African Literature: History & Characteristics


African Literature: History & Characteristics

The term African literature refers to the brilliant pieces of writings by Africans over the years. This concept also includes oral literature. While the vision of Europeans and Latin Americans often separates art and content, the African concept is inclusive.

First Writings

African Literature: History & Characteristics
African Literature: History & Characteristics

The first indigenous literature in North Africa is situating in Ancient Egypt of those who has survived some of their hieroglyphs. North Africans also contribute to the Phoenician language, the Greek language, and Latin. Most of the Phoenician material, from Carthage and other colonies on the continent, has been lost. Under the royal patronage of Ptolemy, Alexandrian scholars organize the Alexandria Library, and Alexandrian writers contribute to increasing the material preserve in the institution. North African writers in Latin include Apuleyo and Agustín de Hipona.

Oral Literature

Oral literature can be prose or verse. The prose is often historical and may include stories.

Storytellers in Africa often use a technique in which they await a response from their audience. Poetry, often sung, includes epic narrative, ritual verses, poems to rulers, or prominent figures. There are also songs of love, work, for children, proverbs, and riddles.

Colonial Literature

African Literature: History & Characteristics
African Literature: History & Characteristics

The best-known works of the colonial period are those dealing with the slave trade like Olaudah Equiano’s “The Interesting Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Olaudah Equiano” also known as Gustavus Vassa, the African (1789)

During this period, Africans knew European languages ​​and began writing in these languages. In 1911, Joseph Ephraim Casely-Hayford publishes what is possibly the first African novel written in English, “Ethiopia Unbound: Studies in Race Emancipation.”

Although the work moves between political and fiction issues, its publication and subsequent revision in Europe mark a turning point in African literature. In the period between the end of World War II and national independence, African literature shows issues relate to independence and liberation, and, especially in the territories control by France, blackness appears.

One of the leaders of this movement, the poet and president of Senegal Leopold Sedar Senghor, publish the first anthology of African poetry written in French. “Anthologie de la novelle poesie Negre et de langue Francaise” (Anthology of the New Black and Malagasy Poetry in the French Language” (1948) that include a preface by the French writer Jean-Paul Sartre.

Post-Colonial Literature

Liberation and literacy was achieved by numerous African nations after their independence. This lead to greater recognition for the said literature. The authors of this period write in both European and African languages.

Some writers analyzed African literary creation. They mention that it is marked by a triple inheritance: indigenous values, Islam, and Western culture. However, there is an important impediment to the development of written literature in Africa. It is the shortage of printing presses, publishing houses, and the high cost of books for the average African income.

When the writer chooses to use his mother tongue, he encounters new problems. Literacy in African languages ​​is a recent occurrence in many countries. Therefore, the potential public is scarce. If the language, also, is not used by a large population, the circulation is reduced even more, with the consequent increase in the price of the product.

Arabic is the only language that is saved from these problems. In 1986, Wole Soyinka became the first African writer of the post-colonial period to win the Nobel Prize for literature. Albert Camus, born in Algeria, had already won it in 1957.

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