Africa Literature

According to Countryaah, Africa is divided into the regions of North Africa, West Africa, Central Africa, South Africa and East Africa.

Oral literature

Literature has been oral (oral literature) for most of human history. Each of the approximately 2,000 languages ​​in Africa has developed its own literature. Most often, this is an integral part of everyday life and is used in religious contexts, as explanations of the world and as entertainment. In many cultures, similar rhetorical rules apply to fact-oriented and fictional texts, and a strict difference between lyric and prose is rarely made. Depending on the topic and the occasion, different genres are used, ranging from high-pitched hymns with unchanging text to popular storytelling where improvised skill is praised. Common to most genres is a certain lapidary character. With their pictures taken from everyday life, these texts do not seem to have a high level of abstraction. But through a chain of associations, the audience must understand the texts themselves at a much higher level; the concrete detail is transformed into a universal truth. Most modern African writers probably also presume this interpretation model in their readers, which may be a reason why their work is sometimes difficult to interpret for Westerners who cannot get the necessary associations.

Within several cultures in West Africa, there is a large mass of text, best known as Ifa, which is used to seek solutions to problems and say about the future. The text consists of 16 × 16 poems, each with explanatory prose texts. It deals with philosophy, history, ethics and aesthetics, thus a summary of knowledge and value systems. Through form and content, such a text is central to the literature of its people and also provides the source and inspiration for modern writers in indigenous and colonial languages. Refer for English abbreviations related with Africa.

Africa Literature

Country Imports of goods (million US dollars) Exports of goods (million US dollars)
Algeria 48 811 (2017) 34 570 (2017)
Angola 15 798 (2018) 40 758 (2018)
Benin 3 066 (2017) 2 216 (2017)
Botswana 6 067 (2018) 6,379 (2018)
Burkina Faso 3 248 (2017) 3 242 (2017)
Burundi 626 (2017) 173 (2017)
Central African Republic 131 (1994) 146 (1994)
Comoros 218 (2012) 20 (2012)
Djibouti 768 (2017) 142 (2017)
Egypt 57 635 (2018) 28,046 (2018)
Equatorial Guinea 292 (1996) 175 (1996)
Ivory Coast 8 487 (2017) 11 853 (2017)
Eritrea 471 (2000) 37 (2000)
Ethiopia 14 235 (2017) 3 030 (2017)
Gabon 3 171 (2015) 5 113 (2015)
Gambia 426 (2017) 129 (2017)
Ghana 12 648 (2017) 13,835 (2017)
Guinea 3 386 (2018) 3,978 (2018)
Guinea-Bissau 291 (2017) 339 (2017)
Cameroon 4 827 (2017) 4 601 (2017)
Cape Verde 960 (2018) 273 (2018)
Kenya 15 994 (2017) 5,792 (2017)
Congo-Brazzaville 5,071 (2016) 4 356 (2016)
Congo-Kinshasa 14 973 (2018) 15 967 (2018)
Lesotho 1 930 (2018) 1,175 (2018)
Liberia 998 (2017) 368 (2017)
Libya 8,667 (2016) 6 764 (2016)
Madagascar 3 493 (2018) 3,036 (2018)
Malawi 2 144 (2017) 1 106 (2017)
Mali 3 600 (2017) 2,896 (2017)
Morocco 44 803 (2018) 24 588 (2018)
Mauritania 2,094 (2017) 1 722 (2017)
Mauritius 5,387 (2018) 2,372 (2018)
Mozambique 6 169 (2018) 5 196 (2018)
Namibia 5,745 (2018) 4 223 (2018)
Niger 1 952 (2017) 1,206 (2017)
Nigeria 32 616 (2017) 45 742 (2017)
Rwanda 2 032 (2018) 1 126 (2018)
São Tomé and Príncipe 133 (2018) 16 (2018)
Senegal 5,973 (2017) 3 278 (2017)
Seychelles 1,234 (2018) 562 (2018)
Sierra Leone 1 190 (2017) 652 (2017)
Sudan 7 065 (2018) 3 485 (2018)
South Africa 92 360 (2018) 94 048 (2018)
South Sudan 1 358 (2017) 2 179 (2017)
Tanzania 7 552 (2017) 4 898 (2017)
Chad 212 (1994) 135 (1994)
Togo 1 658 (2017) 1 016 (2017)
Tunisia 21 434 (2018) 15 563 (2018)
Uganda 6,099 (2018) 3 642 (2018)
Zambia 8 515 (2018) 9,029 (2018)
Zimbabwe 5,467 (2017) 4 296 (2017)

From oral to written

When Islam spread south, Arabic writing was used to transcribe some African languages, giving rise to a written literature in these languages. Most of this so-called ajami literature strictly follows its role models and expresses the accepted Islamic truth.

The European colonization of Africa essentially meant two lines of development for modern African literature. The Latin countries, with France at the forefront, asserted their own languages ​​and values ​​and sought to assimilate the black elite into European cultures. In their colonies, therefore, almost all literature was written in the colonial languages ​​and according to the aesthetic requirements of the colonial powers. Britain and Germany quickly translated the Bible into African languages, encouraging written literature in native languages ​​and a continuity of genres and aesthetics, which in turn favored a predominantly English-language literature with distinctive “African” character. In the French-speaking and Portuguese-speaking countries, the trend towards independent modern literature has been more tied to Western models.

