reviewer: Paul Zisiwe*
Africa is at a critical point in its evolution as both a continent and the cradle of a collective human heritage. A medley of processes of transition that have extensive implications on the formation of a new consciousness espoused by many theorists who speculated about a “new mind” – the next level of our civilization’s collective consciousness; are being moulded to a large scale on African social and ideological experiences. We are indeed living at a pivotal and volatile time, when all foundations of human civilization are crumbling, idioms of our bravado burning with volumes of a false history born by blindfolded eyes. Sea-levels are rising, children massacred through the stomach and the pill of religion sedates millions.
But who will be the sacred voices of a future motivated by rebellion against conformity? Who will ruin memory’s death festival with truer accusations against enemy of our collective soul? And in a new anthology – Voice From My Clan, writings by contemporary African storytellers have been compiled to provide a pond for re-collective narratives which represent a holistic memory that is being carried forward from a war-torn African of yesteryears. These sobering stories mirror a vast array of social experiences explored with clear and diverse literary styles, clad in a language akin of innocence’s new-born observation, while hurling the most brutal truths about the trek of a colonized people’s trauma and psychologically engineered fears and rages.
A retelling of mythological themes seems to be the thread that weaves the collection’s tapestry through various cultures and sociopolitical phenomena. From “near-drowning at the forbidden side of a river”, ” the miserly mysteries of initiation ceremonies”, to the consequences of “discovering a sacred fish”; all these syllables of a coded language are tapping into reserves of our naturally confronted mortality.
Easy categorization of the writers and their writing is impossible due to the multiplicity of their perspectives. And their works serve not only to essentially insert African culture into western literary traditions but to affirm its essence in the literary traditions of the species. Yet, a plethora of pitfalls are still encountered by contemporary African literature when compelled to express itself in the English language. And coupled with the history associated with the drive for universalism by most writers, most often formed around the choice of this language, a new compartmentalization through language emerges as the primary enemy of the diversification of literary practice in Africa of today.
With this in mind, and still commending the talent that bestowed such narrative treasures for our collective understanding, I would truly hope that the anthology reaches as many linguistic landscapes as it has captured in the compilation of short stories. Undeniably, a slow, insidious ignorance among the new generation of African writers has inadvertently eroded the folkloric narrative method of knowledge transmission in recent narratives, and this has had a detrimental effect on a variety of creative disciplines which draw from the literary tradition.
Through lack of story, observable is how contemporary cinema from the continent has become redundant and void of depth to an extend that experimentalism has been employed to mask a deprived narrative consistency, we find African identities being vicariously represented without authenticity that is both visible and functional its people.
Fortunately, this anthology asserts the existence of a literary gaze capacitated to resuscitate a variety of imaginative experiences which can shine through the entire spectrum of creative practices for the posterity of unadulterated African expression. The simplicity of a child’s tyrannical depiction of events in BOFF and the femininely congenial Daughter’s Pride, offer rich literary devices unique to the writer’s experiences, yet the images invoked in the reader’s mind construct a symbolism which should be of interest to those keen on creating superb cinematic representation of the stories.
Adoption and adaptation of such crafted depositories of communal experiences into films therefore becomes the New African Filmmaker’s benchmark of honouring indigenous people’s indigenous oral technologies and traditions. In this light, I infer to propose that Voices From My Clan form part of inaugural anthologies to be adapted for film specifically, thus cementing the stories into a global digital library that goes beyond the word and onto a projection screen; fusing media to communicate with a future that might never require the art of reading.
It is critical that a comprehensive analysis of themes prevalent in these stories be afforded meticulous attention within an accessible discussion of the social and political contexts in which they arose. I hope this introductory piece can therefore spark a discussion around sustenance of longevity of such tales and fables, while issues of translation, would restore and bestow visibility for the stories. Induction into school curricula is another matter to be academically explored. In conclusion, the age-bracket of the writers in this volume proves adequately that an incontestable reservoir of new voices is growing, producing a modern liberated and interrogative African literature that transcends age groups, gender politics, cultural borders, as well as ethical constructs.
And furthermore, the majority of the writers being born post-colonialism and safe from its various unmourned faces all over the continent, they are shielded by character to deconstruct all forces of rational signification and say things which are considered taboo by virtue of a certain lack of experiential bias. This can perhaps prove useful for the concern of the new writer, who does not feel narrowly concerned with political motivations in their literature, but an expression of individual voices engaged in storage and arrangement of knowledge, which is equivalent to personal revolutionary actions.
*Paul Zisiwe blogs at diaryofspacegiven.blogspot.com