artists, their wealth of cultural knowledge, the audiences and, indeed, other surrounding circumstances both intraneous and extraneous to the performances of the various versions. It is possible to identify the differences which inhere in the versions of both Niane and Innes. In the first place, the nomenclatural essence of the eponymous hero differs. While Niane orthographically renders it as “Sundiata”, Innes realises it as “Sunjata”. Indeed, there is a third version

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of the epic hero’s name, “Soundjata” and even a fourth, “Sunyetta”. All these orthographic differences achieve their sameness in the personality of the hero. Beyond the different versions of the name, Niane’s version appropriates the prosaic as its narrative style and strategy endowing his version with the character of an extended or grandiose tale. Innes’ versions are all in poetic form adopting a versified structural pattern that gives them the quality of poetry.6 This naturally foregrounds the tensions and asymmetrical relations that are thought to exist between the two literary forms of prose and poetry. The question which arises from this construction of difference between the two gravitates to what constitutes prose or poetry and what does not. For prose can be poetic just like poetry can be prosaic depending on the author’s stylistic choice and the interpretive possibilities it generates. This also has implications for reception theory and cannot be exhaustively resolved. However, I imagine prose in this context to be a narrative form that adheres to the conventions of continuous narration following the fashion known to fiction like the tale, the short story or even the modern novel even if fused with poetic elements. Poetry here is understood in terms of form or structure and not necessarily language. The structural organisation follows a pattern known to poetry and not prose and so is conceived as essentially poetic. The distinction, if any, which I find here between prose and poetry consists primarily in the structure and not the language of the epic. These tensions and asymmetrical relations, which are unnecessary and diversionary, gravitate to which form is more sophisticated and elevated, and has been consistent with the politics of Euro-American literary establishment. Indeed, in my proposition, such distinctions should be left to the culture to figure out since the culture is best equipped to resolve such apparent conflicts and contradictions of oral forms. One fundamental valorisation of this prejudice came from Ruth Finnegan who strenuously denied the existence of the epic tradition in Africa based on such fraudulent and ignorant claims of binary oppositions between the poetic and the prosaic. Finnegan ventilates this tendentious argument concerning these African oral forms when she observes that what can be said to be the African version of the European epic lacks the stylised qualities namely poetic language and sheer length: But almost all these in fact turn out to be in prose, not verse – and often only brief prose tales at that. There are only a very few in verse form. Many of the lengthy praise poems… do contain some epic elements and provide the nearest common parallels to this form in Africa (109).


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Through this singular postulation, and in a political and ideological sense, Finnegan was imposing Western canonical standards of the epic in the tradition of Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad and Milton’s Paradise Lost on Africa, employing the paradigms of poetry and prose as if the two are mutually exclusive and belong to binarist schemata. By so doing, the critic and scholar neatly erased the epic from the landscape of African (oral) literature. Finnegan’s denial of the existence of the epic in Africa somehow falls into the formulaic categorisation of Africa by the Western mind as lacking literature, history, culture and civilisation prior to the presence of white colonisation. The distinction between poetry and prose which appears to be at the root of Niane’s and Innes’ versions of the Sundiata epic is not an absolute and unresolved one. The difference is a different difference. Indeed, it is paradoxical and interesting that elsewhere, Finnegan contradicts herself when she characterises the relationship as “approximate” and “relative”. She states: […] any differentiation of ‘poetry’ from ‘prose’ or, indeed, of ‘poetry’ as a specific literary product or activity, can only be approximate. The distinction between ‘poetry’ and prose is relative, and the whole delimitation of what is to count as ‘poetry’ necessarily depends not on one strictly verbal definition but as a series of factors to do with style, form, setting and local classification, not all of which are likely to coincide (27, my emphasis).

It will seem that Finnegan was not sufficiently informed before that there is an ‘approximate’ or ‘relative’ interaction between poetry and prose and that this is also informed by local classificatory paradigms; or that it was just convenient for her to erect differences between the two in the first instance and dissolve the essentialist boundaries later, or both. What emerges from this seeming paradox by Finnegan is representative of the flagrant misrepresentations and prejudiced evaluative judgments that some European scholars arbitrarily and uncharitably visited an African oral forms which, in their biased estimation, emanated from ‘primitive’ and ‘philistinic’ peoples. Despite what can be refracted as the difference between Niane’s and Innes’ versions of the Sundiata epic, it is significant to observe that poetry and prose are coterminous and constructing hierarchies between them as literary linguistic forms is unproductive and unavailing. This is particularly so in African languages and, in this instance, the Mandinka as Ken Goodwin argues: In many African languages the formal distinction between prose and poetry

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is less marked … particularly when it is accompanied by a concern for effectiveness in oral declamation, can produce verse in English that is indistinguishable from oratorical prose (xi, my emphasis).

Thus, between Niane and Innes’ versions and, perhaps, other lesser known ones, there exists a difference of sameness but also a sameness of difference which essentially and ironically define the Sundiata epic. On his part, Gordon Innes provides insight into this variegatedness of the versions of the same epic: … I would like to say just a word on the form of the Sunjata epic; but to do this is not as straightforward as it might appear. Though I have talked about the Sunjata epic, it is not at all clear just what this means… There is in fact no entity to which I can point and say ‘This is the Sunjata epic’ … there is no Sunjata epic in the sense of a particular piece of literature which may be repeated in substantially the same form. One bard’s account of Sunjata’s life may differ markedly from that of another bard both in form and in content; we may speak of all such accounts as versions of the Sunjata epic, but there is no authoritative version, no one version to which one may point and say, ‘This is the Sunjata epic’. Perhaps the Sunjata epic is ultimately just the knowledge of the story, of many literary motifs and formulae stored up somewhere inside the bards’ heads, together with a technique for giving this knowledge verbal expression; a valid performance of the Sunjata epic is a performance which is accepted as such by listeners who are themselves well-versed in the Sunjata epic (102, emphasis mine)

Despite the existence of subtle differences among the versions of the Sunjata epic as Innes indicates, these ostensibly disparate threads constitute a single loom which is the epic of Sundiata Keita, the king of Mali Empire. The different versions, however, underscore the dynamism and elasticity of the oral word as against the frozenness of the scribal. They also demonstrate the uniqueness of the individuality of the oral artist in distilling knowledge and truth from the cultural traditions of society, his/her personal interventions, spontaneous creativity and perfervid performative process before the active audience which acts as the immediate jury, approbating or reprobating, for the structural coherence and functionality of the performance. Innes particularly impresses on us that just as there are individual artists, so there are bound to be individual versions of the same Sundiata epic. This again justifies the earlier assertion which has become established in oral literary discourses that not even the same artist can faithfully reenact the same performance exactly the same manner he executed it the first time without any noticeable variations. As Finnegan again observes,


Chapter Four […] the different versions of the ‘Sunjata epic’ throughout the Manding area of West Africa seem to offer an exact instance of the blend of composition and performance… It concerns the exploits of the great hero Sunjata who established himself as king of Manding and Susu in the thirteenth century. Many versions of the story are extant even in the small area of the Gambia alone (75).

Also, on the different versions pointing to the difference of sameness and sameness of difference, Gordon Innes again enters a significant argument thus: From these and from published versions from elsewhere in the Manding area one almost has the impression that the Sunjata legend consists of a repertoire of various motifs, incidents, themes … and that each griot makes a selection which he strings together into a coherent narrative (105).

The argument congealing around the polyvalent versions of the Sundiata epic peaks significantly at the level of textuality and intertextuality. The different texts of performance which issue from the same source of the Sundiata epic enact a performance multilogue, what appears to be “a babel” of ostensibly centrifugal narrative voices that find a centripetal fixity and wholeness in Sundiata, the epic hero. This multilogic encounter among the versions is reminiscent of the Bakhtinian heteroglossia where pluralities of seemingly unmerged voices enact a dramatic interlocutory encounter. This is also present and manifest in theories of texuality and intertextuality as amply demonstrated by the Sundiata epic.

The Sundiata Epic and the Liberationist Ethos In the Sundiata epic intermeshes the histo-cultural, the political and the spiritual. All these are animated, governed, and defined by a liberationist ethos which Sundiata, the hero embodies. These trajectories of history, culture, politics and spirituality share a certain commonality in the experiential realities of domination and liberation which are mutually antagonistic and irreconcilable. The Sundiata narrative particularly envisions in concrete metaphoric strokes this imperative of historical, political and spiritual liberationist ethos (Tsaaior 320). Johnanna Grimes et al refine the claims and assumptions of liberationist narratives as espoused by the Sundiata epic when they state that: These narratives recount the liberation experiences of the tradition …for example, Sundiata, is herein listed as a narrative of spiritual liberation; however, because the hero’s story reflects many of the historical and

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spiritual underpinnings of his culture, the narrative could also be characterized as one of political liberation (3).

Particularly, Niane’s Sundiata constitutes a powerful interface for the mobilisation and release of historical, political and spiritual energies of the people towards their liberation from domination of any kind. It is as such a historical documentation of the founder and emperor of the old Mali Empire, his peculiar nativity, growth, development and transition from minority to majority; his career as a valorous hunter and warrior and his illustrious tenure as emperor. As an epic character, Niane represents and imbues Sundiata with superlative qualities, venerable dispositions, uncommon courage, towering physical endowments and almost near transcendental and invincible physical and spiritual powers that are prerequisites for epic heroism and national liberation. Dorothy Blair navigates the surrounding milieux that necessitated the dramatic emergence of the warrior king, Sundiata on the scene, the liberationist ethic that defined his legendary reign and the mythical status his exploits transported him to. She states elaborately: The religious tyranny of this period caused the eventual disruption of the vast Empire of Ghana which inaugurated a century of anarchy, with perpetual wars between rival kings. In the thirteenth century the kingdom of Manding or Mali grew rich with the discovery of gold mines. The young king Soundjata Keita of Manding overthrew the cruel tyrant, Soumaoro – reputed to owe his power to sorcery –and was proclaimed emperor. The legendary exploits of Soundjata, together with the mystery associated with his birth, childhood and death, have made him one of the great mythical heroes of African epics. He was a warrior emperor, imposing his authority on warring kings, who submitted to his vassalage, thus putting an end to the ceaseless strife and establishing a peaceful, prosperous, well-organised society, whose greatness continued under his successors throughout the fourteenth century (4).

The centrality of place Sundiata occupies in history and the respect he is accorded perhaps explain why his epic has remained ageless and everpresent in the consciousness of the people. It is a historical document, political treatise and spiritual doctrine; indeed, a veritable narrative of liberation and emancipation. In terms, not only of age and spatial distribution, but also of housing the grammar of values, the syntax of cultural mores and the morphology of spirituality, the Sundiata epic towers above the rest and Gordon Innes underscores this: […] it seems reasonable to suppose that there has been a continuous epic tradition over several centuries but that with the passage of time, heroes


Chapter Four disappear over the horizon of memory, with the single exception of Sunjata … The Sunjata epic occupies a unique place in the corpus of the Mandinka oral literature; it is by far the most highly valued item of oral literature which the Mandinka possess. Though it is similar to other epics dealing with the careers of great warriors, it is sharply distinguished from them by the very special place Sundiata occupies in the hearts of the Mandinka and of all Manding people. He is a hero of such tremendous stature as to be a different kind from other Manding heroes: he is much more than just a great warrior, more even than the man who established the Mali Empire; Sunjata is also a cultural hero- it was he who established the network of social relationships found in Mandinka society, and who established the norms of social behaviour. For the Mandinka, as for the Manding generally, it is Sunjata who gave them their glorious past and their social institutions, and they have therefore a stronger emotional set toward the Sunjata epic than they have toward other items of their oral literature (102).

In this perspective, even though the Sundiata epic serves as the narrative epicentre, the organising principle and the culmination of the epic tradition among the people, it also shares kindredship with other African epics which also celebrate the venerable lives of heroic personages in various African communities. Instantiations include Mwindo among the Banyanga of Zaire (now Congo DR), Silamaka among the Fulani of West Africa, Kambili also in the Senegambia region, Chaka among the Zulu of South Africa, Karagbe, among the Tiv of Nigeria, and enanga among the Bahaya of Tanzania.7 All these legendary heroes and their narratives form an oral narrative mosaic that negotiates nationhood, with a profound vision of cultural particularity and referentiality, social institutional patterns and frameworks and refracts these communities within the larger continental whole and with a pan-African vision. Narratives in this sense are eminently synecdochic. As epic celebrations, they represent the whole through the community as elaborations of shared histories, lived experiences and destinies. Frederic Jameson, deploying Marxist rhetoric and dialectics, conceptualises such narratives as the visceral communal voice of the people who are dominated and are writhing in shackles, longing desperately for redemption from the perennial oppression and repression of their exploiters. They become powerful expressions of the yearning for liberation against taskmasters, monumental testaments interiorised within the contours of society, and fragmentary narrative manifestations of grandiose stories. Jameson avers: […] the oral tales of tribal society, the fairy tales that are the irrepressible voice and expression of the underclasses of the great systems of domination, adventure stories and melodrama, and the popular or mass culture of our

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own time are all syllables and broken fragments of some single immense story (105).

Epics are, therefore, individual biographies but also harbour something that is tantamount to collective or communal biographies. This is because in celebrating the epochal lives of the individual heroes that personify them, epics also invariably celebrate the communities that provide the socio-cultural, political and spiritual contexts from which the individual epic heroes emerge. There is, therefore, a dialectical relationship between the hero and the community as the community is the hero, and the hero, the community. Within this schema, there is the interfacing of individuality and communality. Embedded in this intimate interaction is the representativeness of the image of the individual for the society and its cherished institutional values and mores. The epic hero also becomes the rallying vanguard for liberation in all ramifications of societal life.8 One cardinal feature of the epic is that the hero must confront formidable challenges and obstacles strewn on his path to shapen and sharpen his vision before realising his mission and reaching his destiny in life. This is usually accomplished through the intervention of extraterrestrial essences such as spirits, mediums, sorcerers, angels, gods and goddesses and the cult of wizards and witches. These engage other similarly metaphysical regiments opposed to the hero in a spirited contestation for supremacy. In fidelity to this epic principle, Niane’s Sundiata dramatises the life of its eponymous hero in the prohibitive and daunting tasks ranged against him. The hero is afflicted not only with elephantine physical disability but also with psychological trauma, spiritual ennui and social crisis as he is still toddling at three. Niane’s griot informs with philosophical determinism: Each man finds his way already marked out for him and he can change nothing of it. Sogolon’s son had a slow and difficult childhood. At the age of three, he still crawled along on all fours while children of the same age were already walking. He had nothing of the great beauty of his father Nare Maghan. He had a head so big that he seemed unable to support it; he also had large eyes which would open wide whenever anyone entered his mother’s house. He was taciturn and used to spend the whole day just sitting in the middle of the house. Whenever his mother went out he would crawl on all fours to rummage about in the calabashes in search of food, for he was very greedy (p. 15).

Naturally, Sundiata’s aristocratic parents also shared keenly in this childhood crisis, a condition that must have been embarrassing to them. But as it might appear, this childhood misfortune is a process of preparation


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for the future destiny of the hero. Clark-Bekederemo’s Ozidi also faces similar challenges, though not physical, but psychological brutalisation which springs from the consuming passion to avenge his murdered father, Ozidi senior, a victim of communal conspiracy. In a determined effort to surmount the historic challenges the hero is confronted with, Fate or Destiny becomes a character and enlists the hero as an ally. In the case of Sundiata, Niane observes: “If it is foretold that your destiny should be fulfilled in such and such a land, men can do nothing about it… the destiny of Sogolon’s son was bound up with that of Mali. Neither the jealousy of a cruel step-mother, nor her wickedness, could alter for a moment the course of great destiny” (p.47). Sundiata, therefore, benefits from the benevolence and favouritism of spiritual forces governed by Fate and Destiny to un-weave the web of the malevolent plans spun by his step-mother, Sassouma Berete and the witches, and later of several others like Mansa Konkon, to reweave his destiny towards a desired, premeditated end. In achieving this, Niane records that Sogolon Kedjou, like Oreame in Ozidi’s case, is instrumental to the son’s rendezvous with Destiny, not only in bringing him into the world as a mother, but also in assiduously shielding him from perceived danger and working towards the accomplishment of his mission in life. Epics are also theatres of violent wars. While some are spontaneous, others are carefully orchestrated and prosecuted. And wars abound in both epics: Ozidi and Sundiata. In all, the belligerents and their respective cohorts share things in common. These are formidability of physical presence, indomitability of spirit, spartan courage and the commanding ability to vanquish the adversary. The hero, however, eventually emerges victorious over his legion of foes. In Sundiata, Niane delineates Sundiata as the warrior king, Mari Jata, the Lion and Buffalo: “Djata was strong enough to face his enemies. At the age of eighteen he had the stateliness of the lion, and the strength of the buffalo. His voice carried authority, his eyes were live coals, his arm was iron, he was the husband of power” (47). This marks a radical departure from when he was paralysed. Niane further states that Sundiata’s bravery and splendour surpassed even that of Alexander, the Great: By my mouth you will get to know the story of the ancestor of great Mali, the story of him who, by his exploits, surpassed even Alexander the Great, he who, from the East, shed his rays upon all the countries of the West (1-2).

In Sundiata’s wars, he is not alone. After overcoming the conspiracies of the royal court and aristocratic politics that see to the emergence of

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Dankaran Touman, his half brother as king, (and like Ozidi senior who is denied kingship through subterfuge), Sundiata enters the theatre of war in his legendary wanderings while in exile. He is assisted by his half-brother Manding Bory, the army of Moussa Tounkara, king of Mema whom Sundiata fights his wars, and at the most crucial moment, in the military confrontation against Soumaoro, the sorcerer king of Sosso. In his epic war, he is assisted by Kamandjan, king of Sibi, Tabon Wana, king of Sinikimbon and Fakoli, Soumaoro’s cousin whose wife, Keleya the latter has defiled and married. Fakoli joins forces with the Lion king, Sundiata because he is bent on avenging his uncle and recovering his wife. Here too, vengeance provides a driving or motivating force like in the case of Ozidi. Others who join forces with Sundiata include Siara Kouman Konate, Faony Diarra, Faony Konde, Mansa Traore, and of course, Balla Faseke and Sundiata’s half-sister, Nana Triban. The last two are crucial in the onslaught as they reveal the secret behind Soumaoro’s seeming invincibility. It is the collaboration among the generals, an impressive roll of courageous men and women rebellious against Soumaoro’s tyranny and despotism that prove the indomitability and final triumph of Sundiata as he confronts the enemy. Niane’s distinguished and accomplished scholarship in the Sundiata epic resonates with compelling details, freshness of style, credibility and cultural authenticity. He deploys a translational strategy that vividly captures the intricacies of grammar, deictics of speech, architectonics of lexis and structure and the core values and spirit of the Mandinka language such that the oral flavour of the narrative remains pungent, pulsating and unmistakable. What emerges from this unique ability in re-inscribing the oral text in the texture of the written is a narrative trajectory that heaves with a repertoire of oral literary resources like songs, music, dances, proverbs, and aphorisms, etc. The closeness of the written (translated) text to the original (oral) text is underscored by the fact that the narrative is not burdened by undue contrivances and permutations of style, gratuitous ornamentations, syntactic solecisms and obtrusive narrative sophistication and flourishes. It is in consonance with this uniqueness and reflectiveness of the original in Niane’s translation that Arne Zettersten comments concerning the significance of the performer, the recorder and, indeed, oral literature among other associated cultural studies: […] the talent of the performers is important in oral literature and the relevance of recording as much as possible of oral literature in Africa must be stressed. This is essential not only for the sake of literature in


Chapter Four general but for the sake of research in various aspects of African history, sociology, and so forth (5).

Within the texture of the text, it is possible to identify a style which is simultaneously simple and yet sophisticated and elevated without necessarily been pedantic and torturously cryptic. This is in consonance with the elevated and dignified life of the hero whose celebration must achieve direct synonymy or correspondence between the grandeur of his epic life and the robust linguistic idiom that serves as a mediating force. Though Niane occasionally betrays snatches of departure from the original with the strategy of achieving linguistic refinement in his translation, he achieves remarkable familiarity with, and success in mobilising the Mandinka language to bear the burden of the translation with his linguistic facility. Niane clearly establishes a pact with his audience and this he fulfils faithfully through an accessible style that does not alienate but raises the cognitive experience of the audience. Ken Goodwin observes in this regard: The simplest way of accounting for this widespread simplification of style is in terms of the writers’ intention in regard to their audience: they want their comments on political and social matters to be influential, so while continuing to use English as a medium, they eschew the more recondite, identifiably ‘poetic’ forms of language (xi).

Thus, like Clark–Bekederemo, Niane adopts a narrative strategy using language as an expressive vehicle in an automatised fashion thereby enhancing the literary quality, aesthetic appeal and popular acclaim of his version of the Sundiata epic.

Literariness and the Dual Heritage of Oral Aesthetics in Sundiata In sustaining the bardic tradition of orality enamoured of, and personified by the griots, and in exploiting the twin syntagmatic and paradigmatic axes of form and content, Niane who is a griot in his right, translates with felicitous piety proverbs in the narrative to season and spice speech patterns which serve the useful purpose of forceful and circumcised communicational gestalt. This oral aesthetic resource of the proverb, though rigid and fixed in its structure is, however, open and susceptible to shifting and plural interpretive grids. Sundiata heaves with a plethora of proverbial significations. The hunter-seer who adventitiously pays a courtesy visit on the royal court of Maghan Kon Fatta and his

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griot, Gnankouman Doua while the two are resting under the great silk cotton tree raises the spectre of this proverbiality. He announces in a profusion of proverbial language: The silk-cotton tree springs from a tiny seed- that which defies the tempest weighs in its germ no more than a grain of rice. Kingdoms are like trees, some will be silk-cotton trees, some will remain dwarf palms and the powerful silk-cotton tree will cover them with its shade (5).

This surfeit of proverbiality adumbrates vaguely the arrival of a new dawn in Mali with the birth of the future legendary king, Sundiata. But the proverb also signifies the twilight or dusk of Maghan Kon Fatta’s reign. The silk-cotton tree here is a metaphoric extension of Sundiata and Mali under his reign while the tiny seed is simultaneously Sundiata and his father. Hence, Destiny will march “with great strides”, with fleeting steps towards the dawn of a new Mali under Sundiata, the silk-cotton tree. The dwarf palms are the tributaries or vassals of the new Mali which will hide under its shadows. Another proverbial deployment is in the interlocution between Sassouma Berete, the Queen Mother and one of the witches, Soumosso Konkomba. Bent on killing Sundiata, the Queen Mother wants to contract the witches to execute the plan but the witches decline using reptile metaphors: “The snake seldom bites the foot that does not walk”. This means that Sundiata will be harmless to those who will not offend his sensibilities. To this the Queen Mother replies: “Yes, but there are snakes that attack everybody” (24) strengthening her position that Sundiata will be a terror to all if he is allowed to be king. The plot later culminates in the temptation of Sundiata through the plucking of gnounou leaves in Sundiata’s mother’s garden to draw his ire and find the justificatory basis for harming him. This proves inefficacious as it meets with Sundiata’s benignity and temperance. The plot to destroy Sundiata is extended to the court of Mansa Konkon when Sassouma Berete sends gold to the king who employs the game of Wori to kill Sundiata (p. 30). This is a crafty game played with pebbles that thrives on proverbial idiom and the loser pays with his life. The king has never lost until Sundiata ends his winning streak, even though the king reneges on his word to give anything of his choice as prize. Also, the conversational exchange between Manding Bory and Sundiata on winning the royal favour of Mansa Konkon through the king’s daughter is governed by proverbial language. Manding Bory announces in answer to Sundiata’s accusatory assertion that Manding is flirting with the king’s daughter: “Yes brother, but I would have you know that to drive a cow


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into the stable it is necessary to take the calf in”. To this Sundiata replies, “Of course, the cow will follow the kidnapper. But take care, for if the cow is in a rage so much the worse for the kidnapper” (29). The significance of the proverb lies in the fact that if the sorcerer king to be tamed is sufficiently provoked, Manding Bory will bear the consequence of his wrath. Another proverb is, “The snake, man’s enemy, is not long-lived yet the serpent that lives hidden will surely die old” (p. 47). Also using reptile metaphors, the proverb’s morality inheres in Sundiata’s exile which hides him from his enemies until he is ready to challenge his foes. This is what his mother achieves when she reasons: “Let us leave here, my son; Manding Bory and Djamarou are vulnerable… Let us go away from here. You will return to reign when you are a man, for it is in Mali that your destiny must be fulfilled” (26-27). And when the opportune moment of fulfilling the prophecy and destiny of Sundiata arrives, he is prepared to confront Soumaoro with few troops and when asked by Manding Bory, he replies: “No matter how small a forest may be, you can always find there sufficient fibres to tie up a man”. As he further explains, “Numbers mean nothing; it is worth that counts. With my cavalry I shall clear myself a path to Mali” (48), suggesting he is ready to face the enemy. Niane has also inscribed the oral text in the texture of the written through the rendering of songs and music with their accompanying oral acoustics. The songs and music satisfy a structural purpose which is crucial to the overall organisation and coherence of the oral narrative and its performative ontology. The songs also possess the potentials of encouraging audience involvement and participation at significant moments of the narrative process and lending the performance the requisite vivacity, conviviality or high-spiritedness it requires to generate and sustain the high tempo that will stimulate the interest and cognition of the audience. Fitting exemplifications in the narrative include the nuptial feast between Nare Maghan and his new wife, Sogolon Kedjou, a festive occasion during which music, song and dance punctuate the event with infectious affectiveness and pronounced joviality among the people. As Niane records, During this time, the festivity was reaching its height in front of the king’s enclosure. Each village was represented by a troupe of dancers and musicians… Sitting in front of the palace, Nare Maghan listened to the grave music of the ‘bolon’ in the midst of the courtiers. Doua, standing amid the eminent guests, held his great spear in his hand and sang the anthem of the Mandingo kings. Everywhere in the village, people were dancing and singing… (p. 10).

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With the rendering of the anthem, Doua is obliquely announcing that the marriage is a national event but prophetically too that with the marriage, a new sun has risen on Mali Empire to banish the darkness. Songs, music and dance also play a leading officiating role during the arrival of Sundiata to the royal household of Nare Maghan. The Lion Child’s birth was heralded by elemental, phenomenological upheavals. In the midst of the dry season, there were peals of thunder, lightning and a heavy downpour that refreshed the land. Then the announcement of the royal birth sailed in to the warm accompaniment of instrumental music and rhythms of celebration. Niane captures this in a most lively style that speaks of tremendous jubilation and light-heartedness: The hasty beats of the royal drum announced to Mali the birth of a son; the village tam-tams took it up and thus all Mali got the good news the same day. Shouts of joy, tam-tams and ‘balafons’took the place of the recent silence and all the musicians of Niane made their way to the palace (1314).

Another instance song plays a significant part in the epic as a focalising and modulating agent is the singing of the ‘Hymn to the Bow” by Balla Fasseke. Wielding his falsetto voice, the griot roars to song and the reverberations are felt as Sundiata overcomes his physical impediment by lifting the iron bars and recovering the use of his legs. Niane informs: In a great effort he straightened up and was on his feet at one go-but the great bar of iron was twisted and had taken the form of a bow! Then Balla Fasseke sang out the “Hymn to the Bow”, striking up with his powerful voice: ‘Take your bow, Simbon/ Take your bow and let us go. / Take your bow, Sogolon Djata (21).

The song is symbolically significant. It is a metaphoric incision in the consciousness of Mali that the child is a warrior whose “bow” will liberate Mali from its enemies as the bow is a traditional weapon symbolic of bravery and hunting prowess. Sogolon too breaks into a song of thanksgiving: “Suddenly she sang these words of thanks to God who had given her son the use of his legs: Oh day, what a beautiful day, /Oh day, day of joy; /Allah Almighty, you never created a finer day./So my son is going to walk!” (21). Thus, with theological cadences and resonances, Sogolon praises the most merciful and beneficient creator. Balla Fasseke again employs the song mode while playing on the great ‘balafon’ of the tyrant and sorcerer king, Soumaoro which he discovers in his secret chamber. “The griot”, Niane states, “always has a weakness for music, for music is the griot’s soul” (p. 39). As Fasseke plays the balafon,


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the music distilled is so hypnotic that it quietens Soumaoro’s fetishes like owls and the snake in the ghoulish chamber. Then he bursts into song humming Soumaoro’s greatness with disarming charm and effectiveness: There he is, Soumaoro Kante. All hail, you who sit on the skins of kings All hail Simbon of the deadly arrow. I salute you, you who wear clothes of human skin (40)

The song and the music of the balafon massages Soumaoro’s ego and vanity such that even though Fasseke should be in grave danger, he is spared. This later proves fatal for the sorcerer king. As the generals perfect strategies for the epic battle against Soumaoro and the eventual triumph of Sundiata and his installation as king, song and music become of fundamental relevance to the narrative kinesis. Song and music are indispensable to the fighting spirit. Their hypnotic and hypnotising significance, as indicated in the case of Ozidi, casts an irresistible spell on the belligerents and fires them with fearlessness and courage to confront the enemy. Kwabena Nketia informs that “wars are fought with music” (24). The generals and their troops are launched into the war mood when Sundiata appears to address them on the military strategy against Soumaoro: When the son of the buffalo woman and his army appeared, the trumphets, drums and tam-tams blended with the voices of the griots. The son of Sogolon was surrounded by his swift horsemen and his horse pranced along. All eyes were fixed on the child of Mali, who shone with glory and splendour. When he was within call, Kamandjan made a gesture and the drums, tam-tams and voices fell silent… Raising his hand, Maghan Sundiata spoke thus… I am going to avenge the indignity that Mali has undergone. A shout of joy issuing from thousands of throats filled the whole heaven. The drums and tam-tams rumbled while the griots struck up Balla Fasseke’s ‘Hymn to the Bow’ (55-56).

The very primacy of place and prominence accorded the griot in the narrative flourishes establishes the oral literary credentials of Niane’s translation as an impressive effort that keeps alive the oral tradition even as it has been transmitted to the cold scribal tradition. Balla Fasseke is outstanding in this griotic heritage and tradition. Niane depicts him as an alchemist of the oral word, and heir to the bardic line. He is scion of the oral tradition, an eminent kindred soul to the galaxy of custodians of the sacred word, guardians of cultural norms and values and conservationists of history for posterity. As Djeli Mamoudou Kouyate affirms, “kings have

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prescribed destinies just like men, and seers who probe the future know it. They have knowledge of the future, whereas we griots are depositories of the knowledge of the past. But whoever knows the history of a country can read its future” (41). The strategic relevance and significance of the griot to the immortality of the oral word is also echoed by Dorothy Blair when she states of their roles: …the activities of griots (troubadours) as professional chroniclers, praisesingers and story-tellers: of their responsibility for preserving the reservoir of fable, legend, folk-wisdom and history which formed the basis for an authentic popular literature, transmitted orally from generation to generation. The individual griot, through his talent, would add eloquence, lyricism, descriptive or dramatic detail to create a varied and rich poetic heritage (3).

