Kaur and Malson Kelly on African Decolonisation and Colonial Education

Finding Africa Seminar

16 April 2019

Leeds Humanities Arts Research Institute (Seminar Room 2)

4-5.30 pm

Abstracts

Re-thinking African Decolonisation: representation of self and the motherland by African travel writers by Kirapreet Kaur

Travel writing, as a genre, has a unique power to construct, deconstruct and reconstruct the identity of any foreign space and its inhabitants for the world. It is through travel literature that the world has seen, felt and traversed the other world. This genre has not only been instrumental in defining, describing and detailing the unseen lands, such as Africa, for the other part of the world, specifically the western world. Rather, it has also influenced the ways through which the indigenous know and understand themselves and their land.  

For a significant amount of time the genre has been known as a western tool of representation of faraway lands for western utilitarian and adventurous eyes. However, since last decade a notable shift in this power structure of knowledge production can be seen with the fame of African authored travel narratives about Africa. African authors could be seen grappling with the westernised construction of African identity, through their travel narratives. Though the canon of African travel writers could be seen confronting the stereotypical image constructed by the Victorian travellers, still the relevance and continuous presence of the colonial nostalgia cannot be ruled off.

This paper proposes to discuss the travel narratives by three contemporary African travel writers: Orford Catja, Sihle Khumalo and Maskaram Hailey. The paper will discuss the representation of African space by these travellers in context with their own struggle for identity. How the authors position their identity in context with bigger African identity? What influence do (or do not) the Victorian travellers hold in the contemporary world of African travellers? How relevant is this influence when compared to the African space, that is, how deeply (or not) the colonial nostalgia is rooted in the African structure of self-knowledge?

‘That Which Eats at You Is Within You’: Dismembering Colonial Education and the Traumatic Consumption of the Mother Tongue in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Longue Durée Narrative by Aislinn Malson Kelly

In the spring of 2018, Tsitsi Dangarembga’s 1988 novel Nervous Conditions was placed on BBC Culture’s list of “100 stories that shaped the world,” a list meant to reinscribe the global importance of the selected texts and to contribute to their durability as cross-cultural and transnational “classics” and open a discussion about the endurance of some texts and not others. It is important to be aware of Nervous Conditions’ place in this global literary canon and its continued prominence in the academy because this novel and its sequels are, in part, bearing witness to a traumatizing and epistemicidal colonial education. Before the third book was published, the scholarly conversation about Dangarembga’s first two novels hopefully anticipated that This Mournable Body would narratively close the traumatic wounds opened in Nervous Conditions. This closure is subverted and complicated by the final book, published in 2018, which shows that Tambudzai Sigauke’s difficult project of recuperating herself in postcolonial Zimbabwe continues beyond the final page of the novel, just as the project of decolonization continues and is continuous with earlier processes of existence and resistance. That is, Dangarembga’s novels are structured in the style of what I am calling a literary longue durée, a textual space and temporality that bears witness to the continuity of colonial and postcolonial circumstances and that is informed by the traumas of a colonial education. Through a deconstructive micro-analysis of passages from all three books featuring the linked themes of language, education, punishment, consumption, and nourishment, I argue that colonial education is a force that consumes the mother tongue (language), is responsible for an epistemicidal bingeing and purging cycle of consuming only imposed literatures and histories, and is in tension with the consumption of food and the recuperative (consumption as recuperation) gesture of Tambudzai’s own mother’s tongue.

About our Speakers

Kiranpreet Kaur is a Ph.D student at Department of African Studies and Anthropology at the University of Birmingham. She is working on both British and African authored African Travel Writings under the supervision of Dr. Rebecca Jones and Dr. Kate Skinner from the Department of African Studies and Anthropology and Dr. Asha Rogers from Department of English. Her work focuses on African identity construction in colonial and postcolonial Anglophone African Travel narratives. She holds an M.Phil degree in English from the Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, India.  She has published in various research journals and has also published a book that is a collection of poems in Punjabi language. Along with this, she has worked as a creative head for Bombay based Film Company. She has written fiction and non-fiction for them for two years.

