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Magisterarbeit, 1998, 128 Seiten
0. Introduction to the topic
0.1 An initial approximation
0.2 The line of argument
A) The quest for identity and its meaning for African writing
1. Some initial considerations about identity
1.1 Some fundamental observations about identity
1.2 Deduction of the structure of my thesis
2. The development of African writing as a quest for cultural identity
2.1 Identity imposed and adopted - Europe’s claim on black identity
2.2 Identity rediscovered and reinvented
2.3 Identity displaced
2.4 Identity integrated?
3. The demarcation of an area of analysis within African literature
3.1 The novel as a genre of identity representation
3.2 The East African novel as an ideal field of research
3.3 The fragility of geographical concepts of identity
3.4 The choice of the authors and their novels
B) The East African novel - Cultural identity observed
1. Identity imposed and adopted –
The formation of identity by the colonial encounter
1.1 The imposition of a Western identity in colonialism in A Grain of Wheat 32
1.1.1 Colonialism superseding traditonal humanity by materialistic values
1.1.2 The creation of a new cultural identity out of an ideology of resistance
1.2 Colonialization as intercultural affair in The Book of Secrets 34
1.2.1 The war as focal point of colonial suppression
1.2.2 Colonialism as a meeting place for two cultural identities
1.2.3 The Western influence on East African culture
1.3 The demystification of the colonizer in Gurnah’s novel
1.3.1 The European as essential bit-player
1.3.2 The reinvention of Western narrative patterns
1.4 The novels’ attitudes on colonial influence compared
2. Identity remembered and reinvented – the readiness to confront history as an influence on identity
2.1 Remembrance as a path to identity in A Grain of Wheat 53
2.1.1The demand for accounting for history as a fact
2.1.2 The reinterpretation of the past in Ngugi’s novel
2.2 The tale as a re-explanation of the past in Paradise 60
2.3 The reinvention of history in Vassanji’s novel
2.3.1 The continuity of history
2.3.2 Perspectivity of History in Vassanji’s novel
2.3.3 Forgetting as an escape from history?
2.3.4 On the authority to retell history
2.4 The novels’ discussion of the impact of history on identity compared
3. Identity displaced – the change of identity by exile and migrancy
3.1 The destruction of identity in exile in A Grain of Wheat 74
3.1.1 Displacement as a punishment
3.1.2 Detention as mental exile and stagnation of identity development
3.2 Migrancy as the way to identity in Paradise 77
3.2.1 Home as a place of mental exile and disorientation
3.2.2 Displacement as Yusuf’’s chance to find his identity
3.2.3 The failure to combine migrancy with emotion
3.3 Exile as a way to find a cosmopolitan identity in The Book of Secrets 84
3.3.1Cultural mimicry as a betrayal of individual identity
3.3.2 Cultural in-betweeness as a way to an individual identity
3.4 The novels’ statements on the influence of exilism on cultural identity compared
4. Identity integrated? – the conflictual coexistence of cultural identities
4.1 Cultural identity as homogenous affair in A Grain of Wheat 94
4.1.1 The manifestation of a Black-White opposition
4.1.2 The rejection of intercultural merger
4.2 Exiled identity and multicultural symbiosis in The Book of Secrets 98
4.2.1 The Book of Secrets as a mulitcultural text on exiled identities
4.2.2 The exiled community as protoype of intercultural symbiosis
4.3 Tension and tolerance between a plurality of identities in Paradise
4.3.1 Impediments to a mulitcultural society
4.3.2 An idiosyncratic paradise as fake solution to the identity conflict
4.3.3 Chances for peaceful coexistence of diverse cultures
4.4 Identity integrated? – the main ideas of the texts juxtaposed
5. Bridging the gaps
5.1 A synopsis of the novels’ statements on identity
5.1.1 A Grain of Wheat
5.1.2 The symbiosis of exiled identities in The Book of Secrets
5.1.3 Paradise and the deconstruction of conventional identity concepts
5.2 The development of ideas about cultural identity
5.2.1 Identity imposed and adopted
5.2.2 Identity remembered and reinvented
5.2.3 Identity displaced
5.2.4 Identity integrated?
Picture 1: Basic ideas about identity
Picture 2: The development of African literature as a quest for identity
Bibliography Cultural identity in the East African novel
„As the Black African writers have taught us, we must dance our word, for in human speech as in dance, lies an offering; to speak and to write is also to offer oneself to the other; it is to be reborn together.“
This quotation by M. Rombaut locates African literature close to the performing arts. According to his statement African literature seems to transcend the conventional European conception of writing, which is conceiving literature as something planned and permanent. The idea of a literary performance in African writing places the author much closer to the story-teller, who is dependent on his audience and trying to keep in touch with them. By processing their feelings in his performance he gives expression to a common consciousness. In contrast to the Western author who often wants to stand apart from his society, African authors tend to aim their participation in the formation of a shared identity.
This paper tries to find out how authors from the framework of East Africa conceive of cultural identity. Basically, I will proceed in two steps: part A is dedicated to the development of a pattern within which the complex issue of identity can be adequately discussed in an East African context. In Part B I will then apply this discussion scheme to three novels which as I will explain are representative for East African writing, in far as this term is justified.
Part A starts off from some basic observations about identity, on the foundation of which I want to deduce the structure of my analysis. I will argue that identity is based on ones observation of the environment and on the influence of outsiders. All this is to some extent true for two concepts: individual and cultural identity. The latter develops when a group of individuals feels or is ascribed a common bond apt to correspond to several individual self-concepts. These individuals may then share a feeling of home, which can act as a physical but also mental commitment.
Departing form these ideas I will show that four issues might be interesting in dealing with cultural identity, which can be expressed by some central questions:
1.Identity imposed and adopted: In how far can others influence our identity?
2.Identity rediscovered and reinvented:To what extent does our history work on identity?
3.Identity displaced: How does our feeling of physical or mental bond to a physical or mental space I will call home work on identity?
4.Identity integrated: How does a society of several individuals develop an identity?
But why should these issues be relevant for the quest for cultural identity in novels from the context of East Africa? I will confirm the adequacy of the above topics by means of a short survey over the development of the literary tradition in Africa in general and in the course of this show that the development of African literature can be interpreted as a quest for cultural identity which has been marked exactly by the four issues I have chosen.
