Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

In Search of Doctor Dolittle in Zambian Bemba Fiction

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

In Search of Doctor Dolittle in Zambian Bemba Fiction

Article excerpt


The purpose of this article is to describe and engage the Zambian writer Stephen Mpashi's work entitled Pano Calo (1956). Mpashi's material is. presented in the Bemba language, one of the major Zambian vernaculars. The material has been synthesised in English in this article for ease of access. Ah attempt is made in the discussion that ensues to provide an analogous analysis of Pano Calo with the material in the film The Story of Doctor Dolittle (1997). In the film African American actor Eddie Murphy plays the part of John Dolittle who has the power of speaking to animals. The article makes an attempt to bring to the surface the potential role of the Zambian literary material in the vernacular in informing modern-day popular culture.


Die doel van hierdie artikel is om die Zambiese skrywer Stephen Mpashi se werk Pano Calo (1956) te beskryf en te bestudeer. Mpashi se materiaal word in die Bemba-taal, een van die hooftale in Zambie, aangebied. Die materiaal word in hierdie artikel in Engels gesintetiseer sodat dit maklik toeganklik is. In die bespreking wat volg, word daar gepoog om 'n analogiese ontleding van Pano Calo en die materiaal in die film The Story of Doctor Dolittle (1997) te gee. In die film vertolk die Afro-Amerikaanse akteur Eddie Murphy die rol van 'n karakter wat die mag kry om met diere te praat. Hierdie artikel is 'n poging om die potensiaal van die literere materiaal in die Zambiese dialek om moderne populere kultuur te inspireer, aan die lig te bring.


A special issue on African literary studies hangs between a boomerang and a catapult. To reach out for what every literary artist should yearn to do, namely dipping into the psyche of Africa's literariness, is to stand at the threshold of challenging what the artist fears most about what embodies African literariness and the very extent to which African literature or the African-language novel, play or poetry embodies literary studies. Such a mental exercise conjures images of a mythical chimera that pushes and pulls reliably on reparative fetishism.

The Context

In a fair world, a writer theorises the African literary space should necessarily call for moral or ethical literary space. However, when it comes to finding possible moral or ethical literary spaces in the literatures of Zambia in Zambian languages, such spaces have been extremely tight. For example, commenting about literary studies in Zambia, John Reed has this to say:

All Zambian fiction so far has been quite free of literary pretention and self consciousness. Its writers have not employed the studied simplicity and off hand quality which Hemingway carried to the point of caricature and which in modified forms has provided a sound model for the best West African writing.

(Reed in Killian 1984: 83)

On our first reading (and unfortunately for many of us it may be our only reading), the comment above might pass as a positive appraisal of the Zambian contribution to literary scholarship particularly if one assumes that the writer believes fiction should be free of literary Picassos and if one assumes that the writer is against studied simplicity, which the famous American writer Ernest Hemingway is said to have depicted as caricature and that is said to be imitated by West African writers.

The moral or ethical dilemma arises in the expectation imposed upon the Zambian fiction writer to have to study Hemingway so as to acquire the lucidity provided by such canons as a sound model for the Zambian writing. If this in fact is true and I am right, the ethical literary trap is then carefully unveiled by Reed thus:

None of the Zambian writers has had a postgraduate literary education and from their work I would judge that none has written out of an interest in the novel as a literary form or from a detailed acquaintance with schools of twentieth century fiction. …

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