Aislinn Malson Kelly

Aislinn Kelly is currently pursuing an MA in Modern and Contemporary Literature, Culture, and Thought in the School of English at the University of Sussex. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of North Florida (UNF) in Fall 2017 with a BA in English. She is interested in the way literature uses archives and in the textual-biological tension between bodies and the archives that represent, replace, and erase them. Her literary-critical interests inform her practice. She has assisted a historian in the Weston Library, Oxford, with transcribing colonial papers and has experience working on a number of archival projects, including the digitization of the Eartha M. M. White papers in the UNF special collections. Most recently, she has helped move the print archive of the Total Theatre Magazine into an online repository. Her other research interests include disability studies and non-canonical WWI literature. Her article “Passing Through a World of Birds: The Performance and Signification of Blindness in Stephen Kuusisto’s Planet of the Blind” was published in 2018 in The Sigma Tau Delta Review. She has presented her research on WWI writing at the 13th International Robert Graves Society Conference, at St. John’s College, Oxford, and the SHARP affiliate panel at the South Atlantic Modern Language Association (SAMLA88).

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Nivesjö and Rooks on Townlife, Sexuality and the Bush

Our first seminar in the 2019 series will be delivered on 02 April in Seminar Room 2 of the Leeds Arts Humanities Research Institute at 4 pm. The open to all.

ABSTRACTS

“A revolting immoral place”: Town Life and Sexuality in R.R.R. Dhlomo’s An African Tragedy by Sanja Nivesjö

R.R.R. Dhlomo’s An African Tragedy (1928) – one of the first novels published in English by a black South African author – written in the form of a morality tale and steeped in Christian ethics, depicts the moral corruption of a black man from the countryside in the urban environment of 1920s Johannesburg, and the effects of this corruption on his family in the rural village.

In the 1920s, hegemonic forces in the nascent South African nation posited the rural as the black person’s “natural” home, at the same time as black urbanisation was rapidly increasing. I argue that Dhlomo negotiates the theme of urban-rural relations and mediates ideas of race and their relation to space through the trope of sexuality. The urban seemingly becomes a hostile environment through its sexually corrupting influence of prostitutes, single men, loose sexual morals, and syphilis, which constitute a threat to the rural Christian patriarchal family. By reading the novel from perspectives that critically interrogate sexual norms and space as a social construct, I argue that the black person’s lived experience of space and sexuality, as represented in the novel, disrupts and displaces this moral lesson of black familial happiness in the countryside to indicate Dhlomo’s engagement with a more complex spatial belonging.

An African Tragedy thus allows its reader insight into the contradictory conditions under which black South Africans lived in the city of the 1920s, and the ideological position that the rural space held, and how these conflicting experiences took expression and were imagined in early English language literature. 

“This Fucking Forest”:
The Bush as a Traumatic Space in African Literature by Elinor Rooks

The bush occupies a special place within African literature. From the earliest moments of African publishing—Amos Tutuola’s The Palm-Wine Drinkard (1955)—the bush has functioned as a particularly potent literary space, one which blurs boundaries between the real and fantastic, the internal and external, the past and the present. These literary uses of the bush are rooted in the history of African vernacular theories of the bush. Vernacular theories of the bush make many uses of it, including reckoning with traumatic histories. Just as the bush enfolds villages abandoned to war, it holds the spirits and ghosts that enact these troubling histories.

I propose to explore literary uses of the bush as a space of trauma, focusing on Tutuola’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1957) and Chris Abani’s Song for Night (2007). Both authors use the bush as a space of death, war and memory. Set during two civil wars—the Yoruba Wars and the Biafran War—the novels track dislocated boys journeying through nightmarish, ghostly forests populated with spirits embodying the terrors of war. Abani’s protagonist retraces his steps, moving through the distorted spaces of traumatic memory, towards acceptance of his own death. For the ghost My Luck, there is no stable boundary between the inner and outer worlds—his memories are overlaid onto and merge with the blighted countryside. There is no distinction between the ruined landscape and his ruined mind. Although the bush functions similarly in Tutuola’s novels, critics have missed this. Abani’s clear use of the bush helps highlight its functions in Tutuola. Just as the physical bush resists mapping, the literary bush opens smooth textual spaces, enabling authors to tackle painful topics with fierce freedom.