In the course of colonialism Western patterns of identity have been imposed on the African people and to some extent have been overtaken. After independence the desire to reconstruct and reinvent the African past marked literature and heigthened in the demands of a new nationalism. This soon began to counteract the demands of Négritude, a global black diasporic movement, which asserted the impact of displaced identities on African literature. This demand for the acceptance of diverse identities at present rises the literary and political discussion how these could interact within a common cultural framework.
Although the four issues I want to discuss appear relevant for the development of African literature, when narrowing down my topic in chapter A.3 I have to deal with several restrictions. It is by no means sure that singular texts will focus on the categories I have worked out or even discuss the topic of cultural identity. I will argue that the concentration on novels from an East African context heigthens the probability that the quest for identity is a central theme.
But in selecting this particular area of reserach new difficulties arise. What does the term East Africa mean? I will sidestep this question by limiting my analysis to three texts that can certainly be called East African as first their authors feel a bond to the area and second the texts are set there. These texts are: A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong’o, The Book of Secrets by M.G. Vassanji and Paradise by Abdulrazak Gurnah. These novels are moreover justified by the wide span of their publication dates (between 1967 and 1994), which might allow me to make out changes in the attitude of authors towards identity from the early years of independence to the present.
In the course of my discussion of the texts, I will show that in Ngugi’s novel identity still appears widely defined from the outside and is strongly rooted in the community. Colonialism has had a strong impact on black identity by both the imposition of Western values and the instigation of an oppositional movement which goes in quest of post-colonial values. This quest has to be determined by an active remembrance and confession of the past as a central determinant of identity. The rootedness of identity in a widely objectively reconstructible history implies that our identity is rather marked by our social environment than self-defined. The firm connection of identity to history and environment again implies its allegiance to a particular home and its destruction in alienation from this space. Cultural identities in Ngugi’s novel remain closed homogenous entities which in the novel can’t be mixed or intertwined.
The later novels deviate from this conservative scheme. Vassanji to some extent accepts the once imposed Western values as cross-cultural influence. He can be optimistic as he trusts in the possibility to actively reinvent and self-define history. Everyone can participate in the renarration and thus co-determine the identity of everyone concerned by this history. Arguing like this the text emphasizes our responsibility in re-narrating history and the necessity to do so. The resulting mulitple representation endows every individual with an intercultural identity: As exiled figures Vassanji’s characters have to actively define themselves in between the cultures to find out about their individual and cultural self-concepts. This in-between-ness allows for an intercultural symbiosis and the formation of a multicultural society of exiled figures who by respecting their difference find some common bond.
Gurnah’s novel is more pessimistic as to the integration of diverse cultural identities. The text marginalizes and demystifies the European colonizers in the attempt to reinvent history from a local perspective and self-define identity. Deprived of a fixed historical bond the central character, Yusuf, can only find out about his identity as a migrant. Though a home doesn’t exist for him he feels the desire for an emotional commitment but has to deny it for the sake of going in quest of himself. The inborn migrancy in which Gurnah places Yusuf has to entail intercultural contact. The novel, on the one hand, denies the possiblity of withdrawing into a fantasy world but on the other hand acknowledges the impossibility of a peaceful interaction between several cultures. Tolerance appears to be the only chance for several cultural identities to coexist.
All in all, from the texts we can make out decisive developments in the notion about cultural identity. While Ngugi in 1967 saw cultural identity as homogenous and rooted in a particular bond to an objective history and society the more recent novels increasingly understand it as a vagrant, heterogenous and self-defined concept as they recognize the subjectivity of history and the fragmentation of social affiliations.
From Vassanji’s to Gurnah’s later novel the attitude towards the merger of cultural identities becomes more pessimistic. While Vassanji suggests an intercultural symbiosis of exiled identities as an ideal solution, Gurnah completely denies the possibility of fixed bonds but sees the identity of the main character as determined by migrancy. Intercultural conflicts make the merger of diverse cultural identities impossible. Tolerance remains their only chance to cope with their difference. But let me explain this net result in more detail:
I want to base my considerations on identity concepts in the East African novel on some fundamental thoughts on identity that allow me, first, to ask some useful questions about what identity can mean and where to look for it in the literary texts I have chosen; and, second, to structure my paper with regard to a theoretical framework.
Identity is a comprehensive theoretical concept with a cognitive component..., and emotional component ...and an action-oriented component, defines Hausser in a psychological essay on identity. According to Hausser it evolves by the self-determined action of the individual him/herself but also in reaction to his/her environment. It is not static but keeps developing for a lifetime. Identity is co-determined by the individuals possibility to determine himself/herself and the extent of alienation they are confronted with.
To come to terms with this statement I have to draft a framework that allows me to understand the whole breadth of meanings the term identity can take.
I will show first that the identity of an individual is rooted in his/her perception of his/her environment. We will then see that identity can be ascribed to an individual or a social group and that third the label identity can be self defined or assigned from outside obervers.
1.The identity of an individual is likely to be rooted his/her perception of the environment.
An individual can hardly be able to define his/her identity before he/she has perceived of his/her existence. This perception of the self is immediately connected to a perception of some parts of his/her environment. The individual cannot find orientation in space, time or an abstract area without understanding what the own existence means as compared to his/her surroundings. So the individual will hardly develop a completely autonomous identity but will understand him/herself in relation to his/her environment.
2. Identity can be formed by self-reflection or develops by the outward influence of an observer.
The fact that the formation of identity is based on an individual’s perceptions shows on the one hand that identity may be formed rather selectively and that on the other hand the influences on this process may be multiple: Not only forces inside the individual but equally outside influences may enter his/her self-concept. Mostly the two processes will hardly be separable but interact rather closely.
On the one hand, the individual him/herself may consciously adopt features he or she considers useful. Other traits may enter the psyche unconsciously for instance by childhood education. On the other hand, an outside observer may label the individual with a completely different version of his/her identity:
The outside observer may have expectations, preformed ideas or prejudices about the individual concerned and ascribe him a completely different identity according to his/her intentions or his capacity to dominate over the individual. The outside and inside perspective of identity interact and work on each other and form a rather contradictory structure when the indivdual projects outside images on his/her own psyche. All in all, individual identity remains a blurred concept: It is a set of characteristic but possibily contradictory traist of a singular person in a certain instance observed from a certain perspective.
3.If we can ascribe an identity to an individual a similar thing should be possible for a group of individuals who are interlinked by common characteristics.