Pursuing the argument about the griot further, Blair again observes concerning the oratorical and rhetorical accomplishments of the griot as a veritable literary connoisseur with an uncanny ability for linguistic manipulation and the moulding of images from the kiln of language. Here, Blair is particular about Niane’s griot, but also others too: …the griot was orator and stylist as well, showing as much concern for the literary form and expression as for the context of his teaching… Niane’s griot, the chronicler of Soundjata, will be the best to give us the example of his literary style, in which the imagery, the rhythmical phrasing and incantatory repetitions are very close to poetry (26).

It is expedient to state that the Sundiata epic feeds on a number of vocalisation styles in its narration and these stylistic modes mediate the tempo and character of its narrativity. Indeed, Gordon Innes identifies three basic styles of vocalisation and these include the speech, recitative and song modes. He further states: To enable him to give the Sundiata epic verbal expression, a bard has at this disposal three styles or modes of vocalisation, which I call the speech mode, the recitation mode, and the song mode. Of these, the speech mode is closest to ordinary speech, the song mode is selfexplanatory, the recitation mode may be said very roughly to be somewhere intermediate between the other two. In the versions of the Sunjata epic which I have collected, the great bulk of each one is in the speech mode; this is the mode in which the story is told. The song mode, rather naturally, is used for songs; it was the custom for a hero to have a song or songs composed in his honour, usually referring to some highlight in his career… the recitation mode usually occurs with praises and also with


Chapter Four fixed phrases of a somewhat philosophical kind, such as those expressing the thought that we know the past and the present, but not the future, or that no man can escape death when his time has come (102-103).

Innes opines that though there is a subsisting correlationship between the styles of vocalisation, it is not a dialectical correspondence even as the three modes overlap and interpenetrate. He also establishes, though not completely accurately, that “The language of Mandinka oral epic is essentially everyday Gambian Mandinka” (103), there are instances of proverbial deployments which render the language cryptic and obscure. Equally problematic and unacceptable is Innes’ assertion that “there is an extreme paucity of… imagery and description” (103). This is an obvious exaggeration as Innes is seeking to draw parallels between the Sundiata epic and European epics hence the fund of imagery and descriptions in the text are lost on him. Though Niane’s translation is “highly successful”, it betrays a gravitation to literariness and creative manipulation of the text based on his familiarity with the epic tradition and Gordon Innes again comments insightfully: Though cast in the form of a performance by an old bard, Niane’s text seems to be a literary recreation of the Sunjata epic, based on Niane’s profound knowledge of the epic tradition, rather than the translation of one particular text. Such a procedure would be deplored by folklorists, who demand the text as it issued from the lips of the performer (109).

But as Innes also informs, Niane’s achievement reposes in his “extremely successful” version which is “better known, especially among non-specialists, than any other version”. He adds: “His translation has a dignified and slightly elevated tone which distinguishes it from everyday speech, without straining for literary effect. It seems to me to succeed in the difficult aim of conveying to the reader something of the feeling of a bard’s performance” (109).

Conclusion Admittedly, the sheer expansiveness of the boundaries or territorial range covered by the Sundiata epic reveals that it is a collective or communal celebration of an individual life, that of the founder of old Mali empire. Sundiata is pre-eminently an oral epic which has undergone the throes of translation to assume the status of writtenness. By inscribing this oral text on the texture of the written, Niane has etched Sundiata on the

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canvas of Malian history and, indeed, that of the world. Sundiata, as it were, has outlived his time and generation having entered the loric richness of cultures and traditions along the Sene-gambia area. It is remarkable that the nation-states that identify their ancestry in and share cultural affinities with Sundiata are many thus making Mari Jata not only the patriarch of Mali empire but also of many modern-day nations in the West African sub-region. But like Ozidi Saga, Sundiata is also an epic narrative that negotiates nationhood. In its narratological strategies, the epic interrogates the nations as it narrates them concerning the unity of purpose and communality of spirit that governed life and mediated existence in the old Mali empire under the legendary Sundiata but is lacking now. The epic, therefore, harbours in its narrative womb issues of contemporary socio-political and econo-cultural significance which must be processed, harnessed and channelled towards productive ends in these countries. As an oral text which has taken on the hue of the scribal, Niane’s Sundiata valorises a pan-Africanist vision with an ideo-political, historical and spiritual perspective that decidedly privileges black peoples. It is a cultural strategy of speaking back to the centre, (re)inscribing Africa into the fabric of world culture and civilisation. In its obviously counter-hegemonic practices, the epic raises an amalgam of issues whose complexion radiates rays on the essentiality and mergedness of Africa’s culturality and civilisational beingness conceptualised by Cheikh Anta Diop as the very cradle of world civilisation. Post-Afrocentric in temperament as it envisions a new order of cultural, political and spiritua freedom, the epic not only rehumanises and ennobles Africa but also enables and ennobles her as a significant member of the human community. Both heroes are aided by their mothers to succeed. Oreame plays a prominent role in Ozidi’s career as a warrior-hero in his confrontation with his adversaries. Sundiata is also helped by his mother at every moment first to escape the treachery of the Queen Mother and then Mansa Konkon. Indeed, Sundiata’s sister also provides another dimension to female agency and energy in the process of his successful defeat of Soumaoro because it is his sister who as the former’s wife reveals to him the secrets of Soumaoro’s fetish powers. The two heroes, therefore, enjoy the benevolence of women just like they are also imbued with vengeance as the motive for their actions: Ozidi, with the murder of his father, and Sundiata by the humiliation of Mali by the kingdom of Susu under its sorcerer King, Soumaoro.


Chapter Four

Works Cited Armah, Ayi Kwei. The Eloquence of the Scribes: A Memoir on the Sources and Resources of African Literature. Popenguine, Senegal: PER ANKH, 2006. Blair, Dorothy. African Literature in French: A History of Creative Writing in French From West and Equatorial Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976. Finnegan, Ruth. Oral Literature in Africa. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970. —. Oral Poetry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977. Freund, Bill. The Making of Contemporary Africa: The Development of African Society Since 1800. London: Macmillan, 1984. Goodwin, Ken. Understanding African Poetry. London: Heinemann, 1982. Grimes, Johnanna, et al. Instructors Resource Manual, Call and Response: The Riverside Anthology of the African American Literary Tradition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998. Innes, Gordon. “Stability and Change in the Griot’s Narrations”. In African Language Studies, 14, 1973. —. Sunjata: The Three Mandinka Versions. London: School of Oriental and African Studies, 1974. —. “Formulae in Mandinka Epic: The Problem of Translation”. In Isidore Okpewho (ed.). The Oral Performance in Africa. Ibadan: Spectrum Books Limited, 1990. 101-110. Jameson, Frederic. The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act. London: Routledge, 1996. Makward, Edris. “Two Griots of Contemporary Senegambia”. In Isidore Okpewho (ed.). The Oral Performance in Africa. Ibadan: Spectrum Books Limited, 1990. 23-41. Mapanje, Jack and Landeg White (comp.). Oral Poetry from Africa: An Anthology. New York: Longman, 1983. Niane, D. T. Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali. G. D. Pickett (trans). London: Longman Green, 1965. Tsaaior, James Tar. “Webbed Words: Masked Meanings: Proverbiality and Narrative/Discursive Strategies” in D.T. Niane's Sundiata: An Epic of Mali”. Proverbium 27 (2010): 339-362. Zettersten, Arne (ed.). East African Literature: An Anthology. London & New York: Longman, 1983.


The idea of society as an integrated culture, organically whole, insulated by language and tradition from the relentless advance of modernity and its supposedly alienating values, has now become unpersuasive. Instead, the notion of timeless tradition has given way to a view of societies as caught up in a process of contact, change, and transformation. This realization has had a devastating effect on many of our received ideas. The reassuring dichotomies of ‘primitve’ as opposed to ‘modern’, of ‘periphery’ as opposed to ‘centre’, have yielded a pervasive sense of the cross-cultural that has increasingly undermined the concepts of cultural difference or otherness. In a world gone inexorably cosmopolitan, the ideal of creole identities is seen as transcending earlier myths of race and nation. (Dash, “Psychology, Creolization and Hybridization” 45-46). […] the sources and roots of African literary creativity, even cultural criticism and sensibility, are to be found in the peculiarities of traditions and cognitive modes characteristic of a continuously changing and lived African world; the elicitation, implicit or explicit, of aesthetic, theoretical, and critical criteria from African sources, epistemologies, and cosmologies… (Olaniyan, Scars of Conquest, Masks of Resistance, 46) We also have our myths, but we have never employed them as a base for the subjugation of others. We also inhabit a reaslistic world, however, and, for the recovery of the fullness of that world, the black race has no choice but to prepare itself and volunteer the supreme sacrifice. (Soyinka, Nobel Lecture, 15)


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Introduction Western culture conceives itself in essentialist, specificist and transcendentalist terms, assumptions that nativism also ventilates and is believed to be guilty of. This freezing, Manichean cultural consciousness manifests itself in the Balkans of Selfness/Otherness, Empire/Province, Occident/Orient (African), Core/Periphery, Centre/Margin, White/Black, Male/Female, amongst other oppositional binaries. As an integral part of African cultural nationalism especially within the cultural imbrications and stranglehold of dominant European imperialism, African literature has also valorised indigenous values as part of a political programme of counterhegemony. However, much of Soyinka’s poetics is a counterpoise to this calculus of cultural politics. His writings constitute a dialectical trajectory through which the cultural self refracts its beingness in the prism of a global cultural order or ethos. The cardinal argument of this chapter is that the cultural specificity of Soyinka’s writings, though embedded in the African world view, is largely non-essentialist even as it occasionally gets entangled in that sticky web.2 Soyinka is a cultural ideologue but where the politics of his culture congeals is at the intersection of the articulation of African cultural systems and their interweavings with other cultures of the world in a mutually beneficial and symbiotic relationship. In other words, culture for him is not a boundary to be erected and consolidated but rather to be explored as an affirmative project for the validation of our common humanity and as members of the human family. This inscribes Soyinka’s corpus in an uncharted, interstitial space. It at once transcends a parochial narcissistic fixity, grand cultural posturing and bland idealisation of the self–what informed his philippic, venomous critical barbs against Negritude and the nativist, ‘bolekaja’ critical formation.3 It is also rooted in African cosmologies which it valorises. Its Afrocentric character executes a project of cultural self-presencing; its post-Afrocentric claims admit open-endedness and submit to self-criticism. It is, therefore, significant to state that a (post)Afrocentric vision laces and defines Soyinka’s writings and endows his entire oeuvre with a cosmopolitan outlook without necessarily compromising or hyphenating their contextual, cultural particularity in the African ontology. It is within this intricate fabric but infinitely fluid cultural particularity and universality that when in 1986, Wole Soyinka won the Nobel Prize for literature, the first African to be so honoured, it was a monumental event of his individual canonisation as a literary legend whose constituency became the whole world.4 But transcendent to this individual recognition

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and celebration of Soyinka’s by the Nobel establishment, the epochal moment also announced without equivocation the dramatic arrival of African literature and culture of which Soyinka is a foremost exponent. Thus, as an established playwright, poet, novelist essayist and activist, the cultural moorings and situatedness of Soyinka’s creative sensibility and literary enterprise in the African ontology cannot be reasonably interrogated. This cultural particularity deeply rooted in what Soyinka himself characterises as the “African worldview”,5 largely informs his distillation of thematic foci, deployment of tropes and metaphors, as well as the manipulation of characterisation, setting and perspective. Significantly, therefore, Soyinka’s corpus which spans the generic gamut constitutes a rich cultural mosaic on which is boldly etched an isomorph of veritable cultural codes and meanings peculiarly African and whose provenance can be largely located in his indigenous Yoruba cosmology. This, perhaps, crystallises Soyinka’s appropriation of Ogun, the Yoruba god of creativity and metallurgy as his creative daemon and inspirational essence. This cultural specificity foregrounds the very sociality of Soyinka’s poetics and underscores its fundamental relevance and dynamic functionality. The cultural matrix of Soyinka’s poetics in the African worldview has, however, not been without interrogation. In an easy, “Soyinka and the Philosophy of Culture”, Anthony Appiah has challenged his philosophy of culture as ahistorical and essentialist generalising his Yoruba worldview and approximating it as “African” thereby suggesting the “metaphysical and mythic unity” (259) of Africa. Appiah’s contention principally rests on the fact that Africa is not a cultural monism because of its heterogeneous cultural heritage and aggregating this plurality of cultures as one, and making a part to represent the bewildering whole, is tantamount to gratuitous ethnocentrism. However, though there is reason in Appiah’s grouse with his cultural politics, the focal point Soyinka advocates in his metaphysics of culture is not monolithic as he understands and appreciates the different cultural identities that configure and define Africa’s cultural landscape. But profoundly inscribed within this Afrocentric6 indigenous African cultural dialectic is another trajectory, the (post)Afrocentric which is also immanent in Soyinka’s poetics. Implicated here are two coextensive anticolonialist, counter-hegemonic cultural and discursive formations: the Afrocentric and the post-Afrocentric. These two are engaged in a cultural, ideological and political contest with a third cultural and discursive formation, the Euro(Ameri)centric, at once imperial, hegemonic, dominant and capable of perpetrating epistemic violence and cultural tyranny.


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The Afrocentric is an anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist and counterhegemonic cultural discourse whose claims and assumptions privilege and legitimate the indigenous African cultural ethos (Asante, 1980, 1989). However, it is fraught with a plethora of limitations, which are disenabling. These are rigidness, undue romanticism, ossification, ethnocentrism and essentialism. The post–Afrocentric is a revisionist project or discourse. It shares the counter-hegemonic character and temperament of the Afrocentric but subverts its traditionalist, idealist and essentialist ethnocentrism which it equates with the Manichean creed of the Euro(Ameri)centric. Though it asserts, affirms and authenticates the ontological essence of African culture and its grammar of values and mores, the post-Afrocentric avoids the parochial binarist culturalist schema constructed by both the Afrocentric and the Euro(Ameri)-centric and extends their narrow confines of the philosophy of culture. Appropriately, therefore, it apprehends culture as a process: fluid, dynamic, open and appropriative of other relevant cultural heritages in the kinesis of civilisation and the continuum of history. The terrain of culture to the post-Afrocentric, is the terrain of mutability, impermanence, open-endedness, meaningful mutual exchange and appropriation as well as negotiation and renegotiation. Tejumola Olaniyan elucidates the fundamental claims of the discursive achelons in what he calls “the conflictual interaction of three discursive formations” thus: […] a hegemonic, colonialist, Eurocentric discourse distinguished by its prejudicial representation of black cultural forms; an anticolonialist, Afrocentric counterdiscourse preoccupied with subverting the Eurocentric and registering cultural autonomy; and a budding, liminal, interstitial discourse that aims at once to be both anticolonialist and post–Afrocentric. The post–Afrocentric’s great strength is a singular insistence on unscrambling and supplanting the excessive Manichaeism that both constitutes the Eurocentric and undermines the subversive potential of the Afrocentric, while affirming instead the foundational premise of an irreversible imbrication of histories, and therefore of cultures and cultural forms (4).

The thinking and construction of difference in its variegated manifestations interlace and structure the first two cultural and discursive formations, the Eurocentric and the Afrocentric. The third, the post– Afrocentric, revises the first two cultural categories, interrogates their particularism and dissolves their binaristic and unyielding boundaries of Self/Other, Metropole/Province, North/South, Core/Margin, Centre/ Periphery, High/Low, Culture/Nature, Master/Slave, Male/Female. These

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are the binary oppositionalities that freeze cultures and peoples into mummies and construct essentialist, antipodal cultural contours. This unchanging schema, Jacques Derrida avers, constructs “a violent hierarchy” which when deconstructed “brings low what is high” (41-42). This perspective by Derrida is corroborated by Jonathan Dollimore: A crucial stage in their deconstruction involves an overturning, an inversion…But the reversal of authentic/inauthentic opposition…and the subversion of authenticity itself…are different aspects of the overturning in Derrida’s sense. Moreover, they are stages in a process of resistance (190).

It is our sustained and courageous contention that Soyinka’s poetics can be spatially located in the interstices of the Afrocentric and postAfrocentric cultural discourses. These discourses are united by their counterhegemonic, anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist vision against the Euro(Ameri)centric but radically conflictual in their essentialist and nonessentialist complexions and persuasions. Their power as counterdiscourse, Richard Terdiman observes, congeals in the fact that, […] situated as the other, they have the capacity to situate: to relativise the authority and stability of the dominant system of utterances which cannot even countenance their existence. They read that which cannot read them all (15-16).

The (post)Afrocentricity of Soyinka’s poetics constitutes a dialectical interaction between culture and history as self-definition and self–retrieval and culture as self-giving and self-criticism. For while Soyinka articulately affirms and authenticates the concrete existence of African culture and civilisation, he does not refract this African culturality through the prism of sacrosanctity. This is culture mediated by, and in active interaction with, other cultural ideologies and engaged in meaningful exchanges with other cultural heritages and yet retains its distinctiveness. Biodun Jeyifo rhetorically conceptualises this eclectic character of Soyinka’s poetics when he queries the mergedness of this poetics as a strategy to focalise its hybrid formation: What social and ideological uses and functions mediate, legitimize or problematise the interactional fusion of the “foreign”and “indigenous”? And what aspects, within the reinvented “indigenous” forms appear “foreign” to an indigenous audience and conversely, what absorbed “foreign” elements seem “familiar”? (247)

The cultural concreteness and fluidity of Soyinka’s poetics does not


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present a paradox. Rather, it is a dualistic trajectory that merges the “indigenous” with the “foreign”, the “self” and the “other” through an advocacy of creative interaction for a harmonious cultural whole. This (post)Afrocentricity that inhabits Soyinka’s poetics is evident in The Interpreters.7 In this novel, the principal characters are metaphoric extensions or representations of the Yoruba cosmogonic world that heaves with an array of gods who dwell in the pantheon. Kola, Sagoe, Sekoni and Egbo are delineated and invested with attributes shared by their metaphysical counterparts: Ogun, Sango and Eshu. But beyond the characterologic interpenetration between the physical and spiritual worlds, the novel yields a political significance. It is a parable about the inability of the new intelligentsia to build a nation which history tasks them. This registration of failure by the emergent elite inevitably culminates in arrested nationhood. In the novel inheres the twin visions of the Afrocentric and the postAfrocentric. Soyinka invests the universe of the novel with Yoruba cosmological and cultural elements, which function as structural markers. His perspective gravitates to cultural nationalism and self-retrieval affirming the civilisation of the Yoruba. This cultural self-incision is a resistance to and rejection of what Valentine Mudimbe calls the “epistemological filiation” (2) of Africa to Europe and America, a claim by African culturalists that is peculiarly Afrocentric. But the perspective is simultaneously self-critical underscoring its post-Afrocentric potentials. Soyinka resists the temptation to romanticist and traditionalist idealisation of the world he constructs. The gods and their human agents have their foibles with attendant repercussions on the sanity and well-being of the Nigerian society. This theme of the interaction between the physical and spiritual enclaves has earlier engaged Soyinka’s attention in the dramatic specimen, A Dance of the Forests prognosticating Nigeria’s failed and agonising nationhood at independence. Soyinka’s (post)Afrocentricity is also discernible in Kongi’s Harvest8 which also resonates with political undertones and significance. Kongi’s Harvest is about power, power in all its dictatorial nakedness and oppressive reaches. This is the power Michel Foucault refers to as “a mode of acting upon the actions of others… a way of acting upon an acting subject. It involves subjection, domination and exploitation of the powerless by the powerful” (149). Soyinka here engages the corrupt misuse of power as an alien cultural legacy radically at variance with the egalitarian and communalistic ethos nurtured by traditional African societies. This is not to say that traditional societies in Africa did not possess their fair share of tyrannical and despotic men of power and blood

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who desecrated cultural norms and traditions to impose their supreme will on the people. As Isidore Okpewho alleges about the Benin Empire, for instance, the Oba used to impose chiefs on his vassals and “demanded tributes from them and made war on them when these tributes were not forthcoming” (10). Soyinka is, of course, acutely aware of this authoritarian disposition on the part of tradition and African royalty. He is, however, concerned with present history here as he deplores the emergent national petite bourgeoisie for betraying the dreams and aspirations of the people at independence. Kongi represents dictators like Mobutu Sese Seko, Jean Bedel Bokassa, Idi Amin Dada, Mengistu Haile Mariam, Samuel Doe, Siad Barre, Charles Taylor, Hassan Al-Bashir, and several other soldier– presidents for life that dot the African political terrain perfidiously running aground the ship of state.9 In The Lion and the Jewel, indigenous culture and tradition jostle for ascendancy over Western cultural values. Baroka represents the former while Lakunle, the latter. The prize to be won is the belle, Sidi through the observance of the cultural imperative of bride price. Indigenous culture triumphs ultimately over Western norms as Baroka, the lion wins over the jewel suggesting an Afrocentric vision of the pre-eminence and superiority of African cultural values and mores over alien legacies. However, Soyinka’s traditionalism and ethnocentrism in the play is counterbalanced with the ideology of Western education, itself a marker of modernity and European civilisation and its appreciation as healthy by Soyinka for societal development. The cultural implications in the play do not cast aspersions on Western education but the ideological ends to which that education is put. Lakunle allows the corrupting legacies of his education to deracinate and alienate him from his cultural beingness. Soyinka here advocates a hybridity of the disparate cultural heritages through a healthy programme of cultural exchange not in a hierarchical or vertical relationship but a horizontal one that recognises the noble and ennobling potentials in cultures. It is this rejectionist label which Western culture imposes on peripheral others that informs the advocacy for cultural nationalism. Edward Said underscores these claims to cultural superiority by the Occident over the Orient. Deploying orientalist metaphors which occidentalist epistemology mobilises in naming the Orient, Said implicates the “flexible positional superiority… which puts the Westerner in a whole series of possible relationships with the Orient without even loosing him the relative upper hand” (7). The ideology of Western education, as much as it encourages cultural dialogue between the West and Others, is a potent


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and deadly ideological weapon that orchestrates and constructs these Superior/Inferior, Master/Servant, Dominant/Dominated relationships that define the Occident and Orient. As Said argues, these binaries are gradually naturalised and the colonised culture is ultimately persuaded or coerced into accepting its cultural construction by the dominant alien culture. Death and the King’s Horseman10 also weaves a dramatic world that cascades with Soyinka’s (post)Afrocentric poetics. The terrain of the play constitutes a veritable canvas on which the Afrocentric and Eurocentric cultural formations enact their ideological struggles. What animates this play and underlies its strategic cultural significance is what Michel Foucault theorises as desire and power. The desire of the two cultural formations to institute their power and hegemony forms the dramatic fulcrum. As Foucault rhetorically questions, “what, then, is at work, if not desire and power?” (219). The desire to incorporate and dominate and exercise hegemonic cultural influence is the defining marker and organising principle of Western imperialism. In the play, Elesin, the king’s horseman who is refracted as the embodiment of culture and tradition, abdicates his inalienable responsibility of accompanying his master, the deceased king to the world of the ancestors as demanded by custom. His unwillingness to submit himself for the cultic rites as it is the cultural imperative adumbrates the climactic moment of the tragedy. Olunde, his educated son becomes the carrier figure as he assumes his father’s responsibility and fulfils the rite. Cultural identity and difference provide the resources for the dramatic enactment here. In this perspective, James Clifford argues that identity is a “boundary to be maintained rather than a nexus of relations and transactions actively engaging a subject” (344). In the labyrinthine texture of the play, Soyinka espouses, rather paradoxically, the expressive and performative identities where the Afrocentric and the post-Afrocentric merge. The Afrocentric with its rigid, uncompromising claims insists on the imperatives of culture and tradition holding sway, an imperative Olunde fulfils. But it is precisely in Olunde that the two strands of culture intermesh. By fulfilling the call to duty by his prevaricating father, Olunde embodies these two contrarieties which have been fused into one by Soyinka. His western education does not prohibit his fidelity and espousal to tradition and cultural nationalism. This is why in contradistinction, the post-Afrocentric discourse deconstructs and revisions the traditionalist and culturalist fixity and extends the boundaries of the discourse beyond the essentialist idiom of the Afrocentric. Its creative understanding of culture as process, open, fluid and appropriative of other values calls for

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meaningful cultural borrowing and synthesis against purblind attachment to retrogressive cultural elements and practices. Commenting on the non-essentialist, catholicist and electicist distillates of Soyinka’s poetics, Biodun Jeyifo again foregrounds the post-Afrocentric character of the Nobelist’s writings. According to the critic, this postAfrocentricity is crystallised in the fact that Soyinka’s poetics, “range beyond this ‘return–to-the source’ rubric to an affirmation of the revolutionary impulse in culture and art over the contending and perennial tendency toward inertia and complacency” (32). Thus, if a poetics is not limited to an author’s imaginative corpus alone but incorporates other writings, Soyinka’s cultural practice also cascades with (post)Afrocentric manifestations. Owing to the cultural specificity of Soyinka’s poetics in the African worldview and philosophy, his critical enterprise and temperament also decidedly espouse the dynamism of African cultural values in the perpetual flux of historical kinesis. This is borne out of the fact that any culture that is closed in the name of selfperpetuation and self-purification inadvertently tolls the knell for its erasure or effacement from the contours of the cultural atlas of the world. The (post)Afrocentricity of Soyinka’s critical practice is most evident in his much dramatised engagement against, and denunciation of, Negritude, a cultural and intellectual philosophy devoted to the assertion and affirmation of black culture and civilisation and the liberation of the black world from the cultural stranglehold and hegemony of the West. The arch apostles of Negritude were Aime Cesaire, Leon Damas and Leopold Sedar Senghor, the late Senegalese president. Together with other faithful adherents in the Black world, they advocated a puritanical cultural attitude, an Afrocentric vision concerning black culture especially in the face of a corrupting and predatory Western culture. Senghor elucidates the philosophy and its assumption as, […] the sum total of the values of the civilization of the African world. It is not racialism, it is culture. It is the embracing and domination of a situation in order to apprehend the cosmos by the process of coming to terms with it (99).

Senghor’s other Negritudinist postulations can be found in The Mission of the Poet (1966) and The Foundation of “African-ite” or “Negritude” (1971) in which he states the intrinsic fundamental disjuncture in the African and European sensibilities in the now popular “Reason is European while emotion, intuition and rhythm, African”, constructing a binarist racialist and culturalist world. Although Negritude’s ideological claims and assumptions hold some


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cultural relevance, the philosophy has drawn venomous critical barbs from Soyinka for its cultural essentialism, absolutism and rabid Afrocentrism. Couched in the familiar riposte of “the tiger does not declare its tigritude”, Soyinka denounces Negritude as a retrogressive cultural and intellectual philosophy bereft of redemptive potentials for the cultural salvation of the Black world. He is not a lone denuciatory voice as Ezekiel Mphalele (1964), Jean–Paul Sartre (1967), Janheinz Jahn (1969), and Lewis Nkosi (1981) have similarly cast their acerbic salvos at Negritude. What is, however, remarkable and significant about Soyinka’s diatribe against Negritude is that it proceeds from a post-Afrocentric perception and appreciation of culture as a tissue of values in dialogue with other values without necessarily repudiating their locatedness. This explains why in his dramaturgic and theatrical practice, Soyinka has consistently drawn elaborate paralles between the gods that inhabit the Yoruba pantheon like Ogun, Sango, Orunmila, Obatala, etc with Hellenic gods such as Apollos, Dionysos and Prometheus suggesting the cultural correspondence between the two worlds. This does not compromise his programme of race and culture retrieval “whose reference points are taken from within the culture itself” (viii). Soyinka has also joined cultural issues with the nativist school of critics: Chinweizu, Onwuchekwa Jemie and Ihechukwu Madubuike. The trio’s Afrocentric theory of African literature and, indeed, culture is enshrined in their seminal and provocative Toward the Decolonization of African Literature (1980). As Rene Wellek and Austin Warren argue, “Every culture has its genres”, the nativists also observe: “African literature is an autonomous entity. It has its own tradition, models and norms” (4). It is this traditionalist, absolutist position that Soyinka subverts or undermines as too essentialist and essentialising. The fundamentality of Soyinka’s argument consists in the fact that the position of the nativists deconstructs itself considering the fact that much of African literature exists and is expressed in colonial languages like English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, German, etc. His contention is that the traditionalist perspective is narcissistic and ignores the benefits of literary interactions with other cultures, interactions that can be rich and enriching for African literature. Soyinka’s (post)Afrocentricity has, however, been faulted on a number of grounds. The first is his Western conception of the individual, the lone figure in confrontation with the existentialist realities of life and history. This individualist attitude is seen as Eurocentric rather than (post)Afrocentric as it detracts from the communalistic and egalitarian ethos that define the “African worldview” he passionately admires. Femi Osofisan is

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particularly disturbed by Soyinka’s deployment of animist metaphysics and his thematisation of the individual Promethean protagonist theorised in Aristotelean poetics when he states with a tinge of Marxist, historicist dialecticism: The truth is that this moment in history, the worldview made for animist metaphysics has all but disintegrated in the acceleration, caused by colonialism, of Man’s economic separation from Nature… the ancient modes of life must dissolve and yield place to an empiric mastery of life, and of the means of production.

Osofisan proceeds to identify two basic tendencies in Soyinka’s dramaturgy and oeuvre which he calls two forces: “the Ogunnian protagonists who stand for strength and virility, for fecundity, sexuality, volumptuousness”; and the second force “are men of order or sterility, of emptiness and parsimony” (55-56). He juxtaposes these two forces with a third force, “who may be less eloquent, but are not all that less noisy, and are, always numerous. These are the common people, the downtrodden, the victims, the outcasts”. (56) Osofisan’s main objection here is that Soyinka subsidiarises this third force to the first two even though they are an integral part of history, and a revolutionary part at that. But Osofisan is not alone in his interrogation of the Nobelist. Biodun Jeyifo has also deconstructed ingeniously Soyinka’s (post)Afrocentric poetics. His own festering grouse pendulates between Soyinka’s ahistoricism and lack of historicist, materialist dialecticism especially concerning the latter’s creative mascot, Ogun. He argues: The reification, which gives victory to Ogun’s timeless ahistoricism, belongs in the realm of thought in which imagined beings and relationships have absolute autonomous existence. Hence, it is easy victory, illusory, undialectical…

Jeyifo, therefore, proceeds to rail Soyinka for “literary idealisation” and for lacking “true revolutionary potential”. At the interface of the two deconstructive appraisals of Soyinka’s poetics, Promethean individualism and the lack of dialectics of historicity are the animating concerns. Also, Yakubu Nasidi accuses Soyinka of falling into the pitfalls of Negritude when he agues that he, […] ends up operating the idealist notion of a pure and original Africa (an anthropology that aligns him with the humanism of the Negritudinists) when the need is for a more precise analysis of the social, political and economic… determinants of the cultural process in Africa today (63).


