_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Sciellces sociales et itllmailles
Ulliversité de Kara

Facilité des Lettres et Sciellces Hllmailles,
Départemellt d'Anglais
Kara - Togo
Eurocentric criticisms ofi\\frican literature are an illustration ofa delibemte desire to impose Western
norms on African literature. Fliropean attacks on African literature concentrate on the do mains ofthe
then:es developed. the techniques of wri ting, the concepts. and the general philosophy ofliterary theory.
Ct'itics trom other pmts ofthe world. usingAti'ican literary productions. tried to find parallels in what they
knew 1rom their own countries. For them, Atrican literature must be oriented towards Western standards
sincc they consider Atrican ways l<) he primitive. This is the beginning of Western influence on African
literature.ll1is situation continucs untèlltunately. and African Iiterature today, is totally dominated by Western
values. The pmpose ofthis at.ticlc is both to highlight sorne aspects ofthe influence ofthis cultural imperialism
on African literature and to emphasize the need for a cultural restoration in this domain.
Kev l1'orc1s:
Afrim. lileralure, crilicism, cultural imperialism
.I.a critique européenne, désireuse d'imposer des normes occidentales à la littérature africaine. a
accusé celle-ci de primitive. Les accusations ainsi fonnulées concernent les thèmes développés. les techniques
d'écriture utilisées, les concepts abordés et la philosophie générale qui sous-tend l' at.tlittéraire. La littérature
ati'icai nc a été malheureusement comparée à des modèles étrangers. avec comme objectifde lui donner une
:! nouvelle oricntation basée sLU'des principes nouveaux. C'est le début de l'influence occidentale sur la littérature
ati'icainc à laquelle des nonnes et des règlements ont été «imposés». Aujourd'hui. la littérature africaine est
totalement dominée par des vakurs occidentales. Le point de cet article est d'analyser l'impact de cet
impérialisme culturel sur la littérature atricaine et insister sur la nécessité d'une restauration culturelle dans ce
.\\Iols clés. Afi"ique, littérature. critique. impérialisme culturel.
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into consideration the motivations and the cultural
background against which it is written. Many African
. writers exploited with sucees!> the use ofpraverbs, tales.
.myths, community festivals, traditional ceremonies,
music and dancing for their Iiterary creations. They
Sorne time ago, the literary image ofAfuca was
succeed in giving to their work an African quality and
created almost entirely by'non-Africans.With their
Afiican character.
superiority complex, these people had a lopsided view
.. For Christopher Heywood "the African writer
of African literature and 'C.onsidered it prirtütive.
must give back to theAfricancharacter the will to act
because they have been using western standards ta
and change the scheme ofthings" (1968: 7). In Achebe 's
evaluate il. This attitude from th~ West Creates a
fiction, for exanlple, the characters have a vital
situation ofa double colonization: the one suffered by
relationship with their social and economic landscape.
Africans withall its consequences ofhumiliating slavery
Theirwhole views. theirs aspirations, have been shaped
and that which has been trying to impose Western
by a particular environment. Thus, Achebe has paved
norms and standards on Afiican literature. The result
the way. He has succeeded in giving human dignity to
is that few Africans would see any relevance at ail in
his African characters. In defence ofAfiican philosophy
their own cultural system which is frequently said to
and identity he had this to say:
be backward, or at best folkloric with a poor quality.
In this essay, we will focus on Western influence on
If! were God, 1would regard as the very worst
African literature and show why the quest for
our acceptance, for whatever reason, of racial
africanness inAfrican literature should be the urgent
inferiority. It is too late in the day to get worked
preoccupation ofaU Africans.
up about il or to blame others, much as they
Chinua Achebe, who is regarded by many
deserve such blame and condemnation. What
scholars as «the father ofAfrican literature in English»
we need to do is to look and find out where
declared that the African writer has a responsibility
we went wrong, where the rain began to beat
different from that ofhis western counterpart. This is
also my opinion because African literature is an
1?e creative African writer must make sure he presents
autonomous entity separate and apart from ail other
hls community to both itselfand to others. It should be
literatures. It has its own traditions, models and norms.
a community that discusses its experiences with itself.
It is understandably different from European and other
commenting, for entertainment and enlightenment, upon
literatures. Its history and culture impose upon it
the world in which it finds itself. He must be concemed
preoccupations which at times are quite different from
with the artistic tradition ofhis people, their present.
those of other literatures. These ideas concern also
but also their future. Pioneers like Achebe have got a
African literature written in European languages.
sense of the general direction, trying to control the
Because ofthis, sorne concerns ofother peoples seem
consciousness oftheir people within the context in which
to have no validity in the contextAfrican literature.