Also social identity may be ascribed from the outside or be defined from inside the group. Under certain conditions observers may consciously or unconsciously perceive certain elements of the characters of a group of people as similar or equal. And accordingly, ascribe them ethnic, social or other identity labels. When in the process of this labelling this group may develop a form of cohesion to assert their interests or even to defy this outside labelling, an outwardly ascribed identity may become an internal reality for the individuals concerned.
On the other hand social identity may develop out of some inside conviction of a group of people. If identity is derived from ones perception of ones environment, individuals who coexist in a common context are more likely to share common features in their indivdual identity concepts than individuals from different contexts. If the individuals inhabit the same environment, they may have a similar perception of it and regulate their coexistence according to their shared perception.
4. Social identity implies some common bond, a physical or mental home.
Shared sentiments which are constitutive for the formation of a social identity are likely to manifest in the development of a common culture, which can be defined as a shared system of believes, values, patterns of behaviour, communication structures and artifacts within a group of people.
These shared beliefs create a feeling of togetherness within the group. As social identities can develop in response to shared environmental conditions, a culture may entail a feeling of bond to a certain area of origin which may become a constituent of the identity of a group, a home. But home need not be defined by its physical existence but may equally be based on social bond or even a shared ideology alone.
The following diagram summarizes these fundamental considerations, which may serve as a first approach to the term of identity. It shows four observations: First, we can differentiate between the identity of an individual and his/her social group, two concepts which of course interact: As a member of the group each individual has some influence on the group but the individual self-concept equally is influenced by the shared system of thought within the group. Second identity is a product of the individual’s or the group’s perception of their environment and their interrelation with it. Third there are at least two perspectives that may determine the identity of an individual or a group: The idea the entity forms about itself by its own reflections and the idea an outside observer may have about the identity of the individual or the group. These two concepts interact closely and blur the definite outline of social or individual identity. Fourth, social identity is characterized by some common bond to a physical or psychic space of belonging I will call home.
Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten
Picture 1: Basic ideas about identity
I want to deduce the structure I have given to my research on identity in three East African novels from these four basic observations. The following argumentation will help me to justify my approach towards identity in an East African context via four key terms, which attempt to address some crucial questions as to the formation fo cultural or individual identity.
1.Identity imposed and adopted:
To what extent can identity be formed by an outside influence? Are we free to accept the values a dominant power consciously or unconsciously imposes on our culture or personality or is our identity necessarily biased by outside influences as we are forced to confront them?
2.Identity rediscovered and reinvented:
In how far is identity influenced by our history? Is history a thing that can be forgotten as when time passes it loses its grip on us and our culture or does it continue to bear upon our self-concept? Are we perhaps capable of restructuring history by renarrating its contents?
In how far is our identity tied to the bond to a physical or mental place of belonging? Is our identity influenced if we change our environment and can we determine or make use of this change?
To what extent can a plurality of individual identities be integrated into a joint cultural identity? Is a cultural symbiosis possble or is there no way beyond idiosyncracy and intercultural conflict?
These issues can be deduced from the above observations as follows:
1.Identity imposed and adopted
If the environment and an outside observer have an influence on individual or social identity there is the possibility that identity intentionally is or has been marked by a dominant power, which may impose their own attitudes or change environmental conditions. In the case of East Africa we will see that colonial influence on the country is to the present relevant for the formation of identity.
2.Identity rediscovered and reinvented
Identity as we have seen can only develop by the individual‘s or the society‘s perception of the environment. But if we acknowledge this identity a memory, we can’t limit our considerations to this static viewany longer. We now have to take into account that our individual or group has perceived of environment in every instance of the past or history and that, in as far as they are remembered, these images are incorporated in their self-concept. As the history that has been integrated into identity has not directly been copied from reality, but has been filtered through perception and interpretation there is the possibility that concsciously or unconsciously certain images have been selected, overemphasized, suppressed or even invented. The idea of the past which is essential to social or individual identity is not necessary congruent with past reality but may be a reinvention of it.
If identity is determined by the environment a change of this environment may mean a change to this allegiance and induce a change of the identity of individuals or social groups. When an individual or a community is displaced from a geographical area or even from their abstract mental home area by force or leave it out of own resolution this is likely to mean a change to their identity. Gurr points out that the feelin gof belongign to a home has ever been a strong influence on the self-concept of individuals and social groups.“ The need for a sense of home as a base, a source of identity even more than a refuge, has grown powerfully in the last century or so.“ In the course of my analysis I will show what exile can mean to identity in an East African context.
If we admit that individual identities may integrate into groups we have to achknowledge that there may be incongruencies between the community and the individual. Why? No matter whether a social identity be ascribed to a group from the outside, may have grown from the inside or both, it can never be complete and static but has to remain a label defined under a certain focus and intention.
The problem about social idenities is that within this cultural system a plurality of individual identities interact. Though they may share many common elements, it is extremely unlikely that a group of individuals shows the same aspects of their identities simultaneously in each environmental condition and to each observer. The heterogeneity of social groups makes their identity a rather shaky concept: “We have to grasp what I would call te double involvement of individuals and institutions: we create society at the same time as we are created by it.”
This is why certainly the ascription of a group identity must remain fragmentary and incomplete. A group that is described or describes itself under the label of an identity may in fact not be homogenous but contradictory in itself. Each participant may have features that are not implied in the group label or are even contradictory to it. Individuals may belong to several identity groups at the same time.
This incongruency becomes particularly apparent when in an area like East Africa individuals or groups from different cultural contexts like Indian, Black and White culture meet. I will show that now cultural boundaries and allegiances blur and discuss what solutions there may be, according to the novels: Can a cultural merger be achieved so that a multicultural identity can develop or is there no way beyond the tolerance of difference since an integration of diverse identities is impossible?
Though these four topics can’t be complete, I have chosen this fragmental approach as the above issues can be particularly relevant for an analysis of identity in the East African novel. If we take a closer look at the development of African thinking and writing, we can observe that exactly the categories for discussing identity I have just deduced are a valuable means to understand the quest identity in the novel of the area. In the following I want to highlight the history of African literature as a quest for identity and analyse it under the issues I have above discovered to be relevant for analysing identity.
