Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Ethnic; or National: Contemporary Yoruba Poets and the Imagination of the Nation in Wa Gbo

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Ethnic; or National: Contemporary Yoruba Poets and the Imagination of the Nation in Wa Gbo

Article excerpt

Summary

Arguments and debates about the appropriate linguistic medium for the expression of African literature continue to be recurrent. One such argument against the literature is the assumption that even at its very best, it can only serve a provincial purpose, as it is ethnic-based. Against this backdrop, the article seeks to tackle the reductionist conception of African literature written in African languages by arguing that in spite of the limits imposed on it by the fact of linguistic provinciality, this category of literature does more than articulating exclusively ethnic sentiments and modes of nationalism as a counterforce to the literature written in European languages. To do this, the article examines Wa Gbo ..., an anthology of contemporary Yoruba poems. I argue that beyond a body of poetry that seeks the consolidation of Yoruba nationalism, the value of this anthology lies substantially in the way most poets centralise the discourse of postcolonial Nigeria by engaging national issues around questions of development. The article concludes that perhaps another way in which the relevance of African literature written in African languages may be assessed is not so much by way of the linguistic medium of expression as the national concerns it articulates.

Opsomming

Dieselfde argumente en debatte oor die geskikte taalmedium waarin Afrika-literatuur uitgedruk moet word, kom steeds voortdurend voor. Een van die argumente teen Afrikaliteratuur berus op die veronderstelling dat dit, selfs op sy allerbeste, slegs 'n provinsiale doel kan dien omdat dit etnies gegrond is. Teen hierdie agtergrond het hierdie artikel ten doel om die reduksionistiese opvatting oor Afrikaliteratuur wat in Afrikatale geskryf is, aan te spreek deur aan te voer dat hierdie kategorie literatuur--ten spyte van die beperkings waaraan dit deur taalkundige provinsialiteit onderwerp word--meer doen as om uitsluitlik etniese sentimente en vorme van nasionalisme as 'n teenmag van die literatuur wat in Europese tale geskryf is, te verwoord. Om dit te doen, kyk ek na Wa Gbo ..., 'n bundel kontemporere Joroeba-gedigte. Ek voer aan dat buiten gedigtemateriaal wat daarop gemik is om Joroeba-nasionalisme te konsolideer, die waarde van hierdie digbundel grotendeels le in die manier waarop die meeste digters die diskoers van postkoloniale Nigerie sentraliseer deur nasionale kwessies rondom ontwikkelingsvrae te bekyk. Ek kom tot die gevolgtrekking dat 'n ander moontlike manier om die relevansie van Afrikaliteratuur wat in Afrikatale geskryf is te beoordeel, nie soseer te doen het met die taal waarin dit geskryf is nie, maar met die nasionale besorgdhede wat dit uitdruk.

Introduction

In what appeared then to be a prophecy of doom, Obi Wali had sometime in 1963 warned that should African literature continue to be written in Western/colonial languages, the practice would not only be deplorable, but would ultimately lead to a dead end. The responses his essay generated from African writers and critics of various hues and regions were unprecedented. Beyond its pan-African texture, Wali's thesis also had writers debating what should constitute national literatures. Implicit in the foregoing is the binary permutation that the critical articulation forced between the category of African literature written in indigenous languages and the other group written in colonial languages. Serious as the issue raised by Wali was, it was interpreted to be a matter of opinion. Expectedly, African writers, critics and other stakeholders found themselves taking sides. Indeed, the development was fashioned in the mode of ordering of difference which brought about, if we could choose, a mutual suspicion between African-language literature and African literature of colonial-language expression. The suspicion has since been partly responsible for why from time to time the debates about what should constitute national literature is based, among other things, on the criterion of the linguistic medium of expression. …

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