Academic journal article ARIEL

Case Study: Teaching Two Caribbean Texts in Kenyan Universities

Academic journal article ARIEL

Case Study: Teaching Two Caribbean Texts in Kenyan Universities

Article excerpt

Abstract: This essay uses Dionne Brand's In Another Place, Not Here and Erna Brodber's Myal to discuss the approaches I used in teaching black diasporic literature in two Kenyan universities. It argues that the best approaches are those that encourage students to use higher-order learning processes spontaneously and create an appropriate teaching environment suited to the region's historical, geographical, and cultural context vis-a-vis black diasporic cultural, historical, geographical, and literary backgrounds for students with some grounding in African literature. The selected methods take into account challenges concerning students' access to learning resources, students' individual strengths and interests, medium or large class sizes, and the need to provide adequate background information for literatures that originate from different geographic, linguistic, and cultural contexts than those of the class members. In Another Place, Not Here and Myal illustrate the main concerns and issues that arise when teaching black diasporic literatures in Kenyan universities. Although the texts are mostly taught within an implied comparatist, multi-disciplinary, and translational mode, they also provide context for postcolonial inquiry into the wider black cultural and historical encounter with European imperialism and the resultant power dynamics that continue today.

Keywords: black diasporas, postcolonialism, comparative approaches, Dionne Brand, Erna Brodber, teaching and learning, Kenyan universities

I. Introduction

This paper reflects on my experiences teaching four semesters of Caribbean literature at the University of Nairobi between 2006-07 as well as a course in postcolonial discourse theory at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology between 2008-10. I taught these courses within the postcolonial tradition informed by the history of teaching African and black diasporic literature at the University of Nairobi, the first public university in Kenya. Together with their colleagues, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Taban Lo Liyong, and Henry Owuor-Anyumba led the campaign to abolish the English Department at the University of Nairobi and replace it with the Department of African Literature and Languages. As a result of these efforts, the Department of Literature and the Department of Linguistics and African Languages were formally established on 24 October 1968. Following the establishment of the Department of Literature, black diasporic writings have figured prominently in post-secondary Kenyan literature curricula.

The reshaping of the department and the literature curriculum from the colonially-oriented Department of English into the radically Africanist-oriented Department of Literature saw the traditional bias toward European, especially English, literature replaced with a focus on world literature. Courses in Caribbean, African American, and Latin American literatures were included in the curriculum and mostly taught as core courses. As additional universities were established in Kenya, the new Departments of Literature followed the University of Nairobi's example. No research has been done, however, to evaluate the pedagogical issues that arose from this curriculum shift. This essay interrogates the way that Dionne Brand's In Another Place, Not Here and Erna Brodber's Myal can be taught to illustrate some of these issues.

While the University of Nairobi is the oldest public chartered university in Kenya, Masinde Muliro University is a relatively young institution that belongs to a group of new universities that were established under the higher education expansion programme that began in 2001. After having five national universities until 2001, the number of public chartered universities in the country rose to twenty-two, along with nine constituent colleges, by 2013. Despite this expansion, however, university enrolment has continued to climb. This means that class numbers remain on the higher margin across programmes. …

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