The colonizers imposed their idea of identity on Africa and the continent to some extent accepted it, which becomes particularly apparent in writing, since literature to some extent mirrors the cultural development a country undergoes. The initial idea of post-colonial writing was the rediscovery and reinvention of the colonial past. Africas history, which had been determined by the colonial powers before independence now had to be rewritten to recollect the inside view. Literature has taken an important part in this process.
But African writing soon couldn’t bedefined as limited to the continent and its writers any more. The voices of displaced and exiled communities asserted their allegiance to African culture and their claim for recognition. Today Africa can be seen as a multicultural society, where questions about the integration of diverse identities into cultural frameworks impose themselves. Some more detailed looks on Africas colonial and post-colonial literary history seen as a quest for identity, which finds expression in writing, can help us to understand some of the background to the texts I will discuss and may illustrate the concept of identity I have developed.
From the 15th century onwards the European worldview had been moulding African identity according to its interests. The colonizers perception of the black continent, their documentation of history, their classification of Africa according to European standards has created a dominant political discourse which couldn’t remain without an effect on African thinking and writing. The colonizers characterized Africa as the inferior Other, the black opposite to Europe, which served as a convienient argument for its political and military domination. Eurocentrism thus has lead to a marginalization of Africa and its culture.
The colonial influence couldn’t remain without an effect on African identity itself. The continued belittling of Africas culture and people had to be destructive to their self-confidendence. As African culture was basically tolerant towards everything different and new, Western cultural practices could supersede tradtional forms of Africa thinking, culture and literature easily. European schooling helped to impinge this white mystique on black personality, so that
African intellectuals to the present draw on foreign knowledge and in order to be read abroad often have to abandon their culture and mother-tongue. Thus underlying fluctuations of values take place, which, though they hardly show on the surface act into multiple spheres of life and thinking and pertain a continous process of change of identity.
This process of cultural change brought about the transition from a predominantly oral to written literature from the 1820s onwards. Oral culture which was oriented towards the past., drew on a common stock of customs, beliefs and myths and was strongly dependent on a homogenous audience and the skills of the narrator, had to undergo important changes. Still, critics of accuse written documentation of impairing memory, a lack of silence and the destruction of authenticity and even suppose that writing is inadequate to express African thought, since it has no connection to Africa’s culture and daily experience.
On the other hand intercultural contact lead to an enrichment of literature, since now new literary genres, like the novel, found entrance into East African culture and the author’s role in creating literature gained in importance. Unfortunately, British institutions, like the Makerere University in Uganda, the cradle of this first generation of East African authors, ingrained the British literary tradition on its students, and encouraged a lasting alienation of the writer from his people. Mudimbe supposes that to the present many Africans have so strongly identified with texts of colonial writing that they refer to them as their own culture.
The European influence can be felt strongest in the impostion of Western languages.Though they served as a linguae francae and allowed the communication across tribal boundaries, to the author Ngugi wa Thiong’o, who only recently shifted from writing in English to his native language Kikuyu, Colonial languages are closely linked to a European system of thought, which makes it hard to express African sentiment.
Certainly, to the present the financial power of Western publishers often forces the author to choose a Western lanuage as illiteracy, a lack of local publishing houses trade barriers and high book costs hamper the development of an independent African book market. The dominance of Western audience has allowed European critics to measure African literature at will, though they often have little knowledge about African culture. African writing which doesn’t conform to European standards is often considered inadequate, underdeveloped or non existent.
As we have seen so, African identity in the course of colonial domination has been severely influenced by Western ideas. The continued suppression and marginalization of black culture induced a lack of self-confidence and the adapation of Western modes of thinking. Thus in literature oral culure was superseded widely while new genres and languages were taken over from Europe. The demands of a Western audience forced authors to adopt a European style of writing. The development of African literature under colonial rule shows us how foreign elements have been imposed on and partially been incorporated into African identity.
African writing equally mirrors my second point – the rediscovery and reinvention of identity. After independence African authors tried to unearth what was left of their tradition and questioned the master discourse established by the colonizer. They tried to remember the colonial past out of their own perspective, which produced new, reinvented versions of history, which often drew on oral culture.
Authors started to write down folktales and myths or integrate African songs and poetry into longer works of fiction. Though the employment of oral tradition may vivify writing and call up remembrances Okpewho warns us that the effect of orality can hardly be conveyed in wrting and that cultural outsiders may be inable to understand the full meaning of traditional texts. Ngugi fears that when taken down myth may lose its vitality and connection to the present.
These doubtful voices make us aware that the African precolonial past might not be reconstructable within a new context of thinking. If we reflect on what has happened in the past we are necessarily marked by our world-view in the present . Instead of attempting to rediscover the past the way it was it might be more realistic to acknowledge the subjectivity of remembrance and reinvent history from our present perspective.
In a post-colonial context this strategy appears useful for the following reasons: Before independence African historiography had widely been dominated by the colonial powers. But Mudimbe doubts that the African experience could be adequately represented by Western history writing since the European lineary idea of time, which forces upon events a continuous development and neglects their mutual interrelation can hardly provide an objective view. Thus a reconceptualization of history after independence in the 1950s and 60s had to be based on its reinvention in order to discard the colonizers way of seeing history.
In politics and literature this idea of reinventing an African self-defined history was at the bottom of a new nationalistic consciousness, which found its expression in the Négritude movement that originated in the 1930s in the Black diaspora in France. It positively emphasizes African Otherness, which for long had been the colonizers main justification for discrimination, by describing African identity as warm, human and emotional as opposed to white harshness and rationality. The quest for tradition soon became a central demand of Négritude. Under the motto of authenticité authors tried to unearth precolonial African values. Eboussi-Boulaga demands a critical récit pour soi which should emphasize regional and individual experience. “The récit is a construction of history. It is a negation of the self and at the same time a way to the self.”
Nevertheless, the literature of Négritude could never free itself from its European origin. It remained based on French schools of thought like Symbolism, Romanticism and Surrealism. Under the motto, “Does a tiger have to profess its tigritude?” Soyinka pointed out the danger that Africans might take over European nationalistic patterns and racist ideas or enter into “ a form of collaboration and accomodation with colonialism “.
The critique set out from exactly the place that had brought forth Négritude: the black diaspora who feeling a strong allegiance to their mother continent feared that in the course of nationalism their ideas would not be represented adequately any more. Simultaneously with the rejection of an imposed identity and the quest for new self-concepts in history a third influence makes its appearance in African identity concepts: exiled figures and diasporic communities.
