Fri. Apr 12th, 2024

Decolonizing African Literature: Should Writers Abandon Western Literary Conventions and Embrace Indigenous Storytelling Methods?

Zakiyyah Dzukogi: Good evening everyone and thank you for joining us today. We are going to be debating on the topic for the day: DECOLONIZING AFRICAN LITERATURE: SHOULD WRITERS ABANDON WESTERN LITERARY CONVENTIONS AND EMBRACE INDIGENOUS STORYTELLING METHODS? I am excited to moderate this discussion because I believe it is going to be an interesting one. This session is going to be a free one, everyone has the liberty to share their thoughts and perceptions on the topic without limitations. It is a debate! You can support or oppose the motion which is “Should writers abandon Western literary conventions and embrace indigenous storytelling methods?”.

Ibraheem Uthman: Ummm… interesting. You see when we are talking about decolonization in African Literature, we need to understand what is at stake because we are confronting deep-seated power dynamics, cultural identity, and the very essence of storytelling itself. The deal is that African stories need to break free from the chains of colonialism and let the local people’s voices be heard in creating great literature.

Zakiyyah Dzukogi: Abdulrazaq, our speculative poet, what are your thoughts on this?

Abdulrazaq Salihu: Should writers abandon Western literary conventions? Why should they? 

Zakiyyah Dzukogi: Haha, you wan cause wahala. I’m glad because that’s what this is all about. Well, because it is making us forget and not appreciate our traditions and culture?

Abdulrazaq Salihu: Zakiyyah quick one, what traditions about yourself do you know? Which ones have you forgotten from them?

Zakiyyah Dzukogi: The sitting under a tree to listen to folklore from my grandmother’s chapped lips…

Abdulrazaq Salihu: And you’ve forgotten it?? Why do you write Zakiyyah??

Zakiyyah Dzukogi: I have not, but Western ways of writing have demoted the whole concept of traditional literary methods. My emphasis is on the themes to start with, all young poets want to explore in scientific poetry and fiction because that’s what is most acknowledged by the modern writing community and even the magazines.

Abdulrazaq Salihu: See, writing is first a subconscious thing before it’s even about knowledge and understanding. What I mean is that writing first starts by pushing you to write about the things you’ve already subconsciously experienced before you rationally start sorting out what and what not to write about by virtue of personal preference.

Ibraheem Uthman: Abdul, while it’s true that subconscious experiences can influence writing, it’s an oversimplification to suggest that writing is solely a subconscious process before rationalization sets in. In reality, writing is a complex process involving a blend of subliminal creativity and rational decision-making.

Abdulrazaq Salihu: We’re saying the same thing. Subconscious comes before conscious, and yes it’s objective of course.

Ibraheem Uthman: Just so you know, your notion that subconscious experiences solely drive writing overlooks the role of knowledge, understanding, and skill in the writing process. While subconscious influences may spark initial creativity, we writers rely on our accumulated knowledge, understanding of craft, and critical thinking skills to refine and shape our work. This conscious engagement allows us to craft cohesive narratives, develop complex characters, and communicate our ideas effectively to our readers.

Zakiyyah Dzukogi: Writers can adopt Western ways of writing while maintaining cultural heritage, is that what you’re saying? As far as maintaining culture is concerned, that is not the right thing to do because we are still exercising some Eurocentric practices.

Ibraheem Uthman: I agree with you on this. The way Europeans have looked down on African societies and our way of life has caused a lot of problems. It’s made it so that African cultures are disappearing, and people don’t have the same opportunities as people in the West. Europeans think their way of doing things is the best, but it’s not fair to ignore the good stuff that African cultures have to offer. This kind of thinking has made it harder for Africans to feel good about themselves. Eurocentrism is another form of cultural erasure.

Zakiyyah Dzukogi: Exactly!

Abdulrazaq Salihu: No, I disagree with you on this, I’d tell you why. The thing is, young writers are energy-filled. They’d do whatever it takes, and because they’re searching for a voice, they’d easily stick to the one the world accepts faster, how many magazines in Africa are active?? We can both count them. How many people in the diaspora are active? You know the number and you know the number difference. So, for starters, it’s justified. I won’t support what you are saying till African magazines are ready to be back in the picture and till then, let young writers write what they want, me for example. I write speculative poetry, but trust me, my story is still being told, even in my speculative poems, I write about my mother’s home and, how the insecurities have eaten it, I write about Sarkin Pawa, I know Sunday Saheed writes about Lafenwa. Places that’d Negev die despite the kind of writing we choose to pursue. If your emphasis is on the theme then you have no argument. Speculative poetry is a form, and it’s not limited to a particular theme. There are several subgenres of the form, talk about horror, science, experimental, erasure et all. All these are subgenres of the form that can explore any theme you choose to explore. Zakiyyah, this is a speculative poem about a Yoruba goddess, so what history are we forgetting? 

Zakiyyah Dzukogi: This counts as a pass as long as the work presents traditional elements well. It is a wise and creative combination. As a matter of fact, that poem may not be considered speculative because of its cultural intervention. But this is not what we’re arguing about. The problem begins with speculative writing that strays too far from traditional conventions.

Abdulrazaq Salihu: Tell me your definition of speculative poetry/prose.

Zakiyyah Dzukogi: I firmly believe that speculative poetry pushes the boundaries of traditional poetic forms. I feel it is manipulating its way of accomplishing its mission of abandoning traditional conventions.