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Gender also constitutes a significant facet of Soyinka’s Afrocentric poetics for which he is faulted. This is essentially what Florence Stratton characterises as “exclusionary politics” in an (en)gendered sense. According to her, “critics have ignored gender as a social and analytic category”(1) in African literature. Similarly, Obioma Nnaemeka (1997) identifies this exclusivist proclivity when she states of African folklore that ‘in its articulation of “wisdom”, folklore foregrounds age not gender’ (10). These and other feminist critics have accused Soyinka (and other male writers and critics) of gender essentialism and politics. They find him guilty of phallocentrism in his characterisation and perspective where women are delineated as courtesans, prostitutes and mere appendages of men without a voice (Julien, 1994). They cite works like The Lion and the Jewel and Death and the King’s Horseman as fitting exemplications of this exclusionary gender politics Soyinka is guilty of.

In His Father’s House: The Gender Trajectory in Soyinka’s Poetics The autochthony of Soyinka’s poetics in the African worldview, its intrinsic sociality and culturality in the Yoruba mythopoeic tradition and ontology as well as its dynamic functionality in a cosmopolitan world have largely occluded other potent epistemological and hermeneutic strategies immanent in his heaving poetics. But a close, rigorous (re)reading of the corpus of Soyinka’s texts reveals trajectories of a tradition of silences and absences regarding subaltern categories and subjectivities like women and the common people. Thus, despite Soyinka’s performative aesthetics - a gravitation to and admission of self-examination, self-criticism and the fluidity of identity (re)invention and (re)construction - sexual and textual politics condition the production and circulation of knowledges and significations in the Nobelist’s poetics. In this section, we have chosen to focus more fully on the certain aspects of Soyinka’s literary practice. The section, therefore, (re)negotiates Soyinka’s performative aesthetic strategies especially in Death and the King’s Horseman deploying deconstructive perspectives and locates his corpus of writings at the interface between the Afrocentric and postAfrocentric discursive engagements in African literary and philosophical existence. Against this significant backdrop, it is imperative to situate Soyinka’s poetics within the larger intersection of other epistemologies relevant and strategic to African history, culture and philosophy. Here too, we will go back to the carrion of the argument initiated in the first chapter on the critical discourses by Soyinka himself and Appiah

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in their interrogation of the nativist school in African literary and cultural criticism. In invoking the position earlier canvassed in the first chapter, we are reiterating that even though Soyinka and Appiah appear to be sailing above the nativist or traditionalist waters, they are deeply immersed in them without really appreciating it. Thus, like John Milton in Paradise Lost, they belong to the same party they are undermining and distancing themselves from without fully realising it. In a seminal text ideo-politically titled, In My Father’s House, Kwame Anthony Appiah appropriates the rites of public space to (re)inscribe Africa on the furrowed and undulating contours of world philosophy and culture. Appiah’s philosophical and cultural project is simultaneously anticolonislist, anti-imperialist and counter-hegemonic. He subverts the transcendentalist claims of the Western philosophical tradition hypostasised in personages like Hegel, Husserl and Heidegger. He also undermines the totalitarian assumptions of Western cultural hegemony that perennially interpellates Africa as lacking a unique philosophy, culture and civilisation with lineaments reminiscent of, and consistent with, Western standards and universality. This “universalist” fixity is doctrinaire and privileges the West as, according to James Clifford, it conceptualises culture and cultural productions as a “boundary to be maintained rather than a nexus of relations and transactions actively engaging a subject” (44). Similarly, Benedict Anderson in Imagined Communities refracts this expressive and warped articulation of culture as invariant and fixed in national and continental formations: “The favourite geo-political entity worshipped by the culturalist is the nation or continent understood in ahistorical terms as given and not socially constituted or constructed” (Anderson 1983). Appiah’s textual project is neither received, uncritical nor unexamined as it valorises a pan-Africanist vision and temperament though with remarkable resonances of self-interrogation. However, this performative essence is inflected and hyphenated with politics and ideology through the construction of gender calculuses that define women by their absence and silence. The very title of the text is phallic and adumbrates the politics it (en)genders in its ontological matrices. The pan-African subjects are also male: Nkrumah, Crummell, Du Bois, Appiah (the author’s father), Soyinka, Ngugi, Achebe, etc evincing a gender exclusivist strategy. Peggy Appiah, the author’s mother appears, for instance, to be an appendage to the father in the introductory discourse. In a sense, Appiah’s theory of the philosophy of culture has a significant intersection with Soyinka’s. Both share a philosophical tradition and cultural trajectory whose theory is deeply moored in the African worldview.


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This culturalist project is what Soyinka himself in Myth, Literature and the African World characterises as culture “whose reference points are taken from within the culture itself” (viii). Thus, the cultural specificity of Soyinka’s poetics in the African ontology or metaphysics constitutes the defining marker of his performative aesthetics. But the performativity of this aesthetic suffers inflectionary contingencies and tendencies which render it simultaneously as a receptacle of expressive aesthetics. The expressive and the performative cultural identities resident in Soyinka’s poetics both share a common cultural ancestry or filiation in the African and, specifically, Yoruba cosmogony. But the identities are essentially divergent manifestations and tributary currents of the same oceanic flow. The claims and assumptions of the expressive cultural identity conceptualise culture as fixed, essentialist, invariant, unchanging and finished. It proclaims the autonomy, self-sufficiency and independent existence of the cultural self without yielding itself to, and appropriating valuable insights, from other disparate cultures. Culture becomes a closed system of a people’s grammar of values and mores, a text of fixed meanings and a finished syntax of experiences. The performative cultural identity is fluid, non-essentialist, open, variant and in a state of perpetual flux. Culture in this perspective is a process, subject to a regime of changes and mutabilities, constantly negotiated and renegotiated, shifting, and appropriative of other cultural forms critical to its survival and efflorescence. The ahistoricity of culture and cultural productions as constants, or binaries mutates to the constancy of change, accommodation, hybridity, meaningful dialogue and eclecticism. Paulin Hountondji captures cultural performativeness when he argues that cultural practices, […] are always a complex heritage, contradictory and heterogeneous, an open set of options, some of which will be actualised by any given generation, which by adopting one choice sacrifices all the others… the choice of this privileged aspect is itself a matter of debate for society (161).

In Scars of Conquest, Masks of Resistance, Tejumola Olaniyan crystallises the creed and theoretical enamourings of the expressive and performative cultural identities when he observes thus: The expressive conception of cultural identity proposes culture-the entire order of the constitutive social processes and practices, spiritual and material…as an essence, transparent, obvious, and unchanging. “Society” itself is taken as given, preconstituted. Culture is a totality, whole, complete, and finished. This self-sufficiency screens out other cultures with an

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impenetrable rigor… The performative, on the other hand, stresses the historicity of culture…Rather than a given seamless totality, culture is conceived as an intricate and open process of practices and discriminations…Identity in the performative concept is a process marked by endless negotiation (30-31).

The culturality of Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman, for instance, is a dramaturgic and theatrical event which veritably celebrates performative aesthetics. The dramatic specimen is a historical enactment though without strict fidelity to the chronology of temporality and geographical space. The setting is the Oyo Empire of 1846 in Western Nigeria during the imperialist and colonialist encounter. The trado-cultural imperative and political expediency is for the king’s horseman, Elesin to ritually accompany his lord and ally, the king to the ancestral world when the king dies. As tradition dictates, Elesin is to commit suicide as a fitting fulfilment of the ritual testament. A sybaritic man with overweening epicurean tastes, Elesin rationalises he will leave life behind and travel to the great, eternal abyss and is unwilling to fulfil the ritual. The grave ritual assignment does not prevent his engagement in amorous superfices. In his tragic tardiness and consequent incarceration by Simon Pilkings, the colonial District Officer, Elesin’s son, Olunde, on medical studies in Britain, returns. To save the revered tradition from imminent obloquy and opprobrium, Olunde commits suicide in place of his father. Elesin also belatedly kills himself, a cowardly act that does not meet or satisfy the ritual requisite. The action of Soyinka’s dramaturgy in Death and the King’s Horseman pendulates between continuity and change, tradition and modernity. It is within this interstitial reality that can be found concretely located the performative essence of his aesthetics. Soyinka enacts a society whose seeming monolithism, homogeneity or wholeness is in the throes of transformation. Elesin who represents this culture and tradition as its repository is the very agent of this change hence the colonial involvement is merely incidental or catalytic. Colonialist and imperialist ideology with its variegated sources of power which Michael Man informs, include political, military, ideological and economic, is also complicit in this change. In this complex cultural schema, Olunde best represents the striving for tradition and continuity. But even without the catalytic colonial factor, visible crevices or fissures have rocked the cultural boulder of the society and is waiting for the moment of shattering. This is reminiscent of Achebe’s historical fiction and much of African literature periscoping that agonising history of Africa when the European man of culture prowled the African coast and hinterland discovering river sources,


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pacifying and civilising the primitive “natives”. In discursive formations and critical strategies surrounding the coloniser and the colonised, a tripartite architectural pattern or network is often constructed as a metaphoric incision of their complicated and ambiguous relationships. To Michael Pecheux in what he apprehends as the “tripartite schemata” of the dominated subject’s relationship to the dominating discourse, there is first, the “good subject” who “consents” to domination. There is also the rebellious “bad subject” who “counteridentifies” with existing dominant discursive structures and the third subject who “disidentifies” and points to “transformation-displacement” or “overthrowrearrangement” (156-59). Pecheux’s mapping of the discursive terrains and boundaries corresponds roughly with the colonialist, Afrocentric and post-Afrocentric discursive and performative strategies and temperaments. In his perspective, V. Y. Mudimbe refers to this schema as the “tripartite colonising structure” which manifests itself in the domination of physical space, the reformation of natives’ minds, and the integration of local economic histories into the Western hemisphere and which “completely embraces the physical, human, and spiritual aspects of the colonising experience” (2). Death and the King’s Horseman in its dramaturgic nuances, cultural ambiguities and traditional complexities enacts these grids of territorial domination, psychological reformation and socio-cultural and economic exploitation Mudimbe refracts. Oyo Empire has been annexed and is in the vice-grip, and suffocating stranglehold of the colonising and civilising agent represented by Pilkings, the District Officer. Elesin is a candidate for the proselytising theology of reformation and the entire Oyo economy and socio-cultural configuration is entangled in the inextricable web or orbit of British capitalist, metropolitan economic system. Soyinka ingeniously populates his dramaturgic universe with a surfeit of cultural tropes and metaphors which are veritable markers of cultural authenticity, affirmation and assertion, a rite of historical reconstruction as well as race and cultural retrieval. These are dances, festivals, songs, drums, marriages, the markets and other cultural observances. Even language, another marker and insignia of culture and, perhaps, the most important, is invested with the cultural authority and capacity to bear the burden of the people’s history and existential vicissitudes as this is done through the felicitous deployment of proverbs, the exquisite weaving of aphorisms and tales and the defamiliarised use of codes and signifiers whose referents legitimate the society’s world. Pierre Bourdieu comments in affirmation that:

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Because any language that can command attention is an “authorised language” invested with the authority of a group, the things it designates are not simply experienced but also authorised and legitimated (170).

But consistent with Soyinka’s performative aesthetics, language and all the cultural aesthetics that constitute the architectonics of the dramatic specimen are called to service to espouse a distinct cultural identity which is not static, immutable and impervious but is susceptible to meaningful shifts and the constant flow of transition. Thus, in his negotiation of the cultural condition of the Black Atlantic and his “double consciousness”, Paul Gilroy (1) benefitting from Du Bois, underscores these pluralities, multivalences and mutabilities in identity (re)formation and (re)invention when he states that the history of subjectivities like the Black Atlantic and other peripheral peoples “yields a course of lessons as to the instability and mutability of identities which are always unfinished, always being remade” (xi). However, the performative aesthetics of Soyinka’s dramaturgy is not completely coherent, harmonious or whole as it seems. This is because it cannot absolutely exercise epistemological authority, discursive mastery and hermeneutic control over the politics it generates. This is because no discourse is ever a monologue but multiplex, contradictory and dispersed, expressing itself in a plurality of carnival voices. In the words of Christopher Miller, discourses are “contingent and overdetermined rather than necessary and immutable” (61). Similarly, Michel Foucault perceives “discourse” not in harmonic and stable structures or relationships but as “a violence that we do to things…a practice that we impose on them” (229); and this has ramifications for human beings, too. Richard Terdiman, on the other hand, introduces the disharmonious concept of “competition” in his understanding of discourse. In Discourse/Counter-Discourse, he informs that, “Engaged with the realities of power” it has become imperative for “human communities” to “use words not in contemplation but in competition” (54). Death and the King’s Horseman, for instance, orchestrates or institutes a complex of multiple discourses in the Derridean sense which, according to Janet Wolff may escape “conscious authorial will” (22) inaugurating a polyvance of discursive and interpretive voices until the aporetic possibility is reached. The self-interrogation and self-subversion of Soyinka’s performative aesthetics in the continuous play of signification in the play precisely congeal at the level of the possibility of the inherence of other competing and subversive discursive strategies. An instance is the delineation of women as marginal to the kinesis of the dramaturgic experience such that they become muted or silenced and mere objects


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passively contemplating the turbulent currents of discourse. Conveniently, the agency and subjectivity of women is erased from the contours of discourse. A feminist-deconstructive perspective to the drama reveals that though there is a plethora of female characters in the play, they are cast in subsidiary and inconsequential roles. They are housewives, mothers, damsels, market women or all of these put together without significant voices in the determination of discourse. Lacking agency and independent subjectivity, these women constitute a marginal category as mere appendages of men. Even Iyaloja, the women’s leader, is created by the patriarchal order and so receives her legitimacy from the phallocentric ideology and instituted power she is meant to serve. This phallic hegemony is visible in the very constitution of the Yoruba pantheon which is male-dominated. In the play, we experience phallocentricity evidenced in the powerful presence of Ogun, Atunda and their representatives - the Oba, Elesin, and Olunde. These have no female equivalents. Instead, women are cast in stereotypic roles as stock, static or flat characters performing their lives as patriarchally prescribed by an unchanging tradition and expressive ideology. Carole Davies characterises this as a dramaturgy that delineates only “maidens, mistresses and matrons”, created to massage the phallic ego. Elesin takes a maiden to bed for his sexual gratification even as she is betrothed to Iyaloja’s son. Iyaloja, on her part, acquiescently accedes because on his way to the chthonic abyss, she will not incur his (Elesin’s) wrath as he carries the society’s requests to the ancestral realm. Florence Stratton also rhetorically questions Soyinka’s exclusivist gender politics and social vision in the play thus: “Where is Atunda’s sister?” Following Stratton, we may also add: where is Ogun’s female counterpart? Where is Elesin’s mother? And where is Olunde’s sister? They simply do not exist. If at all they do, phallic politics and ideology do not approve of their presence in dramatic proceedings central to society. This decidedly unequal and unfair gender calculus has spawned visceral interrogation and declamation in literary and critical practices in continental Africa and the diaspora. In a work significantly titled, In Search of Our Mother’s Garden, Alice Walker, the African American writer and critic fashions the term Womanism, a critical disjunction with (white) feminism and a contestation of phallic ideology. Chikwenye Okonjo-Ogunyemi’s (re)contextualisation of Womanism in “Womanism: The Dynamics of the Contemporary Black Female Novel” constitutes another deconstructive perspective to the expressive aesthetics of the phallocentric order.

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In the same feminist-deconstructive tradition of patriarchal ideology and politics and its expressive poetics is Hazel Carby’s Reconstructing Womanhood (1987), Adeola James’ In Their Own Voices (1990), Omolara Ogundipe- Leslie’s Recreating Ourselves (1994), Florence Stratton’s Contemporary African Literature and the Politics of Gender (1994), Catherine Acholonu’s Motherism (1995), Clenora Hudson-Weems’ Africana-Womanism (1995) and Obioma Nnaemeka’s The Politics of (M)Othering (1995). These texts are a collective subversive engagement with the transcendental assumptions and claims of patriarchy and patriarchal knowledges and the need for the rewriting of these epistemologies and the creation of a space for women. Their interrogative and transgressive vision is thrown into relief by Eileen Julien in African Novels and the Question of Orality when she observes as earlier indicated that “The literature of Africa is replete with valiant and noble heroeswarriors, emperors and kings like Chaka, Mwindo, Sundiata, and Silamaka” (15) without allocating such sheroic roles to women. It is as though African women have been monumentalised in the motions of history, inactive, passive and merely contemplating events without shaping and re-shaping them. African historiography, however abounds with courageous, powerful, revolutionary and nationalistic women leaders who have created history and sometimes excelled where men failed. Zulu Sofola articulates this rather elaborately: For it was as active participants in the established, gender-based power lines, with proper check-and-balance mechanism, that our traditional heroines in history left their footprints in the sands of time. One recalls Moremi of Ile-Ife who, as the Iyaloja head of the King’s Market (Oja Oba), offered to risk her life to save the devastated people of Ile-Ife; Emotan of Benin who did risk her life as a spy to save the kingdom of Benin at a very precarious and threatened period in its history; Warrior Queen Amina of Zaria who, as the daughter representing her father’s throne in the Supreme Military Council of Zazzau, seized control of a weakened kingdom and expanded it far and wide through her military leadership and tactical mobilization of warlords and soldiers. The ancient city of Zaria, built under her leadership, is a testimony to her greatness. The legacy was further enriched by Warrior Queen Nzingha of the Jugas who bravely confronted the Portuguese in their bid to seize Angola; Yaa Asantewa of Ghana (1863-1923), the Queen Mother who fought fiercely against the British and finally gave her life in a bid to save her people; the Priestess/Spirit-Medium Mbuya Nehenda of Zimbabwe, who mobilized her people (the Shonas) against the invading British...and was subsequently executed (by hanging) by the British for her resistance to imperial authority; Neferti and Hatshepsut of ancient Egypt; Makeda, the Queen of Sheba, who ruled over Ethiopia and Saba with the capital city of her


Chapter Five empire at Axum; Queen Dahia Al-Kahina of North Africa, who offered Arab invaders fierce resistance after the fall of Cathage; the powerful Queen Idia of the Benin Empire whose series of successful war exploits in defense of the throne for her son, Oba Esigie of Benin, put an end to the ritual killing of Queen-Mothers during the coronation ceremonies of their sons; and Queen-Mother Mai Idris Alooma of Borno Empire...Iyalode Tinubu of Lagos who, with the strong support of Efunsetan Aniwura, the Iyalode of Ibadan, resisted the signing of a treaty that would have given Lagos off as a colony. Unfortunately the treaty was eventually signed after she was betrayed by the Oba of Lagos. Consequently, she chose to die in protest against the damage the men had done by selling their birthright for a mess of pottage. And in recent history was the Igbo Women’s War of 1929 (named the Aba Women’s Riots by the British) waged by ordinary Igbo women against the British colonial administration for introducing taxation; Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti who mobilized the Market Women of Abeokuta in the 1940s and successfully got the king of Egbaland to go into exile until things cooled down; Omu-Ako of Issele-Oligbo of Aniocha who, as the head of the Omu Women’s Council, took over the traditional government, combined both male and female lines of power, and confronted both warring camps of Federal Nigeria and Biafra in defence of her citizens during the Nigerian Civil War (1967-70). (59-60)

Sofola concludes on a note of personal pride when she announces that “My own paternal aunt, Madam Okwuanyi Okwumabua, was a member of that governing council” (60), bringing to sharp relief the real, central and colossal contributions and sacrifices African women have made to the development of the continent and hence the need for them to be recognised in African poetics. Soyinka’s performative aesthetics is also deconstructed by his expressive poetics in the privileging of the lone individual with the cumbersome task of liberating and sanitising society. In Death and the King’s Horseman, Ogun, the Yoruba god of creativity and metallurgy and Soyinka’s adopted creative daemon embodies this individualism. So also is Atunda, Orisanla’s rebellious assistant who resisted his self-conservation of knowledge, crashed him into smithereens and has become associated with the ideal of orderly re-invention. Such Promethean refraction of the concentration of absolute powers in the liberationist potentials of an individual excludes and erases the indispensability of the collectivity or masses in the radical and revolutionary transformation of society. This individualist gravitation whose lineaments are resident in Ogun and Atunda, two subjectivities that typify Soyinka’s artistic temperament, has its limitations because it lacks the collectivist spirit even though the two are “creative and re-creative, iconoclastic, rebellious, libertarian and

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frequently revolutionary”. (Osundare 83) Thus, a Marxist-deconstructive (re)reading of the dramatic discourse undermines Soyinka’s mythic and ritualist constructions of the largerthan-life, lone ranger conveniently de-emphasising the collective and corrective struggle of the mass of the people. In “Ritual and the Revolutionary Ethos”, Femi Osofisan underscores the expressivity of Soyinkas’s Death and the King’s Horseman as “idealist illusion”, “spiritual homeostasis” and mere “fatalism” (73, 75). Osofisan appropriately adopts Orunmila, the god of divination as his inspirational mascot against Soyinka’s Ogun who represents the contradictory temperaments of creativity and destruction. Similarly, Biodun Jeyifo queries Soyinka’s performative aesthetics on the grounds of the absence of a revolutionary consciousness and the collective will. Elsewhere in The Truthful Lie, Jeyifo interrogates Soyinka on the lack of a bold engagement with the issue of class stratification and hierarchisation in The Road when he identifies “a hidden class war” in the play. The absence of a theory of historicism, dialecticism and radicalism, the Marxist critics argue, accounts for the invisibility and silence of women in Soyinka’s poetics. Olaniyan states: For Soyinka, the motive cause of history is not class or group but the lone individual hero who acts for and catalyzes the community: the Ogun, the Atunda. Predictably, Soyinka has paid little attention to other intracultural differences, such as gender, which until recently is far less visible than class in modern African literary discourse: yet we cannot claim that gender difference is irrelevant to a conception of an anti-imperialist cultural identity…significantly, no female deity features in Soyinka’s elaboration of tragic paradigm. The dramas of the female gods are perhaps not the stuff of which “tragedy” is fashioned… (61).

The mass of the people are also in the margins or peripheries sulking in their subalternity having been erased from the contours of societal discourse and denied a significant voice and space as focus is placed on the lone individual.

Conclusion This scrupulous negotiation of the politics of literature and culture in Africa reveals that Soyinka and Appiah have ensconced themselves as silkworms in the same ideological cocoon: the phallic ideal. Just like Appiah talks of his father’s house, Soyinka too talks of his father’s house where the female does not seem to have a firm place. In their


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father’s house, exclusionary practices are enacted decidedly and ideologically to privilege the patriarchal institution to the exclusivity of women. Little wonder then that their soul sisters are in search of their mother’s garden, enlisting and mobilising the expressive instrument of their voices to recreate and reconstruct themselves in the face of exclusionary gender politics of (M)othering. The charge of gender exclusivity against Soyinka gravitates to his phallic identity, which he nourishes and espouses. This gender particularity is a manifestation of Afrocentricity in his poetics. Thus, in the interstices of Soyinka’s poetics can be identified the two basic strains of anti-colonialist and counter-hegemonic critical discourses: the Afrocentric and the post-Afrocentric. Despite these limitations of his artistic vision, Soyinka has emerged as a well-rounded artist whose cultural roots have been properly harnessed as raw material for his poetics. The embeddedness of the performative aesthetics of Soyinka’s corpus in the African worldview foregrounds its unique culturality and dynamic functionality in the Yoruba cultural space. This performative aesthetics can be located in the interstitial labyrinths of the Afrocentric and post-Afrocentric discursive identities. The former with essentialist claims of cultural monism, unitarism and puritanism while the latter with heterogeneity, open-endedness, endless negotiation and renegotiations refracted simply as process: always in a state of becoming.

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Chinweizu, Onwuchekwa Jemie, Ihechukwu Madubuike. Toward the Decolonization of African Literature. Enugu: Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1980. Clifford, James. The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth Century Ethnography, Literature and Art. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1988. Dash, Michael. “Psychology, Creolization and Hybridization”. In Bruce King (ed.). New National and Post-Colonial Literatures: An Introduction. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996. 45 – 58. Davies, Carol Boyce. “Maidens, Mistresses and Matrons: Feminine Images in Selected Soyinka Works”. In C. B. Davies & Anne Adams Graves (eds.). Ngambika: Studies of Woman in African Literature. Trenton, New Jersey: Africa World Press, 1986. 75-88. Derrida, Jacques. Positions. (trans.). Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981. Dollimore, Jonathan. “The Dominant and the Deviant: A Violent Dialectic”. Critical Quarterly. 28. 1-2, 1986. 179-192. Foucault, Michael. The Archeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language. A. M. S. Smith (trans.). New York: Pantheon Books, 1972. Gilroy, Paul. The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1993. Hountondji, Paulin. African Philosophy: Myth and Reality. H.Evans (trans.). London: Hutchinson, 1977. Hudson-Weems, Clenora. Africana Womanism. Troy: Bedford Publishers, 1995. James, Adeola (ed.). In Their Own Voices: African Women Writers Talk. London: James Currey, 1990. Jahn, Janheinz. Neo-African Literature. A History of Black Writing. Coburn & Lehrburger (trans). New York: Grove Press, 1969. Jeyifo, Biodun. The Yoruba Popular Travelling Theatre of Nigeria. Lagos: Nigeria Magazine, 1984. Jeyifo, Biodun. Soyinka Demythologised. Ife Monograph, Department of English, University of Ife, 1984. Jeyifo, Biodun. The Truthful Lie: Essays in a Sociology of African Drama. London: New Beacon Books, 1985. —. “Wole Soyinka and the Tropes of Disalienation”. Introduction. Art, Dialogue and Outrage: Essays on Literature and Culture. Ibadan: New Horn Press, 1988. vii-xxxii. —. “The Reinvention of Theatrical Tradition: Critical Discourses on Interculturalism in the African Theatre" In Fischer –Lichte et al (eds.). Tubingen: Gunter Narrverlag, 1990. 239 –251.


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Julien, Eileen. African Novels and the Question of Orality. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992. Mann, Michael. The Sources of Power Vol. 1: A History of Power From the Beginning to AD 1760. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986. Miller, Christopher. Blank Darkness: Africanist Discourse in French. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985. Mphalele, Ezekiel. The African Image . London: Faber, 1964. Mudimbe, V. Y. The Invention of Africa. Gnosis, Philosophy, and the Order of Knowledge. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988. Nasidi, Yakubu. Beyond the Experience of Limits: Theory, Criticism and Power in African Literature. Ibadan: Caltop Publications Limited, 2001. Nkosi, Lewis. Tasks and Masks. Themes and Styles of African Literature. London: Longman Group Limited, 1981. Nnaemeka, Obioma. “Introduction: Imag(in)ing Knowledge, Power and Subvertion in the Margins”. In Nnaemeka (ed.). The Politics of (M)Othering: Womanhood, Identity and Resistance in African Literature. London and New York: Routledge, 1997. 1-25. Ogundipe-Leslie, Omolara. Recreating Ourselves: African Women and Critical Transformation. Trenton, New Jersey: Africa World Press, 1994. Okonjo-Ogunyemi, Chikwenye. “Womanism: The Dynamics of the Contemporary Black Female Novel in English”. In Signs, II, 1 Autumn, 1985. Olaniyan, Tejumola. Scars of Conquest/ Masks of Resistance:The Invention of Cultural Identities in African, African- American and Caribbean Drama. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. Osofisan, Femi. “Ritual and the Revolutionary Ethos: The Humanistic Dilemma in Contemporary Nigerian Theatre”. Okike 22, 1982. 72-81. Pecheux, Michael. Language, Semantics and Ideology. Harbass Nagpal (trans.). New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1982. Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York: Vintage, 1979. Sartre, Jean-Paul. “Preface”. In Franz Fanon. Black Skin, White Masks. Maikmann (trans.) New York: Grove Press, 1967. Senghor, L. S. Prose and Poetry. Reed, and Wake (trans.). London: Oxford University Press, 1965. —. The Mission of the Poet. Thompson (trans.). St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago: U. W. I. Extra-mural Department, 1966. —. The Foundation of “Africanite” or “Negritude”and “Arabite”. M. Cook (trans.). Paris: Presence Africaine, 1967, 1971.

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Soyinka, Wole. Myth, Literature and the African World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976. Stratton, Florence. “Wole Soyinka: A Writer’s Social Vision”. Black American Literature Forum. 22.3 (1988): 531-553. Stratton, Florence. Contemporary African Literature and the Politics of Gender. London: Routledge, 1994. Terdiman, Richard. Discourse/Counter-Discourse: The Theory and Practice of Symbolic Resistance in the Nineteenth-Century France. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1985. Walker, Alice. “In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens”. In In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens. New York: Harcourt, 1983. 231-43. Wolff, Janet. The Social Production of Art. London: Macmillan, 1993.


[...] African literature is literally flooding with dayless cities, “notorious” red-light streets, “shebeens” and cheap cafes filled with girls of the street, ladies of the night, and painted women beckoning from numerous windows and balconies, using all their profession’s tactics to the world of African literature, the prostitute is surrounded by “stubborn stench of undrained,” drops of dead semen, vomit, human excrement, pus, sweat, blood, flies, bedbugs, mosquitoes, curses and artificial moans. (F. E. M. K. Senkoro, The Prostitute in African Literature xi) Very often, the African female body is textually under siege. Women’s texts throng with young, fattened bodies sacrificed on the altar of matrimony; prostituted bodies in the greedy grips of pimps; exhausted, pregnant bodies with pendulous breast oozing with the inevitable milk; virginal bodies searched by invasive, matronly fingers during the infamous ‘virginity test’; excised pudenda or infibulated vulvae…African women writers are indeed keen to wrest their flesh and bodies back from various nexuses of power and to partake of the contemporary feminocentric urge to perceive the lived body as a source of experiential narrative…. At times, the female body can be so alienated that it seeks solace in prostitution, often regarded as the ultimate form of female autonomy. (Chantal Zabus, Between Rites and Rights 7- 8)

Introduction In Chapter Two, I explored the ubiquitous trope of the nation as mother or woman and its inscription in African literature especially in the canon of male writing. I argued that this mother-nation dialectic is a trajectory that was not inaugurated with a scribal culture in the Negritudinist poetry of Leopold Senghor as it is generally imagined but that it was also present and ingrained in oral traditional forms like folktales, fables, epics, myths and sagas, among others.2 In many of these oral media which idealised womanhood, it was to underscore her centrality

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to the ordering of society and keeping it in harmony with the rhythms of nature and epiphenomena. Women were affirmatively represented in these oral forms as queens, goddesses, priestesses, custodians of the earth, water, fire, the hearth, sacred cults dealing with fertility, ill health and healing, cleansing rituals, and even the productivity of livestock, crops, etc. Though women enjoyed this prominence through these privileges society conferred on them, it was ultimately in service of patriarchy which dominated many traditional African societies. It should not be mistaken, however, that these oral forms were even innocent in their representation of women as mothers. Indeed, they were as guilty as they were innocent. In many situations, women were delineated in them as witches, seductresses, rebellious spirits, collaborators with evil and even the very personification of everything diabolical that could undermine masculinity and threaten the very fabric of society. So existing juxtapositionally with the mother-nation imperative in African oral traditions was also the demonisation of the woman as the primal source of all evil, an alternative trope which inscribed the mother of the nation as a demon. It is this ambivalence and ambiguity in the handling of the woman’s image and its insertion in the structures of oral traditions constructed by men that was carried over to the written tradition and has endured to the present.3 Within the concrete matrices of narrative categories, particularly the novelistic tradition, marginal subjectivities like women are constituted as others. This is consistent with the politics of patriarchal domination in societies like Africa where the male ideal legislates the dual and paradoxical typification of women as saints and demons. The concern in this chapter is primarily the phallic representation of women as prostitutes in the African novel. In male-dominated societies, the phallus is invested with the power of reproducing and redistributing epistemic and meaning systems. This mercantilist metaphor of reproducing and redistributing hegemonic epistemes and meanings, naturally, privileges phallocentric ideology. No doubt, the gender and sexual politics in the African novel is also a patriarchal ideological stratagem for the distillation of phallic forms of knowledge and meanings to subdue and dominate women. The representation of women as prostitutes in the African novel is therefore part of that phallic strategy and programme to demonise and marginalise women as a social category so as to conform to their stereotypical representation in oral traditions and classical literature as the primal source of humanity’s fall from grace and its present moral quandary.


