Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Power of Multiple Stories: Bulawayo on Social Responsibility

     Much like the journey our protagonist takes in We Need New Names, African literature has taken a long journey from its early days in the 1940's.  The beginning of this journey started out with the raw emotions of colonialism turning into post-colonialism.  First and foremost, African writers sought to take back their humanity from the inhuman identity bestowed by colonial writers.  When African humanity was reaffirmed through the great literature of Achebe, Tutuola, Ptaaje, etc; authors turned to personal identity. Authors like Dangarembga focused on how individual Africans, now recognized widely as wholly human, chose to identify themselves and the difficulties that come with forging a personal identity.  Finally, with We Need New Names, Bulawayo seeks to show the flip side of identity and humanity, which is responsibility, in this case the responsibility to home.  This book starts off with our protagonist in a shantytown in Zimbabwe, dealing with the political corruption, poverty, and health issues that have torn through the country since Mugabe took over.  In order to deal with the strenuous task of survival, Darling, the protagonist, would playing to distract her from reality and imagining when her aunt will finally call fro her to come to America.  In the second half of the book, Darling's wishes are fulfilled when she gets a student visa to go to America with her aunt.  Here she lived a care free lifestyle, from a survival aspect, but struggled to fully fit into her new society.  Ultimately, however, she is reminded of her new otherness by her old friend Chipo, who is the only one of her original gang of friends who have stayed in Zimbabwe.  She tells Darling on multiple occasions that she cannot say she is truly from Zimbabwe anymore because, "'You think watching on the BBC means you know what is going on? No, you don't my friend,' says Chipo, brushing off Darling's halfhearted attempt to decry the fate of their country. 'The house was burning,' Chipo continues, 'and Darling and her kind have left it to others to put out the flames.'" This, nearly at the end of the book, is where Bulawayo places the next sign on the road of African literature, So many have fled their countries, their burning houses, and that is not a bad thing, but to forget their homeland is where she draws the line.  With humanity and identity comes responsibility and that responsibility is to take the blessings they were afforded and come back to their countries with a wealth of experience to assist in building it back up.  This is not to say that every African displaced by diaspora need come back as a revolutionary, but they need to do something and the way Bulawayo chose is to tell her story in her English, thus expanding the wealth of African stories.  Just by spreading their own story, the displaced do good in the form of spreading the African experience and shedding light on the people.  

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Paradise by Abdulrazak Gurnah

                Paradise, by Abdulrazak Gurnah, is a completely different style from that of any African novel I have read in this course.  The first major difference is the geographic area in which the novel takes place.  Initially, the novel takes place in Tanzania, where our protagonist lives with his family, before he is taken away by his “Uncle” to a port town further up the Swahili coast prior to WWI.  The novel sees that our protagonist moves all around Tanzania and into the Congo.  Through this movement we see a picture of many tribes and cultures in this, relatively, small plot of land in Africa.  The first cultural group the book observes is the Muslim Africans of the Swahili coast.  These people are highly religious and very much against any form of blasphemy.  However, even though these people are very religious, almost none of them, except the imams who were normally Arab, can understand the Arabic language the Koran is written in, but they are forced to go to school to learn how to memorize the words without the meaning.  A Sikh mechanic originating from Mumbai, who the protagonist admires for his storytelling, comments on this inability to understand.

“ ‘I am going to translate the Koran,’ Kalasinga said suddenly. ‘Into Swahili,’ he added, when the others had stopped laughing. ‘You can’t even speak Kiswahili,’ Hamid said, ‘Let alone read Arabic.’ ‘I will translate it from the English translation,’ Kalasinga said, looking grim. ‘Why do you want to do that?’ Hussein asked. ‘I don’t think I’ve heard you suggest anything more futile. Why do you want to do this?’ ‘to make you stupid natives hear the ranting God you worship,’ Kalasinga said. ‘It will be my crusade. Can you understand what it says there in Arabic? A little perhaps, but most of your stupid native brothers don’t. That’s what makes you all stupid natives.  Well, maybe if you did understand, you’d see how intolerant your Allah is. And instead of worshipping him, you’d find something better to do.’ ‘Wallah!’ Hamid said, no longer amused. ‘I doubt that it’s proper for someone like you to speak of Him in that unforgivable way. Perhaps someone should teach this hairy dog a lesson. I think next time you come eavesdropping on our conversations at the shop I’ll tell the stupid natives what you said. They’ll soon set fire to your hairy arse.’ ‘I will translate the Koran,’ KAlasinga said firmly. ‘Because I care for my fellow human beings, even if they are only ignorant Allah-wallahs. Is this religion for grown-up people? Maybe I don’t know what God is, or remember all his thousand names and his million promises, but I know that he can’t be this big bully you worship’ ” (85).

