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Literary Creation and the Archives of Memory Through the Lens of Interculturality

Itala Vivan, Maria Renata Dolce, Caterina Colomba, Chiji Akoma et Juliana Nf ah-Abbenyi
p. 9-14

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1The current issue of the Journal des Africanistes hosts a selection of papers from the 7th Conference of the International Society for the Oral Literatures of Africa (ISOLA), held at the University of the Salento, Lecce, Italy, 1115 June 2008.

2Interculturality as a leitmotif of our times has emerged as a constant perspective in the approach of the scholars who contributed to the conference, in spite of the great differences in their cultural backgrounds, geographic positionings and areas of interest and research. This reflects a world where it is no longer authenticity, purity and monolithic tradition, but rather contamination, intermingling and cross fertilization that enter critical analysis, as well as the nature of production itself in the field of the oral and written literatures of Africa and the African diaspora. The consequent prismatic nature of the cultural situation enhances the possibilities of creation and at the same time spurs the critic to cross the borders of aesthetic appreciation, thus challenging earlier categorizations, classifications and taxonomies.

3The distancing from a Eurocentric theoretical frame of interpretation in the field of African studies and the re-adjustment of contemporary scholarship along lines of postcolonial flexibility and dialogic dialectics are at the core of the groundbreaking keynote lecture by Ruth Finnegan. In her confessional and illuminating essay Studying the Oral Literatures of Africa in the 1960s and Today, Finnegan retraces the history of a whole generation of intellectuals and scholars, highlighting momentous innovations in a long path of research that has led to the present attention to intertextuality, enlarging the field of analysis and encompassing new elements, such as performance, in order to appreciate the complexities of oral texts. A view of Africa as a continent “marked by historical interactions and intercultural relations” repositions the study of oral literatures within a transnational setting, leading to a revaluation of written African literature not as an imported practice but as a creative expression intertwined with orality. It is for this reason that Finnegan’s essay has been chosen to open this collection as its manifesto and theoretical introduction.

4On the other hand, the changing map of our multicultural contemporaneity compels the Africanist scholar to focus on the new diasporas coming out of Africa and observe the modes of their oral production. In his enlightening keynote lecture Diaspora mandingue en région parisienne et identité culturelle [The Mandingo Diaspora in the Region around Paris and Cultural Identity], Jean Derive brings a deep understanding of the contemporary reality of immigration into the field of scholarly work and explores how oral performances adapt and are transformed into new and old contexts. His essay is a complementary parallel to Finnegan’s introduction and strategically closes the circle of the dynamic discourse of the discipline, while focusing on the transformation of the forms that are the objects of its analysis. It seemed therefore proper to position Derive’s text at the end of our collection as a meaningful conclusion to the series of contributions and a stimulus to breaking new grounds of research as a professional response to the pressures of hard and difficult times.

5The essays of our contributors are organized in three separate sections reflecting the original structure of the Lecce Conference and the areas of investigation explored by the individual scholars.

6The first section, Crossing Cultural Boundaries: Intercultural Relations in the Oral Literatures of Africa, includes presentations and analyses regarding oral texts and the modes of their transmission and popularity, while considering their interconnections with contexts (history, memory, society) and their roles within communities (politics, ideology, gender).

7Françoise Ugochukwu, in Combattre le mal - l’arme du chant collectif au cœur du conflit biafrais [Fighting Evil - the Weapon of Collective Songs at the Heart of the Biafran War] analyses the style and structure of sixteen songs in Igbo, English and Ijo, created during the Nigerian Civil War, in order to explain their political function and understand the reasons behind their progression from the oral to the written form.

8Marame Gueye’s Praise Song for the Good Woman: Islam and Gender in a Famous Senegalese Poem re-reads the Wolof poem “Fatou Gaye” that has enjoyed great success in Senegal for over three decades. Gueye interprets the poem as both panegyric and sexist and points out that its laudatory tone is coupled with a chauvinistic ideology which confines women to the position of second class citizens. Such a belief, according to Gueye, is born out of a Wolof mis/interpretation of the Koran.