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The Subjectivity of the Prostitute in the African Novel The ideological construction and interpellation of woman as the other has increasingly assumed multiple and shifting dimensions in African literature. The woman is either a witch, temptress, courtesan, mistress, mule or a silent and passive object. All of these names harbour negative signifiers and negating signifieds. The naming process is political and is ideologically intended to inferiorise and naturalise the otherness of women. In the African novel, this gender and sexual politics congeal around the image of the woman as a prostitute. In the same novelistic tradition, the prostitute has become a dominant, framing and organising trope as well as a constant, ritualised motif that seeks to define and name womanhood. This, undoubtedly, has institutionalised gender hierarchies and reinforced sexual binarisms especially in male writing. Thus, in the African novel, the prostitute constitutes a peripheral, subjugated category whose agency and subjectivity are ideologically occluded by a totalitarian phallic order. She is the loose, happy, merry-goround woman who batters her body for male sexual gratification and for her economic life line or well being. She is found in emergent newspapers during the early colonial period and other forms of print culture in the developing cities.4 This compromising image is also present in Cyprian Ekwensi’s fiction set in the city, Okelo Oculi’s Prostitute (1968), Okot p’ Bitek’s Song of Malaya (1971) and David Maillu’s Unfit for Human Consumption (1973), among others.The geography of the woman’s body becomes a fertile plain ground for the male agent to till. This also institutes the construction of the female body as a contested site of discourse in the African novel and, indeed, literature. For instance, prostitution becomes a painful option for many women and not a natural thing, although in most masculinist depictions, this is naturalised as a given. Many women are driven into it because of broken homes and marriages which can no longer enforce morality within the frontier of domesticity. Others are victims of early parental death either through natural causes or accidents. Communal wars and conflicts which have shattered the fabric of manyAfrican societies also make young women vulnerable and susceptible to an easy life as the only escape route from suffering. Some have been forced to be refugees or unwilling exiles as a result of some of these fratricidal debacles. Many others are victims of rape and various forms of sexual abuse. Trafficking in human persons by cartels promising employment opportunities elsewhere have also become a factor in prostitution.5 The prevalence of HIV/AIDS pandemic has also served as an opportunistic causative agent of parental disappearance and the exposure

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of young girls to prostitution in many African societies. In some cases, prostitution is the function of a young woman’s wilful rebellion against retrogressive cultural practices like early teen age or forced marriage, domestic slavery, female genital mutilation, and the denial of fundamental freedoms and rights of the human person. In all these, poverty, not only in its material manifestations but moral, spiritual, psychological and educational dimensions has been the main causal element. This is why in the African novel, many prostitutes are without education or prematurely abandoned education for a complex of reasons. Usually, the town, city or urban area becomes a haven or sanctuary for young women who escape various forms of domestic violence, poverty and barbaric cultural practices. Essentially because of its anonymity and sometimes the freedom and glittering but false promise its presents, the city becomes an irresistible attraction to the overly optimistic young woman who needs an alternative mode of life away from the prohibitions of social norms and control which are limiting. The urban space therefore constitutes an allure for the fulfilment of this dream. And, indeed, some excel in their marauding street life and become agents of revolutionary change but all in service to the patriarchal order.6 The prostitute has, however, received variegated treatment in the African novel depending largely on the gender and sexual sensitivities of the individual novelists. This treatment operates at three ideological levels. For instance, in ma(le)instream, canonical writing, the prostitute is delineated stereotypically as quintessential of womanhood. She is portrayed as innately lacking a moral centre, a sense of propriety and decency, harbouring easy virtue and flagrantly rebellious against established societal codes naturally dictated by patriarchy. In the phallic imagination, she is simultaneously generous when she surrenders her body cheaply for the man’s pleasure and satisfaction but mean when she dictates the terms on which the contract should be executed and insists on her terms to be met. Radically at variance with this male-centric perspective of the prostitute and, indeed, the woman, is the second which is unambiguously valorised by women writers. Theirs is a revisionist, deconstructivist and self-testifying project that seeks to locate the personality of the prostitute within the oppressive and exploitative socio-cultural and economic structures of male dominated societies. The prostitute, as such, becomes a male creation to further nourish the stereotypes and prejudices produced by patriarchal ideology. Women writers, therefore, unweave to reweave the entangled fabrics of sexual politics and discourse to redefine and recast their image, ideologically distorted by male structures of power. They


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interrogate the totalitarian assumptions of phallacy and establish its fallacy in stereotypically representing women as whores, and as existing on the fringes of society for male sexual gratification when it is men that actually push women into prostitution in the first instance. A third category of representation of prostitutes also exists. This straddles the two perspectival polarities of male and female writers. This category is made up of male writers with a radical or revolutionary vision. They are male but spare some sympathies for women locating their plight within the oppressive, repressive and exploitative mechanisms that define patriarchal society.7 The prostitute is, as such, engaged in a social and economic struggle to restore life’s sweetness and ensure survival in a hostile phallic milieu. As Deirdre LaPin argues: “A prostitute exhibits the aberrant individualism fostered by social exploitation. Behind the wrongs that women suffer looms the specter of social disruption. Often female protagonists deploy their energy doing battle to restore life’s sweetness” (145). Part of life’s sweetness can only be assured through the battle of battering oneself in a milieu riddled with social and economic contradictions like the postcolony. These levels of representation correspond roughly with those sketched by Senkoro, although with some points of departure with his total exclusion of women writers and their understandable concern with the delineation of the woman as prostitute. In the approaches he has identified, he categorises African male writers who have explored the trope of the prostitute into three camps. These include those who think the prostitute is “caught irredeemably in the web of the profession’s miserable life; those who protest against the “inhuman rotten, suffocating environment of the prostitute’s world”, and those that “have taken a comparatively more progressive and bolder their examination of the position and plight of the prostitute” (44 – 45). One thing is clear from Senkoro’s negotiation of the portraiture of the prostitute in African literature. As it is obvious from the epigraph at the beginning of this chapter, his attitude to the prostitute is that of selfrighteous indignation and pity which associates the prostitute with irredeemable victimhood as she engages in her “profession” which is “inhuman”. One wonders where the men that patronise her have gone to! But beyond this paternalistic disposition, Senkoro also fails to acknowledge that his categorisation is not as neat as he presents it because there are overlappings among the three categories. Perhaps, the most unpardonable error of judgement he is guilty of is the exclusionary practice against women writers as if they do not exist or matter in this case. This politics betrays him out as masculinist and so prejudiced against women. The

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strength of his argument, however, resides in the fact that he has identified the progressive cast of male writers with a socialist vision aimed at idealising and rehabilitating the castigated image of the woman as a prostitute and as an agency for the radical reconstitution of society’s social and economic relations. In male writing with a progressive vein and Marxist bent, the representation of the female in the common trope and stereotype of the prostitute gravitates to sexual and textual politics that privileges the woman. For instance, in Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Petals of Blood,8 and the Senegalese Sembene Ousmane’s God’s Bits of Wood,9 the prostitute is ideologically depicted as a product of social inequalities, class hierarchies and economic exploitation perpetrated by a male-dominated, decadent capitalist order. In the first, Wanja is represented affirmatively as a resourceful and industrious young woman who is a victim of social and political contradictions immanent in the fractured contours of post-colonial Kenyan society. Her promising future as a young school girl has similarly been compromised by an avaricious and prurient bourgeoisie which lack the moral fibre, political will and cultural rectitude to galvanise the new nation on the path of national renaissance and alternative, radical reengineering. Similarly, in the second, Ousmane ambitiously delineates Penda as the fulcrum of the women’s liberationist ethos as a necessary and indispensable partner in the revolutionary stirrings of the rail workers in Senegal under French assimilationist policy. Penda emerges as a victim of French colonial policies but has chosen to transcend the limitations of enforced prostitution through her involvement in the rail workers struggle as part of the nascent nationalist uprising. This radicalisation of consciousness achieves impressive results as the strike is most efficacious despite the acts of subterfuge by some of the workers who have compromised their integrity and collaborated with colonial capital to sabotage the strike. Inevitably, the triumph of the communal spirit, especially the prominence of the women under the charismatic Penda, underscore the paramountcy of the prostitute, a marginal category, in the revolutionary struggle for the reversal in the calculus of social relations and power formations in an exploitative society which fosters the capitalist paradigms of economic production through oppression, repression and exploitation, to privilege subaltern subjectivities. In both texts, the novelists weave narratives that idealise a communalistic ethos which privileges women and offers a space to the prostitue who is stereotyped as a dreg of society and symbolic of moral degeneration. The unabashed verdict of these novelists is that it is society,


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with its inherent violent and often asymmetrical power and social relations that drives women into prositution. These novelists situate the moral degeneracy quintessential of prostitution as a direct ideological corollary of these class hierarchies and social disruptions. Similarly, other novels with a social vision like those of the Kenyan writer, Meja Mwangi (Going Down River Road and Kill Me Quick); the Camerounian, Mongo Beti’s Perpetua and the Habit of Unhappiness (1974), Nurudin Farah, the Somali’s From the Crooked Rib (1970), the Nigerian, Wole Soyinka’s Season of Anomy (1973) and the Egyptian, Naguib Mahfouz’s Miramar (1974) and Midaq Alley (1947) valorise the prostitute as an agent of positive change. It is in some of these male-authored creative outputs and the sexual politics they encode that we shall anchor our explication of the (en)gendered terrain of the African novel.

The Male Tradition of African Writing and the Prostitute In much of mainstream African literature, the trajectory of the woman as prostitute exists side by side with the long-standing ‘mother metaphoric imperative’ which is ideologically embodied in the representation of the nation or Africa as a fecund, kind and nurturing mother. The mothernation dialectic or mother-Africa trope defines much of phallic writing as a dominant epistemological mode. In the male tradition of male canonical writing, the dialectic or trope constitutes a grandiose narrative event which constructs national allegories that negotiate nationhood in Africa. Concomitant with this dialectic is the metaphoric representation of mother–Africa in the image of a prostitute. This metaphoric representation, at face value, appears to dignify and humanise womanhood. Fundamentally, however, it ideologically serves to engender gender and sexual politics and encode stereotypical images of women as prostitutes. Neil Browne and Kevin Quinn underscore the ideological potency and significance of metaphors. They identify metaphors as particularly effective and efficient in their literary and cultural participation as rites of socio-political incisions and as legitimising agents of social representation and the construction of subjectivity. They argue that: A more robust analysis of metaphors, while acknowledging both their indispensability and instrumentality, requires more than a glance at their ideological power as legitimizing devices…that particularly dominant metaphors would play such a role is implicit in the concept of the embodied subject (131).

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Corroborating the same perspective concerning the ideological significance of metaphors and their potential for ideological legitimation, Amy Koritz and Douglas Koritz also postulate that all “narrative genres carry with them ideological implications and place limits on what it is possible to do, think, or be within their boundaries…” They further avail that “Metaphor, in turn, is fundamental to narrative to the extent that the conceptual building blocks of narrative are deeply metaphorical in nature” (408). What emerges from the above analysis is that metaphors are veritable products of particular ideological structures and institutional practices and as a result function as legitimising agents to these structures and practices. Their functionality, therefore, as sites in the representation of the embodied subject cannot be ideologically innocent or neutral. Metaphors always carry with them enormous epistemological capital which is crucial to the determination of agency and subjectivity or their putative lack. The metaphors which encode women as prostitutes in the African novel execute a patriarchal project that functionally inferiorises, subjugates and labels women negatively in terms of alterity and otherness. Given that all national canonical narratives in Africa, one way or the other, negotiate their individual nation’s postcolonial condition, this narration inescapably bears with it a visionary psychoanalysis of the national soul. And because nations are populated by men and women as their citizens, this psychologisation of nationhood is, therefore, refracted through the prism of gender and sexual politics. The femininisation of the nation constitutes a paradigmatic axis of this narration. This explains why more than anything else, this dialectical (re)presentation of the nation in the image of a prostitute is necessarily ideological and political. It often encodes fundamental contradictions that reflect the inherent disjunctures that have attended the postcolonial ethos in these nations: the woman as both a nurturing and fecund mother as well as a prowling prostitute. Susan Onega and Landa are pointed in their perception of representation as a politics and as an ideological reality which embodies the represented. They postulate that, “Any representation involves a point of view, a perspective on the represented object, criteria of relevance, and, arguably, an implicit theory of reality” (3). The implicit theory of reality as it concerns the African novel by male authors resonates with ideological considerations and encodes sexual and gender politics that represent woman in negative and negating metaphors. As will be presently clear, the ideological properties inherent in metaphors mask themselves as benign and harmless but their very operation is deleterious and destructive to those social categories they target. Like ammunition from the rich armoury


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of the enemy, metaphors wreak epistemic violence in devastating ways that are sometimes unimaginable. This is precisely what the ambiguous portraiture of the woman as mother and as prostitute in the African novel has accomplished: the negativisation of womanhood. This stereotypical representation in the mother-nation metaphor is the grounding norm that informs Nurudin Farah’s From a Crooked Rib.10 As a national allegory, the novel is a chronicle of the chequered postcolonial Somali and African situation with its myriad of intermeshing sordid realities. This beleaguered postcolonial heritage is, however, ideologically rendered in the image of a young woman, Ebla who repudiates her pastoral beginnings in the Ogaden region and opts for an urban existence. The narrative kinesis delineates Ebla as rebelling against phallocentric tradition by refusing arranged marriage and, in an effort to escape it, marries Awill. Her second marriage in Mogadishu turns her into a mere commodity, an economic metaphor, to be bought and enjoyed by men as she ends as a prostitute. As a historical account, Farah’s narrative envisions Somalia’s national life from the colonial to the independence epoch. Just like Ebla changes hands between men, Somalia was also partitioned among colonial overlords such as the Italians, French, Egyptians, British and Ethiopians. It is in this light that Florence Stratton observes that as a prostitute, “Ebla represents Somalia at the time of independence, her nominal autonomy and actual independence depicting the nature of nationhood in the ‘postcolonial’ era” (45). The mother of the nation, as it is ideologically imperative, ends up as a prostitute bearing a child whose paternity is inscrutable. As an illegitimate child, Somalia’s paternity comes under sustained interrogation with attendant repercussions on her fate and destiny. That since the end of the era of brutal dictator Siad Barre, Somalia has not had any central government and has been a theatre of war among belligerent clan heads is a narrative which affirms this illegitimacy. But the crisis in Ebla’s life as a young woman is encoded through the hostility of patriarchal institutions and their mediation in the lives of women within an Islamic culture thereby causing social disruptions which throw them into a licentious existence. Farah here indicts patriarchy and the cultural ideology it represents and enforces as one of the sources of the national malaise that has earned Somalia the ignominious epithet of a failed postcolonial state wracked by self-destructive tendencies.11 In Wole Soyinka’s Season of Anomy,12 this negative stereotype of the woman as prostitute is also represented. In this novel, Iriyise, in her association with Ofeyi is synonymous with the national ideal encapsulating

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the mother-nation dialectic. Through her subjectivity in the contradictory metaphors of virgin and prostitute, and the oxymoronic trope of ‘madammadonna’, Soyinka indicts a nation that has been plagued by tyranny, dictatorship, mindless corruption and exploitation. Thus, Iriyise, as a product of the vicissitudes of an arrested nationhood, also embodies a nation in a state of becoming. As the index of Nigeria’s postcolonial nationhood without national arrival, she not only embodies, but also envisions, that longing for national belonging and arrival. Thus, her moral degeneracy and corruption is juxtaposed with the rot that characterises the Nigerian nation-state, a rot that is caused by the malfeasance of a tiny cabal of military, political and industrial exploiters. Iriyise as symbol of the mother-nation trope, therefore, becomes an ideological pawn in the political and sexual chess game which produces and distributes meanings that expouse a phallic order casting the woman as prostitute. Soyinka narrates Nigerian nationhood as a victim of successive military dictatorships, political corruption and social stasis all of which have taken their toll on the most populous Black nation in the world with enormous human and material resources to provide leadership to the Black race and, indeed, the world. This dream, Soyinka laments, has been squelched in the quagmire of leadership deficit with military adventurers and civilian paratroopers masquerading as messiahs only to take their turn to rape and violate the nation.13 The Senegalese novelist and film-maker, Sembene Ousmane negotiates nationhood with ideological optimism in God’s Bits of Wood.14 This is, however, not bereft of the familiar rendering in the trope of the prostitute as symbolic of national stirrings. This metaphorisation is embodied in the subjectivity of Penda. Though a dramatisation of the 1947-48 revolutionary uprising of the Senegalese railway proletariat under oppressive French imperialism and colonialism, the novel, however, deploys the stereotype of the prostitute by the dominant phallocentric ideology. Woman is, indeed, the mother of the nation through her active collaboration with men in the ideological warfare against colonial oppression and repression. She possesses the capacity to make history, to transform society and to stand side by side with the man in the struggles to overcome colonial exploitation. But the sexual and gender politics the novel generates is typified in the prostitute, Penda. Though portrayed as a well rounded character, the male construction of the female in the negative trope of the prostitute still endures. In Ousmane’s ideological oeuvre, true hero(in)ism resides with the collectivity. Thus the towering, organising image of Bakayoko is matched by women such as Ndeye Touti, Ramatoulaye, Maimouna and especially Penda all of whom Aduke Adebayo states “merit the reader’s


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sympathy and admiration” (63). However, in a dominantly Islamic culture, sexual politics obtrude in the novel. Though a prostitute, Ousmane rehabilitates Penda as a pillar of the national resistance against the capitalist forces of French colonialism and as a legitimate galvanising force for freedom and liberation for the rail workers and the Senegalese nation. In Perpetua and the Habit of Unhappiness,15 Mongo Beti captures the mood of nationalist politics in his native Cameroon but with a tinge of the mother – nation trope that has assumed ritualised presence in the contemporary African novelistic tradition which is male dominated. The narrative strives to tell a jeremiad tale of Perpetua, an ambitious young woman. Perpetua nurses the lofty dream of training as a medical doctor, a profession assumed by patriarchal attitudes and values as an exclusive male preserve. But fate spins a sticky web that entangles the optimistic Perpetua. She is withdrawn from school by Maria, her mother and given in marriage to Edward who ill treats her and offers her for prostitution. Her escapades with Zeyang result in her death by Edward. The rest of the narrative concerns the inquest into her death by Essola, the elder brother and jailed Rubenist supporter. Beti’s novel delineates the national aspirations of a nation under French colonial domination and exploitation and retrogressive national politics. Again, Perpetua as the personification of this national aspiration is cast as a prostitute whose (mis)adventure defines national disillusionment and disenchantment. According to Anthony Biakolo, Perpetua, “the heroine’s tragic fate represents the rape of Africa in the traditional, social and economic fields” (80) as it also represents the rape of womanhood in patriarchal African society. Beti deploys this narrative to negotiate Cameroonian nationhood against the backdrop of a rapacious political elite that has ruined the nation and wasted its ma(pa)trimony. Perpetua’s death is metaphorically symptomatic in a national sense. In Ngugi’s Petals of Blood, a novel with a distinct revolutionary temperament, the politics of sexuality and the trope of prostitution are present in Wanja, the heroine. Though a socialist novelistic rendition of postcolonial Kenyan nationhood in its writhings against the forces of capitalist domination and exploitation, the novel feeds on the sexual politics which constitute a dominant and visible ideological trajectory in the African male literary tradition. Wanja drops out of school in untidy circumstances and is driven into prostitution. Her involvement with the petite bourgeoisie in the figures of Chui, Kimeria and Mzigo further amplifies the postcolonial exploitation of Kenya, first by the colonialists and, now by the emergent capitalist class. Ngugi appropriately deplores

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and condemns the unholy alliance between the nascent political elite and international monopoly capital in negating the national aspirations of Kenyans for uhuru which was won with blood through the Mau Mau national resistance war. Ime Ikiddeh valorises this perspective of a new imperialism, internal imperialism by the emergent men of power and the injustices they have perpetrated against the people, the real fighters for independence. He argues that the novel “makes its subject the stark injustice of postindependence Kenya. It exposes and denounces a system…manifested in capitalist greed for building money empires on the sweat and blood of the rest” (48) of the masses. As a national allegory, the novel combines a progressive nationalist vision with socialist reconstruction and national rebirth. But all of these are executed deploying a mother-nation dialectic through which courses the political and sexual vein of the prostitute. Wanja, therefore, stands as the index of the Kenyan nation. But why she must be represented as a prostitute smacks not only of ideological imperatives but also sexual politics in the African male canonical writing. Ngugi’s authorial vision here, like Sembene Ousmane’s, is shaped and determined by ideological imperatives which socialist transformation and societal reconstruction encourage. Collective action which involves women, even prostitutes, is the only efficacious means of carrying out a successful revolution against capitalist accumulation and imperialist exploitation. Wanja as a prostitute fits into this revolutionary role. It is logical that the sexual exploitation she suffers from the three businessmen proves the albatross for them. They too suffer a terminal fate in her hands as she starts a conflagration which consumes them. Ngugi seems to be recommending the option of a violent and bloody revolution in the Marxist sense as the viable alternative to capitalist domination and oppression so that Kenya can fulfil its national dreams and hopes as a truly independent African nation.

From Repression to Expression: Towards a Theory of the Womanist Aesthetic Tradition The discourse purveyed by the African novel in its negotiation of the woman as prostitute is no doubt totalising and tendentious in an (en)gendered perspective. It calls to question the politics of canonformation in African literature which discriminates against women as mothers and consigns them to the peripheries of mainstream societal life. But as no discourse ever exercises absolute mastery over its assumptions, this phallic epistemology also self-interrogates its ideological dominance


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and hegemonic influence in the African novelistic tradition as it affects the subjectivity of the prostitute. Increasingly, therefore, women too have appropriated the rites of public space to contest these gender and sexual meanings, thus establishing the fallacious assumptions of phallic ideology This contestation is in apparent realisation that dominant grids of epistemologies and hermeneutical networks always institute their hegemomy through the subtle tyrannisation of other alternative, warring knowledges and meaning systems. This is an ideological imperative and a deliberate strategy towards self-legitimation and consolidation. This is essentially because phallocentric hegemony, together with the vistas of knowledge and the meaning modes it generates, necessarily, constitutes a contested and contestable site. This contentious site culminates in the emergence of a multiplicity of discourses and negotiated meanings which calls for the efflorescence of “the plurality of independent and unmerged voices and consciousnesses and the genuine polyphony of full-valued voices” (Bakhtin 4) that determines meaning. Literature provides a concrete ideo-political canvas for the distillation of gendered forms of knowledge and the inscription of sexist meanings in textual universes by dominant groups to subjugate dominated categories. Patriarchal ideology, for instance, has self-consciously constructed and willed into existence hegemonic epistemologies and sexist meaning systems that are decidedly uncharitable to the female sex. The same phallic order, through its dominant epistemological and hermeneutical systems, has been complicit in the production and circulation of sexist meanings that ideologically privilege patriarchy. Such barbed political meanings perpetrate epistemic violence on subjected and subjugated categories like women who are interpellated as marginal others especially in the trope of the prostitute. But transcendent to this, such meanings also conspire to engender gender discourses and sexual politics that help stake the beleaguered politico-literary minefield of African letters. To dismantle these phallocentric knowledges and meanings, women too have emerged from the achipelagoes of silence. They have executed a revolutionary transformation from the periphery to the centre of societal discourse; from the phallic regime of oppression and repression to the culture of expression. They have, as such, entered the public frontier hitherto an exclusive male preserve – to contest and interrogate these hegemonic, sexist meanings. As Linda Anderson observes, the woman has found “ways of contesting her own silencing…powerfully straining against the boundaries that hem her in” (vii). This is to inscribe herself into the cult of public expression and to end the silencing regime of patriarchy. This is particularly so with the gender trajectory and feminist ferment

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that now define the landscape of African literary heritage. Women have evolved subversive and transgresive strategies to undermine the potency of dominant patriarchal meanings. They have countered the myths, revised the soiled image and torn the veil of invisibility imposed on them by patriarchy and given voice to their silences. In their literary practices, they articulate their peculiar concerns as women and as mothers (of the nation) who deserve recognition and a voice in the way society is structured and managed. By so doing, these totalitarian knowledges and phallic meanings have been unmasked and deconstructed. As Elaine Showalter argues, in “women’s literature, feminine values penetrate and undermine the masculine systems which contain them” (29), thus establishing a distinct female expressive voice. Fundamentally, therefore, African female novelists such as Flora Nwapa, Buchi Emecheta, Zaynab Alkali, Ifeoma Okoye, Akachi AdimoraEzeigbo, etc of Nigeria, Calixthe Bayela of Cameroon, Mariama Ba and Aminata Fall of Senegal, Grace Ogot and Rebecca Njau of Kenya, Nawal El Saadawi of Egypt, Efua Sutherland and Ama Ata Aidoo of Ghana as well as Miriam Tlali, Bessie Head and Nadine Gordimer of South Africa, among others have enlisted their voices to negotiate the female condition. In the words of Elaine Showalter, these women writers have revealed “the patterns of influence and rebellion that make the female literary tradition”. They have as such invented “a language of their own, a style, voice and a structure, with which they could enter a discipline previously dominated by men” (73). These novelists boldly seek to reconstruct womanhood and restore her lost dignity. They, therefore, subvert as fallacious the stereotypical (mis)representations of their image by phallacy through an ideological strategy of recreating and rehumanising themselves as distinct subjectivities. In their counter-discursive engagements, these female writers intensely interrogate the rationality behind the image of the prostitute as major trope in the canon of male writing. These women question the very etymology and signification of the lexical item, ‘prostitute’ which means to misuse, in this case, the human body. The searching questions include, among others: Why are women included but men are excluded. If prostitution involves transgression against the human body as an inviolable vessel, is it only women that have bodies? Are there no male prostitutes? Or does the woman engage in the act of prostitution alone? If a man is involved as a patron, does that not make him a prostitute too? Why are they not portrayed in men’s writings? Indeed, their litany of questions seem to be endless: where are the brothers of Penda, Wanja, Perpetua, Ebla, Iriyise, etc? Are they productively


Chapter Six

engaged on the farms or pursuing degrees in school, or are gainfully employed in the shops or offices? Their argument through their textual discourses stems from the fact that in the construction and apportionment of roles, women are prohibited from taking on the more outgoing tasks restricting them to the sphere of domesticity and privatist enclosure. This also limits women’s visibility in public spaces most especially in Islamic cultures where this restriction is a norm sanctioned by doctrine. Against this male defined restraint, African women writers have crossed the private chambers of the bedroom and the sanctum of the kitchen to contest their invisibility in diverse public arenas. Closely allied to the prostitute is the image of the witch which is used in African male writing as if it has no gender alternative or equivalent. The witch is interpreted quite often to mean a woman with supernatural powers which most often offend and undermine male constituted institutions and accepted norms. She is, therefore, an agent of social and cultural disruption whom patriarchy is uncomfortable with but uses when it is in accord with its ideological dictates. But what, for instance, is the opposite of a witch? Are there no wizards in Africa to be representated in male texts? Why are witches given such prominence? Why are wizards sacred cows that must be avoided as objects of representation in African literature? In the signifying system, do witch and wizard always encode the same significations? Why does the latter term assume an affirmative connotation in ways that witch does not? A man can sometimes be described as a computer wizard, commending his virtuosity and accomplishment in computer applications. But why is it not possible that we hear of a computer witch? Here too, gender politics is the dominant analytic category. It is significant to observe that despite taking up positions in public discourses through their writings, the first phase of this agenda by women was in many situations an affirmation of the images constructed by male writers. The strained voices of these female writers did not bear the burden of the female experience in ways that were truly liberating probably because of the heap of congealed misrepresentations women had been long subjected to. Besides they were few voices that easily got drowned by the carnival of patriarchal shouts. Little wonder then that the fiction of women like Flora Nwapa, Grace Ogot, Mariama Ba, etc, though ideologically espoused to the female condition under patriarchy, their effort looked like a legitimisation of the male constructed images of women as mere appendages to men who were quite happy and satisfied with the limited roles of wife, mother, mistress, prostitute, etc that men ascribed to them. Lizbeth Goodman observes in this perspective that the “stereotypical

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images of woman are not uncommon in literature, nor indeed in cultural representation of any kind” (79). This foregrounds the cultural specificity and political situatedness of stereotypes and the significations concomitant with them especially in an engendered mould. But even in the revisionist writings of women sometimes, it seems they thread their stories with the familiar trope that constitute the loom of male canonical writing. But Goodman further comments: Creating unstereotypical images of women in fiction is a challenge … some women’s fiction … offers images of women which seem at first to be negative or to support existing stereotypes, yet which can be reviewed as subversions of these stereotypes if read with an awareness of context … In this way negative images of women may be read and interpreted as potentially positive (7).

Through their writings, women no longer just react but act in their own right as an inscription of their agency and subjectivity. This is precisely the argument by Bettina Weiss when she avers that in their counter-hegemonic discourses and counter-canon formation politics, women’s writings cease to be apologetic, straining for phallic acceptance through reactionary strategies, expecting their perspective to be understood by patriarchy. Women have become actively engaged in countering their stereotypification in the canon of dominant male aesthetics. In relation to these sexist constructs, she comments further on the later phase of women’s writings: They mark a departure from the mere notion that women react or write back, arguments that have often been overemphasised in literary criticism. In fact there is more to that: women act, that is to say, they take action, against their limited position by engaging in discursive, dismantling, subverting, partly ironic, and deconstructing confrontation with androcentric texts not only of written material, but also, in a broader sense, of sociocultural constructs and of texts written on the body. Reacting or writing back, in comparison, resembles a mimetic behaviour pattern, too constricting and much less active than when taking action. Taking action refers to a woman’s obligation to write down her own story, to enlarge the vision, and to unmake stereotyped allusions. She creates herself by exploring ambiguous multi-layered meanings which helps her to surpass the boundaries of agony and repression, to restore her mutilated body and mind-a prerequisite for authoring her selfhood (14-15).