We think of colonization as the Western power coming in and dominating the African continent through religion, political maneuvering, and force; but they are by no means the first colonizing force to change Africa.  The Islamic Empire, later the Ottoman Empire, was a present force in eastern Africa since 630 AD, and were so until the fall of the Ottomans in WWI.  Though they were not as harsh and expansion centric in their conquering of Africa, the Muslims used religion, trade, political maneuvering, and force just as the western powers did.  However, for some reason we disregard that history and thus Africa as a whole suffered through a much harsher second colonial era.  Those who continued the expansion of their spheres of influence using the Muslim’s colonialization tactics actually foresaw the coming tides of change. 
The antagonist of the book, Uncle Aziz, was a business man who started off with a moderate amount of money and gained much more when he married a rich widower.  He used her wealth to expand his influence as a merchant and start becoming a broker.  Through his brokerage business he give high risk investments to people he know will fail, so that he will always have people in his debt.  He doesn’t need the money from them, he has plenty from his wife and business, but he wants people to worship him, which they very much do.  Because he is known not to bring up debts, except under specific circumstances, people flock to him as if he were God himself, but he uses religion to humble himself outwardly.  In this way he looks like a perfect human being; generous, powerful, rich, married, jovial, and humble.  Even the main character, who is very much observant and grounded, as a child saw him as, “Uncle Aziz who was the centre and meaning of that life, it was around him that everything turned” (37).  However, Aziz was by no means a perfect man, let alone a good man.  He sees everything in terms of how it can serve him and what he can gain.  When he does call up debts, they are debts of human service, he requires the children of his debtors.  Yusuf, the protagonist, Khalil, and Amina are simply the current servants he has claimed.  He uses these servants for two means, the first is for free work.  Khalil is forced to work the shop due to his father’s debt.  Amina, Khalil’s sister, also works for the household serving Aziz’s wife.  Finally, Yusuf does several things, but his mainly he works with the shop and eventually he would become a porter for one of Aziz’s merchant expeditions.  Their second task is companionship and worship of Aziz.  He requires them kiss his hand whenever he leaves, requires them to call him seyyid, and generally to be thankful for all he gives them.  Khalil does all of this and more, as he has tricked himself into seeing Aziz as a saint figure, however Yusuf, though at times enamored, could never really feel that same way.  It was this defiance that attracted Aziz to Yusuf as he got older and made Yusuf become a close confidant of Aziz in order to convert Yusuf.  He would fail in his conversion and even become jealous of Yusuf when Aziz’s first wife, who suffers a skin ailment, revers Yusuf as an angel that can heal her skin with his touch.  It is at this time that Aziz takes him away, first to the mountains, then to the Congo, where we see native Africans who have not been as afflicted by the first colonial regime. 
Aziz and his merchant crew take a Conrad-esque journey to the heart of Africa where they must trade their cheaper goods for the highly sought after goods like ivory and rhino horn.  As they go through each village they roar in with horns and drums to announce their gracious arrival to the savage lands.  Each of these villages were run by a “sultan”, who was typically an elder, who would require goods as tribute to not detain, or even harm, them in their journey across their land.  Each of these villages had their own gods and religions that they revered and lived by.  In this way Gurnah both observes the native traditions, while criticizing it at times.  For example, when arriving at one village near a shallow river, a girl from the village is eaten by a crocodile and as reparations they require something dire of the merchant band as they have brought evil upon this sultan’s land.  At night, by “luck”, one of the porters was mauled by a hyena and left nearly dead, but instead of being allowed to help him as much as they could, the sultan required him to be left to die, as his blood would purify the land.  Though this is an obvious criticism of how, though it was no fault of the merchant band for that poor girl’s death, they were blamed because of superstition, Gurnah is not objectively critical of the traditional religions.  Later, when they reached a larger body of water that required canoes to cross, a deadly storm hit while the natives were shepherding the party and instead of descending into panic, they trusted in the local god to keep them safe if they rowed to his island nearby.  They safely got to the island and made a sacrifice, which stopped the storm.  Whether you believe the sacrifice of goods stopped the storm or not, the fact is that their faith gave them the strength of perseverance to get safely through the storm.  They made it to the end of their journey in the Congo after this, though it did not end as predicted, and that is when they return to Tanzania and we see the final group that has recently come to this part of Africa, the Germans.

The end of the book is the start of WWI and sees the town in which the protagonist lives be raided by the Germans for soldiers.  Perhaps surprisingly, Yusuf, after hiding and evading the forces when they did their search for soldiers, decides to run after them and join them as they are leaving town.  From today’s standpoint that is flabbergasting as we know the atrocities the westerns committed during this time period, but for Yusuf, it was trading one slaver for another and at least had the choice in this case.  Furthermore, the Germans throughout the book, though by no means seen as saints or saviors, brought order on an unlawful land.  It was because of the Germans that Yusuf was alive at the end of the book because when he and Aziz’s merchant and were detained and beaten for the sins of a merchant band that had come months prior and ripped off the village, it was the Germans that came, saw that there was no evidence that this was the same group of merchants, and forced the village to give back their things.  The Germans also declared it illegal to take tribute in exchange for passage from one village territory to another.  It is in this way that, though the atrocities of the colonizers can never be forgotten, we also see how the west was not only a source of atrocities.  

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Nervous Conditions:A 5 Decade Long Culmination of African Literary Identity


