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Corporeality as Ideological Trope in African Drama

La corporalité dans le théâtre africain : un trope idéologique
George D. Nyamndi

Résumé

La réflexion critique sur le théâtre africain s’est très largement concentrée sur la socio-esthétique de la forme. Elle a associé en particulier les origines et l’évolution du théâtre en Afrique aux histoires diverses et chartes esthétiques du continent, et partant de là, elle a posé l’existence d’un lien miroir entre théâtre et expérience vécue. Tout en nous inscrivant dans cette tradition, nous proposons dans cet article de faire du corps un lieu privilégié du combat idéologique. En nous appuyant sur des productions théâtrales appropriées à cette étude, notamment celles du Kenyan Ngugi wa Thiong’o et du Camerounais Bole Butake, nous montrons que le dramaturge se sert du langage du corps comme outil de l’articulation idéologique. Aussi défendons-nous le point de vue suivant : l’intention idéologique est d’autant plus forte, d’autant plus efficace qu’elle s’exprime dans la chair et dans le sang.

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Texte intégral

There can be no end to the discussion of the African encounter with Europe, because the wounds inflicted touched the very springs of life and have remained unhealed because they are constantly being gashed open again with more subtle, more lethal weapons.
Ngugi wa Thiongo, Homecoming, XII

1One of drama’s basic missions, especially within its African matrix, is to convey in dialogue and action the urgency of the playwright’s deeper intention, but also of the characters’ driving motivations. These informing currents are pivotal in a continent brimming with issues of basic survival.

2Like practically all the other art forms within the traditional African context, drama is called upon to join with truculence in the bout pitting the continent against the outside world, but more tragically, and more immediately, against its own very self ; for the truth of the matter is that African drama either makes a statement of relevance to the African experience or it is no drama at all. The need for therapeutic insights remains at variance with the luxury of speculative aloofness. Defamiliarisation, structuralism, formalism, new historicism, yes, but only in so far as they are seen to be enhancing comprehension of vital issues ; seen to be making the stone stony, that is. We thank Shklovsky. But feminism, oh yes. Anything that sounds like woman is cherished in Africa. To the African man, feminism is structuralism stood on its head ; it is content, not device, it is matter, the woman herself, not outer form. Its theoretical flights are of no moment. We now see that all theory is culturally determined and serves an essentially cultural ideology.

The body as stage

3One event that finds a privileged stage both on and in the (African) body is without doubt the black man’s meeting with the white man. However long ago and wherever this meeting took place, it did not generate partial consequences and its effects were integral to the essential condition of the black man. They have since continued to be so.

4Left to itself, that encounter remains a normal act of human intercourse inscribable within the context of migratory fluidity characteristic of all animate beings. But subsumed in Ngugi’s particular metaphorical choices, it is transformed into a field of battle objectified in a new rapport of verticality between those on top, who inflict and perpetrate wounds, and those below, on whom the wounds are inflicted and kept alive.

  • 1 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, Middlesex : Penguin Books, 1967, 40.
  • 2 Wole Soyinka, The Man Died, Ibadan : Spectrum Books, [1972] 1993, vii.

5Ngugi’s recourse to the wound as commanding metaphor in the encounter keeps the analytical discourse permanently alert to corporeality as the organizing trope. For him, as for Marx, the central category of analysis is humankind, given concrete form in the human body. Fanon sharpens the focus further in maintaining that the whole question of imperialism is buried in the bones of the native1. The sensory effect of this statement one has a raw feel of in Wole Soyinka’s The Man Died when the detainee Seinde Arigbede concedes that “unlike others, he did not undergo the agony of having broomstick switches driven up his penis !”2. All men clutch their own thing in gendered agony here, don’t they ?

6The analytical tool for writings of this kind therefore lends itself admirably to the language of anatomy in which different parts of the body are raised to vectors of ideology, made to keep alive, that is, the consciousness of an experience whose effects continue to be felt even more dramatically today across the continent.

7Ngugi construes the legacy of the black/white encounter essentially in terms of continuity and intensification. Whether labelled colonialism, imperialism, neo-colonialism, post-colonialism or any other one, the event and its offshoot have never gone away. They are here, in subtler and deadlier forms.