About our Speakers

Sanja Nivesjö

Sanja Nivesjö is completing a joint PhD at the Department of English, Stockholm University, Sweden and Justus Liebig University, Germany. She is interested in South African literature, sexuality and gender studies, and queer theory. Her PhD project looks at the relationship between sexuality and spatiality in 20th and 21st century South African literature in English. From a queer theoretical perspective she looks at how sexuality is both represented and used as a trope in the literature to negotiate belonging to different types of spaces, and in extension a belonging to community and, perhaps, to the nation. She has published an essay on the queering of literary form and content in response to a crisis of whiteness in Nadine Gordimer’s novel The Conservationist (1974) and in J.M. Coetzee’s novel In the Heart of the Country (1977). Together with Heidi Barends from UCT, she is the guest editor of a forthcoming special issue on Olive Schreiner’s novel From Man to Man (1926) for the Journal of Commonwealth Literature.

Elinor Rooks

Elinor Rooks is an independent researcher in African literature, history and culture. She completed her PhD at the University of Leeds with her dissertation, “Vernacular Critique, Deleuzo-Guattarian Theory and Cultural Historicism in West African and Southern African Literatures,” focussing on the novels of Bessie Head and Amos Tutuola. She is currently researching responses to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa and is authoring a book on Tutuola. She also serves as the reviews editor for Red Pepper Magazine and works as a freelance editor.

Re-thinking Sunjata: Epics and Epistemology in West African Oral Narratives

The next seminar paper in our Theorising Africa series will be delivered by Stephen Bulman and is entitled “Re-thinking Sunjata: epics and epistemology in West African oral narratives”. The seminar will take place on 27 March at the LHRI seminar room 1 at 4pm. The event is free and open to all.

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Abstract

African oral epics, in common with African oral traditions as a whole, have in the past too often been understood as hallowed messages from the past, handed down unchanged from generation to generation. New thinking based on analysis of Manding epics about Sunjata Keita and his rival for power Sumanguru Kante, two legendary rulers from the pre-colonial era, suggests that such oral traditions are part of a cultural meta-discourse fashioned and re-fashioned over time in response to social and political shifts; and their tellers, hereditary griots or jeliw, intellectual actors whose narratives help shape and re-form the identities of, and relationships between, cultural and social groups. This seminar will examine how the recently published Epic of Sumanguru Kante, a narrative retelling medieval Mali’s foundation from the perspective of Sunjata’s defeated rival, offers fresh insights into the role of African historical oral poetry in shaping Manding ‘oral historiography’ and epistemology.

He said: It is true, indeed, I came with my name. My name is Soo-Maanguru. That’s the meaning of being Sumanguru. He said: I, here, I will not be slave. I will not be lackey.

– Bulman The Epic of Sumanguru Kante (2017)

About Stephen Bulman

bulmanStephen Bulman (Ph.D. Birmingham 1990) studied the Epic of Sunjata as a doctoral student. He has taught history at Newman University in Birmingham, worked as an academic at Leeds Trinity University and Cumbria University, and has published several studies of the Epic of Sunjata and related African oral traditions including, with Valentin Vydrine, a critical source edition of The Epic of Sumanguru (Brill, 2017) based on an oral epic he recorded in the Republic of Mali.

Art and Ways of knowing in Uganda

A screening and discussion of two short films developed in response to a

workshop with artists and activists

 Ruth Kelly  (CHR, York) & Director, Patience Nitumwesiga

Communion poster

We are delighted to be opening our Theorising Africa session with a screening, discussion and interview with the Ugandan director, Patience Nitumwesiga, who will be speaking to Ruth Kelly about two short films made in Kampala last year.  The event will take place on 13 February 2018 at the Leeds Humanities Research Institute (LHRI) Seminar Room 1 at 4pm.

This event, which is hosted in collaboration with LUCAS, is open to all and entrance is free.

