Author Archives: alexandramarcus21
For my digital participation I read Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi. This beautifully written book is one that I recommend not only to those enrolled in this class, but other as well, as it is just such a powerful piece of fiction. I saw that another post that recommended this novel with a link to a talk by the author. I agree with the reflection said, and if you get a chance, the novel would be a great way to spend an chilly afternoon with a cup of hot chocolate on the couch over winter break.
My review can be found here.
I bought the book, so if you’d like to borrow it to read, let me know!
I had recently read NoViolet Bulawayo’s novel, “We Need New Names”, and was fortunate to have the opportunity of reading some of her short stories on her blog. The one I focused on reading was “Diaspora Christmas”, which I was drawn too specifically for the time of year now and was interested in a different perspective of this huge holiday. The story focuses on the main issue with the holiday, such as being a wealthy consumer, and also the experience of migration and vacationing. She specifically highlights what it is like to live in a country people vacation to, yet addresses these foreigners dissatisfactions, such as becoming sick of different, native food and fearful of the land. While this short story is in fact very short, it quickly can point out the literal diaspora of the holiday season where everyone is moving, attempting to get away from their everyday and experience a different, more exotic setting. A holiday that seems to be rooted in togetherness and stresses the importance of giving and family, many people see it as an opportunity to expel their wealth, buying plane tickets and gifts. The story also touches quickly on the idea of white tourists in Africa and how they take pictures to prove their experience was real. Again, although this story is very simple, it touches on such broad issues.
Also, something really cool that I found on her blog was a quote she had in the margin. “Let no one be fooled by the fact that we may write in English, for we intend to do unheard of things with it.” by Chinua Achebe. I thought this was really interesting because it really pertains to this course as a whole and the purpose of African writing and encouraging people to learn from it.
Her Blog: http://novioletbulawayo.blogspot.com/
Reading The Thing Around Your Neck highlights the issues and conflicts in Nigeria. Specifically the conflict between the Muslims and Christians, the natives and the South and North. The short story, “A Private Experience,” highlights the deeply rooted issues between Christians and Muslims but the change in perspective once Chika and the Muslim woman attempted to gain refugee together. Boko Haram is one of the most well known, violent Muslim extremist group based in northern Nigeria with attempts to remove Western education. Religious tension between the two groups is a century old issue, being the leading cause for the 1967 Civil War and a height of religious violence in 1980 in Kano.
In May, a month after the terrorist group kidnapped 276 school girls, BBC published an article analyzing the question many Western countries have been asking, “Why Nigeria has not defeated Boko Haram.” The issue goes further than the basics of this one issue; the government is not established enough to deal with such issues. Something important to note, is that both of these religious groups have been instigators in the fighting, while only one, the extremist Muslims, have been declared a terrorist group.
The short time shared by Chika and the Muslim woman are intimate, with hints of fear and pain. Both of them loose a loved one, and are burdened by the pain of their location, while fear what could happen. They are both innately aware of the horrible violence that has been brought upon the clash of these two groups. Yet, it should be noted, that most of this violence is instigated by extremists, or at least the one’s trying to dominate power. Boko Haram claims one of its goal is to gain political intention, but even when there was a Muslim president in power, the violence still reigned on.
For now, the best thing anyone can do is to get themselves educated. Adiche’s short story, such as “A Private Experience” gives insight into the complications of this conflict with emotional embodiment. Before understanding the issue, one must educate themselves on the ingrained societal and religious differences that cause this tension in the first place.
When reading the short novel, “Welcome to Our Hillbrow” I began to notice the use of the word, suicide, a lot to describe a means of escape by the main characters that are dealing with HIV/AIDS. The word suicide comes up over 26 times in this 124 page book. Suicide is a cross-cultural phenomenon, and societies react and view this differently, the word having a different stigma depending on the society. In the novel, “Things Fall Apart”, Okownkwo kills himself at the end as almost a way of giving up, but his suicide is viewed as an abomination. Phaswane Mpe, the author of “Welcome to Our Hillbrow” attempts to describe the attraction many people have, and how they see sucide as one of their only options. When Refilwe is returning home, she reflects on Refentse’s death, claiming, “She understood now that there were many ways of dying, that the choice between suicide and life was not merely a choice between stupidity and intelligence, that sometimes, when people threw their own life away, it was because they were intelligent and courageous enough to see and admit that they did not own this life” (117). I think that this point is really important not only in particular to those dealing with terminal illnesses, like AIDS, but those dealing with depression or the idea of committing suicide all over the world. Many people view suicide as a selfish act in which the victim is giving up and does not put a fight. Mpe argues that even the brightest and most intelligent people have no more control over their own life.
Although the characters in Mpe’s novel and the film, “Yesterday” are in somewhat similar situations – living in South Africa and being diagnosed with HIV – their experiences and reactions are very different. Mpe’s argument about intelligence is challenged within the film “Yesterday” because Yesterday, who could neither read nor write and never receive an education, fought to live out her life to the best of her ability and to finally see her own daughter, Beauty, attend school. Refilwe, in the novel, ends up deciding that she, herself, is not yet ready for death, even though she will be constantly talked about behind her back. She acknowledges that everyday she is living is a struggle, as she knew “every moment now was long enough” (120). Refilwe, takes her life into her own hands, making decisions for herself.
This idea reminded me of an article I read a couple days ago about a 29 year old terminally ill brain cancer patient who chose to end her life. I think it is important for the people who learn about this woman to know what Mpe explains, that it is not an easy choice, that it wasn’t out of stupidity, but out of gaining control of their life which they no longer control.
For my blog post I decided to do some research on the country of Sierra Leone, because I feel that the novel, “Memory of Love”, talks about a country very different to those we have read about. This is particular to the religious and cultural aspects. When I was researching the country, though, I came across a person of interest, Bai Bureh and decided to focus on him for my post.
