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 forktales 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 its 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 and 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
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
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 its 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 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 their 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 complications 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 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 novels or poems 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.
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
Clothe ourselves in white;
The rising tomb
Shall be our lazy chair;
The place for brave men is the wilderness.
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 literally 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.
culled from: LYRIVERSITY
I am a member of the WRR editorial team.