Author Archives: katherinehanson17

Digital Participation: Why Africans cannot tell their own stories.

http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/sandilememela/2014/10/08/why-africans-cannot-tell-their-own-stories/

This thought article is written by an African writer who cannot get published and is extremely frustrated. He blames the white capitalism for this and says that publishers only want stories that align with the European view on the world. His articles itself was not what intrigued me but rather the conversation is struck in the comments below the article. I summarized some of the comments below which show the variety of opinions on publishing African writing.

Comments

“don’t expect people to pay for your illogical ramblings, generalisations and your fixation on race.”

Publishing is about choosing which books will sell to the reading market. If there was an interest in African writing and people would buy it, it would be published.

This resistance to African creativity and telling a different story is not just in publishing. She experiences as a African grad student in the US everyday.

There are many informal ways of publishing if you are good enough.

Achebe wrote his own story. If you are good enough you get published.

There seems to be a lot of comments talking about if the writer is good enough at writing. Some are direct insults to the author of the article while others imply that people are just not interested in African literature. Some Africans share the same frustrations as the author while others think that his way of addressing the issue is not the right way to go about it. These opinions are not scholarly ones but rather show what members of the general public think which mostly consists of not a lot of sympathy for the author of this piece.

Short Story: My Father’s Head

My Father’s Head is by Okwiri Oduor who was born in Narobi, Kenya. This story was very interesting because it started as a simple story of a women trying to remember and draw what her father looked like and not being able to remember his head. In the end she summons her father back so she can remember but then he does not leave and she is forced to face all the memories she has of him and her childhood. This story becomes not so simple but rather one about the traditions of the past and what being a part of a family meant during life but also in death. I liked how Oduor wrote the story in English but still included many swahili words and phrases that have Kenyan origins, thus reflecting Achebe’s idea of using a “new English”. For example she includes the song,

“Kijembe ni kikali, param-param

Kilikata mwalimu, param-param”

As an english speaker, I do not know what these words mean (except Mwalimu which means teacher, but only because I am taking Swahili). But it does not deter me from the text because I accept that is part of her life that I cannot understand. It reminds me that I am reading a story that is much more complex than how my brain wants to categorize it and that is cannot be just summed up to another story about Africa.

http://www.caineprize.com/pdf/2014_Oduor.pdf

Digital Participation: Call me Kuchu

First off Call me Kuchu is on Netfilx so everyone should go and watch it!

Call me Kuchu fascinated me because the film shows the real life experiences of people living in Uganda and how homosexuality is viewed from both the LGBT community and from those who oppose them. In class we questioned how it was possible for activist groups/ NGOs to operate in countries like Nigeria and Uganda with these strict laws. This film shows us how it is being done through the justice system and through trying to convince people just to talk with the LGBT community so that they will become more tolerant and understanding. Despite the activists’ victory in the courtroom against the rolling stone newspaper that has been exposing pictures, names and even addresses of homosexuals, the newspaper will never stop publishing the pictures because in their mindset, they are doing the right thing.

In listening to people like the pastor and the newspaper editor explain why they spread hate against the gays, it is clear that their way of thinking is so close minded and radical that they cannot be swayed. The quote that stuck me the most from the newspaper editor was when he said “we shall ignore the right of privacy, in the interest of the public” in response to the accusations that the paper was violating homosexuals human right of privacy. This shows that people genuinely believe that eliminating homosexuality is in the publics best interest.

Naome, one of the activist, explains that “It’s one thing being outed, and another thing being denied.” The newspapers naming homosexuals can be dangerous to a persons life but Naome reminds the viewer that it is equally emotionally damaging. Being shamed and outcasted by your own family and friends is a lot harder than strangers knowing about your sexuality.

Call me Kuchu reminds us that homophobia in countries like Uganda is not a single story. Each person has a different perspective and experience with homosexuality and to them that is justified.

“Is Africa the most homophobic continent?” CNN Article

http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/28/opinion/uganda-anti-gay-law-marc-epprecht/index.html

I found this opinion article on CNN about homophobia in Africa. It was posted on the 28th of February right after the new laws in Nigeria and Uganda were passed. The title of “Is Africa the most homophobic continent?” addresses the response to these laws of generalizing homophobia in Africa into one single story. I summarized the four main points the article makes below but you should definitely go read it because it offers a different perspective on what we have been discussing in class!

  1. Africa is not one country. There are 54 countries in Africa and each one addresses homosexuality in different ways. There is not one single story of homophobia in Africa.
  2. Homophobic beliefs have their roots outside of Africa. Many traditional beliefs tolerated those who were homosexual as long as it was discreet. Colonialism and Christianity changed this by splitting up families and destroying African culture.
  3. Christianity has given many Africans an identity after colonialism and American evangelicals have promoted homophobic beliefs in the continent.
  4. Homophobia still very much exists in the U.S and we should address that before trying to fix other countries.

