On Language Hegemony and Diversity in African Literature.
By: Kọ́lá Túbọ̀sún,
The language question in African literature is as old as the oldest books written by Africans in or about the continent. But it is not as old as Africans producing artistic content that will, today, likely be called literature. This is because before the first European or Arab set foot on the continent, the people who live there have been producing music, poetry, and other intellectual art forms some of which were merely passed down through family griots but never written down or ‘published’ in the conventional sense.
So that when the conversation about what language African literature should be produced in took over as an important intervention in modern times, the debate is between whether African languages deserve a space in the conversation on literature or not, and not whether in making that dichotomy, we have actually ignored the rich history of the continent that never needed the written word to engage in a literary culture.
In this series of readings, I want to engage readers in a conversation, not just about the positions taken by African writers and scholars on the use of African languages in literature — though this will take a crucial part of the conversation — but whether an opportunity exists to celebrate what already exists as a legacy of African poetic outputs over the years. And whether there exists anywhere in the 21st century a place of power, not just in literary translations into hegemonic languages, for African creative literary output, old or contemporary.