The term diaspora though first applied to the Jewish people, who where evicted from their country in biblical times and later dispersed all over the world, became applicable to African communities who have been dispersed to Asia, Oceania, Europe and America and are exploited or suppressed there. Diasporic Africans have hardly written their own history, but have always been represented as an appendix of white history and culture and systematically been suppressed by cutting their historical bonds to the African motherland. The concept of diaspora has in spite or just because of this suppression become part of the Black protest against racial prejudice. Scrambled together in small communities abroad regional identity seemed less important than the assertion of a collective black consciousness.
On the other hand, displacement has meant an alienation from the realities on the mother continent. Many exiled communities have started to idealize their African home or, on the contrary, have built up prejudice against it, which they have adopted from their White environment. Of course, they have also been marked by elements from the culture of the guest country and often feel torn between two national identities.
From the 1920s onwards the Harlem Renaissance has given expression to the diasporic quest for identity in an American society. The authors’ goal is to demonstrate and thus to come to terms with the frustration and alienation they face in an industrial country. “They testify to the importance of memory as the reverse side of a cultural amnesia.” In the course of this remembrance, the authors on the one hand complain Africas alienation from its identity on the other they tend to mystify Africa as a lost paradise, into which they hope to return. They re-define the White idea of African primitivism as a romantic refuge for their own lost self. On the basis of this romanticism they manage to face their own black identity.
The question for the identity of dispersed characters and communities within a African context brings me to my fourth topic: In how far can various identities who assert their allegiance to a context be integrated into a common cultural framework? The integration of Négritude into the apparent universal concept of Socialism, at first sight has appeared a possible solution.
With his essay Black Orhpeus in 1948 Sartre attempted transform the idea of Négritude into a political and philosophical socialist concept. He encouraged the Black society to antiracist racism, that is to assert their own personality by counter-discriminating against the Whites – and developed an independent concept of Black personality, by integrating socialist thoughts into his statement. his demand for “the subjective, existential, ethnic notion of Négritude”...to pass..”into the objective, positive, exact notion of the proletariat.” was adapted to African thinking by Nyerere, Fanon and Senghor, with their concept of African Socialism. By the bond to African tradition they hoped black societies to manage democracy and socialism at one time. Certainly, there seems to be some contradiction in the fact that the allegedly universal ideal of Communism again is a European invention. As such it can hardly be able to understand and represent African culture. The Marxist negation of history moreover appears incompatible with the African quest for a traditional past.
Neither a mere rediscovery and reinvention of the past, as it had been intended by Négritude, nor a communist a-historicity which would instead integrate all Blacks into a common culture had been helpful to construct African identity. If history can neither be neglected nor fully reinvented a way in between has to be discovered: Wole Soyinka suggests a symbiotic relationship between past, present and future. Only the acceptance of a continuous historicity, enables the African to overcome his status of an Other. We find this opinion as well with Abiola Irele:
It is through the active confrontation of matter by mind that culture and thought are produced and that history itself is made possible; it sets in motion the historical process, ... Culture and thought are thus the objectified forms of mind within the historical process.
Similarly, Soyinka thinks that history has to be represented in African art and literature, which shouldn’t repose on myth alone, but attempt to lend it relevance for shaping an African future. If we accept this bifurcated concept of history allowing for a Western and an African text, also a concept of cultural identity will have to be more open minded. New concepts are based on the acceptance of cultural diversity within an open framework. Post-Négritude African intellectuals and authors experience “a new pitiyless individuality, requirements are expressed in terms of personal responsibilities.” Schoenbrun sees that Africa has to make use of local knowledge and activity.
Radhakrishnan asserts that within one nation contradictory self-concepts may be scrambled together, which additionally shift in time. As the definition of a race A always implies the definition of an Other Non-Race A, defining a static racial difference to him means depriving the other of his/her historicity. Each self-defined ethnical group should be given room for defining themselves as long as no other groups existence is impaired. Radhakrishnan sees the members of a post-colonial society as “participants and citizens of multiple, uneven, overlapping and cross-hatched worlds and discourses.” Post-colonial societies have to accept identity conflicts for the sake of plurality even if only a definition of identity ex negativo, that is in delimitation from other ethnic communities, may be possible.
As his concept allows for difference within the geographical context of the nation itself, it tends to accept diasporic identities within a cultural consciousness. As long as the inhabitant of the diaspora identifies with the cultural background their difference doesn’t impair their ethnical identity. Though Radhakrishnan doesn’t see the diaspora as an avantgarde culture for the mothercountry, he demands a dialogue between diasporic communities and their homecountry: ”Diasporan realities show up the poverty of conventional modes of representation with their insistence on single-rooted, non-traveling, natural origins.” A pluralistic cultural identity defines itself by its variety.
From my previous analysis of the development of African literature we have seen that the four topics for discussing I have mentioned above have been of crucial interest in African writing from independence to the present. On the other hand, my discussion of some strands in the development of African writng makes us understand that the four topics I have worked out rather schematically for an analysis of identity can’t remain unconnected. A sketch may illustrate these conclusive insights which an analysis of the development of African literature, seen as a quest for identity, may provide.
Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten
Picture 2: The development of African literature as a quest for identity
Only after the imposition of a foreign identity by colonial rule the rediscovery and reinvention of the African past has become necessary, to reflect on the colonial experience. The insistence on remembering the past to rediscover identity has been originated as well as criticized by exiled communities, who simultaneously clinge to their idea of a home and reject nationalist tendencies. As soon as we acknowledge the influence of diasporic identities on cultural identity we have to ask for the extent of their possible integration into the home culture. And concluding the circle, we have to understand that this can’t happen by imposing an umbrella identity on them, but rather by accepting cultural diversity within a wide cultural framework.
Literary history in African writing, as we have seen, mirrors to some extent the quest for cultural identity and even the categories I have found relevant for its discussion. In the following I want to go one step further and attempt to transfer my model for discussing identity to three novels and find out what statements the authors make on the four categories I have deduced: That is on the imposition of a foreign identity on East African tradition, on the possibility of reconstructing the past and the licency to reinvent history, on the interaction of diasporic communities and their impact on cultural identity and finally on the possibility of integrating a plurality of identities within one culture.
