Stephanie Newell. Literary Culture in Colonial Ghana: "How to Play the Game of Life."Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002. x + 242 pp. Tables. Plates. Bibliography. Index. $22.95. Paper.
Sean Hawkins. Writing and Colonialism in Northern Ghana: The Encounter between the LoDagaa and "The World on Paper."Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002. xv + 468 pp. Maps. Tables. Figures. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $80.00. Cloth.
Here are two well-written, intellectually exciting, and empirically informative studies on the making of the colonial experience. Stephanie Newell, a lecturer in the Department of English, Trinity College, Dublin, examines education, literacy, English language literary culture, literary texts, and the formation of English language readerships in the colonial Gold Coast between 1880 and 1940. She analyzes the status conferred by English-language writing and literacy as well as the varied roles of print culture. Sean Hawkins, an associate professor in the Department of History, University of Toronto, reexamines the cultural and historical meaning of colonialism. he does so by analyzing it as a power relationship between a dominant "world on paper"-a world of writing, rules, and a linear concept of history-and a subordinate "world of experience"-a world of knowledge, practice, and speech. The LoDagaa of the Northern Protectorate of the Gold Coast Colony and, later, the Northern Region of Ghana exemplify the "world of experience." External authorities-British colonial administrators and postcolonial Ghanaian administrators and missionaries-exemplify the "world on paper." He does not limit his study to the administrative practices of the colonial state but includes those of the postcolonial nationstate of Ghana.
Newell raises two fundamental questions: What did the colonized read and how did they read? "Colonized" does not refer exclusively to "modernizing elites" but also to those she calls "ordinary readers," most of whom, it should be said, were town-dwellers. Her sustained discussion of readers and readerships offers insight into the creation of what can be called "interpretive communities" (to use Stanley Fish's term) and a literary marketplace. In the introduction she looks at the formation of readerships in the Gold Coast through a study of Christian missions, bookshops, bibliophiles, and libraries. Chapter 1 introduces readers to the development of reading, literary clubs, and debating societies and to the impact of interwar and postwar nationalism on readerships. Chapter 2 addresses the issue of male and female readerships and the gendered ("masculinized") nature of historical readership and of what constituted the literary. Chapter 3 uncovers the emergence of writings concerned with representing authentic "African settings" in local vernaculars following the colonial government's decision in the 1920s to discard its literary syllabus for the first three years of primary school in favor of African-oriented texts written in local languages.
Chapters 4-9 turn to the content of reading. What constituted "good" reading for Africans was of concern to missionaries and colonial administrators alike. Newell devotes an entire chapter to the writings of Marie Corelli, a Victorian novelist who was highly popular in British West Africa in the 1920s but much vilified in British literary circles. In succeeding chapters she analyzes the writings and readership of Mabel Dove, Kobina Sekyi, J. E. Casely Hayford, and R. E. Obeng, who wrote Ghana's earliest English-language novel in 1943. Curiously, Newell says nothing about the intellectual property rights of the authors in the colonial context, but her study recounts other unexamined aspects of colonial literary culture. She displays a fine talent for extracting the hidden "transcripts," discursive economy, and cultural meanings of ostensibly ordinary readers. Through a careful weaving of intellectual, literary, cultural, and social histories, she successfully restores ordinary readers, their texts and practices, and their networks to the historical record. In short, she offers a focused study of the production, accumulation, and distribution of texts, both religious and secular, among Gold Coast readers and of the pan-West African cultural and political networks that grew up around the English language in the colonial era. Still, it has to be appreciated that under colonialism the range of texts readily available to Gold Coast readers was severely limited compared, for example, to what middle- and working-class readers in the West had access to at the time.
However, the study provokes some queries. On the basis of Newell's discussion it is unclear whether reading was extensive or intensive. That is to say, did readership mean reading a wide range of different texts or did it mean reading the same texts over and over? Were there times when reading was primarily intensive and other times when it was primarily extensive? Another point can be raised. Newell's stimulating work opens up the possibility of looking at earlier nineteenth-century readerships. My specific point of reference is the nineteenth-century Basel Mission organization. Between the late 1820s and 1880 there was a German and vernacular-language readership of Gold Coast converts who had at their disposable literary and nonliterary texts. Their literary culture has not been a subject of research in spite of an abundance of documentary material. Newell's work could surely serve as a model.
Hawkins's study is a theoretically grounded, complex, and empirically detailed ethnography that juxtaposes "the world on paper" and the "world of experience." he lays out this binary in his introduction. Colonial forms of knowledge (to borrow Bernard Cohn's useful phrase) and the production of written records, rules, and regulations by disciplinary "centers"court, office, church, and school-characterized the "world on paper." This world sought to stabilize and fix colonialism's imposed terminologies and categories. On the other side of the binary were colonized, racialized, and ethnicized "others" who came to be classified and known in colonial administrative records and in anthropological literature as the LoDagaa (or the Dagarti, Dagara, or Dagaba). The LoDagaa occupied the "world of experience" animated by certain kinds of physicality: social fluidity, speechacts, and ritual performativity. all of these were essential elements of the "primitive." As Hawkins poignantly demonstrates, the world of the LoDagaa was reductively constructed in the form of administrative procedures and ethnographic stereotypes, the "world on paper" distributed in a dominated space and ordered in a linear time. Thus, from the colonial administrative perspective the British were the acting subjects of both worlds, and the voiceless and passive LoDagaa were objects of a relentless colonial gaze, especially racialized and eroticized LoDagaa women, "silent icons of the primitive" (243). A powerful theme to which Hawkins pays particular attention is the colonization of gender and power relations among the LoDagaa and the deeply conflicted and motile consequences of this colonial strategy.
The rest of this remarkable book is divided into four parts of two chapters each. Part 1 treats administrative and anthropological "ways of appropriating the LoDagaa," which transformed them into identifiable and definable colonial subjects. Part 2 examines "political and religious ambiguities." The imposition of indirect rule through the invention of chieftaincy together with Catholic proselytizing confronted and sought to reconfigure social, religious, and other practices of the "world of experience." Part 3 investigates the "colonization of space," achieved through the suppression of "noumenal knowledge," that is, knowledge of the spirit and ancestral worlds, and the adjudication of colonial courts.
Part 4 carries the title "From Social Practice to Rhetoric." During the 1930s, with the creation of Native Authorities, the colonial administration's policy of indirect rule was firmly entrenched and "courts became an official and undeniable presence among the LoDagaa" (227). Indeed, the courts remained a defining presence in the postcolonial period. "Native Law," as defined in history and social practices, was transformed into "Customary Law," as defined by colonial authority, ethnographic theory, and missionary evangelism. At the same time, LoDagaa men gained social rights over LoDagaa women, who, in consequence, became their legal dependents, a relationship "guaranteed" by Customary Law. The courts (and missionaries) redefined indigenous conjugal unions according to (dominant) colonial and Christian notions of marital relations; matrimonial disputes (concerning conjugal payments, adultery, and divorce) were invariably adjudicated in favor of men against women who were, more often than not, accused of having "vagabond morals" (246). Hawkins demonstrates that in the postindependence period the "world on paper" has continued to exercise its tyranny over the "world of experience," particularly in judicial disputes.
Newell's and Hawkins's books are informed and illuminating. They are important and welcome contributions to the historiography of the colonial period. Africanists have much to learn from these superb studies.
University of California, Riverside