It is against this significant backdrop that the “exclusionary practices” against gender – to appropriate Florence Stratton’s felicitous phrase which have reduced it to a muted, minority discourse – have now become part of


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an inclusionary political practice where gender is a formidable and essential “analytic category” (1). As Showalter corroborates: Whether concerned with the literary representation of sexual difference, with the ways that literary genres have been shaped by masculine or feminine values, or with the exclusion of the female voice from the institutions of literature, criticism and theory, feminist criticism has established gender as a fundamental category of literary analysis (73).

Thus, through gender sensitive concepts such as Womanism (Walker 1983; Okonjo-Ogunyemi 1985); Stiwanism (Ogundipe–Leslie 1994); Motherism (Acholonu 1995) and Africana Womanism (Hudson – Weems 1995), women, not the least, Africcan female writers, according to Lizbeth Goodman (1980) have enlisted their articulate voices “as a liberating tool, a political act, a subversive strategy, as well as an art form and ‘platform’, or a means of expressing self” (68).

The African Novel, Gender Politics and Language The African novelistic tradition presents an ideological and political platform for the dramatisation of gender and sexual politics. Patriarchal ideology constructs the male as a noble, heroic, brave, dignified and active speaking subject who is a protagonist in the kinesis of human history, culture and civilisation. Diametrically opposed to this male characterisation, the same phallic order delineates the female as a courtesan, prostitute, witch, mule, seductress and a passive object that silently contemplates the currents of human history, culture and civilisation as they flow. As Dele Layiwola states of women, “false consciousness relegates them as inert objects of history” (126), whose humanity is diminished, hyphenated or even totally negated. This false, phallic ideological consciousness configures women as mere appendages of men. Harry Blamires underscores this malecentric categorisation of women when he observes that: The masculine is regarded as the very type of humanity and the woman is seen as relative to man. Women as a body lack the cohesion to assert themselves against these categorisations. Women are so moulded and indoctrinated by tradition that they are prevented from assuming the status of beings with liberty (374).

This ruling, phallocentric ideological consciousness also finds legitimation in the Lacanian symbolic metaphorisation of the pen as shaped in the image of the potent phallus. The conceptualisation of the pen as a metaphor for the phallus is ideological and political and resonates

Fallacy of Phallacy


with significant gender and sexual significations. The phallus is a symbolic metaphor and an ideological marker that generates meanings, meanings that are essentially gendered. It also represents a fundamental lack for a particular sex, female. The phallic lack presents another lack: that of the pen. And with the pen come a viable voice, expression, identity, agency and subjectivity. What this translates to is that the lack of the phallus by women constitutes a fundamental inaccessibility to the pen as an expressive means. Concomitant with this is the refusal of admittance of women to the cult of language, the science of signs, with its semiotic richness, the lack of a voice and a repressive regime of silence which prohibits the rites of selfdefinition, affirmation, liberation and inscription into the contours of a male-dominated society. An exclusivist strain is brought to the fore in the gender and sexual relations as men wield exclusive preserve over language and the pen(is) and consign women to the category of the muted. The centrality of the pen as symbolically shaped in the image of the phallus and as an index for the generation of meaning in Lacanian psychoanalytic theory is fundamentally redolent with gender and sexual politics. Jane Gallop attempts a distinction between the phallus and penis: […] to distinguish phallus from penis is to separate infantile sexuality from adult sexuality. To distinguish penis from phallus would be to locate some masculinity that does not necessarily obliterate the feminine … The Lacanian phallus is not simply linked to infantile genitality. It is a signifier, which is to say it belongs to what Lacan calls the symbolic order, which is the order of language. It is neither a real nor fantasized organ but an attribute: a power to generate meaning (245).

As a generator of meanings, the phallus operates within the gendered contours of language with its signifiers and signifieds. It produces and distributes meanings that heave with sexual politics, meanings that privilege a phallocentric ethos but discriminate against women. Language is, as such, indelibly implicated in gender and sexual politics. It is seen as a potent ideological weapon in the hands of a patriarchal order for the stereotypical and prejudicial construction of women so as to subjugate and dominate them. Barrie Thorne et al pursue this argument when they observe that there are “varied ways in which language aids the defining, deprecating, and excluding of women … women tend to be defined by their relation to men … while men are given autonomous and varied linguistic status” (9). They further argue:


Chapter Six […] the available and “approved” titles, pronouns, lexicons and labels reflect the fact that women … have been named by others. Men’s extensive labelling of women as parts of body, fruit or animals and as mindless, or like children – labels with no real parallel for men – reflects men’s derision of women and helps maintain gender hierarchy and control.

Similarly, Dale Spender establishes the phallogocentricity of language when she avers that language is man made and that historically: […] women have been excluded from the production of cultural forms, and language is after all, a cultural form-and a most important one. In fairly crude terms, this means that the language has been made by men and that they have used it for their own purposes (52).

Language, therefore, is a primary agency that constructs sexual and gender hierarchies. And because it is a science of signs that privileges patriarchy, the phallic signifier that rules it generates signifieds that place the female on the side of lack. Mary Jacobus corroborates this: “When it comes to the phallic signifier, lack is the lesson taught to all subjects. This anxious discovery is managed in Freud’s asymmetrical account by placing femininity on the side of lack...” (5).

Conclusion The African novelistic tradition, as such, presents a paradoxical image of womanhood. She is both mother and prostitute. The male literary tradition and the ideological and sexual politics it espouses is complicit in this dual binarist stereotypical representation. Obioma Nnaemeka underscores this when she argues that there exist binarist dualities in the image of woman in African literature: “the contradictions inherent in the images of woman in African literature” are mummified into two binary sarcophagi of the “idealised/objectified, central/marginal, powerful/powerless passive/active, victim/agent” (8). This representation is androcentric as, according to K.K. Ruthven, it is “centred on men” (1). To Shan Wareing it “presents women and men…more often to the disadvantage of women” (66). Thus, while the African novel appears to (re)present woman positively sometimes, this is ideologically occluded and ossified into gender and sexual binary oppositionalities that characterise this male dominated literary tradition. No doubt, the novels of male writers like Ayi Kwei Armah (Fragments, Two Thousand Seasons), Sembene Ousmane (God’s Bits Of Wood), Nurudin Farah (From a Crooked Rib), Wole Soyinka

Fallacy of Phallacy


(Season of Anomy), Ngugi wa Thiong’o (The River Between, Petals of Blood), and Naguib Mahfouz (Midaq Alley, Miramar) are sympathetic to women as mothers of their nations. This ostensibly positive imaging is ideologically masked by dominant, phallic gender and sexual politics that privilege patriarchy and represent women as prostitutes and peripheral others. It, therefore, fundamentally reveals that only women can positively tell their stories. They have, as such, entered the public discourse to unweave and reweave the inextricably entangled fabrics of hitherto male dominated discourse to ventilate their experiences and assert their humanity. Writers like Calixthe Bayela, Flora Nwapa, Grace Ogot, Zaynab Alkali, Bessie Head, Buchi Emecheta, Nawal el Saadawi, etc in their creative engagements and literary practices have deconstructed the stereotypes, and myths of the woman as witch, seductress, mule and especially as prostitute. Through this demythificatory and demystificatory strategy, they have established the fallacy of phallacy as a dominant epistemological constant and hermeneutical given and inscribed womanhood on the contours of societal discourse. In concretely situating this womanist (feminist) strategic ideological project of writing and rewriting the African literary tradition and its canons especially the novel, two trajectories inevitably emerge which are simultaneously transgressive and corrective, affirmative and assertive, interrogative and self-testifying. Women, therefore, have appropriated public space and its discourses to tell their stories from their distinct positionality and perspective (Tsaaior 31). It is in this political and ideological programme of dismantling the dominant male text and undermining its sexual politics against womanhood that can be found the instructive submission of Terry Threadgold: […]one does not analyse texts, one rewrites them, one does not have an objective metalanguage, one does not use a theory, one performs one’s crtique. Critique is itself a poeisis, a making… there are also seductions involved in allowing oneself to be positioned totally by discourses and genres of rewriting and refusal of metalanguages… stories are told from some body’s position, stories that can be rewritten… we must also accept that stories are theories, and that they always involve a metalinguistic critique of the stories they rewrite (1).

It is this rewriting strategy and performance practice by women, as Threadgold suggests, that constitutes the animating force, governing principle and defining motif in women’s interrogation of the fallacious assumptions of phallacy and its representation of the female subjectivity in the stereotype of the prostitute.


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Works Cited Acholonu, Catherine. Motherism: An Afrocentric Alternative to Feminism. Owerri: Afa Publications, 1995. Adebayo, Aduke. “Heroes and Anti-heroes in the Novels of Sembene Ousmane.” In Asein and Ashaolu.eds. Studies in the African Novel. Vol. 1 Ibadan: Ibadan University Press, 1986. Anderson, Linda. ed. Plotting Change: Contemporary Women’s Fiction. London: Edward Arnold, 1990. Bakhtin, Mihkail. The Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics. U.S.A.: Ardies, 1973. Biakolo, Anthony. “The Novels of Mongo Beti”. In Asein and Ashaolu. eds. Studies in the African Novel Vol 1. Ibadan: IUP 1986. Blamires, Harry. A History of Literary Criticism. London: Macmillian, 1991. Browne M.N. & Quinn, K.J. “Dominant Economic Metaphors and the Postmodern Subversion of the Subject”. In Woodmanse and Osteen. eds. The New Economic Criticism. London & New York: Routledge 1999. 131 – 149. Gallop, Jane. “Phallus/Penis: Same Difference”. In Janet Todd. ed. Women and Literature: Men by Women. New York and London: Holmes and Meier Publishers, 1981. Goodman, Lizbeth. “Literary Representations: Self as Subject”. In Marks and De Coutivron. eds. New French Feminisms. Massachusetts: University of Massachusetts Press, 1980. —.“Supply and Demand: Women’s Short Stories”. In New French Feminism, 1980. Hudson-Weems, Clenora. Africana Womanism. Troy: Bedford Publishers, 1995. Ikiddeh, Ime. “Ideology and Revolutionary Action in the Contemporary African Novel”. In Asein and Ashaolu. eds. Studies in the African Novel Vol. 1 Ibadan: IUP, 1986. Jacobus, Mary. First Things: The Maternal Imaginary in Literature, Art and Psychoanalysis. New York & London: Routledge, 1995. Koritz, M. & Koritz, D. “Symbolic Economics: Adventures in the Metaphorical Marketplace”. In Woodmanse and Osteen. eds. The New Economic Criticism: London & New York: Routledge, 1999. 408 – 419. LaPin, Deirdre. “Women in African Literature”. In Jean Hay and Stichter. eds. African Women South of the Sahara. New York: Longman, 1995. Layiwola, Dele. “The Subject – Object Imperative: Women and the

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Colonial Struggle in Three West African Novels”. In Dele Layiwola. ed. Understanding Post-Colonial Identities. Ibadan: Sefer Books, 2001. Nnanemeka, Obioma. ed. The Politics of (M)Othering: Womanhood, Identity and Resistance in African Literature. London & New York: Routledge, 1997. Ogundipe – Leslie, Molara. Recreating Ourselves: African Women and Cultural Transformations. Trenton, New Jersey: AWP, 1994. Ogunyemi, Chikwenye Okonjo. “Womanism: The Dynamics of the Contemporary Black Female Novel in English”. In Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. 11, 1985. Onega, S. & Landa, J.A. eds. Narratology: An Introduction. London & New York: Longman, 1996. Ruthven, K.K. Feminist Literary Theory: An Introduction: Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Showalter, Elaine.“Towards a Feminist Aesthetic”. In Mary Jacobus (ed.) Women Writing and Writing About Women. London: Croom Helm, 1979. —. “The Feminist Critical Revolution”. In E. Marks and de Courtivron. eds. New French Feminisms, 1980. Spender, Dale. Man Made Language: London: Routledge & Keegan Paul, 1982. Statton Florence. Contemporary African Literature and the Politics of Gender. London: Routledge, 1994. Thorne, Barrie et al. eds. Language, Gender and Society. Massachusetts: Newbury House Publishers, 1983. Tsaaior, James Tar. “Contesting (In)Visibility in Public Spaces: Poetics, Politics and Women in Africa” in Dialogue: A Journal Devoted to Literary Appreciation, (Special Issue on Literature of the Marginals) Volume VII, No. II (December 2010): 29-40 Walker, Alice. In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens: Womanist Prose. San Diego: Jovanovich, 1983. Wareing, Shan.. “Language and Gender”. In Thomas and Wareing. eds. Language, Society and Power: An Introduction. London and New York. Routledge, 1999. Weiss, Bettina. “Shades of Utter(ing) Silences in The Purple Violet of Oshaantu, Maru, and Under the Tongue”. In Journal of African Literature and Culture. No. 4 (2007): 13-32.


I am the son of two civilizations that at a certain age in history have formed a happy union. The first of these, seven thousand years old, is the Pharaonic civilization; the second, one thousand four hundred years old, is the Islamic one.... As for Pharaonic civilization I will not talk of the conquests and the building of empires. This has become a worn out pride the mention of which modern conscience, thank God, feels uneasy about.... I will not even talk of this civilization’s achievements in art and literature, and its renowned miracles: the Pyramids and the Sphinx and Karnak.... As for Islamic civilization I will not talk about its call for the establishment of a union between Mankind under the guardianship of the Creator, based on freedom, equality and forgiveness. (Naguib Mahfouz, “Nobel Lecture” 1988) On an international scale, however, undoubtedly the most prominent Arabic-language novelist is the Egyptian Naguib Mahfouz, winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize for literature. The only Arabic writer to be so honoured, Mahfouz is the author of a large and impressive body of work…His novels include both historical fictions about the Egyptian past and social novels about colonial and contemporary Egypt. (Booker, The African Novel in English 64)

Introduction What is today known as North African or Maghrebi literature, to which Egyptian literature is a veritable tributary, is perceived by some purists of African literature as not belonging to mainstream African literary tradition. Reasons have been adduced for this negation of legitimacy or denial of authenticity status. One of these is its Arabic provenance and linguistic influence. Allied to this is the racial configuration of the peoples of the

History and Politics, the Postcolony and its Texts of Meaning


region. The other is the momentous historical Islamic factor with its cultural and civilisational concomitants. Perhaps these prejudices explain why in his Preface to Faces of Islam in African Literature (1991), Kenneth Harrow restricts his scope to sub-Saharan Africa and conveniently maintains dignified silence on North African literature.1 Although he announces that the volume “represents a new beginning, an attempt to redress the imbalance in the scholarship” and that the “regions under consideration span both East and West Africa” (xii), he perpetrates the same imbalance through his apparent deliberate avoidance of North Africa and exclusive focus on the other regions. Keith Booker’s rather belaboured effort at rationalising this same politics against North African literature is equally disappointing like Harrow’s attempts. In his own case, he plays the regional and cultural card rather pitiably by including what he calls “native white writers from South Africa” – whatever he means by that – while excluding North Africans and concludes anticlimactically that he does not have enough space to include the Maghreb region. In what obviously looks like the politics of regionalising Africa based on the Saharan-sub-Saharan divide which also smacks of a different kind of sinister politics, Booker states and it pays quoting him elaborately: By “African” writers I mean writers who were not only born and reared in Africa, but whose cultural roots are also in African societies, regardless of whether those writers later live and work outside of Africa. I thus include all writers who are native black Africans as African writers. I also include native white writers from South Africa in this category, because the white settler culture in South Africa has been established for enough generations that now qualifies as “African”. In this sense I would also include the works of North African writers from areas such as Egypt, the Sudan, or the northwest African region known as the Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia)…However, the cultural traditions of North Africa differ substantially from those of sub-Saharan Africa, largely because Islam has supplanted earlier cultural traditions in North Africa so thoroughly that it now has essentially the status of an indigenous culture…I have, therefore, chosen not to include North African writers in this volume, not because they are not African, but simply because I do not have enough space to deal with their work adequately (ix my italics).

It is increasingly becoming established that the Western imagination finds it difficult to accept that North Africa is part of Africa. This unwillingness is implicit in the rhetoric of re-inventing the continent all over again and further compartmentalising it into cartographies almost similar to the wilful inaugural ritual of Berlin.


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To those who overzealously espouse this puritanical perspective, North African literature can better be categorised as Arabic literature as it characteristically shares closer kinship with the Arab world than Africa. In its magisterial posture, this parochial perspective becomes oblivious of the fact that geographically, and even historically, the Maghrebi region preeminently ranks as, and belongs to, the African continent, the Arabic and Islamic influences notwithstanding. For even if there are shared historical, religious and linguistic affinities between countries like Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, and of course, Egypt and the Arab world, these are not justificatory claims for erasing them from the continent as if they do not belong to Africa. It is against this backcloth that these considerations, though not absolutely bereft of relevance, are a little sweeping and constitute a contentious site. For one, the question of provenance and linguistic influence sounds a bit preposterous because it is not an exclusive peculiarity of this literature. Other regional African literatures also are not immune to it. Also the argument that Arabic is impervious and less malleable to translation than English, French or Portuguese and that the language hardly retains its potency and nuances when reduced to translation is porous and does not hold much water as every metallic language melts when it undergoes the alchemic process at the forge of translation. Transcendent to this, no translation can ever faithfully and sufficiently capture the character and spirit of the original language no matter how hard it strives to achieve this ideal of exactitude. Arabic can, therefore, be spared chastisement since it is not the only linguistic “culprit”in this infamous inquisition as theories of translation have conclusively shown. The pivotal issue to be addressed here is that concomitant with the politics of evolving acceptable classificatory paradigms for North African and, indeed, African literature, are the conspiracies of history which have, inevitably, drawn North African literature into an ostensible genealogical credibility crisis as to where its real ancestry lies. Intrinsic to this theory of historical conspiracy is the multiple colonialism and imperialism that this region experienced. First was Arabic imperialist domination with its islamisation policy and, second, was European colonial suzerainty which was dominantly British and French. This dual colonial legacy compounds and renders notoriously cumbersome attempts at achieving a neat and precise categorisation of North African literature. The dominant issues implicated in this politics of categorisation, reminiscently, date back to the 1960s when in conference after conference, African writers were engaged in discursive skirmishes in what issues should constitute authentic African literature, climactically reaching the crescendo in Obi Wali’s “The Dead

History and Politics, the Postcolony and its Texts of Meaning


End of African Literature” during the1962 Kampala, Uganda conference.2 In this political and ideological schema, the perennial questions have always been what should be the acceptable barometre for measuring and authenticating African literature, and by implication, its kin, North African literature. Should it be language, geography, religion, the shared and lived experience of colonialism and imperialism, origin of the writers, thematic preoccupation, and the like? Taken periphrastically, North African literature emerges, quintessentially, as veritable African literature. Though its linguistic medium is dominantly Arabic, an imperial language, all the European languages through which African literature is rendered are also imperial languages imposed by colonialism. In terms of geographical expression, the Maghreb sits comfortably within the territorial confines of Africa like any other African country. North Africa is no less African than Madagascar and the islands of Sao Tome and Principe. At the level of religion, Islam and Christianity are both “opportunistic” and “predatory”3 faiths which preyed on indigenous African religious ontology. Despite their collaboration with imperialist tendencies at the moment of colonisation, they have found a home in the continent. Indeed, some recent studies argue that Christianity, for instance, is not alien to Africa and that Africans were involved in the proselytisation and evangelisation of Europe in the past, though this remains debatable.4 Africans are also believed to have been part of early Islam. Similarly, the complexion and rhizome of issues constitutive of the thematic preoccupations of African literature can be identified in North Africa, namely European cultural imperialism and the contradictions inherent in postcolonial societies in the shadows of Western cultural hegemony and the postmodern moment of globalisation. The only peculiarities of North Africa seem to be the Arab cultural category and the double colonialism this region underwent which in any case some parts of Africa were also not immune to.

Towards an Authentic Classificatory Paradigm of North African Literature This ambivalence and denial of status of Maghrebi literature as belonging to mainstream African literature also stirs the hornet of other fundamentally disturbing questions. Do we, for instance, postulate that Indian or Bangladeshi literature mechanically loses its character as Asian literature because of English influence? Closer to home, do we raise the spectre of the argument that Ivorien or Senegalese as well as Angolan and


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Mozambican literatures are alien souls to African literary canonical tradition because of French and Portuguese hegemonic linguistic influence? Or it is that this literature does not preoccupy itself with themes and subject matters peculiarly African? Again do we conclude with magisterial sternness that because of the religious and linguistic factors, North African literature is an illegitimate kindred spirit of African literature? The point is that every literature is intrinsically susceptible to multifarious or plural influences and it is simply simplistic to ignore this and violently insulate or hive off North African literature from its main colony. Against this significant backdrop, in fashioning or evolving the defining paradigms for the classification of “modern” African literature, inclusionary, rather than exclusionary paradigms, should be the focal norms. This classification should be as broad-based, encompassing and holistic as that of Ella Marmura in his categorisation of what constitutes Arabic literature. Particularly concerned about the temporal shifts and spatial dimensions, Marmura states: An idea of the scope and range of Arabic literature is perhaps best conveyed by indicating its dimensions, first in terms of time and space and later in terms of content and artistic excellence. From the sixth century A. D. to the present day, there has been a continuous tradition of literary achievement in Arabic – the continuity partly being in the language itself, which in the twentieth century is structurally the same as it was in the sixth. As to space, this literature originated in pre-Islamic Arabia. With the coming and spread of Islam, it became the literature of all the regions that comprised the Islamic world, irrespective of native tongue or race… the literature of the whole Islamic world, Arab and non-Arab contributing to it and taking pride in its excellence (61).

Marmura partly complicates our case because his broad-based classification slices off Maghrebi literature and inscribes it into the universe of Arabic letters. It also partly serves the argument of the purists in African literature. But it does not vitiate ours either which is that despite the linguistic connection which is merely incidental, North African literature can be spared the divisive tactic which seeks to alienate it from African literature as if it does not belong to it. It is, perhaps, the expansive, incorporative reaches of Arabic literature predicated on language and religion that makes it have (il)legitimate claims over North African literature. However, in terms of spatial distribution and situatedness, this literature is unmistakably African including the range and complex of issues it addresses. A less restrictive categorisation of African literature can web Maghrebi literature into its womb as an heir to this literary tradition.

History and Politics, the Postcolony and its Texts of Meaning


History as Protagonist of Egyptian Literary Tradition History, with its continuities and discontinuities, constitutes the fulcrum of Egypt’s literary tradition, its dominant character. Derek Hopwood refracts this history as an amalgam of a continual tissue of invasions and foreign domination and the people’s eternal elemental struggles against infernal imperial forces of occupation. According to him, “Once the native Egyptian rule of the Pharaohs collapsed it is true that, strictly speaking, foreigners ruled the country…”, as “It is rewarding to view Egyptian history as a long series of accretions of different peoples and dynasties which left their mark on the country” (8). He further comments concerning the originary incorporation of Egypt into the orbit of Arab politico-cultural hegemony and the islamisation policy that accompanied it as the most significant date in Egyptian history: The most significant date in Egyptian history after the fall of the Pharaohs is 642, the date of the Arab conquests. After the death of the Prophet Muhammad, Arab warriors inspired by their new faith had swept out of Arabia into surrounding areas, and conquered Egypt with little opposition. On to the basic Egyptian character of the country was grafted a lasting Arab character: Arabic gradually became the major language, Islam the faith of the Arabs, the major religion, and Egypt’s destiny was henceforth linked to that of the Arab world. For fourteen centuries it has been an Arab country, with a unique heritage and character more deeply rooted than that of any Arab country. The native inhabitants at the conquest had been nonArab Christian Copts, speaking their own language and following their own brand of Christianity. They gradually adopted Arabic as their language and Islam as their faith. A minority resisted conversion and their descendants still live in Egypt as Arabic-speaking Christians with their own ‘pope’, church and liturgical language (8).

It is instructive to observe from the foregoing that historically, Egypt was neither Islamic nor Arab but a society of indigenous peoples with their civilisation and culture, ruled by the long dynasty of the pharaohs before the disruptive Arabic presence. It was Arabic imperialism and Islamic ideology that tyrannised these indigenous, aboriginal peoples into a colonialist arrangement through brutal conquest and constituted them as a colonised people, desecrating their institutions, demonising their religion and decimating their populations with the strategy of establishing the alien culture and civilisation as the hegemonic and preferred category. Arab colonisation, like European colonisation after it, employed the same logic of brutal force, cultural deracination and epistemic violence to humble the resistance of the indigenous peoples.


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Egypt as a modern Islamic state has known and been a midwife to several revolutions in the course of her historical engineering process. These revolutions have been precipitated by political throes as well as economic and social writhings. Of immediate relevance to this study, however, are the 1919 and 1952 revolutions which engulfed Egypt under Saad Zaghloul during British imperialist domination. The nationalist stirrings of the epoch as a counterpoise to transcend colonialism, as well as the Free Officers’ coup under General Mohammed Neguib and, later, Col. Gamel Abdul Nasser, respectively and the socialist alternative to Egyptian modernisation are all part of this agonistic history. The aggressive nationalist ferment under the firebrand leadership of Zaghloul, as recorded by Tom Little, brought him into confrontation with the colonial authorities and his subsequent deportation with three other nationalists to Malta in 1919 (132). In reaction, there was a grandiose nation-wide protest which inevitably led to the sending of a Wafd (delegation) to the Versailles conference in France. As a corollary to the conference, elections were held in 1924 and Zaghloul became Prime Minister under the Wafd party. But this new political arrangement was not efficacious as there was no significant change in Egyptian national life. Rather, there was running antagonism between the Monarchy under King Faruk, on the one hand, and collaboration between Zaghloul and the British, on the other. The economic depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s and the outbreak of the 1939-45 World War aggravated the already dire condition of the peasants (fellaheen). This delicate economic and political situation enkinkled tensions for a young democracy struggling to find a firm foothold. But nascent democratic institutions were soon overwhelmed by centrifugal forces within and without the nation. As a consequence, the majority Wafdist government crumbled in 1944 having been riddled with corruption and ineptitude. A new government composed of minority parties was formed in 1945 but the Prime Minister was assassinated. This intoned the litany of internal disorders, strikes and demonstrations which characterised Egyptian national life between the end of the war and the coup. At this juncture, following the humiliating defeat she suffered in the Palestinian war of 1948, Egypt was skirting precariously on the edge of a yawing precipice with the quick succession of portentous historical events. In 1951, members of the nationalist Muslim Brotherhood engaged the British in guerilla warfare. On January 26, 1952, much of Cairo was razed to ashes by a conflagration. On 22 July, 1952, events came to a head when the Free Officers struck with General Neguib and later Colonel Nasser at

History and Politics, the Postcolony and its Texts of Meaning


the helm of affairs. Hilary Kilpatrick states lucidly that “Although political events were ostensibly the reason for those young officers’ action, they were influenced by the economic and social conditions which encouraged unrest” (9). Another significant phase in Egyptian national history which actually antedates the one sketched above but which is also relevant to its later literary development was the Napoleonic invasion and the violent reactions that accompanied it and led to the overthrow of the Mamluks. According to C. E. Bosworth, After Napoleon’s Egyptian expedition of 1799 – 1801, the Near East was never the same again. Reaction in Egypt led to the overthrow of the Mamluk ruling class and the emergence of Muhammad Ali in 1805 as governor of Egypt and the founder of the ‘Turkish’ dynasty which was to rule there till 1953…His less forceful successors continued these latter policies (Westernisation through agricultural mechanisation, construction of bridges, technological and scientific innovations, etc) but brought the country into such a parlous financial state that it opened the doors to powers like Britain and France to intervene, thus bringing about British tutelage over Egypt which lasted, in varying degrees, till 1956 (30, my parenthesis).

The imperial contest for supremacy in Egyptian national affairs was galvanised and accentuated by the construction of the Suez Canal which became a metaphor for colonial presence, domination and exploitation. The politics surrounding the control of the Suez as a strategic gateway to the Indian subcontinent and the Far East has remained definitive of Egyptian history. As Derek Hopwood states: From the start, it was more of a foreign concession than an Egyptian interest, which was run from Paris for the benefit of traders and investors. It had originally been built in the face of the implacable opposition of the British who preferred the railing across the isthmus. The Canal soon became something more than itself; to Britain a lifetime of empire, to the Egyptians a symbol of hated foreign domination. Once objects are surrounded by myths and beliefs they are clung to and fought for all the more tenaciously. Suez was considered essential to British imperial life, the key to the passage to India. To Egyptians the processions of lines taking servants of empire about their business were a constant reminder of that civilisation which laid claims over their country (10).

Suzanna Lulius also underscores the strategic importance of the Suez (in relation to Djibouti) to the Europeans as a gateway to “the sea routes beyond, to India, Southeast Asia, and China” (21). Though European


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imperial control was not formally installed in Egypt as in other African colonies, forms of colonial influence existed in variegated manifestations and the stranglehold on Egypt became firmer with British and French imperial concerns jostling for ascendancy. This perhaps explains why Egypt can be characterised as an alluring mistress with a thousand suitors each desperately wanting her hand in marriage. The British, however, had comparative advantage in the scamble for Egypt as Hopwood further states: Egypt thus became effectively part of the British Empire exposed to the benefits of British civilisation, though never officially a colony. (It is important to note that French influence remained strong in the country). For the next three quarters of a century political power became a tug-ofwar between the palace, the British and Egyptian politicians. The British claimed they had no intention of staying longer than necessary, but necessity always seemed to impose itself. In Egyptian eyes the period of British rule was a time of ‘humiliation’, a negation of dignity. From 1882 until 1954, the British opposed Egyptian demands and only grudgingly and under pressure gave ground. It is difficult to understand and sympathise with the growth of Egyptian nationalism without first appreciating the depth of the resentment felt against the British occupiers (12).

