Scribe, Griot, and Novelist: Narrative Interpreters of the Songhay Empire

Scribe, Griot, and Novelist: Narrative Interpreters of the Songhay Empire

Scribe, Griot, and Novelist: Narrative Interpreters of the Songhay Empire

Scribe, Griot, and Novelist: Narrative Interpreters of the Songhay Empire

Excerpt

The subject of this study is African literature and what it can reveal about Sahelian peoples in both the past and the present. To under-stand the approach here based on three rather diverse texts, several basic concerns must first be discussed: how I view the relationship among literature, history, and oral art; what I mean by African literature today; who are the sources — scribes, a griot, and a novelistwe shall read; and what I see as the significance of verbal art for understanding Sahelian societies today.

Literature, History, and Verbal Art

Until fairly recently in the twentieth century, the words "African literature" as well as "African civilization" did not often appear together in works by writers from the world outside the Dark Continent, the common term for sub-Saharan Africa. One reason is that literature calls to mind written products of the imagination. Few people had ever heard of literature from any part of Black Africa. In the last quarter century, however, scholars from many parts of the world have begun to learn about the many different literatures of Africa. The award of the 1986 Nobel Prize for Literature to the Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka promises to awaken an even broader range of readers to the fact that Africans do, indeed, write.

The notion of literature, however, defined here in broad terms for the purposes of this study, will take us, author and readers, a few steps outside the traditional boundaries of text and imagination to include material from history and other disciplines. From this expanded view of literature, we shall learn more about peoples of the . . .

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