 

Abstract                                                                                 

In July 2017, a group of academics, artists and activists met in Kampala, Uganda to explore how art could help us imagine and inhabit new ways of being, feeling and knowing, opening space to dream up visions of a more just and sustainable world. The methodology for the research is inspired by the research practice of Boaventura de Sousa Santos and of J.K. Gibson-Graham who have undertaken studies that have questioned dominant paradigms – Western epistemologies and capitalism, respectively – and gone on to develop research and practice uncovering and proposing alternatives – epistemologies of the South and community economies respectively.

Our assumption was that Western epistemologies and dominant paradigms limit what the researcher, practitioner or activist finds important, or even what they are able to know and learn from their interactions with others. In the workshop, the researchers sought to use arts-based practices to disrupt dominant ways of knowing and performing “development,” encouraging participants to explore and articulate the different ways of knowing that they embody, have experienced, or could experience through engagement with the arts. In particular, a session linking traditional and hybrid forms of oral poetry in Uganda helped participants to tap into the cultural heritage of the different language groups represented to explore alternative ways of knowing, being in community and making political interventions. As part of the presentation, I will show and discuss two short films made in response to the workshop: ‘Should I stay or should I go,’ a video collage of performances of a poem by Helena Okiring about diaspora and politics, composed and performed during the workshop in each of the different Ugandan languages that participants spoke, produced by Emilie Flower; and the second, ‘Communion,’ a short film reflecting on performance and reality, written and produced after the workshop by Patience Nitumwesiga.

 

About Ruth Kelly & Patience Nitumwesiga

Ruth Profile photoRuth Kelly’s doctoral research (Centre for Applied Human Rights, York) explores the potential for art and narrative to help communities and activists articulate alternative approaches to development. In the past, Ruth has worked with ActionAid, Oxfam, UNDP and the European Commission, on jobs and industrial policy, international trade and tax policy, land rights, and programme implementation.

 

Patience headshotPatience Nitumwesiga is a writer/director whose play monsters premiered in March 2017 at Le Cartel festival in Burkina Faso. It has been translated into French. The play also received a reading at the BIBU festival in Sweden. She has been trained at the famous Prospero performing arts centre in Sweden and Denmark, and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Drama from Makerere University, Kampala.

Patience has written both for stage and for TV, having attended the renowned Hollywood Director Mira Nair’s Maisha film lab (screenwriting) in 2009 and 2016. She was a writer, and assistant script editor for the TV Series Yat MaditYat Madit is produced by Media Focus on Africa and Trivision Uganda, two of East Africa’s leading producers in social awareness content. She also worked with Rafiki Theatre from 2010-2012, writing and acting with German director Claus Schrowange.

In May 2014, Patience was an Assistant director for the pilot project of the TV-adapted Rock point 256 seriesIn September 2015, she was a 1st assistant director for the Yat Madit seriesIn June 2016, she enrolled as a creative directing apprentice with Silent Voices Uganda’s Ga-AD! Production, as a step towards her Creative Directing career.

In 2012, she directed Everybody Needs an Electrician, a short documentary that she developed at the Maisha documentary lab. She has worked as an assistant director, researcher and logging assistant for the documentary Somebody Clap for Me. She was an associate producer and video coach on Sauti, a documentary that has graced a number of international festivals since 2016.

Nitumwesiga was discovered in 2012 as a photographer by ICT Creatives, and she went on to work on photography campaigns for NGOs, private contractors and individual projects. This birthed her ventures into art and design.  She was also the photographer for Yat Madit production, 2015-2016. She was the production designer for the short film Askari, 2017

She is a published poet, featured in anthologies like Painted Voices Volume 2 by FEMRITE, A Thousand Voices Rising, by BNN, and Reflections: An Anthology of New Work, by African women poets by Lynne Reinner publishers.

Jane Plastow: Stiwanism and Gendered Identities in Jinja (Uganda)

We are pleased to announce that Jane Plastow will open our next set of seminars on the theme of African Feminisms with a paper co-authored with Katie McQuaid, the abstract which may be found below.

The seminar will take place on Monday,  13 February 2017 at the Leeds Humanities Research (LHRI) Institute Seminar Room 1 at 5pm. All are welcome and entrance is free.