One story told through children.

While talking with Jude Dibia, he discussed the struggle of trying to write about different dimensions of a person’s life while only writing one story. He discussed using the stories of different characters to represent the different parts of the main characters life which I think is exactly what he did in Walking with Shadows. There is not much room in the book to discuss Adrian’s childhood so he does it through the children in the book.

First Dibia illustrates what was like growing up gay through the story and conversation Ada has with her friend about her son possibly being gay. Ada’s friend admits that she hit her son because he was playing with his sisters dolls and she wanted to correct the gay behavior before her son grew up to be gay. Adrian enjoyed playing “girly games” as well growing up but was quickly mocked to learn that it was not an acceptable thing and he could not openly be who he was without getting reprimanded.

At the end of the book, Adrian sees a son and mother walk past him and the son is singing on of his favorite nursery rhyms (one that was considered a girly game). In this moment, Adrian realizes that he was that child growing up, full of fear and loneliness because he was not accepted. He reflects on how his parents treated him differently and resolves that he is not that little boy anymore. That he will no longer be afraid to be who he is and he is no longer alone sharing his secret because although only a few, there are people in his life who support him.

Lastly Adrians daughter Ego represents Adrian’s future but also the future of Nigeria’s tolerance. Ada vows to raise Ego as tolerant of others despite their sexuality and to teach her about who her father is not about the prejudices of homosexuality. As Ego grows up with this perception and tolerance of homosexuality, she will hopefully pass it unto her children and they will do the same. Ego shows how impressionable a childhood is. Adrian was raised with the beliefs that who he is was wrong and that haunted him for almost his whole life. If children continue to be taught that homosexuality is wrong and evil, the cycle of prejudice will never end. Adrians story took the path of tolerance, hopefully many more will as well.

Mboudjak Shares Every Mans Struggle

When discussing Dog Days, the obvious question is why it is narrated by a dog? In class we discussed that an advantage of having a dog narrate is that the story can be told from an outside perspective without human bias or interpretation. However I argue that the story of Mboudjak very closely represents and aligns with the story of many people living in Cameroon at the time of this economic crisis.

Mboudjak starts off the story by explaining how he used hate being called dog but he quickly learned his place and what role he had to play to survive. He explained the word dog bothered him by saying it showed “the arrogance with which men name the world, assigning a place to each thing, and ordering them to be silent. Each and every time it was used to refer to me, the word let me know I was an object in the human universe, that I had stopped being what I really was, and that I had no right to speak” (7). I don’t think this just applies to being labeled a dog. Every person is labeled and categorized in society and is expected to behave within the expectations set for them. If a person disagrees with the expectations society has for them, they are forced to remain silent and go along with the social structures in place. Mboudjak explains that being labeled a dog and categorized forced him to not be himself anymore which reflects the social conformation that the people in the novel face.

Mboudjak explains that he quickly learned how to survive in this world. He had to play his part and “answer to his name”(8). This lesson came at the veterinarians office when he was going to get a shot since they thought he had rabies because of his strange and bad behavior. Seeing this immediate threat of violence, Mboudjak quickly adjusted his behavior to conform to the expectations the human world had for him thus avoiding the punishment of the needle. Even more so, his life was better off after he conformed because he even got canned food from the store.

Once the economy starts to decline, this all changes. Getting laid off or not getting a regular salary were common occurrences and many people’s lifestyles and outlook on life were drastically altered. Mboudjak was used as a scapegoat for the troubles of his master as many civilians were used and made the victims for the faults of the government and those in power above them. The scenes of Mboudjak struggling are very symbolistic of what people were going through at the time. For example his helplessness when he is hanging from the tree or when he can’t seem to fit in with either the poor street dogs or the wealthy dogs.

People in Cameroon had conformed to their roles in society, played their part and did not protest it. When the economic crisis hit, they were quickly forced into new roles in which they no longer could maintain their previous lifestyle and yet were still considered middle class citizens. Being unable to help themselves yet not pitied they found themselves in a state of helplessness and desperation which is clearly demonstrated through the events in Mboudjak’s life.

Distinction of Hair

I am intrigued by Aminatta Forna’s repetitive use of using the description of hair to introduce characters or allude to an aspect of their personality. The importance that hair can have became clear to me when Elias is reflecting on his individuality and being memorable. He explains;

“ I yearned to be remarkable, when in fact I was anything but. I have one of those faces, a face that looks like any other. With age you might say I have acquired a little distinction. The hair. ” (Kindle version 34)

This quotes shows that Elias longs to be recognized and seen as someone special however nothing about him distinguishes him from the crowd. His hair is his one characteristic that gives him individuality and uniqueness that could allow him to get noticed. Specifying that this distinction came about with age, suggests that the way other characters hair styles change throughout the book should be analyzed because with time and experience, the way a person is seen changes and aspects of their personality become clearer.