8In the prototype raw material, men are locked in a relationship of oppression and resistance, of exploitation and denouncement, situations in which the liberation struggle by the oppressed peoples, mainly the African masses, comes across as the dominant motif. This liberation effort assumes a triangular dynamics of other, self, and again other, resolved into colonialism, self-rule, and neo-colonialism.

9The prime source of conflict on the continent, it would seem, is land and the wealth generated by it. The settler, attracted and even fascinated by the potentials of the black man’s land, swoops in and takes possession in a defiant act of substitution and estrangement. This originating transgression sparks a cycle of repression and resistance in which the psychology of human guile comes under creative scrutiny. The existential tensions arising out of land /man relations are constitutive of the dominant matrix of discourse, land being pretext and man the primary focus.

10Ngugi’s plays provide some of the best illustrations of how these conflicts operate. The Trial of Dedan Kimathi (1976) and I will marry when I want (1982) both constitute two sides of the same (colonial) coin, the former depicting the struggle to free Kenya from colonial occupation and the latter to free the Kenyan man from neo-colonial oppression. All the drama in both plays is acted out on and in the human body. By aid of the anatomical discourse, the playwright imbues his subject matter with symbolic dimensions that extend its relevance to the entire continent. As he and Mugo say in the Preface to The Trial, “one of the main spurs to writing this play was the realization that the war Kimathi was leading was being waged with even greater vigour all over Africa and in all the other parts of the world where imperialism still enslaved the people and stole their wealth.” Kimathi’s war thus takes on a symbolic status to become not only a struggle for freedom from colonial oppression but a struggle for liberation from all forms of oppression.

  • 3 In mid-1986, toxic gas emissions in the lake claimed the lives of some 1600 villagers. (...)

11In Lake God, the Cameroonian playwright Bole Butake, for his part, uses the 1986 Lake Nyos disaster3 to chart the cupidity of a reckless body politic that takes delight in misappropriating relief aid where it should be helping victims to overcome the trauma of loss. Interestingly enough, the central figure in this play is a white priest.

  • 4 Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Micere Githae Mugo, The Trial of Dedan Kimathi, London : Heineman (...)
  • 5 Ibid., 35.

12The white priest in Lake God and the other white characters in African plays form part of an octopus dubbed colonialism, a phenomenon that Kimathi, the central personage in The Trial views as a “jungle of exploitation where one will find creatures of prey feeding on the blood and bodies of those who toil : those who make the earth yield”4. The same Kimathi calls Shaw Henderson, the British Prosecutor, an imperialist cannibal5. Whether creatures of prey feeding on the blood and bodies of those who toil, or land-grabbing oppressors, colonialists are viewed by the native in essentially destructive terms.

  • 6 Ibid., 34.
  • 7 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, op. cit., 40.
  • 8 Charles Funderburk and Robert Thobaben, Political Ideologies, New York : Harper & Rowe, (...)

13But the colonial man, for his part, sees himself as animated by a wider logic of Darwinian determinism in which all acts are defendable, justifiable, so long as they guarantee their author’s survival. We should indeed be saying ascendancy. Henderson tells Kimathi : “Nations live by strength and self-interest”6. This ideological contradiction between black and white is echoed in Fanon’s concept of a world divided into compartments, a motionless, Manichaeistic world7, and receives further epistemological warrant in the Marxist dialectics that sees all matter in motion and development based on internal contradictions8. Reality by the terms of this dialectic vision is not just perceived event but the coexistence of incompatible forces verifiable in such oppositional dualities as master/slave, lord/serf, bourgeois/proletariat.

14What Henderson calls strength and self interest, Kimathi calls cannibalistic exploitation. The latter’s recourse to predatory imagery only fixes the black/white question more firmly within the anatomical matrix : the settlers do not stop at seizing the land of the natives ; they do a lot worse than that, for they eat up the native as well, body and all. The ethical boomerang at work here shatters the moralistic pretensions of colonialism to pieces and in the process exposes its substantial ugliness.

15But in its dialectical intentions, much of the drama of the continent is not so much concerned with colonialism made in Europe as with its neo-manifestations in the daily lives of the African people. It is for this reason that in the plays white agents assume only marginal roles. The dominant characters in these plays are Africans ; and even when they interact with white men, initiative is exercised predominantly by the natives themselves. There is a clear message here for the African masses : look within yourselves for solutions to your own problems.