Trying to apply my scheme to individual novels I am aware of course that their statements may not be mirroring my model on a one to one scale. Though in literary history in Africa these issues have been focal points individual texts may focus different aspects or not attempt to make a statement on identity at all. To minimize these problems the choice of the area and the works, I consider, seems rather important.
In the following section I shall argue why I have chosen to analyse some novels and particularly, East African ones. I shall, in the course of this argumentation, express some doubts about the concept of identity in East Africa. By selecting three particular texts by particular authors for my considerations I will sidestep these difficulties.
The easiest decision in selecting literature which might reflect on identity is the choice of the genre. At first it appears quite hard to subdivide African art forms by applying European categories at all, though Gérard tries to specify some of them, like epos, praise poems, folk tales, legends and myths. Only genres, like the novel that have been adopted into African writing after the colonial conquest can be structured according to European categories more easily. As a European form the novel at first sight seems to be neglective of traditional African identity, since it can’t be directly traced to some oral form, the original mode of African literary expression.
Nevertheless, the novel seems particularly apt to express sentiments on cultural identity. In spite of its European origin the novel appears to be an adequate means to recollect African tradition as it can to some extent convey the experience of oral story-telling by the various possibilities of presentation it offers to the author. Like the story-teller the novelist may use flashbacks or anticipations, let the characters speak for themselves or act as an omniscient narrator. Thus, the novel, transfered to an African context, is likely to convey a maximum of cultural individuality. Because of its recent introduction into African culture the novel should moreover be a rather flexible genre, which is rather sensitive to social change and variations of the cultural self-concept, and, allowing detailed character description and context presentation, may support the conveyance of individual and collective sentiments and traits.
While the choice of the novel for analysing identity could be justified rather easily, the further delimitation of my topic appears a complex decision: So far my considerations on African literature have been rather general. Assuming something like a colonial perspective, I have generalized about African literature and neglected that I am dealing with a whole continent comprising 30.293.000 km² and inhabited by more than 521 Million people, which harbours an immense variety of cultures. Thus it appears almost ridiculous to pick out some novels to show up a sort of identity formation. By limiting the choice of novels to a certain geographical area within Africa I can reduce this discrepancy considerably.
But which area to choose? We should be careful in focussing on a certain African nation as most national boundaries have been created artificially by the colonial powers and are only meaningful for an African national or tribal consciousness, in as far as it is rooted in Africas precolonial past. It appears more appropriate to refer to a wider geographical area which is not strongly dependent on Western categories of thinking. The four cardinal points appear to be a rather neutral way of delimiting the areas of a continent and are moreover frequently applied to structure Africa. But which of the four areas to choose? First, our field of reserarch should give us some new insights and therefore be still rather unknown. Second, it should be relevant for the discussion of identity.
North Africa has always been a focal point of literary research due to its abundance in ancient literary documents in Arabic, dating back to the 14th century. Modern criticism has concentrated first of all on South Africa as due to the political tensions in this area the literary landscape seems very rich. Also West African literature has been much considered in the sixties and seventies. As East Africa had last been opended up by the British colonizers the literary trend reach the Eastern parts of the continent. Unfortunately, since then only the novels of Ngugi wa Thiongo’o have instigated more profound interest in the East African literary landscape.
This argument for conducting a more detailed analysis on East Africa, since it is least known is at the same time supporting my second demand: the area’s preoccupation with identity. In a region which has far been neglected by literature and its critics disorientation and the ensuing demand to find out about identity should be strongest. The East African context promises to be among the most interesting areas for doing research on identity formation.
But the decision to concentrate on East Africa brings me back to the concept I have just discarded: the nation. Gérard suggests to define East Africa by refering to three nations - Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, the members of the former East African Union. After the collapse of the union the bibliography by C.H. Allen argues to extend East Africa to other countries like Ruanda and Burundi. But as we have seen national concepts imposed by colonialism can’t be adequate to represent or delimit areas sharing common concepts of identity.
But these critical considerations about nations may appear irrelevant if we consider the range of further questions which arise in the course of my attempts to delimit a geographical area to which my texts should belong. We now have to justify why a text should represent East Africa or be characteristic for it. We might say it has to be set there, but then we would have to include colonial writing on East Africa which might not be representative of the sentiment about identity typical for this area. We might equally argue that the author has to come from East Africa. But then we would exclude a category we have discovered to be particularly relevant for discussing African identity: the diaspora. The author may be born in the diaspora but nevertheless feel some allegiance to East Africa.
Considering all these restrictions, it appears to be hard to delimit a context which may be significant for cultural identity in East Africa. It even appears doubtful whether such a category exists at all. But if we can’t delimit borders of identity positively, we can at least try to be on the safe side by choosing texts which are certainly written out of an East African context. To fullfill these criteria they should be set to some extent within East Africa and be written by authors who proclaim some allegiance to the East African context and ideally show some concern about their cultural identity.
According to these criteria I have chosen three authors: Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Abdulrazak Gurnah and M.G. Vassanji. All of them are likely to share some allegiance to the East African context as all of them were born and to some extent grew up there. Ngugi was born in Limuru, Kenya, in 1938 Gurnah in Zanzibar in 1948. Vassanji was born in Kenya and grew up in Tanzania.
All the three have got in touch with the European school of writing: Ngugi was educated at the Makerere College in Uganda and at the University of Leeds. Vassanji studied at the MIT in Boston and in Pennsylvania; from 1986 onwards he has been teaching at the University of Iowa. Gurnah presently teaches at the University of Kent. Their studies in a Western context have brought all of them into contact with a Western readership as the Western awards of their books show: Vassanji’s second novel, The Gunny Sack (1986), won a Regional Commonwealth Prize, The Book of Secrets won the Giller Prize in 1995. Gurnah’s last novel Paradise was shortlisted for the 1994 Booker Prize. Various critical publications show that Ngugi wa Thiong’o is probably the most and together with Meja Mwangi almost the only East African author seriously discussed by Western critics.
These facts about the authors experience abroad account for their concern about identity from a still further perspective: Each of them to some extent has experienced displacement by their life in a Western country. Vassanji and Ngugi are moreover acquainted to inner African exile. Ngugi was born in Kenya and studied in Uganda. Vassanji was born in Kenya, but grew up in Tanzania. All taken the East African origin of the authors combined with their contact with European culture and the shared exile experience renders their voices particularly valuable for an analysis of cultural identity. After deciding for the authors I have chosen one novel by each of them according to similar criteria. The novels were meant to be set in an East African context and possibly to be concerned with cultural and individual identity.
