AFRICA LITERATURE VERSUS FOREIGN LITERATURE (Round 2)

Posted: June 24, 2013 in EZEAMALUKWUO SPEAKS 1
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Photo by Okoye Chukwudi Charles

Photo by Okoye Chukwudi Charles

by Okoye Chukwudi Charles Ezeamalukwuo

The firewood of this world
Is for only those who can take heart
That is why not all can gather it
–Kofi Awoonor (Song of Sorrow)

African literature has come a long way, from the oral folktales and moonlight stories to the expensive looking hard cover books we see on amazon.com. Yet a few Nigerians have strived to make this journey with it, and though I will say that I have joined this wagon of African-literature-loving readers, I know that I did not start off as a lover of African books. I too have come a long way, I can still remember writing that African literature is shallow both in theme and substance. I remember this heresy, like it’s a broken piece of bottle firmly logged into my foot. I once partook in the wrongful denunciation of Africa literature, which I dismissed as lacking in creative imagination and suspense. Oh indeed my eyes were little and blind. I was like a baby (novice) drunk of milk from a feeding bottle (western literature) but now I have seen the light, -the folly of my ways. I am now a born again reader (…pause to speak in tongue). I now know that my stance was informed by some demons of ignorance (probably originated from my village). I was then suffering from Concentrated African Literature Deficiency.

Yes, Concentrated African Literature Deficiency and like most Nigerian youths (those who manage to read at all), I was a bad ass vampire viciously feeding on foreign literature, the Grishams, the Steven Kings, the Allan Poes, Robert Frost, William Wordsworth, the Lake poets, the English poets, the American poets, the Dante Alligheri, William Blake et al.
Oh my good man William Blake, whose works (esp Marriage of Heaven nd Hell) got me writing my own ballad. I fell for the complex meaning of their simple lines. Like this line from Robert Frost’s poem; A Walk in the Wood one Snowy Evening.

The wood is dark, lovely and deep
But I have got promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep
-(lines 13-16)

I fell for the religious nature of their works, the lyrical contents and rhymes of their poems, as shown by these lines from William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence.

To see the world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour
(-lines 1-4)

These and other writings of foreign authors that I read caused me to blaspheme (…pause! Looking up and making the sign of the cross three times).

But I won’t blame myself too much nor will I blame our youths of today who are continuously being bombarded with the gamma rays of technological advancement. The western literature is in sync with ultra modern facilities, -the internet and media outlets of today, while African literature and everything else Africa are crawling from behind. How can our youths (again, those who manage to read) cope with the Usain Bolts that is western culture against the Kanu Nwankwo that is African affairs. No offence to Kanu Nwankwo (but menh that guy is slow jor). I have met ominivorious Nigerian readers, who confessed to me that the last thing they will do is read african novels, why? Surely it’s the demons of ignorance at work, probably from their village (holy ghost fire!).

During my soul searching days, I spent time searching for African poems and African writers on the internet and had very little to show for it. Writers like Yao Egblewogbe, Kalu Uka, Atukwei Okai, Titus Chukwuemeka Nwosu and many others have no wikkipedia page.
Most online african poems are published in group with little distinction between works of individual poet. Yet if you were to google individual foreign writers, focus on the word “individual”, you might find more than a hundred posts on him/her, even the amateur ones.
Naijaland has an online anthology of African poets which is so poorly arranged that anyone who is already lukewarm in african literature will surely find an excuse to stray and perish (God forbid bad thing).
Our youths are ignorant of our literature because there is little or no medium to show them the way, -the african way. There is no man of god to preach and convert them in the ways of their land, so they go about as possessed readers of western literature.

These problems are institutionalised, you can hardly go to the bookshops today and see african novels, the ones you see might be pirated or out of date. Our bookshops are now haven for “no-longer in print” foreign novels and outdated magazines. Thus you see our youths as fans of John Grisham (who tells them of a legal system which when compared to theirs is more like a story gotten from Sci-fi, alien planets or UFO sightings) or John Sandford (whose prey novels and serial killer/detective thrillers are but punks on our dormant security system, where robbers rob us for hours in broad day light and ritualists are well known by everyone in the community except by the law).
Another complication to this problem is that most good african authors are foreign based, and their books can only be bought on amazon.com. This is a huge problem to lovers of african literature because the media for purchasing these books are not accessible to many nigerians (infact purchasing of books from amazon is as strange to many Nigerians as 24 hours of uninterrupted power supply in Nigeria…I dey tells you).
Moreover, the prices of these books are well over a thousand naira. Imagine a Nigerian student who buys textbooks only when there is a score awarded for it, imagine such student parting with a thousand naira to buy novel or poem probably written by a “Tormented” man. Novels and poems that won’t fetch him mark when there is Brazilian hair to buy, new iphones, new blackberries and BIS to worry about or the latest fashion to keep up with (I rather kill myself than commit suicide).