A~rican liter~ture, 1think, must operate. Sorne people
Literature reflects the value system and the
think thatAfrica should always he in a situation whereby
expectations ofthe society from wmch it springs. And
Europe is to decide when it is ripe. Europe is thought
as Roscoe observes: "Much ofAfrica is still a land of
to be the master who knows what is good and what is
of people who continue to stay close
bad for Africa. Africans are even urged to go western
enough to the earth to hear its pastoral symphonies
as ~uch as possible. They seethesethingspitifully and
and to feel strongly the spin ofFate's wheel and to
pamfully, because it is as if their continent had no
learn to endure" (1981: 250). Because African
traditions ofits own. Afiica has its cultural tradition, ils
literature stems from oral traditions, it retains many
re!igious, economic or political backgrounds and a
vestiges oforal art. This can he noted in the writings
history of glory in creative art. Ali these are
ofArmah, Aidoo, Tutuola, ükara, and the power of
characteristics that deserve serious attention. Ngugi,
proverbs in Achebe's fiction, etc. The writer in my
view has the responsibility to present to his audiences
the stresses and joys ofAfiican societies as they take
place. He must capture and create the tone and texture
1 This quote is from Christopher Heywood,
of the life of this people in his work. So, African
Perspectives on African Lilerature,
literature can only be relevant and useful when it takes
Pelican Books 1London: J 968), p.7
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Tutuola, Amadi and many others adopted various
SomeAfrican pioneer writers are accused ofprirnitivism
techniques in which they have utilized material from
and their works are considered problematic. because
African tales, fables, proverbs, epigrams, etc ... to
they introduce in human affairs supematural beings and
convey useful messages to national and international
occurrences which the European academics officially
audiences. The African writer, who has chosen today
regard as superstitions worthy ofbeliefonly among the
to write about divination, witchcraft, benevolent as weil
primitives and infantile minds. Aresponse to this may
as malevolent interventions ofGods and spirits inhuman
be whatAchebe said that "African writers write out of
affairs, etc, must revisit the variousAfrican folk tale
experience and ofcommitrnent to African Destiny. For
traditions to leam the traditional conventions for handling
them that destiny does not include a future European
such characters, incidents and settings. AnAfrican writer
identity" (1998; 50). If the Africans themselves have
who bas chosen to take inspiration fromAfrican realities
not banished sorne considerations and beliefs from their
and write fer his African audience, must be aware that
lives, is it the prerogative ofa non-African to do so?
characters, themes, techniques that are absent from
Colonialist critics conceive ofAfrican writing as
European novels for example, can have a place in the
an overseas extension of European literatures and,
African nove!. Africa is not Europe, and should not be
therefore, fail to realise the need to adjust their sights.
expected to do things necessarily like Europe. Sorne
It is a well-known fact that the entireAfrican continent
prominentAfrican writers, as we have stated earlier
went through colonialism and because of this, its
on, have utilized materials from tales, fables, and
contemporary culture is under foreign domination. But
proverbs; and the structure and texture of their
1 think that our culture has to destroy the colonial
narrations have counterparts in short as weil as extended
mentality and map out new foundations for an African
oral narratives. But what is it that has happened to the
modemity. It is a challenge which will emphasize the
folk tales of our African villages, no one can tel!.
continuity and even the development ofthe valuable
The Euro-centric writers claim that the only
aspects of our pre-colonial culture and literature. Of
legitimate model to African literature is and ought to be
course, the accomplishment ofthis task must benefit
Europe. But African societies include the world of
from the vitalizing contributions from other cultures in
spirits, the dead, the living, and even the unborn.
order for a healthy synthesis from themall to be
Because ofthis, it would be rather surprising ifthere
should be no divergences between African and
There is a general remark today. Literature seems
European literatures. A legitimate part of the African
to be a domain reserved only for the elite. African
view oflife and the world involves the world of the
li terature is taught in schools and discnssed at
spirits. The Africans, whether Christian or not,
conferences among scholars and specialists. The greater
intellectual or illiterate in their great rnajority, still consult
majority ofour people are there apparent! y unconcemed
divinities and diviners when they have health problems
with whatever it is that is going on in the field ofAfrican
or when their business is in a mess. Western ways are
literature. This state ofaffairs should not be explained
good, but you ron back to your ancestral roots when
only by the fact that the greater majority ofAfricans are
things get out ofhand. These things are deeper than
illiterate. It is a fact that even among the intellectuals:
foreigners may t!llnk. Why is it that sorne critics consider
many are not interested in African literature, for lack of
primitive a beIiefin a world of spirits, magic, human
motivation. 1think that a much closer relationship must
communicating with the dead and other supernatural
develop between the African writer and his African
occurrences and identifY them as a «childhood of
audience ifwe don't wantAfrican literature to be dealt
civilisation» (Chinweizu, 1998; 23). Africans have
with as art for art sake. There must be a return to
internalized prejudices ofimperialistic criticism. The
indigenous sources for material and inspiration. to
white man has used his language to convey a feeling of
Africa's ancient oral traditions, religions, customs,
superiority and domination in every domain ofAfrican
folklore and myth, which are carried down in African
life, includingarts. Chinweiw and his friends have cried
vernaculars, and which our people must continue to
loud and c1ear for the decolonization ofAfrican literature.
tap with enthusiasm and dignity in order to keep alive
For them, the European standards which are set for
our African identity.