Tsitsi Dangerembga knows her subject matter, the crisis of African identity, very well and is able to explain this issue and the issue of women's rights in Africa in such a way that she can connect with a non-African audience while not compromising her personal African identity.  Achebe ends Things Fall Apart by having the District Commissioner appropriating Okonkwo's story and undermining it to a reasonable paragraph, but Tsitsi retakes her story in her first paragraph of the story while addressing the fact that her story is in dialogue with the West and globe as a whole, without being defined by anyone but herself.  
“I was not sorry when my brother died.  Nor am I apologizing for my callousness, as you may define it, my lack of feeling.  For it is not that at all.”  As aforementioned, the narrator specifically makes it apparent that there is an audience and that that audience has presuppositions about her due to what she says.  However, she is not aggressively responding to this "you", the global audience, instead she seems to understand where the reader is coming from and responding to the presupposition of callousness by opening a dialogue with the reader through her story.  This is not to say that, though understanding the presupposition and not aggressively reacting to it, the narrator accepts the accusation of callousness, but stays adamant in showing her side of the story.  In this way, the narrator not only opens a dialogue, but also refuses to allow the "you" to be the driving force of the dialogue, thus she establishes an equal footing between the reader and narrator.  Finally, by putting both the idea of the "you" and the refusal to be subordinate to said "you", this indicates that the Tsitsi wants to tell this story and it is this wanting that legitimizes this piece literature, not an approval by the "you".  
“I feel many things these days, much more than I was able to feel in the days when I was young and my brother died, and there are reasons for this more than the mere consequence of age.”  With the idea of self-identification and dialogue firmly presented in the first sentence, the narrator then proceeds to elaborated why the presumption of callousness is offensive.  Primarily, the narrator seems to indicate that such a presumption could be derived from the fact that she was young, which is a simplification of her as a person.  She was in fact young when her brother died, but that is not to say that the only reason she was not sorry for his death.  By saying that her supposed lack of sympathy was due to naivety is to say that a) she was na├»ve, which is an assumption based solely on her age and not on her experience, and b) this simplifies her down to a reasonable paragraph, a fraction of who she is.  This is ultimately a way for the narrator to explain why the you should control the instinct of presupposition and listen to her story, a story that she will tell no matter what.  Lastly, the narrator makes it clear that she feels many things these day, which is important for two reasons.  The first is that she has had many experiences since her younger days that have shed a new light on her past, not a necessarily a more informed feeling, but simply a different feeling defined by a life time of experience.  The second is that she feels many things, thus she is not without feeling or soulless, she feels just as the “you” feels, but her feeling is based on her experiences as her, an African girl. 
“Therefore I shall not apologize but begin by recalling the facts as I remember them that led up to my brother’s death, the events that put me in a position to write this account.”  The thing that is striking about this sentence is that the narrator does not set herself up as an perfect narrator, as she quite blatantly admits that the “facts” that she remembers them are how she recalls them, not necessarily how they are.  This is important as she is not looking at her past through the, as Rushdie stated it, “shattered mirror”, thus we get a picture of her homeland that is uniquely hers and cannot be replicated by anyone else, even another African.  This pointedly addresses the issue of a single story, or single identity, for the African people, as the narrator is not presenting a story for all Africans, simply one that she experienced. 
“For though the event of my brother’s passing and the events of my story cannot be separated, my story is not after all about death, but about my escape and Lucia’s; about my mother’s and Maiguru’s entrapment; and about Nyasha’s rebellion – Nyasha, far-minded and isolated, my uncle’s daughter, whose rebellion may not in the end have been successful.”  As will be later evident, the narrator’s brother is a representation of colonialism, specifically the effects of unconditionally accepting colonial identity and giving up being an African, while at the same time never truly being Western.  By saying that her brother’s story, his death, cannot be separated from her own story, yet separating the two by saying that her story is not about death, the narrator accepts that the West and Africa are now joined and it is impossible to go back to how it was before colonialism, but that is not to say that the West now defines who African are.  The narrator proceeds to list each of the major female characters in the novel and each of these represent how people reacted to colonial in the post-independence and post-colonial eras. 
The narrator’s mother and Maiguru are both described as being entrapped.  Both of these women are trapped by their husbands and, as an extension, the mildly, and in some areas harsh, subjugation of women in Africa’s history, thus is could be said that they are entrapped in their old ways.  However, even though they are both similarly trapped, these women are very different people in very different situations.  The mother is the traditional African women in the best ways, as she is an expert wife, mother, and agricultural laborer.  She is willing trapped in the old ways because she finds comfort in them, but she is not afraid of modernity.  This is seen in the following scene where the narrator is vexed that she is no longer able to go to school because of funds and her father tell her she should not care because a woman has no need of academic knowledge.  “I complained to my mother. ‘Baba says I do not need to be educated,’ I told her scornfully. ‘He says I must learn to be a good wife.  Look at Maiguru,’ I continued, unaware how viscously. ‘She is a better wife than you!’  My mother was too old to be disturbed by my childhood nonsense.  She tried to diffuse some of it by telling me many things, by explaining that my father was right because even Maiguru knew how to cook and clean and grow vegetables”(16).  This very clearly sets up a division between the mother and Maiguru, who is a well-educated mother who lives a wealthy life style, and it specifically says that she is “too old” to be disturbed by the narrator’s nonsense.  This nonsense being both the nonsense of her child complaining about not being educated, but also the nonsense that her child implies that western education makes Maiguru a better wife.  However, she does rebuke her child for wanting to make her own funds to get educated, as seen in the following quote when her husband shuts down her daughters request for seeds to plant in order to make money with the reasoning that he had no money to give.  “My mother, of course, knew me better.  ‘And did she ask for money?’ she inquired. ‘Listen to your child. She is asking for seed. That we can give. Let her try. Let her see for herself that some things cannot be done” (17).  Even though she indicates her belief that her daughter will fail to gain the necessary funds to go to school, the fact is that she does not fear that her daughter might become educated because she is giving her the opportunity to try, one that her overly traditional is not apt to give her. 
The last character that the narrator mentions is Nyasha, her cousin, who grew up with her wealthy, educated parents and fully embraced the western indoctrination through schooling in order to become “successful”.  The result of this indoctrination becomes very apparent in the end of the novel when Nyasha has a mental breakdown due to the stress of educational competition, bulimia, and her otherness. 