Forna shows this transformation with time by describing Saffia’s hair many times as the novel progresses. When Elias first becomes fixated with her but does not know her, he describes that “her hair [was] wrapped in a large orange scarf” (26). Having her hair hidden illustrates that her personality is very much hidden from Elias at this point but the word wrapped suggests to me that is can be unraveled. Yet why Forna chooses the color orange, I am unsure of. Do the smallest details of her descriptions also have larger meanings?

Hair is used to introduce many characters, like Vanessa in chapter 1 explaining that he did not like her hairstyle but it showed that she put a lot of effort into how she looked for Elias. He then mentions her hair again in chapter 4 when he is going on the double date and describes her hair as “spiky and dangerous-looking”(88). In the beginning Elias was not fond of Vanessa but appreciated and enjoyed how much she liked him and wanted to gain his affection. Once Saffia enters the picture, Vanessa is no longer someone enjoyable to have around but rather an obstacle to Elias’s happiness that he tries to avoid.

There are many examples and uses of hair in the beginning of the memory of love but I have chosen these two because they exemplify how hair is used to introduce characters but then as time passes, it helps distinguish the characteristics of each person. This topic deserves much further analysis than this blog post and could be examined in countless ways. For example, comparing the description of hair in Adrian’s story to Elias’s story or looking into what Forna really is trying to say about each character through their hair. Each word and each description are put into the story for a reason. Forna’s use of hair is a deliberate writing technique that needs to be closely examined to understand how each character is unique.

The children of the Congo.

Children are mentioned several times throughout the film, Lumumba, however they portray different ways the Belgium people and the people of Congo view Congo’s future. In the beginning of the film when a Flemish white women is yelling at a native Congo child about how to properally set a table, there is a radio broadcast playing in the background. This broadcasts says,

“Though native children learn to work and study, they are also taught heathy amusements. If the teacher loosens the reins, primitive ways take over…”

What I understand from this statement is that the colonizers believe it is possible and important to teach the Congolese children how to work for them and benefit the white society. However they believe that the children are still taught the Congolese traditions and values which are referred to as amusements because the Belgian government does not believe that the Congolese way of life is valid and capable of producing a successful society. The last sentence of this broadcasts drives home the point that the Belgium government believes that they must remain in control over the Congolese people because they are too “primitive” and unsophisticated to be able to properly rule themselves and maintain order. Without the Belgium government controlling the institutions of the Congo state, whether directly or behind the scenes, the country would fall apart.

One the other hand, Lumumba uses his children as an example of what he sees for the future of Congo. Before he is killed, what I believe to be a letter to his wife or what he wished he could say to his wife, says:

“Tell my children the Congo has a bright future, that it is up to them to restore our dignity. Tell them that throughout our struggle, I never for a moment doubted that the cause for which we gave our lives would triumph.”

Once again children are mentioned but in the eyes of Lumumba, they have a very different meaning. For him the children represent a future of peace and justice. He truly believes that even though he will die, the hope and fire of Congo is far from dead but rather the fight for justice has been instilled in the children of Congo. When making speeches and big decisions, Lumumba and his staff constantly ask, what will the children think if we set this example? This drives them to prove to the youth that they do not need to stand down and there is hope and a reason to continue fighting for true independence.

Truth Determined by Stories

Things Fall Apart focuses on the demise of the novels protagonist, Okonkwo while also showing the Igbo culture appearing to fall apart but I believe the underlying theme is the inability of the Igbo people to accept change and diversity thus breaking tradition. Uchendu, Okonkwo’s uncle, explains that “‘there is no story that is not true… The world has no end, and what is good among one people is an abomination with others'”(141). Uchendu understands that there are so many other people and cultures in the world and that no culture is wrong, but rather each culture believes in different truths. 

Uchendu brings light to the conflict between the Igbo and the Christian missionaries. Okonkwo and many other villagers write off the missionaries as crazy at first because of their belief that there is one God that controls everything. This belief comes from the Genesis stories in the Bible. The Christian missionaries try to tell the villagers that their belief in multiple Gods, each with their own dominion, is wrong. The villagers belief also comes from stories that are shared through oral tradition and passed down generation to generation. If all stories are true then how can either of these belief systems be wrong? Stories explain aspects of culture like religion but they also guide the way people act and what they believe. Therefore truth is created through the stories that define a culture. If that culture adopts new stories, it does not fall apart but rather what is considered true changes and creates a new reality. 

Okonkwo finds it difficult to accept other cultures and a new reality in which the Christians live among the Igbo people. He fears losing his religion and the important cultural traditions that shaped his life. However his son, Nwoye, finds comfort in the new stories of the Christian missionaries because he did not agree with the stories of the Igbo people involving the Evil Forests (i.e. twins must be thrown away in the forests because they are abomination). He found truth in the Christian stories and was able to break tradition to create his own reality, something that Onkonkwo is unable to do which causes him much despair.