African Literature & African Writers

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Literature started to evolve since people started to write and express their ideas. Not everything that is expressed in words is considered as a work of art, but when the ideas are collected and written in an organised manner it is counted as literature. As the human life started to evolve from the basic forms to the extraordinary, so literature also developed gradually and took many forms which paved the way for the enrichment of the knowledge of the human through writings.

Literature is classified according to a variety of systems, including language, history, national origin, genre and subject matter. The historical, social and political events have been reflected in the writings of many authors. Literature is merged and blended with the lives of people. One such literature that is alive and making the world to know their existence is African literature.

During decolonization, various people from Africa started to evolve as writers to bring out their voices as the representation of African people. The division in African literature provides an overview about African writing that resolves the confusion which would arise about the variation in writing, style, language, presentation, point of view about African country. The division comprises of African Literature written by Westerners in Western languages, African literatures written by African in western languages, African literatures written by Africans in African languages and African Oral traditions.

African literature written by Westerners does not exhibit the positive image of Africa and Africans. These authors are usually non-Africans who spent their days living in Africa for a particular period of time and they mentioned a particular incident or movement that prevailed during their visit to Africa in their works.African literature was started its waves during the pre- or post-independence war of Africa. There is a movement called “l’ Eveil Africain”(African awakening). This period brought a change in the minds of the people in Africa that at least by politically they should not be governed by anyone.

The students like Leopold Sedar Senghor of Senegal, Aime Cesaire of Martinique and Leon Damas of French Guyana installed themselves in “l’Eveil Africain” with their “ La Negritude” Philosophy. Many more authors followed the “eveil” like Camara Laye, Ousmane Soce, Bernard Dadie, Ousmane Sembene, V.Y. Mudimbe, Ake Loba, Cheick Hamidou Kane, Olympe Bhely- Quenum, Ferdinand Oyono, Tchicaya U’Tamsi, Mongo Beti, Birago Diop and Zamenga Batukezanga. Also in this group they contained African writers who write in Portugese such as Agostino Neto who is a First Angolan President, Pepetela, Jose Craveirinha, Luis Honwana, Jose Luandino Vieira from Angola. There are also authors from lusophone literature like Baltasar Lopes of Cape Verde.

African literature in English language has prodigious writers such as Wole Soyinka, Cyprian Ekwensi, Chinua Achebe, Amos Tutuola, Gabriel Okara, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Flora Nwapa, Buchi Emecheta whose knowledge and contribution is irreplaceable and imperishable. The major writers from East and South Africa are Grace Ogot, Okot P’Bitek, Nruddin Farah, Ngugi wa Thiong’O, Alex LaGuma, Dennis Brutus, Matsemela Manaka, Sipho Sepamla, Thomas Mfolo and so on.

African authors like Ngugi wa Thiong’O, Thomas Mfolo, Fagunwa, Mazisi Kunene, Ousmane Sembene, and Cheikh Anta Diop have encouraged to write African literature in African languages. Because of their efforts and encouragement to write in their own language they stopped the languages like Wolof, Swahili, Lingala, Kikongo, Hausa, Sesuto, Xhosa, Zulu, Umbundu, Kikuyu and many others from extinction.

African Oral Literature or African Oral Tradition is the true African Literature. Each and every African is a contributor to his/her national or native language. Griots, sculptors, painters, and elders has every bit of information regarding their culture and tradition and they pass on to their children through songs, paintings, stories, myths and the like. In oral tradition the elders play the role of libraries whose experience and knowledge is transferred from one generation to the other.

There is a melange of cultures and languages in a huge country like Africa. Africa is often witnessed as simple by the scrutinizers who wanted to simplify it, generalize it, stereotype its people, but Africa is very complex. The European contact of five hundred years with Africa produced a body of literature that embodies Africa in a very powerful manner and right now the time for Africans has come to tell their own stories.

In many African states, ethnicity has been followed. In Somalia, political observers and analysts were more optimistic. Somalia is located at the horn of eastern coast of Africa, bordered by Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya in the west and by the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden on the east. It is the slightly smaller than the state of Texas with an area of 637,657 square kilometres (246,135 square miles). It is primarily a desert country. In the twenty-first century it remained one of the few countries in the world that had no effective central government, a condition it has been since 1991.

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Because of its history of civil war and instability, the lack of a recent census, and the nomadic nature of many of its people, the estimation of the population becomes difficult. The independent Republic of Somalia was formed by the Union of British and Italian Somaliland dependencies in 1960. The constitution adopted in 1961 provided for a parliamentary democracy, operated in Somalia for eight years , with the political parties and movements being organised primarily around ethnic or clan loyalties. The parliamentary period came to an end in 1969 when Siad Barre(1919-1995) came to power.

Political repression, gross violations of human rights, and clan and regional loyalties and rivalries are the characteristics of Siyad Barre’s rule that were manipulated to Siad Barre’s benefit. As he started to play the cold war politics, Siad Barre’s regime started to decline and his country began to fall apart. Even after the departure of Siad Barre’s position as ruler, the country did not find a unified or stable succession. Armed militias which clashed with one another prevented the establishment of a central government. These events not only produced the high death toll, but also destroyed the nation’s economic and social infrastructure. As the development of the central government failed, the regional governments were formed with a Republic of Somaliland declaring its existence in the north and puntland, which had been self-governing since 1998, taking steps towards its own independent republic in the central part of the country.