This national resentment received strident and unambiguous expression through the leadership of Abdul Nasser. As Hopwood again informs, “as an Egyptian and a nationalist, it was natural for Nasser to see the history of his people as a continual series of invasions and foreign rulers” and the reaction of the people as an “unending struggle against the invader” who “left village Egypt largely untouched except for taxation and the acquisition of estates” (8). This congealed nationalist anger largely informed Nasser’s nationalisation of the Suez Canal as a symbolic gesture towards ending colonial exploitation. But contrary to the avowed commitment of restoring order and ensuring national independence, the Revolutionary Command Council under Nasser after some time became increasingly unpopular because of its repressive policies and lack of appreciable political and economic reforms to ameliorate the living conditions of the Egyptian people. In many societies, the development and efflorescence of literary traditions are intimately and organically linked to the historical process of nationalist consciousness and restoration and Egypt was no exception. Indeed, as Eiman El-Nour argues using the paradigm of Sudan, Egypt’s close neighbour, nationalist ferment as a frontier of consciousness is always galvanised by literary stirrings which provide the impetus and template for the expression of lived and shared national and cultural

History and Politics, the Postcolony and its Texts of Meaning


experiences as a people, as a nation. According to her, “the interactive connection between nation formation and literary production appears to be the norm in most cases” (371). She further elaborates: The rise of the nationalist movement in twentieth century Sudan, and the evolution of the cultural and literary scenes were part of a significant social and cultural transformation that was in turn linked to political developments that shaped modern Sudanese identity. The literary scene was shaped by the colonial-led process of modernisation and in turn reacted to and on it (272).

Egyptian history and politics were also fertile for the emergence of the nation’s literary aesthetic tradition. These historical lineaments have exerted profound influence on Egyptian literature and its development such that it can be established that history itself is a leading charater in the literary tradition. Although Andras Hamori states revealingly that “Arabic Literature began with the poetry of the century or so before the coming of Islam” (3), the modern Egyptian novel as Kilpatrick contends was given birth to in 1911 with the publication of Mohammed Hilkal’s Zainab. Modern Egyptian literary history is itself constructed around an integral tripartite structure: The Pioneers (1911-1930s); the Pre-revolutionary (1940s-1952) and the Post- revolutionary (1952-the present). Naguib Mahfouz who is heir to this long literary history and tradition dating back into antiquity straddles the second and third phases. The two phases are remarkably distinguished by the fact that the novels of the postrevolutionary phase delight in greater care of structural construction, subtle characterisation, vivid linguistic deployment and the penchant for realism than romanticism. The corpus of Mahfouz’s writings is prodigious and intimidating and the two we shall apply the critical scalpel to are: the pre-revolutionary Midaq Alley (Zuqaq-al-Midaqq, 1947), and the post– revolutionary Miramar (1967). Born 1911 in the old Cairene quarter of Al–Gamaliya to merchant class parents, Naguib Mahfouz5 was perhaps the most prolific, prominent and celebrated Egyptian novelist writing in Arabic. Before his death in 2006, his corpus was truly prodigious with about thirty novels to his credit. In 1930, he attended Cairo University and graduated in 1934 earning a degree in philosophy. He, however, gravitated to literature after he joined the Egyptian civil service. He worked in the Ministries of Waqf (Bequest) and Culture, Cairo University as an administrator and also in the adaptation of films for state broadcasting organisations. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1988, the first writer in Arabic to be so honoured by the Swedish Academy/Nobel Committee, and many of his works have


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been translated into different languages. It is interesting that in his Nobel Lecture, Naguib Mahfouz described himself as the offspring of two long civilisations and traditions, Arabic and European that, for centuries, have been locked in a harmonious marriage.6 As one of the major and most celebrated African novelists writing in Arabic, P. M. Holt et al skirt the historical terrain to which he belongs and is a foremost exponent: Modern Arabic literature is but one manifestation of the general Arab awakening for which the stage was set by Bonaparte’s dramatic invasion of Egypt in 1798. The decisive factor in its evolution has been that highly complex phenomenon known as the impact of the ‘West’. The two processes of democratisation and secularisation, the operation of which has set modern Arabic literature apart from its classical parent, are part of the phenomenon; the first severed it with the ruling institution, the second relaxed its ties with the religious establishment. Among the instruments of these two processes of democratisation and secularisation, the printing press and the Western-style university have played a major role. The printing press has encouraged the translation of foreign works, and has facilitated the rise of journalism (which has been a most potent force in the development of straightforward functional prose) and the cultivation of the modern literary essay… (668)

Mahfouz is pre-eminently a beneficiary of this tradition of writing as a product of the western-style university and Islamic education, and the significant and defining moments of Egyptian history all of which have significantly influenced his writing.

Notional Hybrids: Mahfouz’s Politics and Social Vision as an Artist The artist who is irrevocably committed to the socio-political development of his society and of gauging and interpreting its capricious mood, as I have observed elsewhere,7 serves as the vate and custodian of the society’s cherished traditions and Mahfouz graphically demonstrates this. This is amply manifested in his literary practice through his thematic pre-occupations which run through the gamut of human experience and are of “universal”8 import: colonial domination, corruption, political ineptitude, exploitation, poverty, ambition, marriage, human existentialism and the inscrutable workings of fate. It is the adroit and competent incorporation of these fundamentally relevant themes in his works that make Mahfouz an astral writer. In Midaq Alley (1947), for instance, Mahfouz takes a hard retrospective look at Egypt’s history and bemoans the profound, corrosive effects of

History and Politics, the Postcolony and its Texts of Meaning


modernity. The novel is spatially set in the Al- Husan quarter of Cairo and temporally in Egypt of 1944-45. Lacking a strictly monolithic plot structure, the story of the novel starts on an elegiac note with the rejection of the bards who are repositories of the sacred word emblematic of traditional cultural values and a preference for the radio, a (post)modern electronic invention. This immediately institutes tensions and conflictual relations between continuity and mutability. The heroine of the novel is Hamida, the unlettered but beautiful maiden who has captivated the heart of Abbas Al-Hilu, the struggling young barber, embodies this tension and conflict between the adversarial forces which history wills into existence. Hussain, Hamida’s foster father, encourages Abbas, who is diffident and so without confidence because of his poor circumstances, to propose to her. Being a hedonistic and materialistic girl, Hamida is not enthusiastic because of Abbas’ near necessitous life which is without bright prospects. It is fascinating that Hamida’s unco-operative disposition to Abbas endures even though she is aware that he is the suitable choice for her. Mahfouz at once patterns a narrative whose complexities and interweaving relationships and twists is paradigmatic of Egyptian historical experience especially in the hands of rapacious colonialists. Mahfouz indicates that history has placed his country at the intersection of warring civilisations and this poses a complicated choice for Egypt to make. Just like Hamida finds is difficult to accept Abbas’ proposal for marriage, Egypt is also confronted with a conundrum: how to skilfully skirt its way through the brambles and thistles of history to a modern civilisation without getting severely bruised. As the narrative unfolds, it emerges that at Hussain’s behest, Abbas leaves Cairo to take a job with the British Army stationed in Egypt so as to raise money for the marriage after an earlier engagement. Again, it is symbolically significant that Abbas’ destiny as a young man coming of age is inextricably intertwined with that of an army of occupation on Egyptian soil. This historical reality is captured by Hopwood when he states that Britain declared Egypt as a protectorate and, through this political incorporation, stationed troops and established military bases in the country as part of the World War effort at the time. Britain, he observes, achieved its colonial military policies by, […] declaring Egypt a British protectorate, a device which gave Britain a decisive say in the running of the country but was of little advantage to the Egyptians. In fact, the country became a war base and a garrison populated with British, Australian and other troops. Little attention was paid to Egyptian aspiration during the war and anti-British resentment increased…Although the Egyptians did not actively hinder the war effort,


Chapter Seven it did not mean that they were any more favourably disposed towards the continuance of the British presence (14).

It is this enemy military establishment that Abbas runs to for recruitment as the only alternative to fulfil his intended marriage engagement. Poor economic conditions coupled with political exigencies compel him to be engaged as a combatant in someone else’s war. In his absence in Cairo, Hamida frenetically accepts the overtures of Salim Aluran, a rich merchant for marriage and is given encouragement by Umm- Hamida, the foster mother against the advice of Rudwan Hussain. Aluran is, however, struck down by paralysis and the scheme is wrecked. But determined to escape what she considers the excruciating poverty of the alley, Hamida elopes with Ibrahim Faraj whom she first meets during a party rally. Abbas returns to a life of disappointment and frustration. Hamida becomes a prostitute and Abbas’ last contact with her results in his death in the hands of British soldiers with whom Hamida is drinking in a tavern. Midaq Alley can be seen as an “eponymous character” that provides the concrete canvas on which the lives and actions of the characters as subjectivities are inscribed. It is a miniature Egypt and the cast that populates its world is the citizenry. Politically, there is an oblique or nuanced capturing of the relationship of colonial domination between provincial Egypt and metropolitan Britain implicated in the air raids Egypt was subjected to during the Second World War by the Germans. Not only were British soldiers stationed in Egypt, Egyptians were conscripted to fight a war that was not theirs. It is for this war that Abbas leaves and misses Hamida and it is in the hands of British soldiers that he dies painfully. Mahfouz’s argument is that any relationship between Egypt and Britain (or any other colonial force for that matter) is exploitative, ruinous and unfulfilling (in the case of Hamida) and is bound to end disastrously as in Abbas’ tragedy. Thus in the larger colonial context, Egyptian national aspirations were subordinated to parochial, selfish imperial interests whose only motivation was the galvanisation of the British empire-building programme. Colonial ideology thrives on military aggression and imperial policies that interpellate the people as part of the socio-economic and cultural configuration of Empire and Egypt was not accorded the luxury of exception. Egypt’s relevance to the colonial project consisted in its economic potentials, the availability of its soil as strategic military bases to fight other belligerent European imperial nations and its reservoir of resources and cheap labour. This reality is foregrounded in the subjectivity of Abbas who is recruited to defend the Empire as a war combatant and Hamida who caters to the

History and Politics, the Postcolony and its Texts of Meaning


emotional and sexual needs of the colonial soldiers. Egypt, Mahfouz argues, exists essentially for the glorification of British imperialism as everything must be done in the imperial interest while the rest of the country reels in poverty and death. Mahfouz also deplores the nationalist posture of Saad Zaghloul with others like Mustapha Nahas and Khedive Abbas whose uncreative nationalism plunged Egypt into political turbulence with a concatenation of problems like material poverty, decayed infrastructure, social insecurity, oppression, and a general deficit in purposeful leadership, etc. that led to the 1952 coup. Though seemingly tangential to the development of the plot, Mahfouz uses the party under the independent candidature of Mr. Farhat in Chapter 19 as a trenchant indictment of the egocentricity, eccentricity and opportunism of the political elite who routinely neglect the poor masses only to remember them on the election day. This explains why Alwan’s children dissuade him from indulging in politics: Politics will surely ruin us and the business…. Supposing you are put up for parliament… is parliament in our country any thing other than a man with a diseased heart which is ready to stop beating at any moment? (56)

The political condition Mahfouz sketches here, though peculiarly Egyptian in nature, is reminiscent of the general situation of anomy, pessimism and dystopia associated with postcolonial African nation-states whose political histories represent a rite of internal colonialism and an albatross for the new nations. Part of this anomy is nurtured in surreptitious ways by the departed colonialists who instigate instability and foist economic systems that privilege and futher their exploitative interests while the economies are crippled by asphyxiating debts with high interest rates. Democracy itself is conditioned by strategic political interests of the West such that corrupt and autocratic regimes are still supported as long as they remain loyal allies of the powerful nations. Egypt’s history illustrates this political spectre and with a searing artistic vision, Mahfouz navigates past history and weaves it with the present and peeps into the future history of the nation. It is in continuation of this sense of despondency that Mahfouz also focuses his powerful lens on the pitiable condition of poverty of the people as a writer who is committed to dredging the precarious lives of the masses in a world hostile to them. Midaq Alley, once noble and magnificent part of Cairo, is now poverty-stricken. This pristine nobility and grandeur Mahfouz evokes may seem romanticist of Egyptian pre-colonial history but it is in comformity with his realistic delineation of the past in juxtaposition with the present. Apart from Salim Alwan who is a prosperous


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merchant, most of the characters barely struggle to wrest a living. Poverty inhibits Abbas’ marriage to Hamida, necessitates his leaving Cairo and hastening his avoidable death. Poverty in the novel may be individuated but it actually assumes a national symbolism; it may be material and economic but it also operates in the dimensions of the spiritual and psychic/liminal. Poverty, indeed, weaves adeterministic and fatalistic tapestry for many of the characters in the narrative. Its fear is, in fact, the stimulus of the narrative kinesis. It makes Umm-Hamida to acquiese to Hamida’s acceptance of Alwan’s proposal. Hamida herself is hell-bent on sallying away from the cul de sac of poverty which ravages the alleys and it results in her licentiousness. Sheik Darwish lives on public charity, foregrounding an entrenchedculture of beggary as a result of widespread destitution. It is poverty that establishes Zaita’s profession of intentionally deforming the teeming army of destitutes and mendicants of the alley who throng to him so as to turn them into beggars who will perpetually live on charity. It also poverty that reduces Zaita and Dr. Booshy to raiding graves in the night and appropriating the dead’s gold teeth which the latter uses in replacing those of the living. Kirsha, the homosexual owner of the coffee shop, takes to hashish smoking, a potent tobacco that anaesthesises his sensitivity to the realities around him. Uncle Kamil is a poor, sleepy sweet shop-owner without any prospects for prosperity. Largely neglected by the burgeoning political bourgeoisie, the alley has been reduced to a cellpool of poverty and its inhabitants, the scum of Cairo. According to Ghazala Hashmi, Midaq Alley “is a narrative full of intriguing, and sometimes bizarre characters, the novel explores the complex lives of the mainly lower-class residents of Midaq Alley. The majority of the novel’s characters are unashamedly selfserving, and yet their lives weave together in patterns of communal fate” and “focuses tightly on the slim life of Midaq Alley” (1). In the midst of this endemic, conquering poverty, Mahfouz’s artistic vision is trained, not on the people, but on the contradictory political and economic conditions that define their lives. Indeed, his perception of the Egyptian hoi polloi or the fallaheen is that of an industrious and conscientious people whose patriotism and willingness to mobilise their physical/creative energies and intellectual resources for individual and national growth and development. Like in most African postcolonial situations, the mass of the people find the emergent petite bourgeoisie and the smart intelligentsia who slipped in the positions of the retreating colonialists as the real enemies. This is a situation Ngugi wa Thiong’o, the Kenyan writer analyses so well in his critical engagements as a socialist writer.9

History and Politics, the Postcolony and its Texts of Meaning


Interwoven with this thematic concern of poverty is ambition. Ambition is the last bait on the hook of the poor. This bait may catch a fish or scare it away. Plagued by poverty, some of the characters like Hussain Kirsha desert the alley for a more promising future even though they return with forlorn hopes. This is the reason why “many of the novel’s characters focus on the power and privilege that comes (sic) from wealth” (Hashmi 1). Ambition for a glamorous life drives Hamida to moral degeneracy. Ambition insidiously plots Abba’s death in the hands of British troops. It is Mahfouz’s contention that where the weeds of poverty grow apace, life is threatened as poverty itself is synonymous with death. Fate also plays a prominent part in the lives of the characters. Fate is a swing of the pendulum that oscillates between two extremes and when it catches one on the wrong side, the sun sets on one’s life .This finds crystallisation in the lives of some of the subjects. Salim Alwan, by twist of fate, is suddenly struck down by heart attack and paralysis. This obstructs his marriage to Hamida. Hamida coincidentally meets Ibrahim Faraj during a party rally and elopes with him. The thread of fate is also noticed in Abbas’ recognition of Hamida in a crash which finally snaps in the fatal death of Abbas. Fate also catches up with Zaita and Dr. Booshy during one of their nocturnal, daredevil outings of raiding graveyards for gold teeth belonging to the dead. Enough of the seamy side of life as Mahfouz does not present the alley as an undifferentiated sepulchral community devoid of a good and celebrative life. Marriage and family life occupy a conspicuous place in the novel. Mahfouz sees marriage as inevitable in the life of the individual. The desire for marriage is what provides the impetus for Abbas’ travails and death. Even Hamida whose pathological fear of having an endless stream of children sees marriage in terms of inevitability and is willing to subscribe to it though with tall dreams. One brave, masculine act accomplished by Hussain after abandoning life in the alley is to marry. Mrs. Afify, the widow is also bored with a life of loneliness and enlists the services of Umm- Hamida for a husband. Diane Singerman underscores the fundamentality of marriage in Egyptian social and cultural life when she states that it constitutes a deeply sensitive and contested issue of cultural significance. According to her, If marriage and reproducing the family is such a critical issue in Egypt, we should expect constellations of power to form around it. It is, therefore, not surprising that Personal Status Law...has been one of the most deeply contested and sensitive issues for a wide range of political forces in Egypt (15).


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It is in this regard that it is not strange why Mahfouz focuses penetratingly on marriage as a social and cultural institution which mediates the people’s lives and structures their individual reflexivity in relation to diverse publics and their subjectivity. Through marriage as a cultural imperative, Mahfouz complicates and problematises the narrative kinesis and discursive strategies of his novels especially Midaq Alley. Marriage occupies a central and critical cultural habitus in the novel such that it galvanises the tragic actions that are inherent in the narrative with their accompanying political resonances. Religion and morality also do not escape Mahfouz’s consciousness. In the novel, this is embodied in the life of Radwan Hassainy. He is portrayed as a virtuous man whose pool of piety has not dwindled even with the successive deaths of his children. He makes the pilgrimage to the holy land in fulfilment of his religious obligation. He selflessly advises Kirsha about his family life and counsels Umm- Hamida about Alwan’s proposal to Hamida which is against the tenets of Islam. It is in him that Mahfouz finds the conduit for moral and spiritual rejuvenation. Mahfouz contends that even in the midst of adversity and misfortune, one can still remain faithful to one’s religious vocation. On the whole, the story of the novel which is told from a third person omniscient perspective dramatises the acts and scenes of the people’s lives in the alleys of Cairo. There is the ingenious juxtapositioning of the Alley with the boisterous existence of mainstream Cairo as “we are constantly reminded of the bustle of Cairo, its rich blend of the early Egyptian and Islamic civilisations, the presence of the West in the form of the British army, and the echoes of the World War that is being waged globally” (Hashim 1). And if Midaq Alley is microcosmic of Egypt and even assumes universal import as it truly is, the novel will read as a powerful socio-political delineation of human life with all its joys and sorrows, optimisms and pessimism, prosperity and adversity as well as possibilities and impossibilities drawing heavily from the overflowing fountain of Egyptian recent and not so recent history. In Miramar, Mahfouz confronts momentous national issues almost diametrically symmetrical with the ones in Midaq Alley and with similar intensity of thought, sharpness of vision and vehemence of commitment. The setting of the novel achieves temporal coincidence with postrevolutionary Egypt and specifically Alexandria in terms of spatial location. The marrow or substance of the message is beautifully couched in a paradox at the beginning of the novel describing cosmopolitan Alexandria as: “Core of nostalgia steeped in honey and tears” (p.1). The plot unfolds with the congregating of the various characters at the Pension

History and Politics, the Postcolony and its Texts of Meaning


Miramar, a hotel owned by Mariana. There is Amer Wagdi, the seasoned Wafdist journalist, Hosni Allam whose dreams have been shattered by the revolution, Mansour Bahi, the young communist, Sarhan EI-Beheiry, a loyalist of the regime and Turba Marzuq. Much of the action revolves around Zohra, a physically well– endowed, pulchritudinous maid who helps Mariana in the management of Pension. The situational setting of the narrative in Pension is symbolically and politically significant. Pension Miramar, a hotel, is a metaphoric representation of colonial and postolonial Egyptian political history. The subjectivities that congregate therein are also extensions or protrusions of the same history as they are veritable valorisations and figurations of that history. These characters are authorially holed up in Pension Miramar and will into concrete existence variagated historical trajectories of a nationstate whose past has been dominated and defined by military aggression, subjugation, foreign occupation and economic eploitation. They are organically wound up with that chequered and beleaguered history, struggling to unravel it and the mysteries and contradictions that are consistent with, and define it. One basic device that unites the characters in the novel is the radio, a postmodern electronic appliance which they band together to listen to. The radio is symptomatic of Egypt’s postmodern becoming but transcendent to this, it also foregrounds the creativity and sophistication of Egyptian womanhood. This is essentially because the music the characters in Pension Miramar listen to is distilled by one of the most accomplished women musical artists in the Islamic and the Arab world, the Egyptian Umm Kulthum. Kulthum was a political activist whose delectable and revolutionary poetic performances endeared her to Egyptians and the rest of the Arab world. Barbara Harlow observes in this regard: The voices of women singers…as well as the political poetry of such poets…are heard in concert, cassette, and on the radio. The Arab world’s most famous singer, however, was undisputedly the Egyptian Umm Kulthum (b. 1910), who for more than four decades sang to Egypt and the rest of the Arab world. In Mahfuz’s novel Miramar (1967), which condenses into an Alexandrian Pension, the Saga of Egypt’s postrevolutionary era, a regular occurrence that brought together the Pension’s residents was the weekly radio broadcast of Umm Kulthum’s recitals. When the singer died in 1975, her funeral, attended by heads of State, is said to have attracted a larger crowd even than that of Gamal Abdel Nasser (1166).

It is important to note that this novel smacks of political commitment in both conception and motivation as Mahfouz deliberately uses it to offer


Chapter Seven

an insightful commentary on Egypt’s postcolonial political life with its inherent contradictions and fragmentations. Each of the characters symbolically represents a facet of Egypt’s political history and this is betrayed by their political proclivities and sympathies. But what is politically intriguing or fascinating about the novel is its plot structure. It is like the concentric cells of an onion. Again, it is like the rays emitted by the sun on an object. Mahfouz employs a plot structure which enables each of the characters to observe the events and actions from their perspectives as they occur to them, a situation very much reminiscent of the blind men and the elephant captured by Bernth Lindfors in the text, The Blind Men and the Elephant. There are various versions of this narrative but we shall focalise that recorded by Lindfors. He asserts concerning the Sufi perspective from which he recorded the tale: There is a famous story about six blind men encountering an elephant for the first time. Each man, seizing on the single part of the animal which he happened to have touched first, and being incapble of seeing it whole, loudly maintained his limited opinion on the nature of the beast. The elephant was variously like a wall, a spear, a snake, a tree, a fan or a rope, depending on whether the blind men had first grasped the creature’s side, trunk, knee, ear, or tail (1).

Obviously, the pespective from which the individual characters refract the Egyptian condition represents their political and ideological affiliations and temperaments, what makes their perspectives limited like those of the blind men and the elephant. One obvious advantage of this plot structure is that it facilitates a profound understanding and appreciation of the actions of the characters as Kilpatrick corroborates that “The advantage of the…form is that it permits the analysis of event or character in a depth which cannot be reached in straightforward narration” (109-110). Mahfouz is, understandably, a writer whose driving force is fired by an intense, deep political commitment with the hope of using his literary creativity to heal the wounded soul of the Egyptian nation. Amer Wagdi, the Wafdist journalist is associated with Egypt’s political past as an adherent of the Wafdist party under the leadership of Saad Zaghloul, reputed as the patriarch of Egyptian nationalism, but who “stabbed the true workers’ revolution to death at its birth” (p. 69). Even though his sympathies lie with the Wafdist government, Amer demonstrates political maturity through an objective appraisal of Egyptian post-revolutionary politics by denouncing the corruption of the nascent political elite, its fecklessness and alienation of the fallaheen. Though his fortunes have

History and Politics, the Postcolony and its Texts of Meaning


been swept underground by the gale of the revolution, he lauds the Nasserist regime for hybridizing the seminal policies of both the communist party and the Muslim Brotherhood. It is this political eclecticism that provides the substratum for the socialist transformation of Egypt into a modern state under Nasser. He, however, berates the revolution for placing too much premium on scientific and economic development as an alternative for modernisation to the detriment of traditional values. Mahfouz’s interventionist authorial argument is that to modernise is an imperative option but modernisation is not an end in itself. As a project, he argues, modernisation must be anchored on indigenous cultural knowledge and institutions so that it can have a firm stronghold to make it sustainable. He, therefore, deplores the modernisation that proceeds heuristically without cognisance of the internal peculiarities of the modernising agent and subject as it happened in the Egyptian situation. This was modernisation for its own sake, or at best, modernisation built on borrowed foreign parameters which conflicted with Egypt’s culture and developmental needs and aspirations. Mansour Bahi, the communist is a quintessence of the revolution. But his weakness is found in his subservience to his brother. This inevitably results in his abandonment of the revolution and a resultant split personality afflicted by warped feelings. He is favourably disposed to Zohra’s education and this singular noble sentiment demonstrates trememdous concern for, and commitment to, Egyptian modernisation. He sees in Sirhan the epitome of retrogressive forces bent on paralysing national development and this explains the hostility towards him. Sirhan is opportuned to attain university education. He subscribes to the socialist ideal but his obsession with materialism runs counter to his political persuasion and position. He leads a life replete with contradictions. He is avowedly averse, rapacious as he is, to marriage except that with high prospects for pecuniary gains. This is why he ditches Zohra for her educated teacher who is with the promise of a solid financial base. Mahfouz presents him as one of the most detestable characters. Tulba, another materialist of Sirhan’s cast enjoys the cosiness of his class’ cocoon. He sees in Saad Zaghloul and the 1919 revolution the first dislocation of Egyptian historical process which remotely set the stage for the 1952 coup but his opinion of the political situation is at best equivocal or ambiguous. Zaghloul clearly symbolises and personifies different things to different people in Egyptian history. To Hopwood, he represents the quintessence of Egyptian nationalism and the patriotic stirrings and ferment that defined Egypt’s colonial experience and the struggle for emancipation from British imperialism. Hopwood states further:


Chapter Seven […] a strong national party was emerging together with another Egyptian national hero - Saad Zaghloul…after having failed to cooperate with the British, he despaired of modernisation and turned to and became the leader of the nationalist movement… Zaghloul asked that the Egyptian case should be heard but the British refused and in January, 1919 he demanded complete independence for his country… Zaghloul and his party continued to agitate, publishing protests and demanding to be allowed to go to peace conference. The British responded by deporting Zaghloul and his colleagues to Malta. Egypt flared up in a revolt which was only withdrawn by armed forces…. (14-15)

Though Zaghloul’s charismatic personality and unflagging nationalist activism might have constituted one of the most significant and monumental periods in Egyptian history, this is perceived in alternative perspectives by a character like Turba who actually sees the nationalist leader as the betrayer of the people. His abhorrence of the fellaheen is deep and stems from the fact they enjoy being in the backwaters of change but sadly enough the species of modernity he espouses cannot redeem Egypt. Hosni Allan has also received the knocks of fate. Without the benefit of formal education, the chances for employment and advancement in the new revolutionary regime are non-existent. He laments the fate he has been consigned to. He suffers humiliation when his cousin turns down his marriage proposal. Having lost out of the revolution, he nurses animosity against the peasants. His vindictive philosophy propels him to establish a nightclub for the exploitation of the emergent affluent class that has ridden roughshod on the people’s back to power. If Kilpatrick’s postulate that in the novel “the women have no political affiliations, but represent aspects of Egypt” (110) is germane, Mariana, the owner of the Pension represents Egypt’s historical past of corruption. The Pension which provides the setting for the novel is symptomatic of corrupting influence. It is here that the complex web of relationships among the inmates is threaded. Her relationship with Zohra, her servant is at best that of exploitation. Zohra herself symbolises Egypt and the relationship and attitudes of the various characters to her translate to that of Egypt. She belongs to the peasant class of the fallah and is without education and, hence civilisation, in the modern sense. The representation of womanhood in the novel is reflective of the general social patterns constructed by an Islamic and patriarchal society like Egypt. This is captured by G. M. Wickens when he states that: […] there was - after the early decades of Islam – absolutely no place whatsoever for women in public life. There was no modern-type male hypocrisy about this: it was declared and undisputed policy and

History and Politics, the Postcolony and its Texts of Meaning


philosophy. Women did have limited but guaranteed rights, and they could carry on various sorts of business by proxy. A few achieved fame as poets and mystics, or even as scholars; and many, at all levels of society, naturally played important and influential parts behind the scenes. But there was a sense in which they had no identity outside the family belonging…to some male or other, father, husband, brother, uncle… Things have changed; but this is one of the greatest problems facing Islamic social reformers…. (7)

Zohra’s desperate effort to acquire education is therefore Egypt’s attempts at modernisation. Though she does not achieve appreciable success and is ignominiously treated by Sirhan, it is in her that the hope for Egypt’s future is reposed. Mahfouz subjects these characters to intense exploration through a narrative strategy that captures adequately their psychological states, temperamental dispositions, attitudes to life and it is against this backdrop that William Brinner and Mounah Khour succinctly observe that: Najib Mahfuz presents in his novels…what almost constitutes a psychological analysis of the Egyptian people during the last fifty years, through a multitude of meticulously drawn characters who face the change and challenges of twentieth century Egypt (x).

One intriguing thing about this novel is its peculiar syntactic structures and its deployment of language which border the interstitial spaces of prose and poetry. This endows it with an incantatory and ritualistic character. The narrative pattern is incohesive and fragmentary with a limited omniscient point of view determining the narrative proceedings. On the language and style used, Miriam Lichthein makes this illuminating statement: Egyptian literature employs three styles: prose, poetry and a style that stands in between the two. The hallmark of all prose is the linear forward movement of thought by means of variously structured sentences, which because they are deliberately varied, prevent the emergence of regular sentence rhythm and of a predictable form (11, my emphasis).