These problems and many more (including lack of quality publishing house, poor state of education, very low reading culture etc) have caused many youths to feel that African literature are made up of pamphlets, hints magazines, church bookletins and rapshody. But this is very far from reality.

One can not expect to fly with the birds without first growing wings. If you wish to know about african literature, go to the books of the fifty’s, the sixty’s, the seventy’s and all the way back to our present day writers and you will see the beauty and richness of Africa. I have been delivered of my demons of ignorance, and now I write as a new creature, old sins have passed away (amen ooo).
Since I seriously started to study (not just read) african books, my eyes opened and I started to receive revelations and visions (glory glory). I started to see the beauty of its line, example is this short poem by Kwesi Brew; The Mesh.

We have come to the cross-roads
And I must either leave or come with you.
I lingered over the choice
But in the darkness of my doubts
You lifted the lamp of love
And I saw in your face
The road that I must take.

I started to see the richness of its themes, the romantic nature of its settings as shown in these lines of Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo’s poem; The Cactus-

The multitude of fused hands
That offer flowers to the sky-
That multitude of fingerless hands
Unshaked by the wind,
They say a hidden spring
Wells in their unbroken palms
They say that inner spring
Refreshes myriads herds
And many wandering tribes
In the borders of the South.
(-lines 1-10)

And also the religious sentiments of its imagery, the mysterious nature of each word, example is from Yao Egblewogbe’s poem; The Wizard’s Pride—

When the story shall be told
No matter whose death it shall report,
Then shall we, bold ones in
Black companionship,
Clothe ourselves in white;
The rising tomb
Shall be our lazy chair;
The place for brave men is the wilderness.
(Lines 1-8)

English: African literature, various publisher...

English: African literature, various publishers, at Göteborg Book Fair. Svenska: Afrikansk litteratur, diverse förlag, vid Bokmässan i Göteborg. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These works and many others have changed my views and I now understand that African literature is on the same footing with anyother literature in the world.

The way forward now lies in the sensitization of the continent. We need a quality publishing house in the country. Good editors to edit and advise our up coming writers. We need to retake our possession, by possession I mean our degraded education system. We need pastors, imams, native doctors that will offer prayers and rituals for the salvation of the reading culture in our country. We need writers whose IQ has an acceleration of Pius Ikedia and the skills of Jay Jay Okocha. We need media exposure, feedbacks and talk shows not just God TVs, Emmanuel Tvs and co that has now turned our youths into Amen youths (pause…looking up for a few minutes incase thunder tries to fire me). We need our social media to be electrified, crucified and magnified with topics and posts that have something to do with Africa and African literature and not just Gossips, Akpor’s jokes and fashions.

In conclusion I believe that with help from government (in the areas of improving the quality of education), prayers from our ever numerous, vibrant and money-loving pastors (esp those who have entered the jet age), our imams and our almost extinct native doctors, and with proper awareness, Nigerians, Africans and the world in general will come to see that African Literature is not just Africa’s Literature but among the Literature, for any good literature is literature no matter where it is conceived and delivered.

Okoye Chukwudi writes from Onitsha, Nigeria. You may reach him on twitter: @mr_charlze

The statements, views and opinions statement in this article are solely those of the author, and does not necessarily express those of Lyriversity.

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Comments
  1. Oludipe Oyin says:

    Ah Enough has been said. Now, I’m at rest, typically…I had these thoughts rushing thro’ not too far awhile

  2. chime221 says:

    @Mr Solar, what you have attempted above is what i call, Decolonizing the African Mentality towards African Literature. And i must confess that i too have repented of my sins, at least up to a degree, (my only sin now is that i still have to write in a foreign language other than mine. It’s seriously annoying!)
    In view of the main issue, the stark truth is that the African Mentality was not just colonized, it was assimilated too which is unfortunately imprint in your using ‘Native Doctors’ to describe the African spiritual sages, albeit trying hard to decolonize us yourself(we are all guilty of this and the likes though). And i’m convinced that the reason why you used the words ‘native doctors’ is not borne out of poverty of other synonymous words to use, but because that is what the colonial masters termed our spiritual sages. Which is lodged in your (our) ‘vocabulary forming gland’ (i swear, such a place exists) like a cronic illness, which also tells you (us) that unless you (we) use ‘native doctors’, your (our) information would not be passed across.
    It is with this in mind that i insist that the African decolonization process should begin ‘first of all’ with our language.(don’t bend down low yet). This is because language plays a very important role in both colonization and decolonization. Take for instance, all the world powers that the world has witnessed. Their modus operandi in completely colonizing a conquered territory or nation is to first teach them their language(Nigeria is a case study). It works like magic!
    At this point i always ask; would a united and unified African language be possibly attainable? And until we achieve this gigantic feat, our decolonization process would continue to suffer drastic setback of one step in progression, twenty steps in regression.
    In all, you have done well my good man. Such an anatomical research you’ve done on African Literature is worth commending. However, i must inform us that my friends with whom i’ve engaged in this kind of thought before now always have one thing to say to me: “You are a bloody pessimist”, at which i’d smile, having told them that “decolonizing the African Mentality from African mentality whereby nearly everything African is worthless, fake, half witted, and even silly, is a NEAR impossibility”. Ka odibagodi!