All of Ngugi’s seven novels can be located in East Africa or even more exactly in Kenya. Though for one of his later novels Matigari he for political reasons he asserts that “The country is imaginary – it has no name even.”, we can guess from its original language Gikuyu and its political implication that it refers to an East African context. As the East African context is guaranteed we now have to consider which novel of Ngugi’s is particularly apt for conducting an analysis on identity. Jackson argues that A Grain of Wheat marks a changing point in Ngugi’s writing and “comes to bend the conventions of the novel toward the more communal conventions of orality.” This shift of language may indicate Ngugi’s awaking consciousness of the particularities of his own and his people’s cultural identity.
Probably, A Grain of Wheat remains the novel in which Ngugi is most deeply concerned about the topic of cultural identity. His later novels promise to reveal less about identity than A Grain of Wheat as there we can perceive an increasing shift towards politics and socialism. Petals of Blood, directly written after A Grain of Wheat, marks Ngugi’s shift of emphasis towards a more dogmatic, approach, but as a detective story seems to be preoccupied with themes other than identity.
Among Vassanji’s novels The Book of Secrets appears to be of particular interest for the discussion of cultural identity as it is set literally at the border between different cultures and has to deal with a inter- and intra- personal clash of identities. When we consider that initially it is set at the Kenyan-Tanzanian border in the time of the First World War within a Indian community, we can guess for the double cultural entanglement between the British and German warring parties and the African and Afro-Indian natives. Later we follow the main characters to the European exile and are shown the difficulty of reconstructing history. The novel thus promises to engage exactly with the four topics I have found interesting for an analysis of identity: the imposition of identity in the colonial encounter, the reinvention of identity by means of reconstructing history, the displacement of identity in exile and the interaction of diverse individual identities within a common cultural context.
If we file through the first few pages of Gurnah’s novel Paradise we might guess that, though the story takes a completely different perspective, it might be equally interesting for discussing cultural identity. We make the acquaintance with a boy called Yusuf, who in the first scene fearfully observes two Europeans at a distance. The imposition of identity in the colonial encounter seems to be of some relevance throughout the story. On page two and three the scene is set for a travellers tale, by the suggestion that Yusuf has to leave his family, and the visit of his uncle Aziz, who as a trader goes on expeditions to alien areas of the inner country. Thinking about European traveller tales, which can often be interpreted as a quest for identity, we can imagine that also Yusuf will have to struggle to find out about his individual self and his cultural belonging. The travelling theme also suggests the relevance of intercultural contact within the country and may provide us with important insights on my last topic about the possibility of integrating several cultural identities into a common framework. Like Vassanji’s novel also the topics of Paradise appear particularly promising for the discussion of cultural identity in an East African context.
 Mudimbe, V.Y. (ed.); The Surreptitious Speech; Présence Africaine and the Politics of Otherness; 1947 - 1987; The University of Chicago Press; Chicago, London; 1992; p.407
 Hausser, Karl; Identity - some suggestions for sharpening the outlines of the concept in a psychological perspective; in Breitinger, Eckhard und Sander, Reinhard (ed.); Approaches to African Identity; African Studies Series 4; Bayreuth; 1986; p.25
 Comp. Hausser,K.; in (Breitinger, E.; Approaches to African Identity;1986); p.26
 Comp. Nicklas, Hans; Kulturkonflikt und interkulturelles Lernen. in: Thomas, Alexander (ed.);Kulturstandards in der internationalen Begegnung; Saarbrücken e.a.: Breitenbach;1991
 Gurr, Andew; Writers in Exile;The Harvester Press; Sussex e.al.;1981;p.13
 Giddens, Antony;Sociology A Brief but Critical Introduction; Macmillan; Hong Kong; 1982
 Comp. Gérard, Albert; Contexts of African Literature; Rodopi; Amsterdam; 1990 ; p.20
 Comp. Mudimbe; The Invention of Africa; Indiana University Press; London; 1988; p. 9f
 Comp. Curtin, Philip, e.a.; African History; Longman; 1978; p.558
 Comp. Radhakrishnan, R.; Diasporic Mediations; University of Minnesota Press; Minneapolis u. a.; 1996; p.XVIII
 Comp. Mazrui, Ali al; The African Condition; The Reith lectures; Heinemann; London e.a.; 1981; p.48
 Comp. Gérard, A.; (Contexts of African Literature; 1990); p.90
 Comp. Gérard, A.; (Contexts of African Literature; 1990); p.130
 Comp. Obiechina, Emmanuel; Oral and literary traditions in West Africa in From Culture, Tradition and Society in the West African Novel; Cambridge; CVP; 1975; p.32
 Comp. Gérard, A.; (Contexts of African Literature; 1990); p.131
 Comp. Miller, Christopher L.; Theories of Africans; The University of Chicago Press; Chicago, London; 1990; p.95
 Comp. Miller, C.; (Theories of Africans; 1990); p.103
 Comp. Gérard, A.; (Contexts of African Literature; 1990); p.133
 Comp. Gérard, A.; (Contexts of African Literature; 1990); p.134