Although this statement concerns ancient Egyptian literature, it is equally true of the modern especially as it applies to Mahfouz in Miramar. Miramar is a politically conscious and engaged novel through which Mahfouz makes large, bold and authoritative ideological and partisan commentary. It exhumes the Egyptian political past, gnaws its viscerals and seeks to cure and secure it from its malaised condition. The novel is a political puzzle which is representative of the history of modern Egypt as a


Chapter Seven

postcolonial nation-state. In the novels of Naguib Mahfouz can also be identified the patriarchal appropriation of the mother-nation metaphor as a motif. This phallic metaphor can be identified in Midaq Alley and Miramar both of which are national narratives that negotiate Egypt’s historical heritage as a nationstate. Dominated by various imperial and colonial powers, Egypt achieved political autonomy under the nationalist, Saad Zaghloul. This political heirloom soon compounded Egypt’s national nightmares culminating in the 1952 coup that brought in General Naguib and later Abdul Naser. The two novels are Mahfouz’s historical reconstruction of the political realities in Egypt’s national life. The stereotype of the prostitute and the sexual politics it represents is observable in Midaq Alley through the character portraiture of Hamida, a young damsel who is driven into prostitution by necessitous circumstances. The quest for material acquisition, as such, becomes the driving force for the narrative motions. In a desperate bid to escape the crushing poverty and straitened circumstances that have become synonymous with life in the alley, Hamida becomes a prostitute in the hands of British troops stationed in Egypt. The novel, therefore, reads as a national parable where Egypt, represented by Hamida, becomes a metaphor for foreign domination, exploitation and oppression, a nation-state whose fate is contingent and not fully assured. In the same vein, Miramar is also a national tale that circumnavigates the Egyptian postcolonial reality. Caught up between the antagonistic, binary oppositions of tradition and (post)modernity, the novel represents the national aspiration of a nation-state to transform from the foothills of underdevelopment to the mountain summits of technological advancement. Thus, the lives of the characters of the hotel, Pension Miramar constitute a mosaic that each represents a vital aspect of Egyptian national life. In the novel too, the mother-nation trope is prefigured in Miramar and Zohra, the young women of the hotel. Pension is highly evocative of the politics associated with spaces and their configuration within dominant power structures and society. In this case, a hotel constitutes a public space with an image that is not too affirmative in the public eye. That Pension is microcosmic of Egypt is apparent from the narrative, an Egypt whose perception in the public imagination is mediated by a welter of contradictions as hypostasised in the lives of the characters. But what is important here is the authorial attitude to gender relations in the narratives. It will appear that there is a certain degree of ambivalence in Mahfouz’s delineation of his female characters. They are both figurations of nationhood but this subjectivity is also occluded by

History and Politics, the Postcolony and its Texts of Meaning


their social positions and roles within the national dynamic. Hamida is a prostitute and both Mariana and Zohra are public women operating in the public space of Pension, a hotel. Related to this also is the commodification of the female body and its representation in an engendered perspective as an object within the dominant economy of male desire. This ambivalence is strengthened by the fact that Mahfouz’s “most interesting and creative women characters” (Cooke 111) are prostitutes within a dominant patriarchal Islamic culture with asymmetric gender and power relations. To fully apprehend this ambivalent depiction of womanhood as symptomatic of the nation and as prostitute by Mahfouz, it will be productive to have recourse to the ambiguities within Islamic societies considering patriarchal institutional power structures where prostitution is outlawed but multiple marriages and concubinage are normalised. As Evelyne Accad observes, prostitution continues though it is illicit precisely because it serves its function within society since “it provides a way out for men who cannot pay for the legal forms of sexuality” as “wives and concubines are more expensive to support” (75). Whether as wife in a multiple marriage order or as a prostitute, women get ambivalently and routinely represented as a social category that inhabits the rarefied realm of national essence and existence and as vulgarised versions of acceptable norms within phallic societies, not just in Mahfouz’s fiction but the entire African literary tradition. Indeed, radical feminists see marriage as another form of prostutition as it a patriarchal institution that engenders unequal power relations in favour of masculinity. In the case of Mahfouz and the fictional treatment of women, the critical commentary oscillates between affirmation and declamation. While one critic argues that despite its appearance as a modernising construction, the “neopatriarchal in many ways no more than a traditional patriarchal sultanate” (Sharabi 7), some critics of Mahfouz’s fiction commend him as a progressive writer who positively foregrounds gender as an analytic category and invests women with agency and subjectivity in accord with this progressive vision (El-Sheik 94; Milson 114). On the obverse and in contradistinction, Anshuman Mondal interrogates Mahfouz’s literary practice as “his criticism of patriarchy is confused by the manner in which his notion of ‘woman’ operates within his discourse” because his “underlying representation of women conforms to ‘traditional’ patriarchal canons of femininity whilst disguising itself as an espousal of ‘modern’ notions of ‘womanhood’” (4). In specific referential significance to the trope of the prostitute as an embodiment of the nation and as quintessential of the sexuality of the woman, what Mahfouz himself volunteers as justification of the obsession


Chapter Seven

with the prostitute is instructive here. According to him, “The prostitute is invaluable to a social critic because it is only in contradistinction to her that one can realise how immoral, inwardly and outwardly, prominent figures in society are” (Najjar 144).

Conclusion Mahfouz as an artist has contributed significantly through his literary creativity to the development of postcolonial Egyptian and Arab literary tradition. He has achieved this through his exploration of fundamentally relevant themes which have universal import and application. It is perhaps in recognition of this fact that he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1988. His commitment to the cause of the urban poor, the need for stable political systems, economic prosperity and social justice in his works is commendable and ranks him as a foremost craftsman with an incredible sense of humanity. However, in the warm embrace of sectarian violence and an inclement economic situation, which threaten political stability and peaceful co- existence, Mahfouz’s Egypt is, painfully, a modern state in a state of becoming. It is within this agonistic and contradictory schema that Mahfouz, the celebrated artist emerges with his searing and penetrating vision and perspicacity of insight to reconstruct Egyptian society in the throes of modernity and pave an alternative path for national renaissance and efflorescence. Mahfouz, through his singular commitment to the creative vocation, has pointed significantly to the direction Egypt must skirt towards national arrival. The instrumentality of his fiction weaves into autonomous existence an Egypt that should delicately balance the aspiration for postmodern scientific and technological development with acceptable and viable traditional institutions, cultural values and mores that will positively transform Egypt and impact affirmatively on the well-being of the fallaheen. This hybrid approach also advocates the grafting of healthy historical elements on the stalk of contemporary political lineaments which will be productive for the needs of the nation. Herein lies the significance of the texts of meanings Mahfouz has etched indelibly in his fiction. It remains to be seen how his artistic legacies following his death will continue to propel Egypt on the path of justice, peace, sustainable growth and development.


Chapter One 1

See Chinweizu, Onwuchekwa Jemie and Ihechukwu Madubuike, Toward the Decolonization of African Literature, Enugu, Nigeria: Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1980. In their critical tendencies in the textual discourse, the group carefully outlines its thesis as a decolonizing project principally intended to ideologically wean African literature and culture from the tutelage and hegemony imposed by Europe thereby freeing African letters from the freezing influence of European literary canons. 2 On the general proposition that Africa is the source of world culture/civilisation and not just the novel genre, see Cheik Anta Diop’s The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality. New York: L. Hill, 1974; Ivan Van Sertima, Egypt Revisited, New Brunswick, NJ: The Journal of African Civilizations, 1993; and Blacks in Science: Ancient and Modern, New Brunswick, NJ: The Journal of African Civilizations, 1983. 3 Names give concreteness and distinct identity to the named and are a marker of agency and subjectivity for the individual doing the naming rite. In this regard, names constitute a site of power relations and how these relations are lived and expressed by individuals and groups. See Edgar Wideman, “Introduction”, in Terry McMillan (ed.). Breaking Ice: An Anthology of Contemporary African–American Fiction. London: Penguin Books, 1990. 4 See Ian Watt’s The Rise of the Novel, London: Chatto and Windus, 1987; Eustace Palmer’s The Growth of the African Novel, London: Heinemann, 1979 and Introduction to the African Novel, London: Heinemann, 1972. These studies affirm the exclusive European derivation of the African novel, a Eurocentric position Chinweizu and others have intensely interrogated and unmasked as false and essentialist. 5 For more on the debate surrounding nativism and traditionalist aesthetics, see Chidi Amuta’s The Theory of African Literature: Implications for Practical Criticism, London: Zed Books, 1989. 6 The criticisms denouncing Negritude as anti-racist racism are many. See Ezekiel Mphalele (1964), Jean–Paul Sartre (1967), Janheinz Jahn (1969), and Lewis Nkosi (1981) who have similarly cast their acerbic salvos at Negritude. 7 See Wole Soyinka, Myth, Literature and the African World, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976. 8 See Kwame Anthony Appiah, “Soyinka and the Philosophy of Culture”. In P.O. Bodunrin (ed.). Philosophy in Africa: Trends and Perspectives. Ile-Ife: University of Ife Press, 1985. 250-263. 9 This metaphor was originally used by the Christ to refer to the spaciousness of



the kingdom of heaven and has been appropriated by Appiah as a structuring trope for cultural hybridity in the present world. 10 This is Chinua Achebe’s felicitous way of characterising the criticism of African literature and culture which is rooted in the European colonialist imagination. 11 The Tiv are an ethnic and cultural category that live in central Nigeria in what is geo-politically called the Middle Belt. In Nigeria’s present thirty-six state federal structure, they are found in five: Benue, Taraba, Nassarawa, Plateau and Cross River States. 12 This is my own characterisation of the so-called “traditionalist” poetics because of its rootedness in African cosmologies and cultural traditions, the wisdom of the ancestors it benefits from. 13 For a comprehensive list of these scholar-critics and their sins, see Chinweizu et al, Toward the Decolonization of African Literature, Enugu, Nigeria: Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1980; and Chidi Amuta’s The Theory of African Literature: Implications for Practical Criticism, London: Zed Books, 1989. 14 Arabian Nights are a series of stories originating from the cultures of the Orient to which many countries in the Asian continent like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, China, India, and many others belong. This tradition of fantastic stories has also been appropriated by the West and reworked as part of their orientalist project of stereotyping these cultures. See Edward Said’s Orientalism, London and New York: Routledge and Keegan Paul, 1978. 15 For more on these colonialist narratives, see Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Joyce Cary’s Mister Johnson, Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines, etc. 16 This is the title of a book by Nigerian historian, Adekeye Adebajo in which he accuses the imperialist nations of Europe for placing a curse on the African continent through the scramble for and partition of Africa and the resultant artificial invention of nation-states. Interestingly, he argues that the first and second world wars were reversals of the Berlin curse first on Germany as the host of the Berlin event and on Europe generally for incurring the wrath of African deities. The full title is, The Curse of Berlin: Africa After the Cold War, London: Hurst and Company, 2010. 17 Wole Soyinka, Myth, Literature and the African World, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976. 18 Isidore Okpewho, The Epic in Africa: Toward, a Poetics of the Oral Performance, New York: Columbia University Press, 1979. Here, Okpewho argues persuasively that contrary to European denial of the existence of epic on the continent, Africa possesses a rich legacy of epic traditions. The only problem appears to be the inability or unwillingness of Europeans to admit this historical reality. 19 Isidore Okpewho, Myth in Africa: A Study of Its Aesthetic and Cultural Relevance, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983. Okpewho valorises the same argument about the presence of myth in Africa citing copious examples ranging from Sundiata, Silamaka, Shaka, Mwindo, Ozidi, etc as ample validations of mythic traditions of Africa.

African Literature and the Politics of Culture


Chapter Two 1

For more on the role of women in the nationalist liberation struggle in Africa, see Tripp et al, African Women’s Movements: Changing Political Landscapes, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. 2 Also see Elizabeth Schmidt, “’Emancipate Your Husbands!’ Women and Nationalism in Guinea, 1953 – 1958”, in Jean Allman et al (eds.). Women in African Colonial Histories. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2002. 3 Gloria Chukukere, Gender Voices and Choices: Defining Women in Contemporary African Fiction. Enugu: Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1995. 2. 4 The biblical narrative of Eve’s collaboration with the serpent in the garden is often cited as the primal cause of man’s suffering even though feminist theology has contested this epistemology as fallacious. See Sinclair Ferguson eds. New Dictionary of Theology. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988. 255. 5 For more on the term womanism coined by Alice Walker, the African American woman writer and theorist, see In Search of Our Mothers Gardens: Womanist Prose, San Diego: Harcourt, 1983. This term is meant to distinguish Black women and women of colour from mainstream American/Western feminism which is white and so different in terms of racial categorisation from the immediate concerns of Black women: race and class. There are also other versions of feminism/womanism. Clenora Hudson-Weems, another African American theorist, has also come up with another term, Africana womanism which strikes a balance between African feminism and Black feminism in that while the former emphasises African women to the exclusivity of Diaspora women, the latter includes the Diaspora but excludes African women’s interests. Africana womanism complements these dualities. As she states, “Neither an outgrowth nor an addendum to feminism, Africana womanism is not Black feminism, African feminism, or Walker’s womanism that some Africana women have come to embrace. Africana womanism is an ideology created and designed for all women of African descent. It is grounded in African culture and, therefore, it necessarily focuses on the unique experiences, struggles, needs, and desires of Africana women. It critically addresses the dynamics of the conflict between the mainstream feminist, the Black feminist, the African feminist, and the Africana womanist”. See Hudson-Weems Africana Womanism, Troy: Bedford Publishers, 1995. 155. 6 Senghor’s poem “Black Woman” which has been unarguably the most anthologised is believed by women as encoding a paternalistic attitude to African womanhood, a representation women believe has harmed more than helped their corporate image. In mainstream critical intellection in Africa, Senghor’s brand of Negrtitude has also been deplored for negatively representing African culture before the world by saying that emotion is African while reason is Western. 7 This term is central to Derridean deconstructivist theorising as it underscores the male centredness of the word and foregrounds the power of the male phallus as a generator of meanings which privilege patriarchy and its assumptions. See Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1976. 8 This is a pun on the term generic, the fact that literary genres are constituted as



engendered spaces where men are the ruling ideologues in determining literary production thus making the whole process of literary creativity a male dominated terrain and hence genderic. 9 In varying degrees, these male authors who constitute the canon of African writing are seen by women as part of a vanguard that pejoratively represent women so as to discredit them. Women’s ideological rejection of this politics is what has informed their textual practice. 10 For more on the distinction between to be silent and to be silenced, see Obioma Nnaemeka’s introduction to her edited work, The Politics of (M)Othering, London & New York: Routledge, 1997. 1-25; and Bettina Weiss’ “Shades of Utter(ing) Silences in The Purple Violet of Oshaantu, Maru, and Under the Tongue”, in Journal of African Literature and Culture. No. 4 (2007): 13-32. 11 See Aili Tripp et al, African Women’s Movements: Changing Political Landscapes, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. 12 This term is an oppositional binary to heroine as it is thought to inscribe the patrilineal principle with the he and, in an engendered discursive environment, it confers enormous epistemic capital as it privileges the positionality of women and marginalises the patriarchal perspective. 12 See Florence Stratton’s Contemporary African Literature and the Politics of Gender. London: Routledge, 1994, for instance, for a detailed account of the critical neglect women writers suffered in the hands of their men at the beginning of their careers. As she puts it, “In characterizing African literature, critics have ignored gender as a social and analytic category. Such characterizations operate to exclude women’s literary expression as part of African literature. Hence what they define is the male literary tradition... African women writers and their works have been rendered invisible in literary criticism. General surveys have neglected them as have more theoretical works...” (1) 14 The Christian Bible is divided into the canonical and apocryphal books, a demarcation that can be historically located in the politics of the reformation. Catholics, however, have an alternative set of canonical books which constitute the Catholic Bible which is not part of the protestant tradition. 15 The invention of nationhood in the modern sense was executed through fiat by the European colonialists whose interests were primarily economic. This exercise was arbitrary and did not take into account the sensitivities of colonised peoples in terms of ethnic configurations, cultural homogeneities, and territorial considerations. It was meant to satisfy European greed for merchandise/profits and quest for dominating others. 16 The defining and crucial role of oral traditions in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa has been widely acknowledged. See Duncan Brown (ed.). Oral Literature & Performance in Southern Africa, Oxford: James Currey, Cape Town: David Philip and Athens: Ohio University Press, 1999. 17 At the heart of every project of national be/longing can be found the legacies of a shared past, a fund of lived experiences and the elemental desire to preserve the purity of the community. In Africa, these considerations have fuelled centrifugal uprisings in postcolonial arrangements of nationhood which are thought to be unjust, oppressive and exploitative to marginalised peoples within the nation-state.

African Literature and the Politics of Culture


Injustice, too, precipitates national longing within the nation-state. Achebe announces the revolution he is out to espouse in his literary and critical practice in a brilliant essay, “The Novelist as Teacher” when states unequivocally that the African did not know of civilisation and culture with the coming of the European colonialists but that they had institutions and cultural traditions long before their disruptive presence. He is, therefore, determined to show that Africa was not caught in a long night of savagery and primitivity and was only saved from it by the Europeans. See Morning Yet on Creation Day, London: Heinemann Books, 1975. 19 There are fresh, alternative readings that have emerged to demonstrate that Achebe’s two historical novels indeed focalise female energies and inscribe women into the contours of their patriarchal societies. See Nelson Fashina, “Proverbs, Proverbials and Meaning: De-constructing Patriarchy in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. In Ibadan Journal of English Studies. Vol. 3 (2006). 155-175 and Obododimma Oha, “The Semantics of Female Devaluation in Igbo Proverbs”. African Studies Monographs. 19, 2 (1998): 87-102. 20 See Toril Moi, Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory. London & New York: Routledge, 1988. Moi’s contention is that deeply embedded in textual practices is gender politics whether the texts are oral or written, whether the politics is nuanced or obtrusive, whether it is admitted or denied since politics is necessarily integral to textual production. 21 Dominic Mulaisho’s novel is significantly titled, The Tongue of the Dumb. Apart from the fact that the weight of the tongue constitutes impossibility for speech for the dumb, there is a nuanced suggestion that the dumb can actually possess a disquieting capacity for eloquence even in their silence as silence can sometimes reverberate in its seeming lack of expressiveness. Christological studies based on Jesus’ biblical miracles hold a slightly different version of dumbness and speech but inherently, silenced, subaltern categories like women speak voluminously even in the regimes of dumbness imposed on them by patriarchal ideology and hegemony. 22 This is the title of one of Achebe’s novels dealing with African military dictatorships and their civilian collaborators. Because anthills never disappear completely from the landscape as they continue to register their presence, African dictators and tyrants strut their national spaces with arrogance as sit-tight rulers and simply refuse to vacate the corridors of power. 23 This expression owes its existence to Benedict Anderson in a seminal book titled, Imagined Communities. London: Verso, 1983. 18

Chapter Three 1

African oral forms suffered a major casualty in the hands of European scholars because of this warped idea that cultures that are essentially oral without written traditions were in the backwaters of civilisation. Africa was therefore constituted as without history, literature, art, culture, etc at least in the European sense. These scholars denied dutifully the presence of literary forms like the epic and myth. For more on this, see Ruth Finnegan’s Oral Literature in Africa, Oxford: Oxford



University Press, 1970 and Isidore Okpewho’s counter-texts, Epic in Africa: Towards a Poetics of the Oral Performance. New York: Columbia University Press, 1979 and Myth in Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983. 2 British historian, Trevor Cope announced recklessly and with racial arrogance that Africa had no history, at least in the European imagination of what the idea of history is. To him, the emergence of history in the continent is consistent with the coming of whites during the colonial encounter. 3 European penetration of the African continent first during slavery and slave trade denied Africa of its best intellectuals and labour force as these were forcefully uprooted from the ancestral homeland to work the plantations. Colonialism and imperialism continued where slave trade stopped and the effects of these disruptions have continued to reverberate in the present. 4 Although Van Vansima’s claims that European scientific and technological development have their roots in Africa have been fiercely contested by Europeans as historically untrue, they have not convincingly demonstrated the invalidity of the assertion, either. 5 Roughly translated, this Nigerian pidgin expresses the reality that even when you do not have property, your capacity to borrow from others can create the impression that you have especially if you are prudent in managing what you have borrowed from others. Europeans, in other words, borrowed from Africa and other cultures and have improved on that to be where they are now. 6 Although these Euro-American scholars were prejudiced in their study of African cultures obviously because of their deficit in the cultural knowledge of Africa and also because of their racist arrogance, they succeeded in opening up the field for more in-depth and proper scholarship on African forms and deserve credit in this regard. 7 Beyond the failure of the human memory, death can also deny humanity of valuable oral knowledge. This is why it has been correctly observed that when an old man or woman dies, a whole wealth of information equivalent to an archive or library is gone with them. 8 For more on orality and writing/print technology, see Walter J. Ong’s Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (2nd ed.), New York: Routledge, 2002. 9 It is important to observe that J.P. Clark-Bekederemo is a retired university professor, poet, playwright and culture exponent. As a result of the proteanness of his literary involvements, Ozidi Saga exists both as a recorded performance reduced to film and as a play. 10 Ibadan is a university city, the second biggest in Africa, in western Nigeria where Clark-Bekederemo studied while the cultural roots of the oral performance is in the South-South of Nigeria. 11 Music and dance are part of oral performance and it is particularly so among the Ijo of Nigeria where every cultural event is celebrated against a background of dance, songs and musical accompaniment to give flavour to the events in the cultural calendar. 12 That music functions as a surrogate to the martial spirit has been abundantly demonstrated as a fact of history. Ancient kingdoms in Africa and elsewhere, in their expansionist expeditions mobilised music as a weapon of war to tease out the

African Literature and the Politics of Culture


martial prowess of the combatants. This is clearly seen, for instance, in Mali Empire’s Sundiata in his epochal encounter against Sumanguru of Susu where music plays a critical role in the war proceedings. For more on the impact of music in war situations, see Kwabena Nketia’s The Music of Africa, New York: W.W. Norton, 1974. 13 The tendency on the part of the early Western scholars to ‘tidy up’ African oral forms they considered morally offensive and structurally superfluous desiccated them of the literary substance and made them pale as literature. These bare summaries ended up as the skeletal representations of the meaty aspects of the oral literary forms. See Isidore Okpewho’s African Oral Literature, Bloomington, Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1992. 14 Kenule Saro-Wiwa, writer, minority rights activist and environmentalist, himself from the Niger Delta where the Ozidi Saga has its provenance, was hanged with eight others in 1995 by the then Nigerian military government for championing the cause of his Ogoni ethnicity against environmental degradation by oil companies in the region. See A Month and a Day, his prison memoirs, about the struggle of the Ogoni and other minorities in the area.

Chapter Four 1

The orthography of the name Sundiata varies widely depending on the griot and the version of the epic. Because there are many versions of the epic, there are also as many versions of the name: Sunjata, Soundjata, Sunyetta, Son Jara, etc. The name itself is a conflation of Sogolon, the name of the emperor’s mother and Mari Jata, his epithet which means the lion. 2 The conceptualisation of orality and its refraction in terms of essentiality in relation to writing is at the heart of the tension between the binaries of tradition and modernity, “low” and “high” culture, civilisation and primitivity. But it is this very artificial freezing of the relations between the two media that limits their mobility and interaction and was paradigmatic of the oppositional dynamic between literature and what is not especially in the Western imagination during the imperial encounter. See Eileen Julien, African Novels and the Question of Orality, Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1992. 3 Chaka and Shaka both refer to the legendary king of the Zulu nation in South Africa who fought the colonial penetration of his empire by the Europeans. This orthographic variation is partly explainable in the fact that names of emperors sometimes had a variety of ways through they were realised as exemplified in the case of Sundiata which has about four or five variations. 4 Within translation studies it is common knowledge that this bipartite process of translating from another language to two other languages can dilute the original language and make it lose the potency and nuances of expression. This is precisely where the theory and practice of translation becomes problematic. 5 Even though their duty was primarily to sing the praises of royalty and idealise their ancestry, many of the guardians of the oral word also spoke truth to power as they also constituted themselves into custodians of communal conscience as the protocols of their offices demanded. In these situations, they sometimes paid the



price with their lives especially in the hands of brutal kings. This perspective contests Ayi Kwei Armah’s somewhat essentialist and reductionist position that “The griots and scribes of old Africa were a conservative lot who saw the status quo of their time as their own” (12) and that “From the feudal era of griots back to the pharaonic period, the esoteric literature of Africa usually wears royal accoutrement. Here are artists speaking of the powerful to the powerless...this fact tends to root oral traditions, however advanced, in the essentially restrictive realities of ethnic politics” (150). This is obviously a generalist and hence flawed perception of the person and role of the oral artist in ancient African societies by Armah as many of them spoke on behalf of society against royalty. For more on this debate, see Armah’s The Eloquence of the Scribes: A Memoir on the Sources and Resources of African Literature. Popenguine, Senegal: PER ANKH, 2006. 6 This difference between prose and poetry in the rendering of the epic is reminiscent of the artificial constructions of essential difference between orality and writing, differences which are unnecessary and merely diversionary. This is because, if anything, only a thin line of distinction exists between prose and poetry as generic categories as poetry can be deployed in prose writing like the novel just like poetry can sometimes also be prosaic. The obvious difference between the two is in terms of form and structure. 7 See Mugyabuso M. Mulokozi, The African Epic Controversy: Historical, Philosophical and Aesthetic Perspectives on Epic Poetry and Performance. Dar es Salaam: Mkuyi na Nyota Publishers, 2002. 8 It must be stated that even though the epic hero embodies the society and the institutions which are central to its existence, the individual hero achieves authenticity when and only when he keeps to the cultural conventions of the society. The tragedy of many epic heroes arrives when they depart from the verities of public morality and communal wholeness and become arrogant individualities who dictate to society. In modern society, this vulgarisation of epic heroism is present in African nationalists (and their successors) who piloted their nations to flag independence but ended up being internal colonialists who dehumanised their people and ruined their countries with mindless authoritarian rule.

Chapter Five 1

This chapter first appeared in a festschrift in honour of Professor Wole Soyinka as a commemoration of his 70th birthday anniversary. The volume entitled, Wole Soyinka at 70 Festschrift, (Lagos: Lace Occasional Publications and Dat & Partners, 309-340), was edited by Professors Dapo Adelugba, Dan Izevbaye and Egbe Ifie. This version has been revised in parts. 2 The most programmatic cultural statements made by Wole Soyinka, among others, can be found in his Myth, Literature and the African World, Cambridge University Press, 1976. In recent times, besides his literary and critical corpus, his essays as part of an interventionist strategy in the democratic process in his native Nigeria and Africa in general constitute a cultural project for the re-imagining of African/Black cultures in the postmodern moment of global politics and cultural

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flows. See his The Open Sore of a Continent: A Personal Narrative of the Nigerian Crisis and The Burden of Memory, the Muse of Forgiveness, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. 3 Soyinka’s often quoted statement deploring nativist or traditionalist aesthetics and criticism especially Negritude and the ‘bolekaja’ trio of Chinweizu, Onwuchekwa Jemie and Ihechukwu Madubuike is couched in the expression that the tiger does not declare its tigritude but rather it pounces. However, what has not been said in the deconstruction of this statement is that as a prelude to pouncing as part of the predatory rites of the tiger, it first roars to scare the prey before the final act of pouncing. So as a hunting practice or principle, the tiger first declares its tigritude before it finally pounces. 4 For more on Soyinka’s Nobel Prize and the critical excitement it generated in Nigeria and elsewhere, see Dapo Adelugba, Before Our Very Eyes: Tribute to Wole Soyinka, Ibadan: Spectrum Books Limited, 1987. 5 The African worldview in Soyinka’s estimation represents the totality of African cultures and civilisations, histories and cosmologies which provide the fertile subsoil in which his poetics is rooted and derives sustenance. 6 For more on the Afrocentric, Afrocentrism or Afrocentricity and the politics surrounding the terms, see Molefi Kete Asante, The Afrocentric Idea. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1987 and Afrocentricity: The Theory of Social Change. Buffalo: Amulefi, 1980. 7 The Interpreters whose mythic dimensions and modernist tendencies are given to the exploration of Nigerian nationhood through the appropriation of characters as types modelled after Yoruba gods is Soyinka’s first novel, the other being Season of Anomy. His literary creativity has yielded a harvest more in poetry, drama, autobiographical writing and essays. 8 This is one of Soyinka’s dramatic enactments of entrenched and rabid dictatorships in Nigeria and the African continent. It is the castigation and denunciation of these visionless and corrupt men of power that has earned Soyinka incarceration in and a life of exile on several occasions from Nigeria. 9 Many African writers have accused dictatorial rulers, most of them military despots, for the misfortune that has been perennially ravaging the African continent as this group of rulers lack the vision and sense of mission to galvanise their nations on the path of growth and development though without sparing their civilian autocrats too. 10 Death and the King’s Horseman is another play of Soyinka’s which orchestrates the ideological contest between the Afrocentric and Eurocentric cultural formations but also embodies and foregrounds individual agency in the articulation of culture and tradition.