Bali Bureh was one ruler of Sierra Leon and was a military strategist on an uprising against British rule. An article, “Bai Bureh, The British, and the Hut Tax War” by Arthur Abraham, described the response to the Hut Tax War as a reflection of colonial literature. In 1893, the British colonizers in Sierra Leon implicated a hut tax on the natives, and Bai Bureh refused to recognize this tax. Many of the natives had to provide labor to pay off these taxes, since they could not pay with money or other items. In 1898, Bureh declared war on the British in Sierra Leon (which was known as the Hut Tax War) yet he ended up surrounding in less than a year and he was exiled.
In the BBC’s historical timeline of Sierra Leone, it fails to mention the crucial events that happened during colonial rule. In the 19th century, the timeline only lists the year 1808 as “Freetown settlement becomes crown colony” (BBC) and then the year 1896 as the year “Britain sets up a protectorate over the Freetown hinterland” (BBC). By the 20th and 21st century, the timeline focuses on the civil war and corruption of the country. It made me wonder if the British were failing to look at their own wrongdoings on this nation during colonialism, as Bureh and the Hut Tax War was a huge part of their history.
Arthur Abraham, in his article, highlights an issue that we have discussed multiple times in this course, as well in “Memory of Love”. This issue is colonial literature (“Things Fall Apart”) and post colonial literature (“Memory of Love”, etc) and their portrayals of the relationship between the colonizers and the natives. My question is, who will give an accurate portrayal of colonialism without bias? How can we understand this time period without talking about the huge issues brought forth afterwards? Who writes history?
Bai Bureh, The British, and the Hut Tax War
The International Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol. 7, No. 1 (1974), pp. 99-106
All Our Names is a novel that traces identity. While it obviously traces the identity of names, such as stated in the title, the novel also highlights a topic particular to this course, the danger of a single story.
First of all, the story is told from two perspectives, regarding one character, Isaac. While both Helen’s story and Langston’s story is told blended into the story telling of present and past Isaac respectively. Both Helen and Langston share the extent of their history, telling about their family and often sharing anecdotes, while Isaac rarely opens up. When Helen finally reads Isaac’s file, there was only a single piece of paper with his basic information: name, birth date and why he was in the United States. She claimed, “In comparison, Isaac’s single-page life story had seemed like a blessing when I first saw it” (98). Similar to the fatal single story referenced at the end of Things Fall Apart, Helen goes on to describe Isaac’s file, “The only solid fact was his name, Isaac Mabira, but even that was no longer substantial: any name could have filled that slot, and nothing would’ve changed” (98).
Helen knows that there is so much more life to Isaac then that is presented in the file. But just as many of those represented from Africa are today, their stories lack individuality and identity when presented in the western world. Most of the western world’s perspective is that all of Africa is war-torn, violent and poor. Chimamanda Adichie highlights these issues in her TEDtalk “The Danger of a Single Story” and the website, Africa Is a Country, published an article about “Telling ‘the African story’” ( can be found here: http://africasacountry.com/the-responsibility-of-journalists/).This theme is essential to understanding this course and African literature as a whole. While every story may be different, and more complicated than others, everyone has a past and a story to be told.
The novel, Nervous Conditions, is a story filled various topics ranging from gender issues, educational barriers, and post colonial tension. A theme that was commonly found throughout the whole text, no matter where Tambu lives, is the idea of civilization and whom is civilized or not. Who determines this and what are the qualifications? The definition of civilized is “marked by well-organized laws and rules about how people behave with each other; polite, reasonable and respectful; pleasant and comfortable” (Merriam Webster). When Tambu arrives back home during Christmas she claims,
“you couldn’t blame [Chido] really for not wanting to go home, because he was too old now – we all were, and too civilized too – to be amused by eating matamba and nhengeni, and by trips to Nyamrira” (122).
In the beginning of the novel, Tambu is angry with her brother, who had an opportunity to get an education. When her brother came home, he brought foreign items, such as plastic bags and condiments, but the longer he is educated away from home the more he changes. The novel takes place in a period after the Unilateral Deceleration of Independence and before Zimbabwean independence. During this time, Rhodesians (as the country was called before 1980) struggled with finding an identity. The black Africans tried to gain power in the government, but the white minority gained power. The white Europeans brought colonization and the idea of civilization as a way to separate themselves from the natives and a way to make the natives feel inferior.
By the time that Tambu comes home for Christmas, she recognizes that she has changed too. As her cousin reflects on England influencing her behavior, Tambu is influenced by white education, including the social and economic qualities of those being educated.
Tambu’s mother gets very upset upon the return of her extended family, claiming that all the women sided with Maiguru because she is “educated….because she’s rich and comes here and flashes her money around” (142). Tambu’s mother feels as if the rest of the family views her as “poor and ignorant” (142) therefore she cannot have a voice or an opinion. She roots this is Maiguru’s “white ways” (143) which view Ma’Shingayi’s lifestyle as uncivilized, such as not brushing their teeth, having a dirty toilet and eating vegetables instead of meat (143). Ma’Shingayi feels that she cannot provide for her daughter anymore and that the way of life that colonizers brought, the civilized way of living, is the way that Tambu prefers.
An article, entitled “Sources of African History”, comments that “ ethnohistorians working in Africa today need no longer accept the generalization of early nonprofessional historians that most African tribes were essentially the same: uncivilized and anarchistic, with no centralized government.” What does it mean to be uncivilized and who are we do judge?
Mulira, James. “Sources of African History.” Current Anthropology 20.1 (1979): 227-29. JSTOR. Current Anthropology. Web. 11 Sept. 2014.