“Her eyes dilated. ‘They’ve done it to me,’ she accused, whispering still. ‘Really, they have.’ And then she became stern. ‘It’s not their fault. They did it to them too.  You know they did,’ she whispered. ‘To both of them, but especially to him. They put him through it all. But it’s not his fault, he’s good.’ Her voice took on a Rhodesian accent. ‘He’s a good boy, a good munt. A bloody good kaffir,’ she informed in sneering sarcastic tones. Then she was whispering again. ‘Why do they do it, Tambu,’ she hissed bitterly, her face contorting with rage, ‘to me and to you and to him? Do you see what they’ve done? They’ve taken us away, Lucia. Takesure. All of us. They’ve deprived you of you, him of him, ourselves of each other. We’re groveling. Lucia for a job, Jeremiah for money. Daddy grovels to them. We grovel to him.’ She began to rock, her body quivering tensely. ‘I won’t grovel. Oh no, I won’t.  I’m not a good girl. I’m evil. I’m not a good girl.’ I touched her to comfort her and that was the trigger. ‘I won’t grovel, I won’t die,’ she raged and crouched like a cat ready to spring…Nyasha was beside herself with fury. She rampaged, shredding her history book between her teeth (‘Their history. Fucking liars. Their bloody lies.’)… ‘They’ve trapped us. They’ve trapped. But I won’t be trapped. I’m not a good girl. I won’t be trapped.’ Then as suddenly as it came, the rage passed. ‘I don’t hate you, Daddy,’ she said softly. ‘They want me to, but I won’t.’ She lay down on her bed. ‘I’m very tired,’ she said in a voice recognizably hers. ‘But I can’t sleep. Mummy will you hold me?’ She curled up in Maiguru’s lap looking no more than five years old. ‘Look what they’ve done to us,’ she said softly. ‘I’m not one of them but I’m not one of you.’ She fell asleep” (204-205).

This tirade while under a sleep deprived and anxiety ridden stupor show how Nyasha has ingrained colonial rhetoric into her psyche to the point that it is, literally, killing her.  The first major evidence of colonial rhetoric is the formation of the Other, in this case us vs. them.  Nyasha constantly refers to the westerners, and her parents to some degree, as them, which is a way of separating herself through the third person in order to criticize what they have done to her and her fellow classmates.  She also, along these lines, creates a separation of good and evil, which end up with her being evil and the west being classified, sarcastically, as the good.  She specifically refers to her father as a good boy, but its followed by describing him as a boy, munt, and bloody kaffir.  By describing him as a boy is shows both a sense of subservience to his parents, the west; a munt, which is a specific term used by white Rhodesians as a slur for blacks; and kaffir, which is also a slur for black Africans.  Thus, good becomes a synonym for oppression and oppressors in this tirade or, in the case of her father and the grovelers, those who become willingly subservient to oppression.  Evil also takes on a new form, as it becomes a synonym for rebellion, which harkens back to the first paragraph of the story where the narrator speaks of Nyasha, failed, rebellion.  Another key point in this monologue is the feral rage that causes Nyasha to rebel. 
This section begins with the words “her eyes dilated”, which indicates that her lower level brain has taken over her actions, in other words, her animal instincts.  This is further supported late on when she “crouched like a cat ready to spring”, “shredded her history book between her teeth”, and the repetition of refusing to be trapped.  Interestingly, Nyasha seems to primarily enter these more feral states when referring to the “them”, as seen when she crouched after talking about how they try to force her to grovel and the fact that’s she used her teeth to destroy their history book, a book she says is full of lies.  It would seem to indicate that because colonial powers dictated to her, and all Africans, that they were, basically, animals, she becomes what they indoctrinated her into when she thinks of them.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, it is when she is directly talking to the narrator or her parents that the rages subsides and she falls into a whisper, as seen when she starts whispering “Why do they do it, Tambu”, later when her rage completely subsides and she tells her father “I don’t hate you, Daddy”, and finally when she asks to rest on her mother’s lap.  This shows that when people look at her as a human being, she become humane, thus she internalizes that which people expect of her.  This is very much seen in how she becomes bulimic in order to become skinny like the white women and hits home to the core of her current issues, that being her purgatorial existence. 
The last sentence before she falls to sleep is the result of her indoctrination, that she is not nor never will be a European as they will never truly treat her like an equal human being, but she is no longer African because she has allowed the “Englishness”, as the narrator’s mother puts it, to take over her being.  Unfortunately for Nyasha, her rebellion ends in sleep, which seems to be synonymous for hopelessness resulting in apathy.  Nyasha understands the situation she is in, but never addresses it unless she is in a feral state in which she cannot fully grasp and resolve said issue.  She does, when she is a more sober state, seem to understand her distress, but she always tries to help herself and when she does look for someone to help her from drowning in the hopelessness, she stops just short of taking their hand.  This is most evidently seen in the following scene, “At three o’clock she woke me up. ‘Can I get into bed with you, Tambu?’ she whispered, but when I rolled over to make room for her to climb in she shook her head and smiled. ‘It’s all right,’ she said. ‘I just wanted to see if you would let me.’ Then she sat on her bed and looked at me out of her sullen eyes” (204).  This is right before she becomes feral and seems like it is a last ditch effort to save herself from the proceding despair, but she refuses Tambu’s companionship and that is what triggers her.  It is also of particular interest how she describes Nyasha’s looking at her, “looked out at me”.  This makes it seem like Nyasha is trapped inside her own body and is peering outside of her bodily cage through her “sullen eyes”.  It is this ultimate refusal to act, or acceptance of defeat, that separates Nyasha from the narrator. 