A matter of blood

  • 9 Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Ngugi wa Mirii, I will marry when I want, London : Heinemann, 198 (...)
  • 10 Norton Anthology of English Literature, 2181.
  • 11 Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Ngugi wa Mirii, I will marry when I want, op. cit., 110.

16The African dramatic universe is washed in blood. In fact, this liquid seems to be a cherished metaphor in the entire artistic design and a privileged vehicle for the conceptualization and articulation of dominant ideologies. We have seen in The Trial that colonialism is nothing but a jungle of exploitation where creatures of prey feed on the blood and bodies of those who toil. In the neo-colonial situation of I will marry, the permanence of this evil is conveyed still in blood imagery : “The rich only want to find ways of continuing to drink people’s blood”9. This bizarre milieu where human blood is a sought-after delicacy smacks of Swift’s 18th century England portrayed with such mouth-watering sarcasm in A Modest Proposal. Interestingly enough, in this piece Swift calls the English savages devouring the Irish10. In I will marry, the protagonist Kiguunda and his wife Wangeci get into a scuffle in the course of which she cries out : “Let him now kill me so he can have meat for supper”11. Apparently, this outrage is levelled at her husband ; but the real monster in the mirror is the business magnate Kioi. He and his American, German and Japanese capitalist accomplices have transformed Kiguunda, once a prosperous landowner, into a wretched alcoholic. First they throw him out of his poorly-paid job as labourer on Kioi’s farm, then they mastermind the seizure of his land by the bank headed by the very same Kioi. As synecdochic tool, blood is effective in a way that no other part of the human body is. That is why the ideological battle between the two opposing worldviews is steeped primarily in it.

  • 12 Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Micere Githae Mugo, The Trial of Dedan Kimathi, op. cit., (...)
  • 13 Ibid., 29.
  • 14 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, op. cit., 40 (my emphasis).

17The capitalist venture may be – and certainly is – driven by material interests that all too easily blind the settlers to the blood(y)-dimension of their act. But then, recognizing the importance of blood also means acknowledging the humanity of those creatures in whom the blood runs. The evidence on the ground points clearly to the fact that blood was not central to the preoccupations of the imperialists ; at least not as far as the natives were concerned. In The Trial, for instance, the white police officer, Waitina, calls Kimathi a black bastard12, and the Old White Dame calls the same Kimathi and his fellow fighters wild savages13. These insults are not particular ; they are racial. To Waitina and the old white lady, Kimathi and his ilk are vexatious accidents in history, creatures just good enough to till the white man’s soil. And just in case these white ones thought they were alone in their disdain, Fanon steps in to provide greater depth to their judgment : “[…] torpid creatures, wasted by fever, obsessed by ancestral customs, form an almost inorganic background for the innovating dynamism of colonial mercantilism14.

18This animalization of the black man, though modelled on colonial Kenya, is still too vividly familiar in today’s Africa. A journey through the continent, even as its wretched flags of independence flap proudly in the harsh winds, brings home the unremitting permanence of suffering and disease, and a gnawing sense of exploitation. This continued consciousness of a malignant force at work informs the continent’s basic dramatic thrust and validates the feeling that nothing much has changed between the colonial times and the neo-colonial present. In fact one finds it difficult at times to fight back the conclusion that if things have changed, they have done so only for the worse.

From thing to man

19The pessimism that all too often overwhelms views of the continent is relieved somewhat by the stated mission of the continent’s drama tradition.

20Much of the drama we are dealing with is not only a drama of combativeness ; it is also a drama of didacticism, the basic tenet of which is objective identification. The dramatist allies with the people, identifies with them, in their fight for recognition. In the Preface to The Trial Ngugi and Mugo say : “We believe that good theatre is that which is on the side of the people, that which, without masking mistakes and weaknesses, gives people courage and urges them to higher resolves in their struggle for total liberation.”

  • 15 Charles Funderburk and Robert Thobaben, Political Ideologies, op. cit., 24.

