Monday, November 07, 2005

Oral tradition no longer needed: Achebe

I was interested to read comments by Chinua Achebe where the great Nigerian writer insisted that there would be no cause for concern if oral storytelling died out.

"Oral storytelling was important when I was writing - it may not be important when the next generation is writing," he said. "Obviously I believe in the importance of stories, but whether oral, or written, or televised, I cannot lay down the law. We are fascinated by the oral tradition, and it's right that we should be fascinated. But if it's not going to work any more in the future, then rather than sit and weep and mourn, why don't we find out what has come to replace it?"

He also expressed the hope where the indigeneous languages of Africa would begin to re-assert themselves.

"I have made provision for that myself, by writing certain kinds of material in Igbo. For instance, I will insist my poetry is translated back into Igbo while I'm still around," he noted.

Though his hope is certainly laudable, it remains to be seen how realistic it is. The publishing industry in Africa is in a lamentable state, even when dealing with books written in more widely-spoken languages like English, French and Arabic.

It seems that for the publishing industry to make any progress in Africa, there needs to be some sort of collaborative transnational effort on a continental, or at least regional, scale. While conflict and macroeconomic issues are understandably of higher priority to institutions like the African Union and ECOWAS, these bodies certainly shouldn't forget the importance of culture.


At 5:20 PM, Blogger Chippla Vandu said...

While it would be nice to see more books written in indigenous African languages (there are a few), I doubt if the market exists for such. Much of Africa is caught at a crossroad – in Nigeria for instance, though most people speak indigenous languages few can read or write them.

There used to be newspapers in indigenous languages. I can't be certain they still exist. The most widely known and read papers are all in English.

Achebe is right. Oral storytelling is all but dead. I think it would be a great idea to have these stories documented. I actually thought of doing a project in this regard some time ago.

For now African writers should concentrate on writing in languages that give them a wide audience. Had Achebe chosen to write in Igbo and not English, he would not have become the household name he is today in Nigeria. Unfortunate as it may sound, it's a reality we all have to live with. English, French, Portuguese and Arabic have become de-facto parts of African culture by virtue of history. They ought to be cherished.

At 2:45 PM, Blogger uknaija said...

We need to rekindle the reading culture in whatever medium before moving to what language it's in


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