 Comp. Wanjala, Chris; “Imaginative Writing since Independence: The East African Experience” in Schild, Ulla (ed.); The East African Experience; series: Mainzer Afrikastudien Band 4; Dietrich Reimer Verlag; Berlin; 1980; p.12
 Comp. Mudimbe, V.Y.; (The Surreptitious Speech; 1992); p.441
 Comp. Miller, C.; (Theories of Africans; 1990); p.69f
 Comp. Ngugi wa Thiong’o; “Towards a National Culture”; in Homecoming: Essays on African Literature, Culture and Politics; Lawrence Hill&Co.; New Yourk; 1973;p.25
 Comp. Bishop, Rand; African literature, African Critics; Greenwood Press; New York e.a.; 1988;p.60
 Comp. Bishop, R.; (African literture; 1986); p.69
 Comp. Okpewho, Isidore; Myth in Africa; Cambridge University Press; Cambridge u. a.; 1983; p.157
 Comp. Okpewho, Isidore; (Myth in Africa; 1983); p.156
 Comp. Greenblatt, Stephen; Shakespearean Negotiations; The Circulation of Energy in Renaissance England; Oxford; 1986; p.1
 Comp. Mudimbe,V.Y.; (The invention of Africa; 1988); p.1
 Comp. Amselle, Jean-Loup; “Anthropology and Historicity”; in Mudimbe, V.Y.e.a.; Mudimbe, V. Y.; Jewsiewicki, B.; History Making in Afrika; series: History and Theory; Wesleyan University; December 1993;
 Comp. Racine, D. in Harris, Joseph (ed.); in Global Dimensions of the African Diaspora; Howard University Press; Washington; D.C.; 1982; p.96
 Comp. Curtin, P.; (African History; 1978); p.538
 Comp. Mudimbe, V.Y.; (The Invention of Africa; 1988); p.42f
 Mudimbe, V.Y.; (The Invention of Africa; 1988); p.43
 Comp. Mudimbe, V.Y.; (The Invention of Africa; 1988); p.87
 Okpewho, I.(Myth in Africa, 1983); p.247
 Irele,A. in Mudimbe, V.Y. (ed.); (The Surreptitious Speech; 1992); p.207
 Comp. Skinner, P. in Harris, J.(ed.); (Global Dimensions of the African Diaspora; 1982); p.26
 Comp. Lara, O.in Harris, J.(ed.); (Global Dimensions of the African Diaspora; 1982); p.58f
 Comp. Harris,J.; in Harris, J.(ed.); (Global Dimensions of the African Diaspora; 1982); p.5
 Comp. Shepperson, G. in Harris, J.(ed.); (Global Dimensions of the African Diaspora; 1982); p.48
 Comp. Skinner, P. in Harris, J.(ed.); (Global Dimensions of the African Diaspora; 1982); p.28
 Comp. Skinner, P. in Harris, J.(ed.); (Global Dimensions of the African Diaspora; 1982); p.28
 Comp. Mudimbe-Boyi in Mudimbe V.Y.(ed.); (The Surreptitious Speech; 1992); p.174f
 Comp. Mudimbe-Boyi in Mudimbe V.Y.(ed.); (The Surreptitious Speech; 1992); p.175
 Mudimbe-Boyi in Mudimbe V.Y.(ed.); (The Surreptitious Speech; 1992); p.176
 Comp. Mudimbe-Boyi in Mudimbe V.Y.(ed.); (The Surreptitious Speech; 1992); p.178f
 Comp. Mudimbe-Boyi in Mudimbe V.Y.(ed.); (The Surreptitious Speech; 1992); p.182f
 Comp. Mudimbe, V.Y.; (The Invention of Africa; 1988; p.85
 Comp. Mudimbe, V.Y.; (The Invention of Africa; 1988); p.84
 Mudimbe, V.Y.; (The Invention of Africa; 1988); p.85
 Comp. Mudimbe, V.Y.; (The Invention of Africa; 1988); p.95
 Comp. Miller, C.; (Theories of Africans; 1990); p.40f
 Comp. Okpewho, I.; (Myth in Africa; 1983); p.243
 Comp. Jewsiewicki, B.in Mudimbe, V.Y.( The Surreptitious Speech; 1992); p.98f
 Irele, A. in Mudimbe, V.Y.; (The Surreptitious Speech; 1992); p.215
 Comp. Okpewho, I.; (Myth in Africa; 1983); p.243
 Comp. Rombaut,M. u.a. in Mudimbe, V.Y.; (The Surreptitious Speech; 1992); p.413
 Rombaut, M. u.a. in Mudimbe, V.Y.; (The Surreptitious Speech; 1992); p.414
 Comp. Schoenbrunn,D; in Schulze-Engler, Frank; African Literatures in the Eighties; Riemenschneider;1993: “A Past whose Time has come: Historical Context and History in Eastern Africa’s Great Lakes”; p.54
 Comp. Radhakrishnan, R.; Diasporic Mediations; University of Minnesota Press; Minneapolis u. a.; 1996p.XXVI
 Comp. Radhakrishnan, R.(Diasporic Mediations; 1996); p.88
 Comp. Radhakrishnan, R.(Diasporic Mediations; 1996); p.93
 Comp. Radhakrishnan, R.(Diasporic Mediations; 1996); p.148
 Comp. Radhakrishnan, R.(Diasporic Mediations; 1996); p.159
 Comp. Radhakrishnan, R.(Diasporic Mediations; 1996); p.167
 Comp. Radhakrishnan, R.(Diasporic Mediations; 1996); p.175f
 Comp. Gérard, A.; (Contexts of African Literature; 1990); p.48
 Comp. Gérard, A.; (Contexts of African Literature; 1990); p.148
 Comp. Obiechina,E.; From Culture, Tradition and Society...; 1975); p.35
 Comp. Obiechina,E.; From Culture, Tradition and Society...; 1975); p.35
 N.N.;JRO Weltatlas; JRO Kartograpische Verlagsgesellschaft; München; 1987;p.28
 Gérard,A.; (Contexts of African Literature; 1990); Chapter 4: p. 47-60
 Comp. Gérard, A.; (Contexts of African Literature; 1990); P.48
 Gérard, A.; (Contexts of African Literature; 1990); p.89
 Comp. Allen, C.H.; (Africa Biography; annual editions); Edinburgh University Press; Edingurgh; 1996
 Comp. Achebe, Chinua; The African Writer and the English Language, in Morning Yet or Creation Day: Essays; London: Heinemann; 1975; p.55f
 The following information about the authors can be found on the initial pages of the novels:
M.G. Vassanji; The Book of Secrets; Picador; London; 1996
Ngugi wa Thiong’o; A grain of Wheat; Heinemann; Oxford; 1986
Gurnah, Abdulrazak; Paradise; Penguin books; London; 1994
 See for instance Nnolim,Charles E.; Approaches to the African Novel; Saros International Publishers; London u. a.; 1992; S. 79-94
 Ngugi, wa Thiong’o; (Matigari; Heinemann; Oxford; 1987); p.IX
 Comp. Jackson, Thomas H.; Orality, Orature, and Ngugi wa Thiong’o; in Bjornson, Richard (ed.); Research in Arican Literatures; Vo. 22, No. 1; Indiana Uinversity Press; Spring 1991; p.5-15
 Comp. Jackson; T.; (Orality; in Research in African Literatures; 1991); p.9
 Comp. Gurnah, A.(Paradise; 1994); p.2-3
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