21It has just been seen that colonialism did not recognize the natives as human beings. To Ngugi, Africa’s encounter with Europe inflicted wounds that touched the very springs of life. Marx, for his own part, looked at the masses in a money-driven society, and all he saw was alienated, fragmented human beings. He then sought, through his theory of alienation, to show the destructive physical and psychological effects of capitalism on human beings15. But it is Fanon who best profiles the damages of colonialism on the African psychology. He says :

  • 16 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, op. cit., 32-33.

At times this Manichaeism goes to its logical conclusion and dehumanizes the native, or to speak plainly it turns him into an animal. In fact, the terms the settler uses when he mentions the native are zoological terms. He speaks of the yellow man’s reptilian motions, of the stink of the native quarter, of breeding swarms, of foulness, of spawn, of gesticulations. […] Those hordes of vital statistics, those hysterical masses, those faces bereft of all humanity, those distended bodies which are like nothing on earth, that mob without beginning or end, those children who seem to belong to nobody, that laziness stretched out in the sun, that vegetative rhythm of life – all this forms part of the colonial vocabulary16.

  • 17 Rebecca Saunders, “Decolonizing the Body : Gender, Nation, and Narration”, in Tahar Ben (...)
  • 18 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, op. cit., 27.
  • 19 Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Ngugi wa Mirii, I will marry when I want, op. cit., 4.

22This pathologizing discourse, to use Saunders’ nice coinage17, reduces the African to a faceless backdrop to imperialist action. Before the liberation struggle proper can be launched, this basic denial of identity must first be corrected, the native de-alienated, shadow given essence. Once the native’s blood has been put back in his veins, he becomes a principal actor in the dynamics of change. The thing which has been colonized becomes man during the same process by which it frees itself, says Fanon18 ; for, as the Kenyan saying goes, “a man brags about his own penis, however tiny”19 ; penis, that is to say manhood, life-force.

  • 20 Ibid., 22.
  • 21 Ibid., 29.

23And yet man, the African man, had not always been thing. There had been times, in the pre-colonial days, when, as Kiguunda tells his wife Wangeci, “breasts were full and pointed”20, times of cultural and ritual integrity when the native’s humanity was not called in question. The damage of colonialism has put paid to cultural continuity : breasts have fallen, as Kigunda laments21. And so too has the native. This is the intervening point of the playwrights’ redemptive mission. It is here that they employ the invigorating power of drama to expose the bad effects of colonialism.

  • 22 Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Micere Githae Mugo, The Trial of Dedan Kimathi, op. cit., (...)
  • 23 Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Ngugi wa Mirii, I will marry when I want, op. cit., 28.
  • 24 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, op. cit., 40.
  • 25 Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Ngugi wa Mirii, I will marry when I want, op. cit., 29.
  • 26 Ibid., 41.

24The native thing, now become a full-blooded man thanks to the education and encouragement of the playwright, discovers how bloodied he has been in the “colonial jaws of death”22. He discovers that wives and daughters have been raped before his own eyes, natives have been crippled through beating, and men have been castrated23 ; backs have been flayed by whips24, and poverty has dug trenches on his face25, poverty that is like poison in the body26.

  • 27 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, op. cit., 48.
  • 28 Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Ngugi wa Mirii, I will marry when I want, op. cit., 72.

25Fanon reminds the African that “colonialism is not a thinking machine, nor a body endowed with reasoning faculties. It is violence in its natural state”27. That is why the Mau-mau guerrillas make blood the central symbol of their struggle. Their entry into the cause is marked by a blood oath and they are encouraged to shed their blood for their country so that when victory is achieved, they can proudly say “we were not given freedom. We bought it with our blood”28.

  • 29 Ibid., 59.

26In this scheme of things, independence is only a fleeting transition to neo-colonialism. As Gicaamba muses rhetorically, “The same colonial church survives even today. Did a leopard ever change its spots ?”29 It is here that African drama assumes the other of its dual functions, namely to rescue the African from colonialism and its surrogate structures. To cite Ngugi once again, “It was crucial that all this be put together as one vision stretching from the pre-colonial wars of resistance against European intrusion and European slavery, through the anti-colonial struggle for independence and democracy, to post-independence struggle against neo-colonialism” (Preface, The Trial). This resolve wins the plays their badge of topicality, for it shows colonialism to be a continuing evil that cannot be held within any specific temporal or spatial boundaries and that, like good wine, gains in refinement the older it gets. That is why the colonial man and his neo-colonial successor are treated with the same spite. The Trial of Dedan Kimathi thus becomes “an imaginative recreation and interpretation of the collective will of the […] peasants and workers in their refusal to break under […] years of colonial torture and ruthless oppression by the British ruling classes and their continued determination to resist exploitation, oppression and new forms of enslavement” (Preface, The Trial).