African literature today are a dangerous death-grip from
which it must be released. It is a manifestation of a
cultural imperialism, to try to constrain the developments
ofAfrican literature by demanding strict and exclusive
adherence to the characteristics of Western strains.
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and material for the inspiration ofliterary art. Today,
writings, sorne African writers have dangerously
Africa's cultural collision with Europe has involvç:d the
degraded African personality and philosophy. A case
loss ofa certain part ofthe'traditional herita~e, while
in point is the feminist writing in African literature.ln
Western cultural elements have been absorbed. But,
their fight against the forces of patriarchy, poIygamy,
this situation must be utilized by the African writer for
child marriage and levirate, rnany African female writers
the sake ofhis people. This literature ofAfricans must
attack the very fOLlndation ofAfrican society which,
be original and avoid a slavish imitation ofWestern
they say, is strongly built against woman's progress and
models and practice. The wish here is to seeAfrican
emancipation. The appearance of«Feminisms» toda~
literature advance positively with its own heritage largely
is a sign ofthe profound disagreement among women
intact, with the addition only ofwhat is advantageous
themselves with regard to the African female agenda
to absorb. In his Culture et Colonisation Aimé Césaire
which, sorne ofthem think, must be. different from that
made the point that, .
oftheir Western counterparts.
Once again, the African needs inspiration from
ln the new African culture, there will be new
the rich customs and traditions ofthe African soil ifhe
elements, modem elements, elements borrowed
wants to be heard, understood, and appreciated not
from Europe. But we also believe that many
only by an international audience but also by a national
traditional elements will live on in this culture. We
audience. Ifin spite ofhis modernity, the African has
refuse to yield to the tabula rasaJemptation. 1
never been wholly severed from the cradle of a
refuse to believe that any future African culture
continuous culture; African writers should consider this
will totally and brutally reject the old order.J
characteristic and play their role oflight bearers fortheir
people on their way to a better future. There are
The language factor should not be seen as a
examples ofworks which are models ofmemorable
hindrance to the authenticity in African literature.
thought and utterances from the African world. These
Achebe and many other famous African writers have
examples ofachievements ofthe African peoples in the
already succeeded to africanize the English language in
homeland and in the Diaspora show with admiration
order to make it express the local experience of the
whatAfrican literature cannot afford to cast aside in its
African peoples. Working in a foreign language may
fascination with and emulation ofWestern literature.
even have its advantages.
African critics who tend to be Euro-centric whereas
Our assimilation ofWestern cultures should be
they should be Afrocentric, and who view African
selective and discriminating with thorough anaIysis as
literature through European eyes, must see the need
to the compatibility ofsorne patterns ofbehaviours and
for a restorative cultural emeiprise and its literary
thoughts to the nature of society and people that we
implications for Afiica. Africa's literary culture must be
are and nature ofsociety we wish to create in Africa.
decolonized - to LIse Chinweizu's term. As he put it,
We'have no right to lose our moral and spiritual values
which constitute the core ofAfrican identity and which
The cultural task in hand is to end ail foreign
do not have the same place in the so-called advanced
domination ofAfrican culture, to systematically
nations. These values must be disseminated to offer the
destroy ail encrustations of colonial and slave
opportunity to man to crown his achievements in this
mentality, to clear the bushes and stake out new
world characterized by lA. Sofola as a world of ...
foundations for a liberatedAfrican modemity. This
is something that must take place in ail spheres of
Extreme individuality ofWestern atomic robot
African life in govemment, industry, family and
who considers himselfand his interests alone, who
soç,iallife, education, city planning, architecture,
sees himselfin a Hobbesian manner ofthought in
arts, entertainment etc. (1980: 01).
which every human being is considered to be at
war with another human being and therefore, ail
African oral traditions which are an important
people are potential enemies against whom he
reservoir ofAfrican values, aesthetics and achievement~
must protect himself(1973: 19)
oftraditionaiAfricanthought must serve as a foundation
and a guideline to the authenticAfrican literature we
Western culture and philosophy is now leading
are calling for. Our oral traditions must be the root from
the world, and the novel form for example which is
whichAfrican literature must continue to draw inspiration
from the West, is obliging theAfrican writer to generaIize
and sustenance. Africans must put an end to the
Jlany important issues. In their desire to westemize their
mutilations their arts and culture are suffering. We must
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seek the traditions into which modernAfrican writings
colonial impediments and fight for an authentic
should insert thernselves and look for qualities and norrns
development ofAfrican literature.