English-language and French-language literature

Africa English-language literature

In their quest to rediscover and preserve their national identity in accordance with the négritude movement of the interwar period, the French-language writers sought the beginning of African traditional literature. They claimed to follow the oral narrators so closely that they were mostly translations. But several authors did adaptations that met high French literary requirements, e.g. Birago Diop with “Les contes d’Amadou Koumba” (1947; “Amadou Koumba’s Stories”). The English-language counterparts, e.g. Amos Tutuola’s “The Palm-wine Drinkard” (1952; “The Palm Wind Drinker”), usually dealt freer to its sources.

In the French-speaking négritude movement, the lyrics became lively. Until the 1960s it became an escape from colonial oppression. On the one hand, nostalgia and the dream of desire gave rise to portrayals of the ancestral societies that lost paradise, and in part a struggle literature emerged from Marxism. Sensuality and musicality became innovative for all French-language lyric.

Black Africa’s biggest poet, perhaps, is Léopold Sédar Senghor with, among other things, “Elegier” (a Swedish collection of poems from various original editions, 1969). Other significant French-speaking poets are Tchicaya U Tamsi and Jean-Joseph Rabéarivelo.

When the political liberation did not solve all the problems, the French-language lyric in the 1970s again became an escape, but now into a utopian paradise. In the center was no longer the black man but the universal man.

The English-language lyricists, who were hardly influenced by the négritude movement, were initially focused on social themes and soon became politically engaged. Wole Soyinka with “Ogun’s shadow” (a Swedish collection of poems from different original editions, 1983) can compete with Senghor as Africa’s foremost poet. Other English-language lyricists are Christopher Okigbo, Kofi Awoonor and Okot p’Bitek. In West Africa there is now also an oral lyric in English. With Dennis Brutus as the forerunner, black South African lyric, such as Sipho Sepamlas, has reached directness and popular simplicity.

In response to the Westerners’ explanatory representations of the blacks, the African writers tried to correct their cultures through true portrayals. The European 19th century novel was a model, and thus realism became normative. As early as the 1920s, the first novels were published in French, but South African Peter Abraham’s “Song of the City” (1945) was the first with a larger readership. In the 1950s, English-speaking writers gave African features to Roman art. Until the mid-1960s, a large number of ethnographically inspired novels were written. Some are about historical heroes and pre-colonial social organizations. Others are autobiographies masked to novels, e.g. Camara Layes “L’Enfant noir” (1953; “Black Child”) and Ezekiel Mphahlele’s “Down Second Avenue” (1959; “Down the Second Avenue”). Many novels depict colonized Africa, and a frequently recurring theme is the conflict between European and African with resulting cultural disintegration and dehumanization. The novels in French were mostly aimed at a European or European readership, while in English they were more written for their own population, eg. Mongo Beti’s “Le pauvre Christ de Bomba” (“The Poor Christ from Bomba”, 1956) and Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” (1958; “Everything breaks down”). Roman art became the language of speech primarily for the clumsiness and rootlessness of the elite, but was also used to explain the political and economic situation, as in Achebe’s “A Man of the People” (1966; “A Man of the People”). and a frequently recurring theme is the conflict between European and African with resulting cultural disintegration and dehumanization.

Around 1960, many states became independent, and optimistic visions of the future were written. But the cultural conflict persists, and the traditional lifestyle, focused on the collective, is still being broken against the modern individual-centered style. The collision results in the absence of societal norms, and since the mid-1960s many novels address the individual’s difficulties in seeing their duties in the new society, for example. Sembène Ousmanes “Xala” (1973) and Soyinka’s “The Interpreters” (1965; “Voices from the Change”). The novels of the 1970s and 1980s often express disillusionment that independence has not meant solutions to old problems and that new ones have emerged, such as Ayi Kwei Armah’s “The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born” (1968; “They Are Not Yet Born”), Nadine Gordimers “A Guest of Honor” (1970; “The Guest of Honor”) and Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s “Petals of Blood” (1977; “A Flower of Blood”). Roman art has idealized African history, ironized over colonial misdeeds and now depicts the violent political and social upheavals of today. Most African writers are deeply committed to their people and give voice to those who cannot hear themselves. This is especially evident in South Africa, where white writers such as Gordimer and André Brink also speak for the oppressed.

There are several female writers in Africa, and certain oral genres are reserved for them. Dramatics like Ama Ata Aidoo and Efua Sutherland seem to be joining these. Others are Mariama Bâ, Buchi Emecheta and Bessie Head.

Several well-known authors such as Achebe, Cyprian Ekwensi and Sutherland also write for children. The fact that the children’s literature is relatively abundant may be due to continuity from the oral literature. It is also available to children as it can be understood on many different levels.

Literature in colonial languages ​​can be read internationally both within and outside Africa, but the disadvantage is that all readers without Western education are excluded. Another problem is that colonial languages ​​and literary traditions are not able to convey the specific African experience. African writers are therefore forced into a double struggle with the language. In addition, in the beginning, all books were published in Europe with a Western audience as a target group and that publishers and critics judged the literature entirely according to European criteria. The early literature written by Africans can thus be said to be more European than African. Later, African demands were placed on their own literature and publishers. Since the beginning of the 1960s, there is a lively discussion of what is African literature and what characteristics it should have.

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