The Lesson

  • 30 Ibid., 63.
  • 31 Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Micere Githae Mugo, The Trial of Dedan Kimathi, op. cit., (...)
  • 32 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, op. cit., 49.

27One of the questions Njooki asks amidst the ethical aridity overwhelming his native Kenya is ; “What happens to the herd when the leader has broken legs ?”30 This question raises another urgent one of progress. Broken legs negate the dynamism required to move forward. The leader is not absent. He is there, visible, but unable to surge forward and spur the masses in his wake. His inability to provide inspiring leadership is symbolic in more ways than one, and prompts us to ask a basic question : is he living with his time ? Kimathi tells Henderson : “If you are a fighter, unfetter me now. Let us face each other. Man to man. Let us see which wrestler fells the other, you coward”31. One cannot suppress an ironic chuckle at Kimathi’s clumsy backwardness. That he should term Henderson a coward is revealing of how thoroughly ignorant he is of the structures of power in modern society. By all indications he has mistaken his neo-colonial polity for the traditional milieu governed by the likes of Okonkwo and Amalinze the cat in Things Fall Apart. It is certain that he will throw Henderson in a wrestling bout, but such a victory will be utterly ridiculous at a time and age that admits only of scientific and technological wrestling. “Every attempt to break colonial oppression by force,” Fanon says, “is a hopeless effort, an attempt at suicide, because in the innermost recesses of their brains the settler’s tanks and aeroplanes occupy a huge place”32.

28Fanon cautions further that colonialism is violence in its natural state, and it will only yield when confronted with greater violence. Whatever colonialism is, therefore, it can only be defeated by its venom. If it is capitalism, it can only be defeated by a higher degree of capitalism. If it is technology, only a more refined technological culture can overcome it.

  • 33 Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Ngugi wa Mirii, I will marry when I want, op. cit., 37-38 (my emp (...)

29Gicaamba provides the winning formula when he says : “The blood of the worker led by his skill and experience and knowledge is the true creator of the wealth of nations”33. This is the quintessential weapon in the battle pitting native against settler. Skill, experience and knowledge, not the colour of the skin or the shape of the nose : such are the weapons in the battlefield of cultural supremacy. Armed with them, any race, anywhere on earth, will rise to Aryan status.

  • 34 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, op. cit., 35.

30In a masterful finale to the basic principle of racial equality Fanon says : “The native discovers that his life, his breath, his beating heart are the same as those of the settler. He finds out that the settler’s skin is not of any more value than a native’s skin ; and it must be said that this discovery shakes the world in a very necessary manner”34.

  • 35 George D. Nyamndi, The Silver Lining, Limbe : Design House, 2004, 16-17.

31In my own play, The Will, Robert Libong’s exhortations to Dr Tayong Egbe stress a similar universal humanism. The business mogul tells the newly-arrived, London-trained physician : “I will give you charge over my hospital. Run it, not for me, but for the blood that runs in all human veins. Run it knowing that blood has but one colour. Prove to mankind that blood and breath are one at all times and in all places”35.

  • 36 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, op. cit., 32.

32Dramatic realism in Africa consists in x-raying society without masking mistakes and weaknesses. To be effective, such drama need not engage in any puerile romanticization of the freedom struggle, nor in the saint/devil dichotomy between native and settler so common in anti-colonial apologia. It should point out weaknesses where they are found ; after all, the continent’s bourgeoisie provides more than enough material for any critical machine, as does the Church. Fanon says, “The Church in the colonies is the white people’s Church, the foreigner’s Church. She does not call the native to God’s ways but to the ways of the white man, of the master, of the oppressor”36.

