LESSON 1: INTRODUCTION TO AFRICAN LITERATURE
THE BEGINNINGS OF AFRICAN LITERATURE
The first African literature is circa 2300-2100, when ancient Egyptians begin using burial texts to accompany their dead. These include the first written accounts of creation - the Memphite Declaration of Deities. Not only that, but 'papyrus', from which we originate our word for paper, was invented by the Egyptians, and writing flourished. In contrast, Sub-Saharan Africa feature a vibrant and varied oral culture. To take into account written literary culture without considering literary culture is definitely a mistake, because they two interplay heavily with each other. African oral arts are "art's for life's sake" (Mukere) not European "art's for art's sake", and so may be considered foreign and strange by European readers. However, they provide useful knowledge, historical knowledge, ethical wisdom, and creative stimuli in a direct fashion. Oral culture takes many forms: proverbs and riddles, epic narratives, oration and personal testimony, praise poetry and songs, chants and rituals, stories, legends and folk tales. This is present in the many proverbs told in Things Fall Apart, and the rich cultural emphasis of that book also is typically African.
The earliest written Sub-Saharan Literature (1520) is heavily influenced by Islamic literature. The earliest example of this is the anonymous history of the city-state of Kilwa Kisiwani. The first African history, History of the Sudan, is written by Abd al-Rahman al-Sadi in Arabic style. Traveling performers, called griots, kept the oral tradition alive, especially the legends of the Empire of Mali. In 1728 the earliest written Swahili work, Utendi wa Tambuka borrows heavily from Muslim tradition.
Oral literatures (or orature) have flourished in Africa for many centuries and take a variety of forms including, in addition to the folk tales found in this lesson, myths, epics, funeral dirges, praise poems, and...
References: A. Irele, The African Experience in Literature and Ideology (1981); B. W. Andrzejewski et al., Literature in African Languages (1985); S. Gikandi, Reading the African Novel (1987).
Boyce Davies, Carole and Elaine Savory Fido. (1993). "African Women Writers: Toward a Literary History." A History of Twentieth-Century African Literatures. Oyekan Owomoyela, ed. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press.
George, Joseph (1996). Understanding Contemporary Africa, in Gordon and Gordon
Gerard, Albert.(1990). Contexts of African Literature. Amsterdam and Atlanta: Rodopi.
Harrow, Kenneth. (1994). Thresholds of Change in African Literature: The Emergence of a Tradition. Portsmouth and London: Heinemann and James Curry
See R. Finnegan, Oral Literature in Africa (1970); R. Smith, ed., Exile and Tradition: Studies in African and Caribbean Literature (1976)
Please join StudyMode to read the full document