African Children's Literature, Spirituality, and Climate Change

By Chitando, Anna | The Ecumenical Review, October 2017 | Go to article overview

African Children's Literature, Spirituality, and Climate Change


Chitando, Anna, The Ecumenical Review


Abstract

African children's literature is well placed to make an effective contribution to discussions on climate change. However, this literature is often marginalized within literary studies in particular and in society in general. This article examines the relevance of African children's literature in contributing to the response to climate change. Through an analysis of two selected texts, the article argues that African children's literature can equip children and adults to adopt practices that promote environmental sustainability and mitigate the impact of climate change. The first section gives the background, while the second concentrates on climate change and its impact on Africa. The third section is devoted to African traditional folklore and children's literature, considering how the two are deployed by society to teach children to respect the environment. The subsequent parts of the article examine the role played by spirituality in folktales, religion, and climate change, while the final section concludes the article.

Background and Context

Some critics maintain that the emphasis on spirituality can be counterproductive. This article, however, argues that spirituality communicates the insightful truth that human beings are accountable to forces beyond them when it comes to addressing climate change. African children's literature, by accepting the importance of spirituality, equips children and young adults with the appropriate knowledge and attitude toward creation. The power of a spiritual approach to life in Africa can be useful in responding to climate change.

According to John Mbiti,

African peoples regard natural objects and phenomena as being inhabited
by living beings, or having a mystical life. In religious language we
speak of these beings as divinities and spirits. The idea behind this
belief is to give man [sic] the ability to use or control some of these
things and phenomena. For example, if people believe that there is a
spirit or divinity of their local lake they will, through sacrifices,
offerings or prayers, ask for the help of the divinity when fishing in
the lake or crossing it in a canoe. This gives them a feeling of
confidence or security, a feeling that they are in harmony with the
lake (and with the life-agent personified by the lake or occupying that
lake). (1)

Although spirituality plays a significant role in African children's literature, children are still encouraged to be inquisitive and to ask questions about life in general. Spirituality is not likened to gullibility. Again, spirituality need not suggest pessimism in African children's literature. Children's literature across the different parts of the continent celebrates the very gifted animals that survive against all odds. Co-existing in harmony with nature, these little animals go through difficult times and terrains, and succeed in the face of hardships. In a collection of African tales, Nelson Mandela writes,

Children will discover again a variety of favorite themes in African
tales, or perhaps unearth them for the first time. There is that
cunning creature that manages to outsmart everyone, including much
bigger opponents: Hlakanyana of the Zulu and Xhosa, and Sankhambi of
the Venda; the hare, sly little rascal that he is; the cunning jackal,
most often in the role of trickster; the hyena (sometimes associated
with the wolf) in the role of the underdog; the lion as ruler and
distributor of gifts to the animals; the snake, which inspires fear,
but is also a symbol of healing power, often in conjunction with the
power of water; magic spells that bring either doom or freedom; people
and animals undergoing metamorphoses; gruesome cannibals who terrorize
both great and small. (2)

Here, Mandela summarizes some of the central themes recurrent in African traditional folktales, featuring animals as the principal characters.

Climate Change and Its Impact on Africa

The presence of climate change calls for scholars and professionals from diverse fields to devote themselves to coming up with meaningful contributions. …

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