  • 37 Charles Funderburk and Robert Thobaben, Political Ideologies, op. cit., 21.
  • 38 Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Ngugi wa Mirii, I will marry when I want, op. cit., 46.
  • 39 Ibid., 56.
  • 40 Ibidem.
  • 41 Ibid., 59.

33For Feuerbach, God was simply human beings worshipping themselves37. Even though in his distress the native has cried out : “Jesus your blood cleanses me”38, this supplication has fallen on the ears of a white man of God with Bible in left hand, gun in the right39 ; a white man of God whose avowed mission is to “soften our hearts, cripple our minds with religion”40. Gicaamba remembers how, during their liberation struggle, the religious leaders used to be sent to them in detention camps to tell them, “Surrender, surrender, confess the oath, that’s what Jesus tells you today,” and how, in an anecdotal but revealing moment, a priest trails Patriot, son of Njieri, into his cell pressing resignation calls on him, only for the prisoner to shoot saliva into his priestly mouth41.

  • 42 Ibid., 75.
  • 43 Ibid., 102.

34Returning to the black bourgeoisie, Ikuua wa Ndikita, Kioi’s business partner, is described as a man with a belly as huge as that of a woman about to deliver42. As for Kioi himself, Kiguunda tells him : “It is said that the fart of the rich never smells. But yours Kioi stinks all over the earth”43. Not only does Kioi’s fart smell, it stinks ; and not only in Kenya, but all over the earth. The man’s malodorous emission is easily identified as the by-products of imperialism, captured most vividly in this lament by Gicaamba :

  • 44 Ibid., 39.

What did this factory bring to our village ?
Twenty-five cents a fortnight.
And the profits, to Europe !
What else ?
An open drainage that pollutes the air in the whole country ! An open drainage that brings
Diseases unknown before !
We end up with the foul smell and the diseases.
While the foreigners and the local bosses of the company live in palaces on green hills, with wide tree-lined avenues, where they’ll never get a whiff of the smell or contract any of the diseases !44

35It is interesting that the foreigners and the local bosses are bonded in the same neighborhoods, away from the stench of the open drainages. If there is anything the African dramatists hold against the African man, it is this attitude of joining the foreigner to exploit his own people. Since a house divided within itself cannot stand, this double oppression suffered by the African masses makes the liberation struggle twice as difficult. Such is the basic plight of today’s African countries where the leaders and the local bourgeoisie delight in sojourning in European countries either for holidays or health checks, in the process, of course, squandering the essence of their country’s resources.

  • 45 Ibid., 38.

36Even when the wealthy invest locally, the action is driven more by egoistic reasons than by any real nationalist feeling. For instance, when they build good hospitals, it is not to provide healthcare to the needy and beleaguered masses but just “so that when they get heart attacks and belly ulcers, their wives can rush them to the hospitals”45. The heart and belly as mirrors flash at us the dynamics of imperialism and the remains of its action in, on, and around the African man. There is no relieving intention here. All is harm and disease.

37By these extended corporal metaphors, African dramatists state with dogmatic clarity that neo-imperialism eats up both makers and victims, either through diseases for the masses, or heart attacks and belly ulcers for the compradors.

  • 46 Ibidem.

38On the whole, however, it is not wealth as such that the playwrights condemn, but its greedy accumulation and the anti-social causes it is made to serve. Whereas the rich suffer from heart attacks and stomach ulcers, obviously the fruit of over-indulgence and anxiety, what do the poor get fortnight after fortnight ? “Something for the belly ! … just for the belly ! But it’s not even enough for the belly !46

  • 47 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, op. cit., 168.
  • 48 Ibid., 170.

39So what are the lessons ? No play is there just for its own sake, given that every dramatic production is an exercise in dialectical and/or ideological persuasion. The Preface to The Trial of Dedan Kimathi has it that “good theatre is that which is on the side of the people.” In this dramatic manifesto, masking mistakes and weaknesses emerges as the ultimate enemy of any liberation struggle. Mistakes and weaknesses are expressions of human vulnerability, and they manifest themselves first at the individual level before fanning out to engulf groups and societies. That is why Ngugi burns the consequences of colonialism into the flesh of the African, the better to dramatize and apportion causality : if the African, the black man, really, is where he is, that is to say on the bottom rung of the human ladder, he only has himself to blame for it. His body thus becomes at once symptomatic and emblematic of his failures, and the repository of their consequences. As Fanon says, “I admit that all the proofs of a wonderful Songhai civilization will not change the fact that today the Songhais are under-fed and illiterate, thrown between sky and water with empty heads and empty eyes.47” And so colonialism, ever compassionate, returns, in its fresh post-colonial garb, this time to “protect her child from itself, from its ego, and from its physiology, its biology and its own unhappiness which is its very essence.48

