African Literature: History, Characteristics, and Notable Authors

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10 Questions

Where was writing invented in ancient Africa?

Northeast Africa, specifically in Egypt

What had a significant impact on Africa, leading to the expansion of deserts and the isolation of the continent from the outside world?

Climate change

What is a point of contention among authors when defining African literature?

The language in which the literature is written

How many nations make up the continent of Africa?


What is the name of the sacred scripture that talks about the creation of humans through the power of the creator's heart and speech?

The Memphis Theology

Who are some notable individuals from Africa who have made significant contributions to the world?

Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and Charlize Theron

What was the impact of colonization on the themes of African literature?

It resulted in the exploitation of indigenous people and resources

What is the term used to describe the mass dispersion of people from Africa during the transatlantic slave trade?

The African Diaspora

What is the name of the novel that depicts pre-colonial life in Nigeria and the invasion by Europeans during the late 19th century?

Achebe's Things Fall Apart

What is the purpose of proverbs in oral literature?

To communicate a response to a particular situation

Study Notes

  • The video discusses the brave history and background of African and Asian literature, with a focus on the history and characteristics of African literature.
  • Africa is the second-largest continent on earth, widely recognized as the birthplace of humankind, and is home to a diverse range of languages and cultures.
  • The earliest known reported history of Africa dates back to ancient Egypt, and later in Nubia, the Sahel, the Maghrib, or the northwest Africa, and the Horn of Africa or the Somali Peninsula.
  • Writing was invented in northeast Africa during the Bronze Age, specifically in Egypt, where the Egyptians developed tools and weapons out of bronze.
  • Climate change had a significant impact on Africa, leading to the expansion of deserts and the isolation of the continent from the outside world.
  • The Arabs introduced Islam to Africa during the Middle Ages, and by the 11th and 12th centuries, it had spread across Africa.
  • There are 15 nations that make up Africa, each with their own history, culture, tribes, and traditions.
  • Defining African literature can be complicated, with some authors believing it can only be composed in African languages, while others believe it can be composed in any language as long as it is written by authors from Africa.
  • Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and Charlize Theron are notable individuals from Africa who have made significant contributions to the world.
  • African literature has origins dating back thousands of years to ancient Egypt, with hieroglyphs being a well-known form of writing that uses pictures to represent words.
  • The Memphis Declaration of Dieties, or the Memphis Theology, is a sacred scripture that talks about the creation of humans through the power of the creator's heart and speech.
  • Papyrus is the first type of paper invented by Egyptians, and writing flourished during this time, leading to the development of literary texts.
  • African and Arabic cultures continued to blend with European culture and literature to form a unique literary form, consisting of a body of words in different languages and genres.
  • The history of Africa is marked by hardships, including colonization, which had a significant impact on the themes of its literature.
  • Colonization led to the exploitation of indigenous people and resources, resulting in economic instability, cultural oppression, and the loss of educational systems.
  • The African diaspora refers to the mass dispersion of people from Africa during the transatlantic slave trade from the 1500s to the 1800s.
  • The development of African writing was influenced by missionaries who came to Africa to build churches, teach languages, and translate religious texts.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa, also known as Black Africa, developed a written literature during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
  • The most popular works of African literature have been published since 1950, including Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart", which depicts pre-colonial life in Nigeria and the invasion by Europeans during the late 19th century.
  • Oral literature has flourished in Africa for many centuries, taking various forms including folk tales, myths, epics, funeral dirges, praise poems, and proverbs.
  • Myths explain the interrelationships of all things that exist, providing a sense of place in relation to the environment and the forces that order events on earth.
  • Examples of oral literature include the Sundiata epic and the Window Epic, which talk about heroes and their supernatural powers.
  • Dirges are chanted during funeral ceremonies, while praise poems are epithets called out in reference to an object or person, celebrating their outstanding qualities and achievements.
  • Storytelling is an art that masks the past, making it mysterious and seemingly inaccessible, while proverbs are short, witty, or ironic statements that aim to communicate a response to a particular situation.
  • The transition from oral tradition to written word was influenced by ancient Egyptian scribes, Hausa and Swahili copyists, and contemporary writers of popular novellas.
  • Popular literature, also known as pulp literature, is inexpensive magazines or fiction made of chip wood pulp paper.
  • Scholars have identified three waves of literary literacy in Africa: one in Ethiopia, one with the spread of Islam, and one in the written literature of Africa.
  • African written literature is a combination of the real and the fantasy, with a focus on myth, history, and heroism.
  • The writer invents characters and events that correspond to history but are not really the whole of its history, combining the contemporary world and the realistic world of the past.
  • Myth and history are deeply intertwined in African literature, with a hero embodying the essence of the history or battling it.
  • Themes in contemporary African literature include the struggle between traditional and modern, rural and urban, genders, and generations.
  • Characteristics of African literature include slave narratives, protests against colonization, calls for independence, African pride, hope for the future, and the desert.
  • Chinua Achebe is considered the father of African literature, known for his novel "Things Fall Apart".Here is a summary of the text in detailed bullet points:

• The imposition of Western customs on traditional African society is a key concern in African literature, with a focus on the moments of crisis in emergent Africa.

• Ethiopian literature is one of the oldest African literatures, with written records dating back to the 14th century, including the Kebra Nagast (The Glory of Kings), which tells the story of Menelik, the son of Solomon and Makada, the Queen of Sheba.

• In the 15th century, another important work, The Miracles of Mary, was written, and at the end of the 19th century, missionaries brought the printing press to Ethiopia, leading to the publication of books in Amharic.

• In the 1920s, newspapers in Amharic began to appear, and translations of European literary works, including John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, were published.

• Two writers, Gabra George and Hérold Walda Selassie, created the foundation for the Ethiopian literary tradition, with works that critiqued child marriage and extolled Christianity and Western technology.

• Drama and poetry also developed in Ethiopian literature, with playwrights like Gabra Egsy Abhere, who frequently took an ironic view of traditional life and attitudes in his poetry.

• After World War II, Ethiopian literature continued to flourish, with themes of the relationship between humans and gods, the difficulties of life, and the importance of humility and acceptance.

• Other notable Ethiopian writers include Germachew Tekle-Hawariat, who wrote about the struggles of being educated abroad and returning to Africa, and Aklilu Zewde, who wrote drama reinforcing Christian values and attacking materialism.

• In Hausa literature, the first novels were written in the 1930s, as a result of a competition launched by the Translation Bureau in Northern Nigeria.

• Notable Hausa writers include Usman, who wrote a war song, and Ihaji Omaro, who wrote about social problems and poverty.

• In Swahili literature, the classical period was marked by the work of Omar al-Nabani, who wrote a critical chronicle, and Kabari Zalamu, who wrote the Lambo Chronicle, which took the 18th and 19th centuries as its subject.

• Other notable Swahili writers include Sha'aban Robert, who wrote poetry, prose, and proverbs, and was one of the most dynamic and long-lasting effects of contemporary Swahili literature.

• In the colonial period, Africans began to write in Western languages, including English, French, and Portuguese, and in traditional African languages.

• The first African novel written in English was published in 1911 by Joseph Ibrahim Hayford, also known as Ekra-Agyeman, from the Gold Coast (now Ghana).

• Other notable African writers in the colonial period include Olaudah Equiano, who wrote a biography about his experiences as a slave, and Herbert Isaac Ernest Dhlomo, who published the first English-language African play in 1935.

• In the post-colonial period, African literature grew dramatically in quantity and recognition, with numerous African works appearing in Western academic curricula and best-of lists.

• The themes of post-colonial African literature include the clash between Africa's past and present, between tradition and modernity, between indigenous and foreign, and between individualism and community.

• Notable post-colonial African writers include Nadine Gordimer, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1991, and Wole Soyinka, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986.

• Other contemporary African writers include Chenjerai Hove, Ayi Kwei Armah, Ama Ata Aidoo, Nadine Gordimer, and Ben Okri.

Explore the rich history and background of African literature, from its ancient origins to modern-day writers. Learn about the characteristics of African literature, including its focus on myth, history, and heroism. Discover notable authors such as Chinua Achebe, Nadine Gordimer, and Wole Soyinka, and their contributions to the world of literature.

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