which are transferable from our oral traditions to
modernAfrican literature. If nothing is done, in one or
two decades to come, the double consciousness and
cultural hybridity imposed on the continent by the white
Achebe, Chinua, 1958. Things FaU Apart.
man, will create a situation whereby the African wri ters
Ibadan, Heinemann.
and critics will consider their profession as an overseas
department ofEuropean literature, forgetting that African
- - , ] 960. A l'l'mi' o{ Cod. Ibadan,
literature has a tradition of its own, an audience to
address, and interests to defend. 111ese preoccupations
should be, among others, the concerns that can help to
3. - - , 1988. Hopes and Impediments. Ibadan,
create the unique experience ofAfrican literary tradition
which would make again the pride of our gloriûus
peoples in the years to come. In the legacy ofthe post
- - , 1974. «Colonialist Criticism». Paper
colonial experience, the idea of culture has been
presented at the Commonwealth Literaturè
entangled with Western practices. And since the 1980s,
Conference at Makerere, Kampala.
a growing corpus ofwritings has debated questions
about the relation between the hegemony of Western
Amuta, Chidi, 1989. The Theory o/AFù;an
discourses and the possibilities ofresistance, and about
Literature. London; Zed Books.
the formation ofcolonial and post-colonial subjects.
The post-colonial theory and writings have become an
Amstrong, R. o., «Vemacular Language and
attempt to intervene in the construction ofculture and
Cultures in Modern Africa», Languages
knowledge, and, for intellectuals who come from post-
in A(rica, (cd.) John spencer.
colonial societies, to write back into a history others
have written. For Achebe, (mo thinking African can
Césaire, Aimé,
1956. «Culture et
escape the pain ofthe wound in our soul». That is why
Colonisation», Présence Africaine, vol 8, na
he was determined to help his society «regain its belief
in itself and put away the complexes of the years of
denigratioll». His writings mirrorthe profound unease
Chinweizu et Al.,
] 980.
Towards the
which amicts contemporary Africa and the deep decay
Decolonization ofA(rican Literature. Enugu, Forth
in our culture.
African literature is produced out ofcultural and
social circumstances that must be understood and
9. DOSSOU - YOVO. Noe!. 1994 A Surv('\\ of
preserved if we don 't want to miss the benefits of
African Literature with Emphasis on
enriching human experience. Though there have been
Fiction». Annales de la FLASH, na 5, pp.21 -43.
profound changes inAfrica since independence, and
African literature has been introduced in the scheme of
10. Echeruo, Michael, 1973. Joyce Cary and the
world literature, the African writer and cri tic should
Novel ofA(rica. Nsuka; Longman.
broaden their actions now and liberate thernselves from
the bondage of the former colonial power. To rcach
this aim, they need inspiration and energy to engage in
an active nationalist consciousness. Our writers and
critics must avoid being conned into pseudo-
In conclusion to this analysis, it seems fair to
Chlllua Achebe. "Till: Role of (he Writer in il Ne\\-,' Nallon"
African Wrilers on IY,.,frng. ~d. GD Kilian. Northw,:slt:rn linlver";l!\\,
say thatAfrican literature should be restored to its
Press (Evans!on: 197J 1. p9.
traditional roots which show African pride and
2 Leonard. Dooh. «Til\\.'
PsycilologJc.a1 Prcssurl: UpOIl Ihe Modèrll
dignity, because "Les rapports entre le littéraire et le
Africam>, Modern A/nul. (eds.) Mc Ev.'an and SUldillc, p376
social sont d'une très grande intimité"4. African
The passage is quokd 1'rom Roscoe. MOlller is Gold. op. (il., pA.
~ Nubukpo. K. Messan. 1990. «PourquoI enseigner la Ijll~ralLln;».
writers must raise their intellectual and artistic
Acres des Jourmfes Scientifiques de l' U. H, volullle 1. pp 10 - 19
performances above the bygone days to eschew the
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Il. froster, E. M, 1962. Aspects of the Novel.
Baskerville, Pelican Books.
15. Roscoe, Adrian, 1981. Mother is Gold: A Study
in West African Literature.
12. Heywood, Christopher, 1968. Perspectives on
Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
African Literature. London,
16. SûfûLA, .1. A., 1973. A/hcan Culture and
Personality. Ibadan; African Resources
13. Jones, Eldred, 1968. «The Decolonization ofAfrican
Literature», The Writer in
Modern Africa,
ed. Per Wastberg, Upsala.
17. Soyinka, Wole, 1976. Myth, Literature and the
African World, Cambridge, Cambridge
14. Larson,'Charles, 1972. The Emergence ofAfrican
University Press.
Fiction. Bloomington, University
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