A History of Twentieth-Century African Literatures

A History of Twentieth-Century African Literatures

A History of Twentieth-Century African Literatures

A History of Twentieth-Century African Literatures

Synopsis

African literatures, says volume editor Oyekan Owomoyela, "testify to the great and continuing impact of the colonizing project on the African universe." African writers must struggle constantly to define for themselves and other just what "Africa" is and who they are in a continent constructed as a geographic and cultural entity largely by Europeans. This study reflects the legacy of colonialism by devoting nine of its thirteen chapters to literature in "Europhone" languages-English, French, and Portuguese. Foremost among the Anglophone writers discussed are Nigerians Amos Tutuola, Chinua Achebe, and Wole Soyinka. Writers from East Africa are also represented, as are those from South Africa. Contributors for this section include Jonathan A. Peters, Arlene A. Elder, John F. Povey, Thomas Knipp, and J. Ndukaku Amankulor. In African Francophone literature, we see both writers inspired by the French assimilationist system and those influenced by Negritude, the African-culture affirmation movement. Contributors here include Servanne Woodward, Edris Makward, and Alain Ricard. African literature in Portuguese, reflecting the nature of one of the most oppressive colonizing projects in Africa, is treated by Russell G. Hamilton. Robert Cancel discusses African-language literatures, while Oyekan Owomoyela treats the question of the language of African literatures. Carole Boyce Davies and Elaine Savory Fido focus on the special problems of African women writers, while Hans M. Zell deals with the broader issues of publishing-censorship, resources, and organization.

Excerpt

In the half millennium that has elapsed since Christopher Columbus's fateful "discovery" of the New World, humankind has experienced profound revolutions directly related to Columbus's voyage and those of the European explorer-adventurers who came after him. Nowhere has the impact of those revolutions been more dramatic than on the African continent, for as a consequence of the voyages Africa quickly became an object of European attention—as either an obstacle or a restocking facility for ships on their way to the spices of the Indian Ocean, as a treasure trove of possessions to be transferred from one European power to another in treaties concluding intra‐ European wars, as a source of slave labor for the new plantations in the Americas, and as a group of colonies supplying European empires with raw materials, markets for finished goods, and career opportunities for European civil servants.

That original relationship between Europe and Africa has undergone many transformations in the past five centuries. The last of these was decolonization—the formal termination of imposed European rule and the resultant transfer of power to Africans. The colonizers finally acknowledged the inevitability, and even desirability, of that process in the years following World War II, when they began the belated work of cultivating suitable Africans to assume power on the departure of their European rulers. The transformation, observers agree, is still in progress. What is important for our purpose is that, as an integral part of that process, African literatures, essentially a twentieth-century phenomenon, came into being.

In this volume Africa is conceived as a cultural entity, not a geographic entity. Accordingly, the book excludes the countries of North Africa, for while they share some historical experiences (such as colonialism) with the countries below the Sahara, they are in fact Arab in culture, outlook, and lingua franca, and they perceive themselves to be part of the Arab world. The literatures discussed in the following pages, therefore, are those of the sub‐ Saharan countries, which share a cultural unity. Another result of this cultural conception of Africa is the exclusion of the literature produced by European and other foreign settlers on the continent, past and present. A partial exception is that of the white community of South Africa: the perva-

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