Postcolonial Literature: African and Caribbean

Modern African Literature and Colonialism
Categories : World Literature

Postcolonial Literature: African and Caribbean


African Literature and Caribbean Literature  

African Literature

African Literature  


  • Birthplace of the human species between 8 million and 5 million years ago
  • Vast continent
  • Rich and diverse in its culture – Many languages and religions – Changing from one country to another as well as within an individual country
  • Art, music, and oral literature serve to reinforce existing religious and social patterns.

People of Africa

  • Majority of inhabitants are of indigenous origin – For them, the central unit is the family and the ethnic group
  • The Westernized minority of indigenous people – Influenced by European culture and Christianity – First rejected African traditional culture – With the rise of African nationalism, a cultural revival occurred
  • Immigrants – Arabs, the most numerous immigrants, brought Islam with them – Europeans came in mid-17th century near the Cape of Good Hope
  • More Europeans subsequently immigrated, particularly to South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Algeria – South Asians also arrived during colonial times
  • Their descendants are found largely in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa
Modern African Literature and Colonialism

African Literature

  • Different languages, different genres
  • Oral – In African languages – Performance is an important part
  • Written – In Afro-Asiatic and African languages – Written by Africans in European languages, especially French and English

Oral Traditions

  • Oral literatures have flourished in Africa for many centuries – Folk tales, myths, epics, funeral dirges, praise poems, riddles and proverbs
  • Earliest African texts date back to Egypt in c. 2300-2100, and were related to burial traditions
  • The relationship between oral and written traditions is one of great complexity
  • Modern African literatures resulted from colonial education, with models drawn from Europe

The Nature of Orality

  • When the storyteller speaks / sings – Time (past) is masked – The audience’s present collapses into the semi-conscious past – History becomes the audience’s memory, and they relive the past which gives them a new insight into the present – A sensory union takes place in the merging of the body voice and language – The fantasy elements of the story constitute the cultural heritage – Stories are eternally alive, timeless


Modern African Literature and Colonialism

Modern African Literature and Colonialism

  • Modern African literature was produced by colonialism – The writers who founded the tradition of modern African writing, both in European and indigenous languages, were products of the institutions that colonialism had introduced in the continent – Colonialism was the most important and enduring theme in their works
  • Pre-colonial African literature had, of course, been produced outside the institutions of colonialism: oral literature in Arabic, Amharic, Swahili, and other African languages

Literature in English • Many written works came under the threat of destruction in the colonial period • Some early works of the 20th century – Love in Ebony: A West African Romance (1932, Liberia) by Charles Cooper aka Varfelli Karlee – The Palm-Wine Drinkard and His Dead Palm-Wine Tapster in the Deads’ Town (1952, Nigeria) by Amos Tutuola • Literature in English developed mainly in Nigeria – Under the influence of Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, etc  

Literature before Achebe

The Story of an African Farm (1883), the first great South African novel

• African literature got international attention with Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country (1948) – This book was a somewhat paternalistic and sentimental portrayal of Africa

• Frantz Fanon, a psychiatrist from Martinique, became famous through a powerful analysis of racism from the African viewpoint in Black Skin, White Masks (1952 in French)

• Camara Laye explored the deep psychological ramification of being African in his masterpiece, The Dark Child (1953)

• African literary critic Kofi Awoonor systematically collected and translated into English much of African oral culture and art forms, preserving native African culture  


Olive Schreiner (1855-1920)

  • Liberal and powerful novelist, the first great South-African born writer
  • Remembered for The Story of an African Farm (1883), the first great South African novel
  • The story of a girl on an isolated farm in the veld (grassland) who struggles for her independence in the face of rigid Boer social conventions.

Alan Paton (1903-1988)

  • South African novelist, essayist and anti-apartheid activist
  • Cry, the Beloved Country (1948) major novel
  • Too Late the Phalarope (1953)
  • Ah, but Your Land is Beautiful (1981)—contains parallel life stories, letters, speeches, news, legal records, etc. It is historical fiction that gives an accurate account of the resistance movement in South Africa in the 1960s

Frantz Fanon (1925-61)

  • Psychiatrist born in Martinique
  • Lived in France
  • Supported the Algerian struggle for independence
  • Black Skin, White Masks (1952) – First work – Written in French – About the psychology of racism – Written in response to Leopold Sedar Senghor’s negritude anthology, Black Orpheus

Other Works

  • The Wretched of the Earth (1961) – Written just before his death – Defends the right for a colonized people to use violence to struggle for independence – Jean-Paul Sartre wrote the Preface supporting Fanon – Then banned in France
  • A Dying Colonialism (1959)
  • Toward the African Revolution (1964)

Camara Laye (1928-1980)

  • Writer from Guinea. He worked for the government of newly independent Guinea (1958 onwards), but went into voluntary exile over political issues.
  • Famous for the autobiographical French novel L’enfant noir (1953) published in English as The African Child or The Dark Child.
  • The story of a young African child, Baba, growing up in Guinea.

South Africa

  • South Africa was colonized by the English and Dutch in the seventeenth century
  • English domination of the Dutch descendents (known as Boers or Afrikaners) resulted in the Dutch establishing the new colonies of Orange Free State and Transvaal
  • The discovery of diamonds in these lands around 1900 resulted in an English invasion which sparked the Boer War
  • Following this, the uneasy power relations between the two groups existed until the 1940s, when the Afrikaner National Party was able to gain a strong majority
  • Strategists in the National Party invented apartheid as a means to cement their control over the economic and social system


  • Apartheid is the rigid policy of segregation practised by the white population in South Africa (1948-94)
  • Initially, aim of the apartheid was to maintain white domination while extending racial separation
  • From the 60s, a plan of Grand Apartheid was executed, emphasizing territorial separation and police repression
  • Nelson Mandela led much of the anti-apartheid movement and was jailed for 27 years
  • Apartheid finally ended in 1994 when Mandela was elected President in a General Election


  • A literary and ideological movement, developed by black intellectuals, writers, and politicians in France in the 1930s
  • Founders of the movement – Léopold Sédar Senghor (who later became the President of Senegal) – Aimé Césaire (poet from Martinique) – Léon Damas (from Guyana)
  • The word négritude means negro-ness
  • Advocate solidarity in a common black identity
  • Followed a realistic literary style and supported Marxist ideas

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