40Colonialism, in whatever hue, cannot improve the essence of the African condition ; such is not and has never been its mission. The onus of such a task lies primarily, not to say exclusively, with the victim. If the African body feels the effects of colonialism, as Ngugi and the other African dramatists demonstrate it does, then the mind propelling that body must do what it takes to rise to the challenge. The final lesson for the African mind, all African minds, indeed all black minds, is served in the following exposition by Engels in his now-famous exchange with that epitome of puerility, Monsieur During :

  • 49 Quoted in Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, op. cit., 50.

In the same way that Robinson [Crusoe] was able to obtain a sword, we can just as well suppose that [Man] Friday might appear one fine morning with a loaded revolver in his hand, and from then on the whole relationship of violence is reversed : Man Friday gives the orders and Crusoe is obliged to work […] Thus the revolver triumphs over the sword, and even the most childish believer in axioms will doubtless form the conclusion that violence is not a simple act of will, but needs for its realization certain very concrete preliminary conditions, and in particular the implements of violence ; and the more highly-developed of these implements will carry the day against primitive ones. Moreover, the very fact of the ability to produce such weapons signifies that the producer of highly-developed weapons, in everyday speech the arms manufacturer, triumphs over the producer of primitive weapons. To put it briefly, the triumph of violence depends on the production of armaments, and this in its turn depends on production in general, and thus […] on economic strength, on the economy of the State, and in the last resort on the material means which that violence commands49.

  • 50 Quoted in Pio Zirimu and Andrew Gurr (eds.), Black Aesthetics, Nairobi: East African Li (...)
  • 51 Ibid., 185.

41As Engels demonstrates in this disputation, violence is not a race issue, but one of ability : the ability to produce the weapons for its propagation and sustenance. If violence is construed in its less abrasive sense of life-force, we see that every human category has within its specific context the means for the production of its own violence. In this connection, Aimé Césaire postulates : “I believe that our particular cultures contain within them enough strength, enough vitality, enough regenerative power to adapt themselves to the conditions of the modern world and that they will prove able to provide for all political, social, economic or cultural problems, valid and original solutions, that will be valid because they are original”50. And so by way of rhetorical fillip, the African dramatists join Fanon to ask the African man : with what are you going to fight colonialism ? With your bows and arrows ? With your spears ? Your shot-guns ? Or with your loaded, self-made revolvers ? The answer, we think, lies not in the arms that till the settler’s fields, but in the mind that makes it possible to save the land of the ancestors for the full enjoyment of its rightful owners. To borrow from a lament by Malcolm X, “if the conked black men and white-wigged women gave the brain in their heads just half as much attention as they do their hair, they would be a thousand times better off”51. For sure, and true to type, Malcolm here sets his gem in a crust of insult, but it is the duty of the black race to break that crust open and free the gem in it, free the black mind so that it can set to work and make the black race a thousand times better off.

42Let me end by saying this : Africa cannot win as a continent unless it wins as a race. And you are Africa !

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Bibliographie

Achebe Chinua, Things Fall Apart, London : Heinemann, 1954.

Butake Bole, Lake God, Yaounde : BET & Co. Ltd., 1986.

Fanon Frantz, The Wretched of the Earth, Middlesex : Penguin Books, 1967.

Funderburk Charles and Thobaben Robert, Political Ideologies, New York : Harper & Rowe, 1989.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Homecoming, London : Heinemann, 1972.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Mirii Ngugi wa, I will marry when I want, London : Heinemann, 1982.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Mugo Micere Githae, The Trial of Dedan Kimathi, London : Heinemann, 1976.

Nyamndi George D., The Silver Lining, Limbe : Design House, 2004.

Saunders Rebecca, “Decolonizing the Body : Gender, Nation, and Narration”, in Ben Jelloun Tahar, “L’enfant de sable”, Research in African Literatures, 37 : 4, 2006.