Dangarembga creates a uniquely flawed, yet ultimately perfect character in the form of Tambu to be the narrator, as she suffers and experiences just as much as the rest of the characters, but she ultimately survives because she seeks out experiences from every source, which allows her to evolve into her own unique person.  This is quite different from the rest of the cast as they are all bound by someone or something, Maiguru by her husband and Nyasha by her purgatorial existence, but the narrator takes the advice of her traditional mother on how to endure and the education of the West without letting either tradition or European values dictate who she is.  Whereas Nyasha became an abomination of a pseudo European soul trapped in a kaffir coil, the narrator may be a kaffir according to “them”, but she is not that at all, she becomes Tambu through her story.  

Sunday, March 13, 2016

On Humanity

Previously I discussed the idea of the African people’s humanity being destroyed by the the westerners, which might have been a harsh, yet not entirely incorrect, comment.  In this discussion I would like to consider the reality of the aforementioned statement and why, or why not, it was possible to accomplish.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines humanity as, “the fact or condition of being human.”  Thus, to prove that the colonizers truly stripped the conditions of being human away, which, for the sake of this discussion, will be the humanities, chiefly literature, history, music, and philosophy.  It is clear that Africa had a rich tradition of having each of these aspects of humanity before colonization, but it becomes much less clear if these conditions survived in and through the colonial era.
The first condition I suggested was literature, which in the case of pre-colonial Africa mostly referred to oral traditions and proverbs.  There is no doubting that there are records of the stories and proverb that have been told times over in Africa, but that does not address if there was a time in which these stories were rooted out.  Colonizers made it their mission to indoctrinate the youth of Africa, and the people as a whole, to believe in the superiority of the motherland, which in many ways they were successful.  Focusing on the school system, the church was also a major institution for indoctrination but that will be discussed more in regards to philosophy, the curriculum was quite similar to that of western nations, the main exception being that the African students did not tend to learn Latin and Greek.  They learned that the only great pieces of literature were created by the western world, primarily England, and were forced to read the greats like Milton.  When they did learn about “African literature”,  is was colonial adventure literature like Conrad, which depicted the African people as animals for the most part.  Granted, the African students tended to disassociate themselves with the characters in the book because, to them, it seemed like some far off place, but the fact is by accepting this literature, they are unintentionally promoting the characterization of African inhumanity on the world stage.  Eventually, many of these students would even go on to defend the standards of literature indoctrinated into their being in the beginning stages of post independence and post colonialism.  As aforementioned in other posts, when The Palm Wine Drinkard came out as one of the first major pieces of African literature, many people, both African and westerner, criticized it heavily not on content, but on stylistic dialectical choices that are easy to understand.  Many people did not even read the book, but saw that Tutuola “bastardized” the English language.  It would be one thing for a western audience who grew up with “proper” English to criticize his dialect, but for Africans who understood that it was not the primary language of their people nor was it readily available to many Africans beyond a broken understanding to criticize the book so harshly without having read the content is proof of western indoctrination.  The Negritude movement of the early post colonial days was also an example of ingrained ideals of western superiority to the point that many African authors believed that African dialects or bastardized English paled in comparison to French and true English, thus the only way to express African humanity on the world stage.  Though there is a clear indoctrination of African literary values during the colonial era and into the very beginning of the post colonial era.  Similarly to how they indoctrinated western literary values into African thought, they also indoctrinated them with the idea that their history is non existent because, as the colonizers believed when they were “dispossessed” from their Africa, that Africa was neither the blacks nor the whites, but the animals and since the whites have been forced to secede their bid for dominance, the incapable Africans will be ruled by the animals.  This also shows, even though they are for once not compared to animals, that many westerners saw Africans as even less than animals, many times because they're “human” yet supposedly fail to achieve the western standard of the humanities, thus becoming the negation of the humanities.
African music and arts were also seen as savage, but in this case it is less universally accepted by the western world in the beginning.  Unlike the western world that preferred a slower form of music focused on hitting precise notes, African music was more focused on entrancing the whole community in reverence, it valued the ephemeral nature of its music because it was about the unique flavor that the main artists would bring to the songs and dance rather than consistency.  For the most part, African art and music would be left untouched by colonization  and the art would even go on to influence a generation of Western art, which had become stagnant.
Finally there is philosophy and this is where western religion comes into play in a major way.  Though there are many differences in philosophy and religion from tribe to tribe, one of the most prominent religions was Yoruba’s and as such, it will be used a microcosm for Africa.  The basic tenant is that each human being is filled with Ayanmo, which can be loosely be seen as western “destiny”, and one day all humans will become spiritually one with Olorun, which is the creator.  Furthermore, the thoughts and actions of each person inevitably effect and interact with all living things including nature.  By developing the spirit through positive interactions with others, personal interaction with the spirit realm, and prayer.  It is not difficult to see how Christianity is very similar to the Yoruba beliefs, thus the missionaries used this as an inroad to colonization.  By connecting on a spiritual level with the people they were able to nudge them towards Christianity, especially because there were sine exclusionary beliefs in both the society and religion that led to the outcast embracing Christianity to gain social status.  From there, the missionaries started converting more and more followers due to the lack of major belief changes between Yoruba and Christian values.  This led to several areas phasing out the old beliefs in favor of the new, it became so bad in some areas, particularly the Congo, that witch hunts were performed to weed out old believers.  Though not entirely wiped out, the old religions became outdated and looked down on by the new generation who sought to emulate the colonizers to gain power and status.
As can be seen, though the humanities unique to Africa were not completely weeded out, but they were demonized and made dormant for decades due to colonization.  However, to say that the Africa of post colonization is the same Africa as pre colonization is absolutely absurd, thus instead of saying that the humanity of the African people was either lost or never harmed, I propose it was overshadowed and made to lay in wait.  Balance is very important to African philosophy and I believe that because the west was so seemingly dominant in a cultural perspective, that their culture overtook the African culture and hid it away from the world.  This was in order to legitimize the atrocities that would be committed during colonization.  Continentally, I believe that African culture was obscured and, though they retained their humanity, there was a fog of otherness that forced the African people to constantly legitimize their humanity in the face of the “great and powerful” colonizers.  What post colonization did was lift the perception that the African people were anything but human and thus allowed them to wake their culture back up into a fully sentient state and develop it free of direct western influence.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The possessors and the dispossessed: Championing Learned Habbits or Forging a New Identity