    • Ezeamalukwuo says:

      Tanx for reading and also for leaving a comment..though I feel that the usage of foreign language in african literature its not bad, infact it is a welcome development. In a country like Nigeria with 250 ethnic groups and languages imagine how almost impossible it would be to assemble us as one. How can one be able to read books from other tribes and nation if we were to adhere strictly to our mother tongues. Why bother writing at all when no one can understand you…or do u wish to write in Igbo and then employ another to translate it for you..that’s penny wise pounds foolish. Britian, France, Germany, USA (even USSR) is great today because they were able to standardised their system including their language. I think that the time has come when we Africans should stop seeing ourselves as different and start becoming part and parcel of an ever dynamic world (though without the loss of our identity).

    • Kukogho Samson says:

      You should not be ashamed of using the language you use. The world has melted its borders. I write as I feel, not as I am supposed to feel…

  3. Kendzi says:

    I’m going to say something that not everyone is going to like: The African Continent was just served up bad deal. The question I’d want to ask (which it seems everyone else seems shies away from asking ) is this: Why was the African Continent in a positioned to be colonized when the white Men where already in a position to do some colonizing? Why were we backward technologically, Etymologically (was there any of Africa’s numerous languages that had a written form?), and all otherwise-gically? 250 languages in Nigeria alone! How do you expect people to advance when they cannot communicate and transfer technological skill to each other. Europes peak total might have reached 250, but after the conquest (and decay) of the Roman Empire, I don’t think they have upto 30 active now. You might not see how the abundance of Languages might have anything to do with technological advancement, but according to the Biblical story, when the earth was of one tongue, they all came together to build a tower. When they encountered divine Obfusication, they all scattered and abandoned the project.
    So there was Africa, blithely abject, while fighting each other, easy prey for white men who had something to show for their civilization (please don’t mention the Igbo- Ukwu artifacts as our own correspondence).
    So here we are, obsequising the dearth of African Literature when twas the white demons that taught us to write. Most of our literature are in their own language, for heavens’ sake! Why wouldn’t you want to read Grisham or King when you’d prefer it if Lagos looked more like NYC and less like an Oba kingdom, or whatever it was in the 14th century.
    I am not being the Judas Iscariot here. I’m just saying that there is a level of hypocrisy intrinsic in these call for an African revival, be it in literature or in culture. If someone would prefer Lil’ Wayne to Lagbaja (I didn’t mention names oh!), why should He on the other hand prefer Wole Soyinka to William Shakespeare(typing this on my phone using T9 dictionary, “Wole” and “Soyinka” did not appear, I had to improvise, while “William” and “Shakespeare” did).
    Forgive my Nihilistic Realism, but I just think the gods (or God, as mono-theism has also been pushed down our throats) just served us a bad deal. I cannot delineate the specifics, but I’m it’s quite apparent they did. The only other alternative albeit distasteful explanation is that Africans where still in the process of evolution, not fully evolved when the Mr. White guy came.
    The neo-colonialism is going to continue, until the whole of African culture is soaked in it. It would affect our literature, music and fashion. Fighting against it is a swimming upstream, against the tide. And it would probably continue never being a popular course.
    I should do something about it? Of course! Write a few pro-African poems, filled with proverbs and such (like Adaugo, I really enjoyed that one.). I could do that. But just take it that even african writers would soon focus on modern and post-modern stuff. You’d be reading stuff about detective Segun, fighting crimes in the streets of Lagos and apprehending serial killers.
    But this trend realistically is not limited to Africa alone. How many American writers even bother to rhyme their poems nowadays (post-modern, they call it)? I can simply say tic by careful observation, the whole world, not just African literature, is just being swept along in the tides of advancing civilization. And brother, it’s going to continue that way.
    This must be like the longest reply ever! Well let me end by saying this: even though I slighted your message, I’ve got a lot of respect for your writting skill. This was entertaining, a fun write about a serious topic. A delight to read given that the chosen topic could have made someone sleep off.
    Now if you’d excuse me, I have to go collect my Guiness book of World’s record prize for longest reply to an internet message ever written.

  4. chime221 says:

    Mr Charles, let me say that you have refused to understand, or perhaps accept the crucial impact of language. It is worthy of note that those countries you mentioned did not earn their status by learning and or writing in other language than their own. What they did was to use their own language and at the same time adopt other languages and make it theirs. This is why when you look up a word in the dictionary, you’d always see ‘originated from’.
    My point is this: If not for any other thing, let our literature be written in our own language. It’ll go a long way in the decolonizing process. Thank you.