 

AbstractUntitled

This paper concerns the ethnographic and theatre-based work of Katie McQuaid and Jane Plastow in a working class district of Jinja, Uganda, over two years between 2014 and 2016. Working in the context of entrenched urban poverty alongside the community we sought to develop understanding of the shifting nature of gendered, intergenerational identities in an East African city and how men, women and youth navigate their daily realities and sustain their future aspirations. We are concerned here to explicate our changing understandings in relation to African and western feminisms, particularly Stiwanism, over the course of the work. 

We explore the relative silencing of women, culturally, educationally and structurally in this community, and how, combining ethnographic research and Frierean-inspired community theatre, we sought to open up spaces in which women felt confidence to participate, at first in single sex spaces,  and later in whole community debate, as equals with their men. The focus of the paper is on how we came to find an engagement with the concept of Stiwanism hugely useful in conceptualising our long term process of working alongside men and women in search of a ‘plentiude of praxis’: strengthening and promoting an urban community’s capacity to unite across social barriers in recognising systemic injustices and inequalities, and challenging these through community-led interventions in pursuit of common social justice outcomes. 

We conclude by raising our on-going issues with Stiwanism in relation to its capacity to envisage how men can be supported in challenging patriarchal practices, and how women can negotiate competing aspects of ethnic identity and modern aspiration, whilst simultaneously resisting essentialist narratives that confine their voices and activity.

About Katie McQuaid and Jane Plastow

Jane Plastow is primarily an Africanist with special interests in African theatre, African literature, education, development studies and politics. She is also concerned with women’s studies in Africa and worldwide with Theatre for Development. She has particularly strong links with East Africa and the Horn of Africa; especially Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda, in all of which she has worked in recent years. Plastow also works as a theatre director, usually but not exclusively in the area of African theatre, and teach across a range of courses dealing with contemporary theatrical practice.

Katie McQuaid is an anthropologist currently working on the INTERSECTION project, researching intergenerational justice, environmental responsibility, climate change and sustainability in Uganda, combining social science and arts-based methods (fieldwork Jan-Nov 2015). Her wider work focuses upon violence, humanitarianism and human rights amongst refugees from violent conflict. She conducted two years’ ethnographic fieldwork in Uganda (2011-2012) with refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, considering how violence and human rights are experienced and articulated amongst those living within humanitarian regimes. This research explores the practice of Congolese human rights defenders and the complex persecution and marginalisation of sexual minorities.

24 May 2016

Ruth Daly (University of Leeds) on Liberating the Female Voice from the Patriarchal Order of the South African Pastoral Tradition.

25 November 2015 

Ryan Topper (University of Leeds) on Life Beyond the Archive: Yvonne Vera’s The Stone Virgins and Thando Njovane (Rhodes University) on  Architectures of Voice and Language in Yvonne Vera’s Under the Tongue

30 September 2015

Elinor Rooks (University of Leeds) on Cattle, Gardens and the Madness of Power:The Radical Developmental Politics of Bessie Head’s A Question of Power

12 June 2015

Yorkshire African Studies Network: Culture and Politics in Africa Workshop (University of York)

08 June 2015

Arthur Rose (University of Leeds) on Dwelling in Triomf; or Building the Infrastructure for Postapartheid Dasein

1 June 2015
Katherine Furman  (London School of Economics and Political Science) on Is Thabo Mbeki Morally Responsible for his AIDS Denialism? and Gráinne O’Connell (University of Sussex) on Post-AIDS’ Futures, Global Health Governance and Representations of HIV and AIDS in Post-Apartheid Literary Fiction
7 February 2015
African Intellectual Mobilities Conference (University of York)
21 January 2015
Richard Stupart (Erfürt University) on “Compassion Fatigue, the ‘CNN Effect’ and the Need for Better Media-Humanitarian Theory” 
29 October 2014
Brendon Nicholls (University of Leeds) on “Ken Saro-Wiwa’s Sozaboy: Environment, Psyche and Objects”

*email us on findingpocoafrica@gmail.com with any queries. *