The Cambridge History of African and Caribbean Literature

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The Cambridge History of African and Caribbean Literature

F. Abiola Irele and Simon Gikandi, Editors. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

This is a monumental endeavor and accomplishment. It is daunting to try to put between four covers the literary and cultural lives of the varying peoples of a whole continent and many histories, as the editors of these concise volumes try to do. Their intentions and methods are perhaps best explained in the words of the preface:

In conformity with accepted practice, therefore, the term "African literature" has been taken here to mean the literature that has been produced on the African continent, whatever the specific provenance of the oral or written text and of the corpus being considered, and whatever the language of expression of the text in question, the particular modes it employs, or the conventions to which it conforms. The languages of expression therefore include Arabic and the various other languages in use in Africa, but English is the common language that permeates and connects the literatures of all of Africa and the Caribbean.

Because of the nature of the cultures of Africa, a great deal of time and space (eight essays) are devoted to oral literature: "Africa and Orality," "The Folktale and Its Extensions," "Festivals, Ritual, and Drama in Africa," "Arab and Berber Traditions in North Africa," "Heroic and Praise Poetry in South Africa," "African Oral Epics," "The Oral Tradition in the African Diaspora," and "Carnival and the Folk Origins of West Indian Drama." These are valuable contributions to the understanding of comparative American cultures. …