Literary Culture in Colonial Ghana: "How to Play the Game of Life."/Writing and Colonialism in Northern Ghana: The Encounter between the LoDagaa and "The World on Paper."

By Kea, Ray | African Studies Review, December 2003 | Go to article overview

Literary Culture in Colonial Ghana: "How to Play the Game of Life."/Writing and Colonialism in Northern Ghana: The Encounter between the LoDagaa and "The World on Paper."


Kea, Ray, African Studies Review


Stephanie Newell. Literary Culture in Colonial Ghana: "How to Play the Game of Life."Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002. x + 242 pp. Tables. Plates. Bibliography. Index. $22.95. Paper.

Sean Hawkins. Writing and Colonialism in Northern Ghana: The Encounter between the LoDagaa and "The World on Paper."Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002. xv + 468 pp. Maps. Tables. Figures. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $80.00. Cloth.

Here are two well-written, intellectually exciting, and empirically informative studies on the making of the colonial experience. Stephanie Newell, a lecturer in the Department of English, Trinity College, Dublin, examines education, literacy, English language literary culture, literary texts, and the formation of English language readerships in the colonial Gold Coast between 1880 and 1940. She analyzes the status conferred by English-language writing and literacy as well as the varied roles of print culture. Sean Hawkins, an associate professor in the Department of History, University of Toronto, reexamines the cultural and historical meaning of colonialism. he does so by analyzing it as a power relationship between a dominant "world on paper"-a world of writing, rules, and a linear concept of history-and a subordinate "world of experience"-a world of knowledge, practice, and speech. The LoDagaa of the Northern Protectorate of the Gold Coast Colony and, later, the Northern Region of Ghana exemplify the "world of experience." External authorities-British colonial administrators and postcolonial Ghanaian administrators and missionaries-exemplify the "world on paper." He does not limit his study to the administrative practices of the colonial state but includes those of the postcolonial nationstate of Ghana.

Newell raises two fundamental questions: What did the colonized read and how did they read? "Colonized" does not refer exclusively to "modernizing elites" but also to those she calls "ordinary readers," most of whom, it should be said, were town-dwellers. Her sustained discussion of readers and readerships offers insight into the creation of what can be called "interpretive communities" (to use Stanley Fish's term) and a literary marketplace. In the introduction she looks at the formation of readerships in the Gold Coast through a study of Christian missions, bookshops, bibliophiles, and libraries. Chapter 1 introduces readers to the development of reading, literary clubs, and debating societies and to the impact of interwar and postwar nationalism on readerships. Chapter 2 addresses the issue of male and female readerships and the gendered ("masculinized") nature of historical readership and of what constituted the literary. Chapter 3 uncovers the emergence of writings concerned with representing authentic "African settings" in local vernaculars following the colonial government's decision in the 1920s to discard its literary syllabus for the first three years of primary school in favor of African-oriented texts written in local languages.

Chapters 4-9 turn to the content of reading. What constituted "good" reading for Africans was of concern to missionaries and colonial administrators alike. Newell devotes an entire chapter to the writings of Marie Corelli, a Victorian novelist who was highly popular in British West Africa in the 1920s but much vilified in British literary circles. In succeeding chapters she analyzes the writings and readership of Mabel Dove, Kobina Sekyi, J. E. Casely Hayford, and R. E. Obeng, who wrote Ghana's earliest English-language novel in 1943. Curiously, Newell says nothing about the intellectual property rights of the authors in the colonial context, but her study recounts other unexamined aspects of colonial literary culture. She displays a fine talent for extracting the hidden "transcripts," discursive economy, and cultural meanings of ostensibly ordinary readers. Through a careful weaving of intellectual, literary, cultural, and social histories, she successfully restores ordinary readers, their texts and practices, and their networks to the historical record. …

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