Soyinka Wole, The Man Died, Ibadan : Spectrum Books, [1972] 1993.

Zirimu Pio and Gurr Andrew (eds.), Black Aesthetics, Nairobi : East African Literature Bureau, 1973.

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Notes

1 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, Middlesex : Penguin Books, 1967, 40.

2 Wole Soyinka, The Man Died, Ibadan : Spectrum Books, [1972] 1993, vii.

3 In mid-1986, toxic gas emissions in the lake claimed the lives of some 1600 villagers. Although the official statement attributes the happening to natural causes, there is a seething feeling that chemical weapons were tested in the lake by a foreign power. Whatever the real causes, this latter suspicion maintains the ideological implications of the disaster at a high level.

4 Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Micere Githae Mugo, The Trial of Dedan Kimathi, London : Heinemann, 1976, 26.

5 Ibid., 35.

6 Ibid., 34.

7 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, op. cit., 40.

8 Charles Funderburk and Robert Thobaben, Political Ideologies, New York : Harper & Rowe, 1989, 23.

9 Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Ngugi wa Mirii, I will marry when I want, London : Heinemann, 1982, 56.

10 Norton Anthology of English Literature, 2181.

11 Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Ngugi wa Mirii, I will marry when I want, op. cit., 110.

12 Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Micere Githae Mugo, The Trial of Dedan Kimathi, op. cit., 7.

13 Ibid., 29.

14 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, op. cit., 40 (my emphasis).

15 Charles Funderburk and Robert Thobaben, Political Ideologies, op. cit., 24.

16 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, op. cit., 32-33.

17 Rebecca Saunders, “Decolonizing the Body : Gender, Nation, and Narration”, in Tahar Ben Jelloun, “L’enfant de sable”, Research in African Literatures, 37: 4, 2006, 140.

18 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, op. cit., 27.

19 Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Ngugi wa Mirii, I will marry when I want, op. cit., 4.

20 Ibid., 22.

21 Ibid., 29.

22 Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Micere Githae Mugo, The Trial of Dedan Kimathi, op. cit., 73.

23 Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Ngugi wa Mirii, I will marry when I want, op. cit., 28.

24 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, op. cit., 40.

25 Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Ngugi wa Mirii, I will marry when I want, op. cit., 29.

26 Ibid., 41.

27 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, op. cit., 48.

28 Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Ngugi wa Mirii, I will marry when I want, op. cit., 72.

29 Ibid., 59.

30 Ibid., 63.

31 Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Micere Githae Mugo, The Trial of Dedan Kimathi, op. cit., 40.

32 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, op. cit., 49.

33 Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Ngugi wa Mirii, I will marry when I want, op. cit., 37-38 (my emphasis).

34 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, op. cit., 35.

35 George D. Nyamndi, The Silver Lining, Limbe : Design House, 2004, 16-17.

36 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, op. cit., 32.

37 Charles Funderburk and Robert Thobaben, Political Ideologies, op. cit., 21.

38 Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Ngugi wa Mirii, I will marry when I want, op. cit., 46.

39 Ibid., 56.

40 Ibidem.

41 Ibid., 59.

42 Ibid., 75.

43 Ibid., 102.

44 Ibid., 39.

45 Ibid., 38.

46 Ibidem.

47 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, op. cit., 168.

48 Ibid., 170.

49 Quoted in Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, op. cit., 50.

50 Quoted in Pio Zirimu and Andrew Gurr (eds.), Black Aesthetics, Nairobi: East African Literature Bureau, 1973, 193.

51 Ibid., 185.

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George D. Nyamndi, « Corporeality as Ideological Trope in African Drama », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], Écrivains, écritures, Literary studies – Varia, mis en ligne le 02 mars 2015, consulté le 26 septembre 2017. URL : http://lisa.revues.org/7179

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Auteur

George D. Nyamndi

Buea, Cameroun. Author of the celebrated study The West African Village Novel, George D. Nyamndi holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Lausanne, Switzerland. He is currently Lecturer in African and English Literature, and Head of the Department of English, University of Buea, Cameroon. He has authored four plays, two forthcoming novels, and has written extensively on African literature.

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