  5. Da'Sacred says:

    My Better Man, You killed it bro. The sermon is what you’ve preached, “…let him that have ears listen to what you’ve said to African writers”.
    I just don’t understand why we African’s are not proud of our heritage? We want to be and write like the western guys, funny enough we would also want to write on their own cultures, beliefs and norms. Imagine an African youth (writer) busy on writing a vampire story? When are we going to understand that we can’t write those things as good as they can, they have more information and materials on the subject matter. Why can’t we write our own African stories, use all that we see around us, our pride, natural resources, cultural inheritance etc to do good works. Creativity is out there on African streets and soils.

    Mr. Charles, you’ve spoken volume, and I appreciate the fact that you’ve said it.
    You’ll always be a good friend of mine, our reasons share same fountain. Good work bro! Kudos!

  6. Don Rabtob says:

    Good view. You have broken the jaw of riddle. What you said here is un-disputable.

  7. Kukogho Samson says:

    For someone like me that was raised on foreign literature…started with books like Pride and Prejudice and Great Expectations and poems by WB Yeats and Shakespeare….how do I do without using foreign words?

    Literature (writing) is formed from experiences and ideas you come across as a writer. As such, if you are exposed to foreign culture, you must use them in your writing.

    Well done author. I love this. Can we get this published on WRRPoetry page and blog?

  8. Tim says:

    Truth be told, most of what the writer has said borders on th truth…but I absolutely love all that Kendzi said in his comment a-fore.

    Long Live Literature

  9. Chimezie Chika says:

    To begin with, i think foreign Literature is not bad at all. It depends on the type you read. If anyone prefers punk and hard-boiled chic-lit to Joyce, Faulkner, Doestoyevsky, Tolstoy, Nabokov, Ondaatje, etc that’s as a result of their own parochial blindness.
    I never doubted the greatness and relevance of African Literature. I was molded and formed by it. I grew up reading Ngugi’s Weep Not Child, Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Laye’s African Child, several Cyprian Ekwensi novels and others. These novels drew me into a world i knew–by sight or by ancestry–and will never forget.
    African Literature has always been great for me. With the coming of Adichie and others it is waxing stronger and stronger.
    I hear someone talking about decolonisation and all that. He’s probably influenced by Ngugi-an principles. What i think–and will always think–is that using English or French or Portugese does not diminish the African-ness(or whatever)of our literature. What matters is the content not the language.

  10. Oldest says:

    Thank you Ezeamalukwuo for giving us this wonderful, well-written, funny and thought provoking piece.

    Please people, the language you write your poetry or prose is not the issue here, rather the content, backround, scenery, setting and the meaning your work conveys is. Let your work bring out the things around you; the norms, beliefs, culture, myths, legends (which are africans). Why go about writing about vampires, when we have witches here aplenty. African writers will take their rightful place in the annals of literature when more of them write more about what, we the africans can easily identify with, and not some ambigous western concept. Chinua, Wole, Chris, and co had already paved this road for us, let us then trod this path, and make our literature tranform us first, the africans, and then the whole world.

    Thanks once more Solar di Egwu.

  11. I believe the aim of this piece is to emancipate the so called African writer from mental slavery that keeps him in constraints when he writes, it clearly supports a theorem of mine that says a reader should first approach the poem as art, before bias and prejudices of where it comes from and the painter who conceived it.

    We as Africans are peculiar in our own way and must not cripple ourselves into believing that what we have around us will not suffice as metaphors that can go beyond borders.

  12. Anene Francis says:

    Saul converted and changed his name to Paul. So mr Solar now converted (in teams of this literature mentality) should change name to Polar. Lol… jk
    I may not be very vast in literature yet. My fundamental studies in the field had been majorly African literature (encouraged). With time was and am exposed to more foreign ones. I can say, they are both equally good. This write up is a call for us to better appreciate the African ones than we have been doing, and not give in to inferiority complex. A blend of the two is also fine…
    The theme of this discuss is very similar to a speech given by Chimamanda Adichi (I watched in a video clip) centred on how at first, she could not write anything African because she was exposed to foreign books only. That changed when she started reading and appreciating African literature. We all know the rest of the story.
    Mr Solar, go ye into the world and proclaim the good news. I dey your back. Good work.

  13. Fiona says:

    I believe you.
    It was worth waiting the long months for Mr. SOLAR to emerge from the whippoorwills and daffodils and come stand where the sugar cane whispers harmattan memories.

    • Ezeamalukwuo says:

      Hehehehe..(That was my reaction to your comment). He smiles.
      Yes you got me there, I must confess…you did. I am a new creature, a born again reader, old things have passed away…amen.

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