9Helen Oronga Mwanzi, in Reflections on Orality and Cultural Expression: Orality as a Peace Culture, examines five songs and one chant all of which relate to the Luhya people’s culture of peace and their need to maintain and cultivate peace at home and within society. The author thus emphasizes the link between oral forms and relationships within the family as the smallest but fundamental unit of the community, by devoting a significant portion of her paper to pre-nuptial songs.

10Ancestors from the East, Spirits from the West: Surviving and Reconfiguring the Exogenous Violence of Global Encounters in the Sahel by Antoinette Tidjani Alou explores foundation narratives existing all over the Sahel region and the hawka spirit possession cult in order to focus on agency in its discussion of the strategies of coming to terms with a history of cultural and political interrelations of conflict. The compelling significance of the topic throws light on the politics of hagiographies and the damage to pre-Islamic indigenous African narratives caused by later day narratives that trace Sahelian people’s origins to the Arab East or to European colonialism.

11The second section, Intertextuality: Creation, Reception and Criticism, invites reflection on the relation between oral and written genres, between orality and other cultural expressions, as well as on translation and related issues raised by the practice and diffusion of oral forms. More than ever before, the current age of globalization requires an open-minded, broad-based comparative perspective on literature that gives an integral and rightful place to orature. As proved by these essays, such a perspective allows for a growth of a world’s library, and also imposes urgent, in-depth approaches to literary definition and criticism, across cultures and registers.

12Hein Willemse’s Aboriginal Southern African Storytelling and the Shaping of Early Afrikaans Literature investigates the pronouncement of South African critics that has amounted to acts of appropriation which served to reinforce the view that the “origins” of Afrikaans literature were one-dimensional and essentially white. In this process the history of non-Afrikaner Afrikaans literary participation is suppressed and the memory of Khoekhoen and San as repressed people further marginalized. The critical analysis is exemplified through Willemse’s debate on the authorship of the tale “Klein Riet-alleen-in-die-Roerkuil”.

13Mumia Geoffrey Osaaji in Elements of Orality in Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s Wizard of the Crow explains the stylistic and didactic significance of the oral features in this novel by the famous Kenyan writer.

14Through the exploration of hybridity, polyphony, and magic realism the scholar reveals the deeply embedded orality in Ngugi’s text and the way his oral choices contribute to soften the sharpness of linguistic colonization of Africa by European languages. Ngugi’s moreover employs orality to express criticism of contemporary postcolonial Africa.

15Des voix des aïeules à Sylvie Vartan: paroles et chants de femmes dans l’Afrique contemporaine dans La mémoire amputée de Werewere Liking [From the Voice of Female Ancestors to Sylvie Vartan: Women’s Words and Chants from Contemporary Africa in Werewere Liking’s La mémoire amputée] by Laura Colombo confronts us with the close contiguity between women and words exemplified by a novel of stunning hybridity where the spoken word develops into song and chant. The writer, singer and actress Werewere Liking calls into action lineages of women whose silences have mothered contemporary Africa in a text where orality revives both African and Western modes.

16Annalisa Oboe, in “Survival is in the mouth” (?): Yvonne Ver a’s Nehanda, looks at how the Zimbabwean writer plays with voice and silence, the oral and written in order to free women from the stillness and the confinement imposed by patriarchal society and colonialism. The writer’s performance pivoting on interculturality brings into life an old feminine myth in a fragmented, ritualistic, multiple-voiced text: a narrative which in fact is not narrated, and an example of “speakerly” writing which requires a “double-dutch reading”.

17Hennie Van Coller’s 772e Role of Orality in Hafid Bouazza’s Paravion interprets this novel as a hybrid of Arabic and Western literary traditions that situates the action among migrant labourers and their families corresponding with each other in the Netherlands and Morocco. The letters are read aloud to illiterate relatives in the communality of the market place where they acquire a strong oral resonance, filling the gap between popular oral tradition and a sophisticated epistolary one.

18The essay by Tal Tamari, La littérature française en traduction bambara: l’exemple du Comte de Monte Cristo [French Literature in Bamana Translation: The Example of The Count of Monte Cristo] examines the interesting case of a translation into the Bamana language of the famous novel by Alexandre Dumas and its great success in independent Mali enhanced by a popular radio broadcast. The author starts from a picture of the Malian context and the role of free radios in the area where the teacher Bakary Tangara establishes his programme, then proceeds to a detailed textual analysis of the process of adaptation and translation.

