Scholars brainstorm on West African literature

Jolly good fellows of the academy

Eminent literature scholars from across Nigeria metThursday in Lagos, to discuss the way forward for literature in the sub region.

The event, the 14th Annual Convocation lecture of the Nigerian Academy of Letters with the theme ‘The Literatures of West Africa’, also featured the induction of new fellows into the academy.

Delivering the lecture ‘Between Ocean and Desert: Thoughts on Literature and Experience in the West African Sub Region’; Francis Irele said that literature culture originated in the Arabic world before shifting to Europe and then Africa.

Mr. Irele noted that the literature that emerged in the second languages – French and English – were mainly tales of animal stories, especially as done by Senegalese and Ivorien writers writing in French.

“There were efforts to reconstruct the collective fabric as in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God,” said Mr. Irele.

Listing Nigeria and Senegal as the two powerhouses of literature in West Africa; Mr. Irele added that the former is re-emerging as a literature powerhouse in the world.

Europe’s Model

In his presentation, Chidi Maduka argued that criticisms of West African literatures are “Europeanized” and the theory followed “slavishly” by African scholars.

“There is an Igbo proverb that tells of the two knives in a widow’s kitchen. The one that is sharp has no handle while the one that has handle is blunt,” said Mr. Maduka.

“There are wonderful and sophisticated research by Europeans but they are of little relevance to African literature.”

Mr. Maduka further said that the authors being studied in Nigerian universities’ curriculum – such as Achebe and Wole Soyinka – took their time to study their tradition and their critics should study the tradition before putting out their critiques.

“The nature of Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman is an interface between natural and supernatural forces,” Mr. Maduka said.

“But the Europeans used Marxism, which is based on natural, materialism, to review it and found it wanting.

“European model is very sharp but is not rooted in African tradition.

“We have to develop the third knife which is sharp and also has a handle,” he added.

Mr. Maduka noted that the major problem of African literature is that most of the works are published in Europe and schools’ curriculum is modelled after Europe’s.

“It will be preferable for the schools to closely study works done in the region’s oral tradition. They should also think of literatures in indigenous languages,” said Mr. Maduka.

“Literature in indigenous languages should be made to assume their places in the various departments of studies.

“The curriculum should be in such a way that students and scholars should have a knowledge of West African literature,” Mr. Maduka added.

The convocation also featured the investiture of four regular fellows – Sola Akinrinade, Oladele Olayiwola, Francis Egbokhare, and Akachi Ezeigbo.

One overseas fellow – Anthonia Folarin-Schleisher – was also inducted.

Also, the academy’s outgoing president, Ben Elugbe, handed over to the newly elected president, Munzali Jibril.

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