A young African post colonial academic and writer named Jomo Kenyatta once told a story in his first major publication named Facing Mount Kenya.  This story tells about a man who builds a hut and, during a rain storm, an elephant neighbor comes by.  The elephant asks to place his trunk in the hut to keep it out of the rain, which the man allows, unfortunately it does not simply end there.  The elephant slowly but surely pushes his trunk into the hut and forces man out of his hut.  The man calls the king lion to come and handle the situation, to which the lion launches a commission run by friends and peers of the elephant.  As you can imagine, the commission found in favor of the elephant, so the man builds another house.  Another animal takes over this house and this whole process recurs many times over.  Eventually an angry man built the biggest and best house of them all and all of the animals left his former houses and fought over this grandiose new house.  The man set the entire house on fire and lived happily ever after in his original house.  This is obviously in regards to imperialism and colonialism, but what is more surprising is the ending of the man happily living after burning the grandiose symbol of wealth to the ground with the “animal” in it.  Funnily enough, Jomo would go on to be Prime Minister of an independent Kenya a few years later after a bloody rebellion, so it would seem that his story was more of a vision of the future, though Kenya may not be as perfectly happy as the man in the story and the cost of independence was more than a house.
This story, and the historical event following it, shows the interesting mirrored relationship between the colonizer and the colonized, the possessor and the dispossessed.  To look into this relationship, first, let us look into the psychology and techniques of the possessors.  It starts at the point of contact, in the case of West Africa, the 16th century.  At this moment the possessors, or more accurately those who would blaze the trails for the true possessors, in shock of the unknown try to apply what they do know, their existence and cultural dimensions, to this new people.  This issue is two fold: first, that you do not understand enough about these people to make any comments about their culture and, second, one people’s cultural dimensions cannot be applied to another’s in a value based manner.  Because of their ignorance, these trailblazers then relate their experiences in the only way they can, in ignorance.  Even in ignorance, these men, and those that follow, become the experts on these foreigners, thus how they represent them becomes the standard.
  The next step involves opportunity and this is where a branching path occurs, either there is a spirit of mutual respect and the cultures learn and benefit from each other, the less likely path though it may be, or the trailblazers lead to possessors, the route I will focus on since it is the route of that was taken in Africa.  In this route, the possessors use a combination of seemingly harmless trading, missionary work, and force in many instances.  The missionary work was particularly effective in the case of West Africa, as the people of this area, especially the Igbo, but they are not apt to be forcefully talk about their religion with those outside their individual villages, so they were shocked by the audacity of these mysterious people both talking about their beliefs and attempting to share their God with them.  There is a story amongst the Igbo about a group who immigrated to a Igbo village and asked to share the villages gods with them and instead of asking why they simply shared the children of their gods with them, as not to confuse or impose their religious beliefs, and they would not ask where their gods went since it would be rude to ask about their religion.  This highlights why it seemed so audacious for the missionaries to do as they did, thus why the West African people uncomfortably accepted them.  Once the possessors are able to drive their claws into the culture, they draw in the outcasts of the society and then become permanent installations.  It is during this phase that the possessors, in order to justify their atrocious conduct, transform the people of this new land into, at best, lesser humans and, more often and at worst, the negation of humanity, savages.  This transformation from ignorance to negation is well seen in comparing Captain John Lok’s description of Africans as “a people of beastly living, without God, laws, religion” to the inhuman description of African dancers in Joyce Cary’s Mister Johnson.  Another interesting description comes from Conrad in Heart of Darkness when the narrator says, “Well, you know, that was the worst of it—this suspicion of their not being inhuman”, which is of particular interest because it not only uses the narrator as a foci to channel the gaze of the western reader and scare them with the possibility of this savagery being human and, by extension, savagery being apart of the reader.  Not only is this highly narcissistic and reek of fear, both concepts that will be discussed later, but it is dehumanizing in its use of the gaze.  All of these examples show how the narrative becomes more eloquent and effective, but the core  message is quite the same.  With national power through the influence of colonialist rhetoric and international power through trade, missionary, and military force; the possessors are able and willing to enact full domination over the “savages”.
Now is when the foreign land becomes a colony to the empire and the parasitical relationship of motherland to colony begins.  In this stage the archetypal characters created by colonial rhetoric are forced as fact upon the populace and their identity appropriated and wiped out almost entirely.  It is in this stage that possible resistances of the previous stage become less persistent and vocal, thus the act of domination is completed.  Also in this stage, the colonists not only leech away natural and human resources, but also creative resources through colonist writing becoming accepted as the dispossessed’s writing by matter of fact not only on a national or multinational scale, but on a global scale.  This is the era where Joyce Cary became the first major Nigerian author, as an Anglo-Irish former soldier who was stationed reluctantly in Nigeria, through the disastrous, yet critically acclaimed, Mister Johnson.  Facts like this and Anglo/Western supremacy over creativity were further drilled into the youth’s brains through the schooling system.  By using education, these bright young Africans were brainwashed into believing in Western supremacy and the need for Westerners to provide for the Africans, not just on a creative or institutional level, but even attempting to convince them that they waste the land they were given.  Ms. Huxley, who was an advocate for white Africans and live in Africa for quite some time, wrote that this land is owned by the animal, not the blacks or white, and if the whites were forced out of Africa, then the land would be wasted on the beasts.  This is to completely rewrite the history of Africa as if the Africans cowardly hid in holes all day and foraged when possible, when they, in actuality, worked the land quite well and developed well established economies between villages.  This is not a surprising fact when you take into regard that the westerners already rewrote identity of an entire continent of people over the course of 400 years or so, according to Hammond and Jablow in The Africa that Never Was, but it is an atrocious and surprising fact none the less.  This, and other arguments regarding the subpar brains of the Africans primarily, made up the second line of defense and legitimization of colonization, that westerners are not only beneficial, but required if the African people are to be sustained.  In this way the narcissistic tendencies of colonialism are further substantiated, as the westerners have now set themselves up as God figures in the eyes of the Africans and, many times, even in their own eyes.
Now is the winter of the Africans discontent, as the continuos abuses of power lead to the eventual uprising of the African people.  It is at this time that force becomes a weak last resort and brainwashing ceases to work, slowly the prey has learned from the predator and seeks to reap the benefits of these harsh lessons.  Now on the defense is where fear and narcissism play their key parts, as the westerners attempt to calm growing discontent with feigned, yet believed, innocence.  People like Huxley would argue that though parts of the system failed the people, the institutions led by westerners are still needed and that the “white men” are not to blame for the atrocities.  This idea that by attacking the institutions of enslavement are to attack individual white men and women personally is the greatest form of narcissism, as if one man or women means anything when compared to hundreds of years of debasement.  But this was their tactic, attempt to put an innocent mask of individuality on the face of evil to abate anger, but this only worked for a time.  It is at this point that, through blood or otherwise, rebellion is started and the abusers are driven out, but the fact remains that this leaves an unfathomable power vacuum wide open throughout Africa.  It is at this point that the people take the dangerous route of replication of learned tendencies, or the unknown path of forging a new identity.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Fallacy of a Single Story: An Africa of Many Cultures

