Imagining the Future Nation: A Critical Appreciation of Emmanuel Ngara's Vision in Songs from the Temple

By Musvoto, Rangarirai A. | Literator: Journal of Literary Criticism, comparative linguistics and literary studies, Annual 2017 | Go to article overview

Imagining the Future Nation: A Critical Appreciation of Emmanuel Ngara's Vision in Songs from the Temple


Musvoto, Rangarirai A., Literator: Journal of Literary Criticism, comparative linguistics and literary studies


Author(s): Rangarirai A. Musvoto (corresponding author) [1]

Introduction

The aim of this article is to demonstrate that Zimbabwean poet Emmanuel Ngara, through some of the poems in his poetry collection, Songs from the Temple (Ngara 1992), locates his voice of resistance to colonial hegemony as well as the identity of the envisioned post-independence nation in the precolonial past of the colonised. In the process, the discussion further contends, Ngara incorporates orature into his poetry to prove that the precolonial cultural heritage that he revisits had viable systems that transmitted its values according to worldviews that emanated from it as a site of identities. Ngara's stance in the poems that are analysed challenges the colonial gaze's tendency to condemn everything indigenous and precolonial as either inferior or backwards. The collection Songs from the Temple that is discussed in this article is the only substantial artistic work to date by Ngara, who is more renowned for his work as a literary critic than for his creative output. His sizeable corpus of literary criticism includes works such as Stylistic Criticism and the African Novel (1982), Teaching Literature in Africa (1984), Art and Ideology (1985) and Ideology and Form in African Poetry (1990). The hallmark of Ngara's critical and theoretical work is its use of Marxist literary theory to investigate how ideology impacts on both content and form of African writing. Ngara has also edited collections of criticism on African writing, namely, Literature, Language and the Nation (1989) and New Writing from Southern Africa (1996) both of which engage, from various perspectives, with African literature, written both during and after formal colonialism.

Although Songs from the Temple was published 12 years after Zimbabwe's independence, it includes many poems that Ngara wrote in the late 1970s, during the height of the armed struggle against colonial rule in the then colony of Rhodesia. At that time, the literary output of many Blacks from Rhodesia reflected the influences of the war and the wider anti-colonial nationalism on their creativity, and as Roscoe and Msiska (1991:97) observe, '[t]he liberation struggle constituted a central point of thematic focus for poets during this period'. But the widespread preoccupation with the liberation struggle did not necessarily mean that black writers projected an unproblematic commitment or clear attachment to anti-colonial nationalist project. Rather, as Veit-Wild (1992:245) notes, some important literary works written during this time by black writers express 'bitterness and disillusionment with nationalism'. This disenchantment is particularly evident in the writing of Mungoshi (1975), Nyamfukudza (1980) and Marechera (1978). One of the reasons for this is probably that, in many African countries that had already attained independence in the 1960s and early 1970s, nationalist ideals and the aspirations of the masses had already been betrayed by the new leadership. But paralleling this writing of disillusionment was also a literature that expressed fervent hope and a clear attachment to the ongoing anti-colonial nationalism, and one of its salient features is an attempt to rediscover the colonised's precolonial past and reconnect with a culture that was systematically denigrated by colonial representations. In this respect, Veit-Wild (1992:249) observes that '[t]he rediscovery of the past was an important theme [during this time], especially marked' in the early poetry of Musaemura Zimunya, one of Zimbabwe's prominent poets of this generation. Some of the poems that Ngara wrote in the 1970s and are collected in Songs from the Temple share a similar streak. With specific regard to Songs from the Temple, Killam and Rowe (2000) argue that:

this volume _ shows an energetic commitment to a pan-African past of Cheikh Anta Diop's historical research, Zimbabwe's recovery of Great Zimbabwe, the temple of the title, which becomes a metonymic extension of the pharaonic Egypt. …

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