Chapter Six 1

An earlier version of this chapter, “The Fallacy of Phallacy and the Politics of Prostitution in the African Novel” appeared in T. Akachi Ezeigbo and K. King Aribisala (eds). Literature, Language and National Consciousness: A Festschrift in Honour of Theo Vincent. Lagos: University of Lagos Press. 175 - 187. The chapter



has been revised and updated with new sources. A number of feminist writers and critics, among them Obioma Nnaemeka, Mary Kolawole, Mineke Schipper, Carol Boyce Davies, Molara Ogundipe-Leslie and Akachi Ezeigbo have established that African oral forms are replete with gender politics and that this formed part of the socialization process for young girls. This was also concretised in the apportionment of social roles and the interpellation of women as objects within the oral forms and the ritualisation of that stereotypical image have stuck over the years making it difficult for it to be overturned or erased easily. 3 It is apparent here that both in the oral and scribal traditions, the African woman has had a raw deal from the patriarchal culture through its domination of the processes of literary and cultural production. This hegemony was further strengthened with the colonial presence when women were relegated as subalterns with the introduction of western education and men were accorded preferential treatment and primacy. However, colonialism also curiously helped in some ways in the liberation of women in Africa as some few fortunate ones were able to acquire education and formed the vanguard of the literary resistance against masculinity. For more on the role of colonial ideology and its educational policies as a double-edged sword, see Gloria Chukukere, Gender Voices and Choices: Redefining Women in Contemporary African Fiction. Enugu: Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1995. 4 Karin Barber, in an unpublished seminar paper titled, “The Emergence of a New Text, Genre, and Public in Colonial Yorubaland”, observes that in colonial Lagos, Nigeria, this image of women was routinely woven in a number of newspapers representing young women with a delinquent proclivity as a didactic tactic against the moral corruption and ruination of the period. What this demonstrates is that with the evolution of writing beginning with the colonial newspaper, women started receiving negative portraiture, a carry-over from the oral traditional forms which were equally guilty of gender politics. 5 The spectre of human trafficking especially young girls both in Africa and other parts of the world has been haunting many African societies of late. Indeed, it is the thematic preoccupation of a novel, Trafficked by Akachi Ezeigbo, the Nigerian female writer where she negotiates the duplicity and empty promises that are ritually made to young, unsuspecting women for lucrative and well paid jobs in foreign lands only for them to end up as prostitutes. Africa’s prostrate economies have not helped this phenomenon, either. 6 The appropriateness of the city for the spatial setting of African fiction proceeds from its conduciveness to an anonymous existence and the freedom it confers on individual subjectivity and the construction of independent selfhood. But it is not only the fictional mode of writing that has benefitted from this setting. The Nigerian video film, Nollywood, has also participated in this process of mobilizing city life as an artistic agency for the delineation of the easy life of the prostitute. This filmic tradition is rich with characters who live their lives of whoredom in cities and enjoy the ambiguity and occlusion of identity it offers. 7 This trajectory associated with male writing which is sympathetic to the prostitute and women generally is consistent with a socialist and progressive tendency which 2

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is obviously Marxist. In Marxist dialectics, women are recognized as makers of history and as complementary to men in the revolutionary process of transforming society along socialist paradigms and means of economic production. The war is therefore between the dominant and dominated classes and so not genderised or individuated. 8 Petals of Blood, London: Heinemann, 1977. 9 God’s Bits of Wood, Paris: Livre Contemporain, 1960. This was the original version of the novel which was published in French. 10 From a Crooked Rib, London: Heinemann, 1970 [1977]. 11 For more on the writings of Nuruddin Farah, see Derek Wright, The Novels of Nuruddin Farah, Bayreuth: Bayreuth African Studies, 1994 and the edited Perspectives on Nuruddin Farah, Trenton, New Jersey: Africa World Press, 2002. Farah himself has crystallized some of the issues embedded in his fiction and dilated the boundaries of the critical discourse on his work in his book, Yesterday, Tomorrow: Voices from the Somali Diaspora, London: Cassell, 2000. 12 Season of Anomy, London: Rex Collins, 1980. 13 This concern with the rape and ruination of nationhood in Nigeria and, indeed, Africa is a theme which has received elaboration in much of Soyinka’s later writings especially his intervention series and the discourses impinging on the open sore of a continent which brutally throws into relief this perennial concern and his unrelenting indictment of political clowns and dictatorships for running adrift the ship of state. 14 God’s Bits of Wood, London: Heinemann, 1970. This edition was translated by Francis Price. 15 Perpetua and the Habit of Happiness

Chapter Seven 1

The idea here is that Harrow’s book is about Islam in Africa literature but a chunk of Africa where the religion has the most widely spread influence is conveniently sequestered from the study thus reinforcing the politics of alienation or estrangement that critics of African literature have played against North African literature. The disquieting thing about Harrow’s effort is that he assumes Africa to be the scope of the book but does not even convincingly rationalize as to why he excludes Maghrebi aesthetics from his seemingly ambitious book. 2 Obi Wali’s argument in this essay concerned the question of language. Given the dual-some will argue-triple linguistic heritage of African literature, the issue of linguistic choice became a sore point as to whether it is Arabic, the European or African indigenous languages that were best suited for the expression of African literature. Wali opined in a traditionalist perspective that African languages were better equipped with the capacity and cultural capital to bear the burden of African historical experiences and that adopting any foreign idiom was in itself the dead end of African literature. The debate rages on with writers like Achebe, Soyinka, Ngugi, Mphalele, and others taking turns to express their views. Interestingly, as Soyinka informs, a flamboyant Nigerian politician, Mbonu Ojike stepped out of the confines of politics and entered the debate through his now famous statement,



“Boycott the boycottables” meaning Nigerians and Africans should abandon the patronage of foreign goods and cultural items including of course the excess baggage of foreign languages especially English. See The Burden of Memory, the Muse of Forgiveness, 156. 3 This perspective is informed by the fact that both Islam and Christianity are not religions indigenous to Africa and that they were agents of colonialism and imperialism and so took advantage of African religious systems to institute themselves on the continent. Through this hegemonic programme and arrangement, they successfully displaced the indigenous beliefs of Africans which were not necessarily heathenish as they have been portrayed by Western religious and anthropological discourses. 4 See Professor Dapo Asaju’s Inaugural Lecture at the Lagos State University, Ojo, Lagos, Nigeria. 5 Naguib Mahfouz’s name is sometimes rendered as Najib Mahfuz and Najeeb Mahfouz. The first, however, seems to be more preferred and so widely used by Mahfouz himself and critics dealing with his works. 6 The Nobel Lecture by Mahfouz is remarkable for its advocacy of calling on the industrialized nations of the world to be more humane and concerned about the poverty, deprivation and the general dire conditions which the developing world is saddled with. Although he does not accuse forcefully the advanced world of responsibility for these quotidian conditions, Mahfouz points to the conspiracies such as slavery and colonialism as integral to the problem. His solution to the problem is that the West should help in the process of deepening democracy through the strengthening of democratic institutions, freedom of expression, and enforcement of fundamental human rights and free trade policies which can alleviate the plight of the world’s poorest people. 7 James Tar Tsaaior, “Ideology in the African Novel: A Study of Ngugi’s Petals of Blood, an unpublished BA Long Essay, University of Ibadan, Nigeria, 1995. 8 The universality of Mahfouz’s artistic practice operates at the disjuncture of Western perceptions which see the universal as essentially consistent with Europe, the standard of culture and civilization to which other marginal cultures must look and kowtow. His species of universality consists in his distillation of themes and concerns which are humanistic and negotiate the vicissitudes of the human existential condition affirming the humanity of all peoples as belonging to one great family created by God. 9 Ngugi wa Thiong’o, the Kenyan socialist writer has courageously analysed the psychology of colonialism and imperialism in Africa and its continued project of neo-colonialism in the political domination, economic exploitation and cultural denudation of the new nations of Africa through the nascent, visionless political elite that inherited power from the retreating colonialists in ways that have become definitive of the African/Black condition. See Ngugi’s Writers in Politics, London: Heinemann, 1981; Barrel of a Pen: Resistance to Repression in Neo-Colonial Kenya, London: New Beacon, 1983; and Decolonizing the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature, London: James Currey, 1986.


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INDEX A Aba Women’s Riots · 28, 132 Abbas Al-Hilu · 171 Abdul JanMohamed · 67 Abdul Nasser · 166, 168 Abiola Irele · 2 aboriginal · 22, 165 Adebajo · 17, 23, 186, 197 African aesthetics, culture · 1, 8, 58 African communities · 35, 100 African cultural nationalism · 114 African historiography · 131 African history · 1, 124 African literature · 1, 2, 4, 29, 32, 38, 40, 53, 59, 79, 114, 115, 122, 124, 127, 138, 140, 142, 144, 149, 152, 156, 160, 161, 162, 163, 164, 185, 186, 188, 195 African Novel · 138, 140, 154, 158, 160, 185, 193, 196, 197, 198, 201, 202, 210 African ontology · 2, 11, 114, 115, 126 African oral traditions · 2, 8, 20, 139 African political economy, women · 35 African Union · 23 African Women · 26, 29, 31, 32, 33, 61, 135, 136, 158, 159, 187, 188, 194, 203, 204, 206 Afrocentricity · 3, 23, 70, 111, 113, 114, 115, 116, 117, 118, 119, 120, 121, 122, 123, 124, 128, 134, 158, 193, 197 Ahmadu Bello · 36 Aijaz Ahmad · 19 Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo . 151 Akan communities · 22

Al- Husan quarter · 171 Alamin Mazrui · 63, 65 alchemic process · 162 Ali Mazrui · 33, 46, 63 Alice Walker . 154 altar of matrimony · 138 Alvan Ikoku · 36 Ama Ata Aidoo · 38, 55, 151 amalgam of issues · 10, 111 Amazons of Dahomey · 27 Amy Koritz · 145 ancient Babylonia · 42 Andras Hamori · 169 Anthony Appiah · 3, 8, 38, 39, 115, 125, 133, 185, 186, 197 Anthony Enahoro · 36 anti-colonialist · 20, 47, 67, 83, 115, 116, 117, 134 anti-imperialist · 13, 20, 23, 59, 67, 83, 116, 117, 125, 133 apostles of Negritude · 121 Arab colonialism · 20 Arabian Nights · 12, 186 Arabs · 42, 165 Aristotelean conception, conflict · 75 Aristotelean dogma · 54 Arrow of God · 22, 53, 55 Atlantic slave trade · 7 Australians · 5 avatars · See Black community Ayi Kwei Armah · 20, 24, 55, 156, 192, 198, 203 B balkanisation, African continent · 17, 34 Balkans of Selfness · 114 Balla Faseke · 103, 107, 108 Bangladeshi literature · 163

African Literature and the Politics of Culture Banyanga of Zaire · 100 Barbara Sholler · 41, 60, 197 barbaric culture · 141 Barrie Thorne · 155 Barry Feinberg · 48, 60, 200 Benedict Anderson · 125, 189 Benin, empire · 42, 119, 131, 132 Berlin conference · 17 Bernth Lindfors · 178 Bessie Head . 151 Bettina Weiss · 153, 188 Bill Ashcroft · 19, 24 Bill Freund · 92 Biodun Jeyifo · 117, 121, 123, 133 Black Atlantic · 129, 135, 201 Black community · 4 Black nation · 147 Black Woman · 31, 187 Blamocracy · 9 bolekaja · 70, 114, 193 bow, traditional weapon · 107 Brennan · 43, 44, 50, 60, 198 British imperial empire · 12 Buchi Emecheta . 151 C Cairo University · 169 calculus, cultural politics · 10, 40, 114, 130, 143 Calixthe Bayela . 151 Cameroon · See IJagang people cannibals · 16 Canon and canonicity · 42 canon, meaning · 29, 31, 39, 40, 41, 53, 55, 58, 59, 60, 79, 80, 81, 138, 149, 151, 153, 188 canonical standards · 1, 67, 88, 96 Canons and Canonicity · 26 cardinal feature, Sundiata epic · 101 Carole Davies · 130 Cary · See Mister Johnson Catherine Acholonu . 154 Caucasian race · 66 Celts · 5 Chantal Zabus · 8, 138 Charles Darwin · 66


Cheikh Anta Diop · 111 Chidi Amuta · 3, 185, 186 Chikwenye Okonjo-Ogunyemi .154 childhood crisis, Sundiata epic · 101 Chinua Achebe · 16, 27, 32, 56, 186 Chinweizu · 1, 2, 3, 8, 21, 24, 70, 84, 122, 135, 185, 186, 193, 199 Chris Searle · 33, 48 Christopher Okigbo · 11, 14, 24, 71, 85, 129, 136, 199, 205, 206 Christopher Candlin · 11 Christopher Columbus · 14 Church · 16 Cingal · 9, 199 Clark- Bekederemo · 64, See Ozidi Saga Clenora Hudson-Weems . 154 coastal travellers · 15 cold scribal tradition · 108 collective cause · See Obasajong colonial rule, knowledge · 1 colonial conquest · 54 colonial District Officer · 127 colonial writing, features · 1 Colonialist and imperialist writing · 127 colonialist criticism · 5, 16, See Chinua Achebe colonising structure · See Mudimbe Commonwealth · 12 Communal wars · 140 Conrad · See Heart of Darkness constitution of womanhood · 29 Context of text · See The Ozidi Saga Counterhegemonic · 21 critical role, women · 27, 191 cultural autonomy · See African literature cultural birthright · 8 cultural formations · 8, 9, 120, 193 cultural identity · 82, 120, 126, 129, 133 cultural imperialism · See industrial revolution cultural nationalism · 3, 5, 84, 118, 119, 120

214 cultural particularity · 77, 100, 114 cultural politics · See industrial revolution Cultural Self-Presencing · 113 culture and philistinism · 63 curse of Berlin · 17 custodians, women · 4, 27, 108, 139, 191 Cyprian Ekwensi · 32, 140 D Dahomey · 42 Dale Spender · 156 Daniel Kunene · 67 Dankaran Touman · 103 David Diop · See Negritude David Goldberg · 14 David Livingstone · 14 David Maillu · 55, 140 Death and the King’s Horseman · 124, 127, 128, 129, 132, 133, 193 decolonisation · 8 Dedan Kimathi · 20, 47 Deirdre LaPin · 142 Dele Layiwola · 154, 159, 204 Democracy · 173 Dennis Brutus · 57 Derek Hopwood · 165, 167 Diane Singerman · 175 dictators · 119, 189 discovery motif · See Jyotsna Singh distance traders, women · 27 distinctive character · 1 Djeli Mamoudou Kouyate · 87, 89, 90, 108 Djeliba Koro · 89, 90 Dominic Mulaisho · 56, 189 Dorothy Blair · 90, 99, 109 Douglas Koritz · 145 Du Bois · 125, 129 dual colonial legacy · 162 Dual Heritage, Sundiata · 104

Index E earth as mother · 35 Ebrahim Hussein · 47 economic exploitation · See discovery motif Edgar Wright · 49, 62, 210 Edris Makward · 91 Edward Said · 13, 16, 119, 186 Efua Sutherland · 38, 151 Egba women, uprising · 28 Egejuru, Nwanyibu · 26 Egypt · 13, 42, 52, 55, 64, 131, 151, 160, 161, 162, 165, 166, 167, 168, 170, 171, 172, 173, 175, 176, 177, 178, 179, 180, 181, 182, 184, 185, 205 Eileen Julien · 38, 131, 191 Elaine Showalter · 151 elitist class · See industrial revolution Ella Marmura · 164 Elspeth Huxley · 16, 46 empires · 23, 42, 45, 54, 65, 149, 160 Epic in Africa · 22, 25, 68, 85, 186, 190, 207 epics of Mwindo · 22 Eric Hobsbawn · 36 Ernest Renan · See nation esoteric puritanism · 40 essentialism · 3, 40, 42, 116, 122, 124 essentialist racist · 18 Eurocentric perceptions · See Innes European explorers · 12, 13, 15 European imperialism · 19, 45, 48, 114 evangelising mission · 8, 17 F Fall of Cathage · 132 Fallacy of Phallacy · 138, 193 fallaheen · 174, 178, 184 Far East · 13, 167 female freedom fighter · 26 Femi Osofisan · 44, 122, 133

African Literature and the Politics of Culture feminocentric urge · 138 fetishisation · 92 Finnegan · 71, 85, 95, 96, 97, 112, 200 Firmin–Sellers · 28 Flora Nwapa · 38, 55, 151, 152, 157 Florence Stratton · 38, 53, 124, 130, 146, 153, 188 flow of transition · 129 forced labour, railway · 13 forms of drama, indigenous · 21 forms of education, informal · 27, 30 forms of sexuality · 183 Frantz Fanon · 16, 18 Franz Boas · 66 Fred Majdalany · 16 Frederic Jameson · 100 French colonialism · 148 From a Crooked Rib · 146, 156, 195 Fumilayo Ransome–Kuti · 36 G Gareth Griffiths · 19, 24 gateway · See Suez Canal Gcina Mhlophe · 49 Gender Politics, African novel · 154, 210 Gender Trajectory, Soyinka's poetics · 124 General Mohammed Neguib · 166 genuine polyphony · 150 Ghana empire · 89 Gikuyu · 22, 46, 47 Gilbert Doho · 4 Glenn Wilson · 76 global culture · 6 God’s Bits of Wood · 32, 143, 147, 195 Govan Mbeki · 37 Grace Ogot · 38, 55, 151, 152, 157 Graeco-Roman mythology · 22 guerilla warfare · 166 guerrilla criticism · 6


H Hans Kohn · 52 Harry Garuba · See canon Harry Thuku · 20, 47 Heart of Darkness · 16, 186 Hebrews · 42 Helen Tiffin · 19, 24 Herbert Chimhundu · 30 Herbert Macaulay · 36 hieroglyphics · 64 Hilary Kilpatrick · 167 historical events · 12, 166 History and Politics · 42 Homi Bhabha · 17, 45, 60, 61, 81, 198, 208 homo – sapiens · 51 homosexual · 174 host of · See Berlin conference Hugh Clapperton · 14 I Ifeoma Okoye . 151 Ihechukwu Madubuike · 1, 70, 122, 185, 193, 199 IJagang people · See obasajong Ijo · See rites of translation imperial containment · 9 imperial metropolis · 1 Imperialist ideology · 18 In My Father’s House · See Appiah Indian sub-continent · 13 indigenous sources · 1 Indo-European culture · 66 industrial revolution · See historical events industrial revolution, Europe · 2, 6, 12, 14, 64, 65 inferiorisation · 11, 28 Innes, C. L · 4, 5, 6, 7, 20, 24, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 109, 110, 112, 202 interpreters · See colonial rule invention, nationhood · 6, 18, 27, 43, 50, 52, 79, 87, 124, 129, 132, 171, 186, 188

216 Isidore Okpewho · 22, 63, 67, 68, 74, 112, 119, 186, 190, 191, 202, 205, 208 Islam and Christianity · 163, 196 Islamic civilisations · 176 Islamic societies, women · 34, 183 Ivan Van Sertima · 64, 185 Iyaloja · 130, 131 Iyorwuese Hagher · 77 J J.P. Clark-Bekederemo · 63, 190 Jack Mapanje · 56, 57, 69,71 Jacob Zuma · 37 James Clifford · 120, 125 James Tar Tsaaior · 31, 196 Jamesonian, political unconscious · 53 Janet Wolff · 129, 199 Jean O’Barr · 28 Jomo Kenyatta · 35, 57, See earth as mother Jonathan Dollimore · 117 Jorgen Dines Johansen · 77 Joseph Conrad · 16, 46, 186 Joyce Cary · 16, 46, 186 Julian Hilton · 74 Juliana Makuchi Nfa-Abbenyi · 32 Jyotsna Singh · 13, 14 K Kamandjan, King of Sibi · 103, 108 Kamuzu Banda · 56 Kanem-Bornu · 42, 45 Karen Blixen · 16 Keith Booker · 161 Ken Goodwin · 96, 104 Ken Saro-Wiwa · 56, 57, 84 Kenneth Harrow · 161 Kevin Quinn · 144 Khedive Abbas · 173 Killam, G. D. · 12, 24, 47, 60, 61, 197, 204 Kilpatrick · 169, 178, 180, 204 kindredship · 100 Kinjeketile · See Ebrahim Hussein

Index Kirsha · 174, 175, 176 Knowledge Production, the politics ·1 knowledge schemas, indigenous · 11, 19, 23 Kofi Awoonor · 67, 204 Kwabena Nketia · 108, 191 L Landeg White · 69, 85, 112, 205 Lander Brothers · 14 legendary empires, Africa · 42 legitimisation · 152 Lewis Nkosi · 75, 122, 185 liberation war · See Mozambican nationalist liberationist ethic · 99 Liberationist Ethos, Sundiata epic · 98 Linda Anderson · 150 Lizbeth Goodman · 152, 154 Lusophone nations · 48 lyricism · 91, 109 M Mabel Segun · 38 Madam Yakubu · 74 Maghan Kon Fatta · 104 Maghrebi Africa · 34 Maghrebi literature · 160, 163, 164 Maghrebi region · 162 Mahfouz’s Politics · 170 Mai Idris Alooma, Borno Empire · See Maji Maji revolutionary · 47 male canon · 29, 32, 33, 39 Male tradition, African writing · 144 Mali Empire · 89, 97, 99, 100, 107, 191, See Sundiata Mamoudou Kouyate · 89, 90 Manding Bory · 103, 105, 106 Mandinka · 20, 87, 88, 89, 93, 94, 96, 100, 103, 104, 110, 112, 202 Mandinka griot · 87 Mandinka people · 20

African Literature and the Politics of Culture Manfred Pfister · 69 Manichean · 23, 39, 67, 72, 83, 85, 114, 116, 203 Mansa Konkon · 102, 105, 111 Mansour Bahi · 177, 179 Mapanje and White · 79, 87 Margaret Ekpo · 36 Mari Jata · 102, 111, 191 Mariama Ba · 55, 151, 152 Marian Arkin · 41, 202 Mary Louise Pratt · 10 Mary Kolawole · 30, 194 Maryse Conde · 30 materialism · 18, 179 Mau Mau nationalist · 20, 46 Mazisi Kunene · 48, 88 Mbuya Nehenda, Zimbabwe · 131 Meja Mwangi · 55, 144 melting pot · 41 mercantilist · 6, 12, 139 mercantilist class · See historical events mercantilist interests · 6 metaphysical · 63, 73, 78, 101, 115, 118 metropolis · 1 metropolitan, European writers · 46 Micere Mugo · 20, 47 Michael Mann · 23, 127 Michael Pecheux · 22, 128 Michel Foucault · 118, 120, 129 Midaq Alley · 144, 157, 169, 170, 172, 173, 174, 176, 182, 202, 205 Mills, Discourse · 1 Miramar · 144, 157, 169, 176, 177, 181, 182, 205 Mister Johnson · 16, 186 Mobutu Sese Seko · 119 modern African novel · See African literature modern Arabic literature · 170 modern Islamic state · 166 modern nation-state · 43, 44, 50 Mofolo’s Chaka · 49 Mohammed Hilkal · 169


Molara Ogundipe-Leslie, 154 Molefi Kete Asante · 93, 193 Mongo Beti · 55, 144, 148, 158, 198 Moorish chemistry · 65 moral crisis · 9 mother of the nation · 26, 29, 32, 34, 38, 53, 55, 58, 59, 139, 146, 147 mother-nation dialectic · 29, 31, 33, 35, 37, 38, 138, 139, 144, 146, 147, 149, 182 Moussa Tounkara, Mema · 103 Mozambican nationalist · 33 Mudimbe, V. Y. · 17, 24, 118, 128, 136, 206 multinational conglomerates · See Atlantic slave trade Mungo Park · 14 Murungu, Gikuyu · 47 Muslim Brotherhood · 166, 179 Mustapha Nahas · 173 Myth in Africa · 22, 25, 68, 85, 186, 190, 207 myth of creation · See Gikuyu mythic and ritualist · 133 N Nadine Gordimer · 48, 55, 151 Naguib Mahfouz · 55, 144, 157, 160, 169, 170, 182, 196, 199, 200, 202, 206, See Postcolonial Egyptian Condition naming rite · See African literature Napoleon’s Egyptian expedition · 167 Nare Maghan · 101, 106, 107 narratives, South Africa · 2, 14, 15, 16, 22, 23, 27, 30, 31, 37, 38, 41, 42, 43, 44, 46, 47, 48, 49, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 83, 87, 98, 100, 143, 145, 182, 186 Nation · 26, 42, 50, 56, 60, 61, 84, 86, 197, 198, 199, 208, 209 Nation(woman)hood · 26 nationalism · 19, 20, 43, 49, 52, 168, 173, 178, 179

218 nationalist movement · 26, 28, 169, 180 nationalist movements, women · 26, 28 nationhood, literature · 27, 29, 31, 34, 36, 37, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 78, 79, 82, 84, 100, 111, 118, 144, 145, 146, 147, 148, 182, 188, 193, 195 native · See colonial rule native wisdom · 22 nativist school · 122, 125 Nawal El Saadawi · 38, 55, 151 Negritude · 7, 11, 114, 121, 122, 123, 136, 185, 193, 208, See Senghor Neil Browne · 144 Neil Lazarus · 18 Nelson Mandela · 37, 49 New Economic Partnership for African Development · 23 Ngugi wa Miiri · 20, 47 Ngugi wa Thiong’o · 16, 32, 46, 57, 143, 157, 174, 196, 209 Niane, D. T. · 20, 87, 88, 89, 90, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 99, 101, 102, 103, 104, 106, 107, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 206 Niger Delta · 72, 74, 81, 82, 191 Nigeria · 22, 23, 28, 35, 36, 37, 44, 54, 55, 56, 57, 60, 72, 74, 81, 82, 85, 86, 100, 118, 127, 132, 135, 147, 151, 185, 186, 190, 192, 193, 194, 195, 196, 201, 203, 206, 210 Nile Valley · 64 Nnamdi Azikiwe · 36 Nobel Committee · 169 North African Literature · 163 nouveau riche · 12 novelistic tradition · 2, 54, 139, 140, 148, 150, 154, 156 Nuruddin Farah · 32, 57 Nuruddin Farah · See Blamocracy

Index Nzula, A. T. · 13, 25, 206 O Oba Esigie, Benin · 132 Obafemi Awolowo · 36 obasajong · 4 Obioma Nnaemeka · 30, 124, 131, 156, 188, 194, 209 Ogaden region · 146 Ogoni people · See Ken Saro-Wiwa Ogun, deities · 3, 115, 118, 122, 123, 130, 132, 133 Okelo Oculi · 140 Okot p’ Bitek . 140 Okwuanyi Okwumabua · 132 Olaniyan Tejumola · 25, 113, 116, 126, 133, 136, 207 Old Tanganyika · 47 Oliver Tambo · 37 Omu Women’s Council · 132 ontological essence, African Culture · 116 Onwuchekwa Jemie · 1, 70, 122, 185, 193, 199 Oral (Con)text · 63, 87 Oral Aesthetics · See Dual Heritage oral traditions · See African literature Orientalist project · See Edward Said origin · 22, 51, 63, 74, 163 Osofisan · 123, 133, 136, 207 Otto von Bismarck · 17 Oyinkan Morenike Abayomi · 36 Oyo, empire · 42, 127, 128 Ozidi saga, Ijaws · 3 Ozidi, Ijo · 3, 23, 63, 64, 66, 67, 68, 69, 72, 73, 74, 75, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 86, 102, 103, 108, 111, 186, 190, 191, 207 P pan-Africanist vision · 111, 125 Pan-Europeanism · 46 patriarchal principle · 29 Paul Gilroy · 129

African Literature and the Politics of Culture Paul Ricouer · 50 Paulin Hountondji · 126 Pecheux · 22, 25, 128, 136, 207 Peggy Appiah · 125 periphery · 1, 16, 21, 39, 66, 67, 113, 150 Petals of Blood · 22, 32, 46, 55, 143, 148, 157, 195, 196, 203, 206, 210 Peter Ludhow · 76 petit bourgeoisie · 19 phallic culture · 27 phallic hegemony · 130 phallocentric colonial system · 29 phallocentricity · 38, 130 Phanuel Egejuru · 35, 60, 200 Pharaonic civilization · 160 Philip Curtin · 15 philosophy of culture · See Appiah Philosophy of Culture · 115, 134, 185, 197 Pickett, G.D. · 89, 112, 206 pidgin · 65, 190 Poetry · 61, 67, 84, 85, 87, 95, 112, 136, 192, 198, 200, 201, 204, 205, 207, 208 Political minefield, nationhood · 56 Politics · 53, See African Novel politics, transgressive insurbordination · 2, 3, 10, 11, 23, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 33, 34, 36, 38, 39, 40, 41, 55, 59, 60, 70, 73, 83, 84, 88, 95, 98, 102, 114, 115, 124, 125, 129, 130, 131, 133, 134, 139, 140, 141, 142, 143, 144, 145, 147, 148, 149, 150, 152, 153, 154, 155, 156, 157, 161, 162, 167, 169, 173, 178, 182, 188, 189, 192, 193, 194, 195 postcolonial Africa · 17 Postcolonial Egyptian Condition · 160 Postcolony · 160 post-modernist world · 23 power, hegemony, domination · 82


Pratt, Imperial Eyes · 1 primordial womb, earth · 35 Promethean · 123, 132 Prostitute, African Novel · 138, 140, 144, 197 Protagonist of Egyptian, History · 165 Q Queen Idia, Benin Empire · 132 Queen Mother · 105, 111, 131 R racial discrimination, South Africa · 49 racist binaries · 15 Raymond Williams · 50 Rebecca Njau . 151 rebellion · See Mau Mau nationalist Regis Debray · 51 Religion and morality · 176 religionic · 74 repatriation · 13 Repression to Expression · 149 Republic of Mali · See Mali Empire resistance songs, women · 28 Revolutionary Command Council · 168 revolutions, Egypt · 166 Richard Terdiman · 117, 129 Rider Haggard · 16, 186 rites of translation · 79 rites of passage · See empires ritual of Berlin · 161 Robert Frazer · 17 Robert Ruark · 16 Robert Wren · 72, 80 Roman Ingarden · 69 romanticisation · 11, 36 Ropo Sekoni · 75 Rosalind Brunt · 10 Rudwan Hussain · 172 Rudyard Kipling · 16, 46 Ruth Finnegan · 70, 77, 95, 189

220 S Saad Zaghloul · 166, 173, 178, 179, 180, 182 Salim Alwan · 173, 175 Sameness, Sundiata Epic · 93 Sara Mills · 10, 83 sarcophagi housing · 72 Sarhan EI-Beheiry · 177 Scars of Conquest · 25, 113, 126, 136, 207 scramble for, partition of Africa · 17, 186 scribal culture, western · 21, 64, 65, 138 Sembene Ousmane · 32, 55, 143, 147, 149, 156, 158, 197 Senegal · See Senghor Senegambia · 21, 44, 88, 100, 112, 205 Senghor, Negritude · 5, 7, 29, 31, 121, 136, 138, 187, 208 Senghorian Negritude · 3 Senkoro, F.E.M. · 31, 62, 138, 142, 208 Shaka · 22, 49, 186, 191 Shona songs, women · 30 Siad Barre · 57, 119, 146 Siara Kouman Konate · 103 Silamaka · 22, 38, 100, 131, 186 silent observers · 32 Somalia · 57, 146 song, epic · 30, 33, 38, 48, 49, 106, 107, 108, 109 Songhai, empire · 42, 45, 54, 89 Soumaoro · 99, 103, 106, 107, 108, 111 South Africa · 37, 48, 49, 55, 57, 58, 67, 100, 151, 161, 188, 191 Soyinka and Appiah · 3, 125 Soyinka’s poetics · 114, 115, 117, 118, 121, 123, 124, 126, 133, 134 spirits of combatants, music · 77 spread of Islam · 164 state of prehistory · 16

Index status of women, colonialism · 28, 30 styles of vocalisation · 109, 110 Subjectivity · See Africa novel Suez Canal · 13, 167, 168 Sumanguru of Susu · 20, 191 Sundiata epic, Mali · 3, 20, 23, 38, 44, 87, 88, 89, 93, 94, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 131, 186, 191, 206 superhuman, African legends · 23 Supreme Military Council · 131 Susan Onega · 145 Suzanna Lulius · 167 Swedish Academy · 169 T Tafawa Balewa · 36 territorial subjugation · 17 Testaments of Orality · 88, See Niane’s Sundiata Thabo Mbeki · 37 the contact zone · See Mary Louise Pratt The Empire Writes Back · 1, 24, 202 The griot · 92, 107 The Trial of Dedan Kimathi · 20 theatres of violent, wars · 102 theatres of war · 13 thematic materials · 20 Theo Hermans · 78, 80, 85, 202 theory of reality · 145 Things Fall Apart · 22, 27, 53, 189 Thomas Mofolo · 48, 49, 88 Threadgold, Feminist Poetics · 26 Time and History · 43, 44 Timothy Brennan · 43 Tom Little · 166 Toril Moi · 189 totalitarian phallic order · 140 tradition of Homer · 96 traditional African societies · 3, 30, 73, 118, 139 traditionalism · 3, 4, 119 traditionalist aesthetics · 4, 185, 193

African Literature and the Politics of Culture Trafficking in humans · 140 transcendentalist · 114, 125 triple custodial role, see Womanhood · 33 Turba Marzuq · 177 Two Thousand Seasons · See Ayi Kwei Armah U Uhuru . 149 unholy alliance · 17, 149 unitary mythic system · 3 V victimhood · 142 Victorian culture · 28 violence of history · 9 Voice of Orality · 66 W Wafdist party · 178 Walter Benjamin · 69 Walter Sisulu · 37 Wanja · 143, 148, 149, 151 Warrior Queen Nzingha · 131 Western academy · 1 Western culture · 11, 12, 114, 119, 121


Western education · 119 Western literarature · 8, 88 Western scholars · 66, 67, 80, 191 western Sudan · 42 Western-style university · 170 Wilga Rivers · 76 Winnie Madekizela Mandela · 37 Wole Soyinka · 3, 6, 22, 32, 56, 57, 114, 135, 137, 144, 146, 156, 185, 186, 192, 193, 203, 207, 209 womanbeing · See Phanuel Egejuru Womanhood, nationhood · 33, 131, 134, 136, 159, 199, 206, 209 Womanism · 130, 131, 135, 136, 154, 158, 159, 187, 202, 207 Womanist Aesthetic Tradition · 149 World War · 166, 171, 172, 176 Y Yakubu Nasidi · 69, 123 Yemi Ogunbiyi · 60, 75, 201 Yoruba metaphysics · See Wole Soyinka Z Zaynab Alkali . 151 Zulu Sofola · 131