          Both my roommate and an acquaintance of mine are taking a course on women in modern Africa and they had to write a paper on gender roles.  An unfortunate commonality between these people was that they spoke about Africa as a single entity of a single story, and in that story women mistreated and over looked by a male dominated society.  This story is very much true for South Africa, which records high numbers abuse cases from women, and Congolese, which historically abused women in many ways including poisoning them to test if they were witches.  These cases are unacceptable, though you need to still understand the reasoning behind these events, but in other parts of Africa, especially Igboland, respect women, especially in the modern day.  The reason for these generalizations, which are many times not the literature's fault itself, is because people want to simplify Africa down to a single entity, a single story, and in this take away African identity.  One of the books they read was Things Fall Apart and they made the assumption that because Okonkwo was harsh in his treatment of some of his wives, that Igbo culture looks down upon women.  In reality, I believe that this conclusion can only be made under the assumption that Okonkwo is the true hero and avatar of Igbo culture, which is not quite correct.  Okonkwo is the mans man of the Igbo culture, but he is only the fully masculine representation of the Igbo culture, but Igbo is just as feminine culturally.  The reason Okonkwo refuses to embody both the feminine and masculine parts of the culture is because his father fully embodied femininity in, many times, the worst of ways.  By reading this book in a face value way, you see the protagonist as the hero and assume that his mistreatment is reality, whereas if you would read more deeply you would realize that by being culturally immobile and overly masculine in terrible ways is what led to Okonkwo being no more than a "reasonable paragraph" in the history of the Igbo.  Furthermore, of all the books I have read, they all have strong female leads and are from all over Africa.  This becomes a lesson in writing a single story for a huge and multicultural area can lead to misconceptions on a global scale, thus leading to stereotyping and appropriation of their cultures therein.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

What is an African Writer?