A transitional national government was established for a three year period after the conference in Djibouti in 2000. However, its authority was not recognized in Somaliland or puntland or by several fractional leaders, and its official existence ended in August 2003. New efforts were undertaken in the year 2004 to create Central Government for Somalia. In January 2004 during the warlords and politicians meeting in Kenya, they agreed to set up a new Transitional National Assembly (TNA). Although there are conflicts that arouse periodically, the TNA started to function in August 2004. On October 10, 2004, Abdullah Yussuf Ahmed (1934), leader of puntland, was elected as President of Somalia by the TNA. In December Ali Mohamed Ghedi( 1952) was selected as the Prime Minister by the TNA. Because President Ahmed was denounced as a war criminal by the leaders of Somaliland immediately after his election and border relations between Ahmed’s Puntland and Somaliland are sharply contested, optimism about the new transitional government probably all remain a scarce commodity.

Nuruddin Farah was born in 1945 in Baidoa what was then Italian Somaliland. He hails from the Ogaden Darod clan. His family settled in Mogadishu to escape civil war after the colonial powers deserted East Africa. Farah received a good education and is fluent in five languages. Somalia had no written languages until 1972. In the late 1960s Farah came into possession of an English typewriter, and he has written in English ever since and the fact that he writes in English has resulted in the fact that few Somalis have read his work.

Nuruddin Farah has shifted to write in English while attending university in India after the release of short story in his native Somali language. He has published a series of prize winning novels describing the sufferings of the people of Somalia. In persuasive words he writes of the dehumanizing effects of foreign-aid-enforced dependency. He has also written plays and short stories other than novels. He is the receiver of the prestigious Neustadt International Prize for literature in 1998, the Lettre Ulysses Award in Berlin, the Kurt Tuchlosky Price in Sweden in 1991, Premio Cavour, Italy in 1994 and the perennial nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Nuruddin Farah’s books are rich in colourful language and metaphors. He often incorporates Somali parables and proverbs to make his point. Most of his works are concerned with the universal issue of individual freedom. The aspects of Somali society – Islam, clan and kinship, family structure, gender regime, nation-state, and dictatorship-that impinge upon the individual freedom of Farah’s characters and are therefore central to what he and his characters attempt to resist, reimagine, and transform. It also discusses Somali language and oral poetry as a background for Farah’s own awareness and use of the power of language to transform. There is an argument that Farah’s work presents a single and closely integrated fictional world, whose unifying dimensions of setting, plot, character, and ideology they carefully outline.

This should silence the few narrow-minded Somalists who used to say that Farah, because of his exile, was somehow no longer Somali enough to draw real-life Somali characters. His central concern with individual autonomy makes every aspect of identity and every social relationship (that between individuals, as well as that between each individual and the class, gender, family, clan, nation to which she or he belongs) deeply political. At the core of his work, the authors contend, lies the struggle of his characters to analyse, reimagine, transform, and control their own identities. His characters occupy very different positions within the patriarchal power structures. Thus the reader is introduced to the reflections of male chauvinist as well as feminist men. The later often take on unconventional gender roles and sometimes project them- selves into the bodies or voices of women.

The themes that which dominate the narratives are narratives: the claims of national, clan and personal identities; the place of women in an African society; the dictatorships and the struggle for human rights and freedom. Nuruddin Farah’s narratives – From a Crooked Rib, A Naked Needle, Maps, and the trilogy comprising Sweet and Sour Milk, Sardines, and Close Sesame – have come to be a metaphor for postcolonial Africa. There are three themes which dominate the narratives: the claims of national clan and personal identities; the place of women in an African society; the dictatorships and the struggle for human rights and freedom. What is so remarkable about his narratives is the way they move effortlessly through four realms of being: the domestic, the clan, the national, and the international. What is important is the fact that all the realms are interconnected. They are linked. Thus, for instance, in Sweet and Sour Milk the domestic patriarchy is a mirror image of the national dictatorship; that is the domestic patriarch who insists on women and children knowing their place is re-enacted in the grand patriarch of the nation as a whole who insists on un- questioning obedience from everyone.

The father who assumes that he has a God-given right to do anything he wants with his wives and children reflects the father of the nation, who also acts as if he is God’s representative on earth. The oppression of women in the domestic realm is linked to that of dictatorship in the national realm. The question of who narrates the woman’s fate is thus linked to the question of who narrates the nation. The liberation of woman is not something which is separable from the general issues of national liberation and human rights. For Nuruddin Farah, it is at the core of all those issues, and he is probably the leading writer in Africa in feminist consciousness. This is not a consciousness which he has acquired in the course of his writing; it is at the core of his writing from his very first work, From a Crooked Rib.

Farah’s narratives have captured this period of the cold war in African politics, and in this he is entirely unique. Thus what he has to say, although its location is Somalia, has echoes in the entire post-World War II global community. Rooted in the rhythms of life of the Somali people, his work nevertheless speaks for a continent and the postcolonial world as a whole. Nuruddin Farah questions all the oppressive actions against women whether rooted in the family, the clan, the nation, or in religion and political systems. He is a Somali writer, an African writer, an important voice in postcolonial modernism, and speaks to our age in a very compelling prose.

Farah’s first novel, From a Crooked Rib, was published in 1970. The novel is concerned with the harsh treatment of women in Somali society. The book is told through the eyes of an young nomadic girl. His strong feminist stance makes his writing unique among the African male writers. Siyad Barre. The novel presents political than a sociological study of the subordinate role of Somali women and the effects of urbanization during the 1950s, indicative of Farah’s commitment to social issues.

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