19Flavia Aiello Traore brings into focus Swahili Children’s Literature in Contemporary Tanzania and compares two main phases in this production, during and after Ujamaa. Since the end of African Socialism, writers have explored the potential of literature producing educational works and experimenting with manipulation and contamination of modes, styles and narrative genres. Both phases however reveal the underlying purpose of redefining national identity, although in different terms.

20The third section, New Crossings: the African Diaspora and Interculturality, is concerned with the cultural results of migrations of African peoples and peoples of the African diaspora in the past and the present. Such diasporic streams represent the contemporary route of diffusion of African oral and other cultures, particularly in the form of music, new literary writing, and performance. The essays interrogate these new influences as they are experienced and received in their new spaces of implantation and development, considering also the way in which they impact on local cultures.

21Pierpaolo Martino’s Transnational Metamorphoses of African Orality: L. K. Johnson’s Dub Poetry examines dub poetry as a major form of Black popular art and a perfect mix of tradition and experimentation, of past and present. Developing from reggae music in Jamaica and Britain, dub poetry basically implies a process of rewriting/retelling or better rearranging voices which, through their specific individual grain, open the way to stories asking for other voices and stories. The figure of LKJ, an icon of Black Britain but also of modernity altogether, is the central focus of a study in individual poetic production as well as Caribbean immigrant culture and its hybridisation.

22The Trinidadian Calypso as Oral Heritage: Linguistic and Cultural Issues in the Italian Translation of V. S. Naipaul’s Miguel Street, by Mariacristina Petillo, observes calypso as a meaningful aspect of the cultural continuum between Africa and America, investigating its role in V.S. Naipaul’s novel. The translation into Italian shows the peculiar difficulties in rendering the colloquial liveliness of the Creole language and the text’s oral relevance.

23Maria Grazia Sindoni’s Creole in the Caribbean: How Oral Discourse Creates Cultural Identities addresses issues relating to oral and written traditions that throw light on the forms of the Creole linguistic continuum. The examples discussed in the analysis are actually taken from contemporary Caribbean novels in order to give evidence of the transformation of the literary genre in the area under the impact of African derived modes of narration.

24The actual presentations of the papers at Lecce were enriched by a set of live performances by Italian writers of African origin who offered multifaceted examples of the process of cross influence and hybridization visible in Italian culture as a result of the impact of immigration from African countries. Among the artists present in a special session and/or performing solo in special venues, there were the writers Kaha Aden (Somalia), Gabriella Ghermandi (Ethiopia), Pap Khouma (Senegal), Tahar Lamri (Algeria), the Senegalese griot and actor Mandiaye Ndiaye, and the South African oral poet and performer Natalia Molebatsi. These events were enriched by performances of traditional popular music and ritual dances from the Salento - the region around Lecce -, creative expressions hybridised in sound and text thanks to the composite suggestions of contemporary production.

25As editors of this collection we express our gratitude to the Journal des Africanistes that generously offered its hospitality and the colleagues from France who contributed to the realization of this project.

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Itala Vivan, Maria Renata Dolce, Caterina Colomba, Chiji Akoma et Juliana Nf ah-Abbenyi, « Literary Creation and the Archives of Memory Through the Lens of Interculturality », Journal des africanistes, 80-1/2 | 2010, 9-14.

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Itala Vivan, Maria Renata Dolce, Caterina Colomba, Chiji Akoma et Juliana Nf ah-Abbenyi, « Literary Creation and the Archives of Memory Through the Lens of Interculturality », Journal des africanistes [En ligne], 80-1/2 | 2010, mis en ligne le 06 juillet 2011, consulté le 30 novembre 2020. URL : ; DOI :

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Itala Vivan

Università degli Studi, Milano.

Maria Renata Dolce

Université del Salento, Lecce.

Caterina Colomba

Università del Salento, Lecce.

Chiji Akoma

Villanova University, Pennsylvania.

Juliana Nf ah-Abbenyi

North Carolina State University.

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