What is an African writer?  This question of if a writer is or is not considered part of a certain ethnic or geographic society is not a questioned one we ask of British literature or Russian literature, but it does plague any society deemed “post colonial”, including the United States.  Many of the works I have been reading have attempted to answer this in a variety of ways.  The first, and arguably most controversial, way is language, in other words if you don't write in an African dialect then you're not an African writer.
There are obvious points to be made for this argument since it, on the surface, makes a lot of sense.  British authors write in the Queen’s English, or the equivalent of the time period they lived in, and the French write in French primarily.  Following a Western frame of thought this theory makes complete sense, but two concepts need to be explored if we are to agree with this idealism.  The first is the idea of globalization.  With the dawn of mass colonization by the European powers, and eventually America, the blank spaces of the map began to rapidly be filled in, thus cultures were experiencing each other on a massive scale.  This led to the opportunity for people to show off their culture on a world stage, but obviously many people won't speak your same language.  Thus the language of the conquerors, primarily English and French in this part of the world, became a semi universal language.  This idea leads into the second, practicality.
One of the key reasons for Africans wanting their literature to be acknowledged was to reclaim an identity of their own that was appropriated by the colonizer so through their own art and literature, especially in the British adventure novels like the Allan Quartermaine series.  In these pieces that went on to represent the “reality” of African identity until the end of post colonialism, and debatably well past that, they had no voice unless it was garbled language or submissive language spoken in the colonizer’s tongue.  Furthermore they became represented as animalistic and savage, thus becoming literally inhuman in every way.   Even the few souls who considered them human still saw them as a lesser race, a “little brother”, to be uplifted as part of the “white man’s burden”.  In any event, this led to the spread of the dominant languages of English and French, thus to reach the largest audience, one must write in one of these two languages, especially English because it was spread by the immense British empire and by the neocolonialist Americans.  Thus it becomes practical to use the language of the colonizer in order to reclaim your stolen identity.
The counter argument to that of practicality goes back to those who believe in using primarily African languages, some go as far as to denounce translations even.  This group believes that by using the language of the colonizer, you are accepting continued subjugation by being in debt a foreign language.  Another argument is that if the goal of African literature is to reclaim African identity, how can a true African be described in a non African language?  To these arguments there are three primary idealists formed in defense of the use of foreign language.  The first completely agrees with the accusations, but they believe that it is ultimately the price you must pay in order to reach the larger audience and spread your ideas.  The next group includes writers like Achebe who believe in the Africanization of foreign languages like English, in Achebe’s case.  They argue by adapting the foreign language to African sensibilities, by adding African phrases in African or changing the spelling of words in some cases, you are not being subjugated by the language of the colonizer's, but instead working with a global community in order to define your own niche.  The last is a more radical frame of mind, and includes many Africans who subscribe to the negritude movement, in that they go so far as to say that African languages are not adequately eloquent enough to define African identity and languages, especially French, of the Western nations are objectively more eloquent and better for the writing of literature.  I do not have any knowledge of any African language and as a result cannot lend comment to the last ideology, thus I will express my viewpoints on the other two.
Between the practical approach, which seem defeatist in my opinion whether true or not, and the Africanization of foreign languages, I tend to side with Africanization.  Dialectical differences have always lent literature an interesting edge, especially when you use America as an example.  First off, no one would try to claim American literature is British by nature because it uses English originated in England.  Primarily this is because the stories told are uniquely tied to an American identity and use English that is dialectic ally distinct from the Queen’s English.  Even within the United States there are dialectical differences that cause debate.  Many argue that Sound and the Fury by Faulkner is not as much an American novel as a southern novel, partially because the story told seems like an experience that is uniquely southern in nature, but there are also arguments that the language itself has phrases and word use that is southern in nature.  Though very evident in American literature, this is not unique to America and Africanization is well in place in Africa.
As aforementioned, one of the prime defenders of the ideology of African English was Achebe and as such he put this idea into place in his writing.  Just as in the case of America, no one would say that his novel is British or American because they are the prime users of English, though some might claim that it is not African.  Achebe uses parables and phrase along with a story that is African in nature to evoke the culture of Africa without using an African language.  Similarly, Ptaaje also evokes a definable feeling of African culture without using an African language in Mhudi.  I don't have the book with me so I cannot quote and I'll add some in when I return to campus.  However, Ptaaje does so stylistically more so than through parables and phrasing.  He is stylistically oral, which is to say he uses his word to paint the setting and the mood that is taking place during the novel.  Furthermore he narrates the story as if you are a ghost hanging on the shoulder of the characters through 3rd person limited narration which creates a sense of familiarity with the characters while making it impossible to step into their shoes, these they are truly characters in a book and not a pair of pants for the reader to wear.
Another major qualification question that is discussed in the debate over what an African writer is, is their ethnic and national background.  The main split is quite obvious, the side that claims only Africans born and raised in Africa can be African writers and those who believes that if you have roots in Africa and strive to write for the African people then you are an African writer.  This differentiation of views is, yet again, one birthed of colonialism.  African languages had writing systems, but unlike in Western nations there were no formal schools for teacher writing, so only those who needed to write knew how to write.  When colonization was in full bloom, the colonizer's started building some schools for teaching, or more accurately indoctrinating, Africans.  However these were still a privileged few and thus a education disparity was created.  Some of a few even more privileged individuals were able to then go to Europe and further their education.  When colonialism was legally ended and African literature started to come onto the scene, many of the well known writers were those who studied in Europe.  This education disparity is the root of the nationality issue in being an African writer, as well as the language debate in some ways.  This question was pushed even more into the limelight when African literary critique started to come onto the scene.
Many argued that traditional literary critique could not apply to Africa because it was specifically designed for Western art.  Thus a cacophony of viewpoints came from throughout Africa and Europe, one of the most controversial being the inclusion and importance placed upon biographical information on the writer.  With this trend on the rise, many writers that were considered African came into question, a common occurrence being that they might have been born Africa, but moved to Europe early in life or spent much of their life in Europe only to come back in an attempt to reclaim their African identity.  This issue in combination with language and education debates creates issues to this day in regards to literature.
The final, and debatedly least controversial but still evident, argument that comes up almost immediately after the legal end of colonialism is that of writing form.
Many would successfully argue that the novel form was the child of European literature and it was best executed by Europeans and Americans, but an unfortunate assumption comes out this argument, that the novel form is solely a Western literary form.  This creates similar divisions that I described with language, that you can't use the novel for African literature because that is willingly allowing your art form to be subjugated to a foreign power or, on the other side, you use it purely for practicality or, finally, you africanize the form.  Much how English and French became more than a national language with the rise of colonization and became the property of all effected nations, so to the novel form is not Europe's because art is not the artist's but everyone who consumes it.  Back to Achebe and Ptaaje, both of these authors chose to adopt the novel  to African sensibilities, to Africanize the form.