West African Literatures: Ways of Reading

West African Literatures: Ways of Reading

West African Literatures: Ways of Reading

West African Literatures: Ways of Reading

Synopsis

West African Literatures provides students with fresh, in-depth perspectives on the key debates in the field. The aim of this book is not to provide an authoritative, encyclopedic account, but to consider a selection of the region's literatures in relation to prevailing discussions about literature and postcolonialism.

Excerpt

On the pages of a world atlas, it is relatively easy to recognize the vast land mass which faces the Atlantic Ocean in the south and stretches inland towards the Sahara Desert in the north (Map 1.1). The region known as West Africa is composed of approximately a dozen states with clearly demarcated national boundaries. Edged by sea and desert, the postcolonial countries that make up this region are linked together by their shared history of slavery and European colonial rule: names such as 'Freetown' and 'Liberia' testify to these aspects of their collective history.

Even at the simplest level of geography, however, several questions arise when one takes a closer look at this map. Where does 'West Africa' start and finish? Should it include countries such as Nigeria and Cameroon in the east, even though both territories are excluded from 'West Africa' in several major atlases? Where do the region's northern limits end: at Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, or in southern Algeria? Should we ignore the many national boundaries which place checkpoints and passports in-between groups which are otherwise ethnically or linguistically homogeneous, such as the Ewe, who were split in two by the colonial border separating eastern Ghana and western Togo? To which country do nomadic populations 'belong'? Should one ignore the historical links stretching across the Sahara Desert between Muslims in West Africa and Arab-Islamic cultures in North Africa, creating powerful oral narratives and an overarching Islamic identity connecting the two regions together?

These questions indicate that the region known as 'West Africa' is fluid and indefinable, containing elastic boundaries which stretch and contract in ways that defy simple ideas about cultural or national identity. While some groups, such as the Ewe, are connected across . . .

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