Understanding African Literature

Story telling is an art and it is not something everyone can master. Yet every country has seen many authors evolve and write beautiful works. These stories may express what the author feels or simply narrate the growth of their homeland. I believe that at the end of the day the support that the author receives from the audience is the encouragement for the person to write more books. Students are made to read several stories but very few of these stories are from Africa. Hence, it is necessary to raise the important question regarding why the African literature is not given the importance that it deserves.

Africa is a very diverse country in terms of both culture and ethnicity which is why the works that have been written by the people from these regions are also made of diverse themes as they deal with a variety of issues. The literature talks about a variety of issues, right from social issues to the history of the land itself. There are a few world acclaimed writers like Chinua Achebe who write some extraordinary works which are must reads for any literature enthusiast. One work that I found heart touching was his novel Things Fall Apart which was written in the year 1958. The book is a devastating portrayal of the clash between the tribal values and the effects of the colonial rule. Such are the works written by African authors and they make you feel the pain as though you have been a part of the event. Yet, despite all this, many of us would not even know the names of more than two authors from Africa.

Unfortunately, not only does the literature from Africa not receive global recognition, they also fail to be acknowledged in their own country. The recognition that they receive is highly limited to the literary schools who would essentially read all the works across the globe. Otherwise, African literature does not come in the must read section for many of us, unlike Ruskin Bond or Emily Dickinson whose works are must read for each and every one of us. Reading works by European authors is seen as a growing up ritual. Many of these authors are studied as a part of academics in schools, but very few African works are a part of the curriculum. Although we are becoming a global village and learning about cultures across the world is encouraged in the classrooms, not many of us know of the African cultures or their history. There are many works which very well describe the rich African culture and their past. These works essentially talk about feelings of the people. For instance, Aminatta Forna’s The Memory of Love is set in the context of the Sierre Leone civil war, highlighting the emotions of love and loss.

Majority of the works are centred on themes where the protagonist is a true depiction of the hardships that one has to go through, meaning to say that the authors usually write about their personal experiences. Mariama Ba, who is considered to be one of the most influential women writers from Africa, had written the novel Long A Letter in the year 1981 which is about the protagonist’s strength as well as powerlessness in her marriage. Considering that many of these authors take inspiration from the hardships they face, reading this literature will definitely provide a picture of what it is to live in the African society.

First thing we need to know is that African literature has evolved over the ages and very accurately tell us the story of the land and the people living on that land. Maybe one of the reasons as to why these works are not very popular among the youth is because they talk more about the darker emotions like pain of loss, hardships and struggles. These dark themes are not necessarily preferred by mass audience over lighter and happier themes like love and adventure. These stories are well written and heart touching, yet not many talk about it and they are not discussed widely. At least when talking about their popularity in the Indian context, more of these works should be taught to children by making them a part of the academic curriculum.

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