Abdulrazaq Salihu: I like that you said: “feel”. Makes it communal and personal a bit. Well, it doesn’t, it doesn’t at all… Science fiction, Mythic, Horror, Weird… Listed above are the subgenres of speculative poetry. So Zakiyyah, if I pick myth as a subgenre and write about my village’s myth, it’s still speculative… nobody says we must write about Hercules.

Ibraheem Uthman: Decolonizing African literature empowers diverse voices and challenges biases. So, while it’s cool for young writers to do their thing, embracing indigenous storytelling alongside personal narratives helps us reclaim our stories and represent African experiences in a more real and inclusive way.

Abdulrazaq Salihu: Tell me how we’ve represented our stories in fake ways, then I’d consider we need to reclaim it and do it the right way. When you say diverse voices, what do you mean? I want to know before I talk.

Ibraheem Uthman: The way African identity is shown in literature has always been messed up. It’s not just Western authors who mess it up either; African authors fall into the trap of Eurocentric stereotypes, too. If you have read Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”, you may get a clearer image, where Africa is portrayed as a “dark” and mysterious continent. While Conrad’s book is highly respected for its literary value, it also supports colonialist attitudes and doesn’t treat African characters as human beings. Instead, they’re presented as primitive and exotic “others” compared to the enlightened European protagonist. Also, in “King Solomon’s Mines” by H. Rider Haggard, the main characters – who are all white – go on an adventure in Africa to find hidden treasures. The story is exciting, but it also shows how people used to think during colonization. It portrays Africans as inferior and needing help from Europeans to guide them. Some African writers have misrepresented African identity as influenced by Western literary conventions and expectations. In his critique of Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” Chinua Achebe explains how such narratives can damage African self-perception and global perceptions of the continent. However, Achebe faced criticism for perpetuating stereotypes in his early works, such as “Things Fall Apart,” where traditional African societies are portrayed as inherently flawed and needing Western intervention. The way African literature is portrayed has been heavily influenced by colonialism and Eurocentrism, resulting in the creation of certain expectations by Western audiences and publishers that often misrepresent African identities. But all hope is not lost. The likes of Adichie, Chigozie Obioma, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim and many more are reshaping the narratives and providing subtle depictions of African experiences that celebrate the complexity of African identity. Adichie’s works like “Half of a Yellow Sun” and “Americanah” are great examples. To reclaim African stories, we must challenge how Africa has been represented in literature. This means listening to authentic African voices, questioning colonialist narratives, and changing the power dynamics in literature. We must consciously bring in diverse perspectives that reflect African cultures’ and experiences’ richness and diversity. It’s about decolonizing the literary landscape and giving African stories the representation they deserve. This is not just about speculative poetry or whatnot but also about literature, African literature in general.

Emmanuel Umeji: Yay! King Solomon’s Mine. So enlightening. Exactly stated. The story is another way that shows the world, the beauty hidden in Africa that we don’t see, except the Europeans.

Abdulrazaq Salihu: On a more serious note. Yeah, we don’t deserve to be treated as inferior, yeah we don’t deserve to be looked upon as dependent, but you know that the story and lifestyle of Africans from the time of Achebe to now have changed drastically.

Zakiyyah Dzukogi: Modernization…

Emmanuel Umeji: To me, Africa has not undergone any changes. It’s just that we’re trying to fit into the lifestyle of the Western world, which is indirectly quenching our culture. But nothing has changed so far, except our perspectives. Well, tell them we have horses and chariots. Our culture is only being viewed as outdated because we ourselves don’t value it. We tend to see the Western world as superior to us.

Abdulrazaq Salihu: The narratives are changing, we’re flourishing now yes, but we’re still lagging. So In my quest to write African as better you want me to lie?? Even tho yes writing is already a lie, but you want me to write that we have flying cars in Africa?? Even now, some places won’t accept irrigation because they feel it goes against their cultures.

Ibraheem Uthman: It has indeed, to some extent. But the reality is that we still face Eurocentrism and the likes of Western media and publishers. Last year, Saddiq Dzukogi cried on Twitter regarding an issue of similar gravity. Unfortunately, even the established ones among us still face this slander of identity.

Abdul, writing about the subtleties of Sarkin Pawa or similar aspects of African life is your concern, and it’s where your authentic voice as an African writer shines. Whether you incorporate elements of modernization, like flying cars, into your narrative is ultimately your choice as an artist. However, it’s important to consider how such elements contribute to or detract from the authenticity and integrity of your storytelling. Striking a balance between innovation and cultural authenticity allows us to navigate the complexities of modernization while honoring our unique African identities and experiences.

Abdulrazaq Salihu: You’re making sense. You are.
It’s my concern, Ibraheem, but it’s not compulsory.

Ibraheem Uthman: It has never been. Art is freedom after all, but if you are going to lament about cultural erasure tomorrow, you’ll need to have this in mind.

Zakiyyah Dzukogi: Let’s start rounding up… It has been an interesting and indeed an argumentative discussion Thank you guys for joining and participating, to those of us that were watching from the curtains, we appreciate you for following up. We have another hot one next week. Topic: The Impact of Language Choice in African Literature: Is Writing in English a Necessity or Should Indigenous Languages Be Prioritized? Can’t wait, goodnight and cheers.

Ibraheem Uthman: Thank you, Zakiyyah, for putting together this beautiful session. It’s sure enthralling and enlightening. Thank you!

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