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I deliberately chose to end this study with an overview of the nuances that dictate the texts produced by African memoirs, especially from other regions of the continent not given attention in the preceding chapters. I opened with a broader Africa-wide orientation of the memoirs, and I want to close with some peculiarities that I have framed as “regional.” As a mode of writing, the memoir—which can be categorized under the (auto)biography genre—has received much attention in recent times. It has been classified as a form of fiction with dashes of believability and a semblance of truth. Critics like James Olney and Paul John Eakin have noted the autobiography/ biography bifurcation and the interpenetration of the two forms. Autobiographers become biographers when they focus on parents, siblings, and significant other persons in their lives.
Conversely, one who injects personal details into a narrative of another life ends up producing an autobiography. To adapt James Olney’s idea of the open-endedness of autobiography, an autobiography half emerges in the act of living and writing about others. People can write their lives’ stories obliquely by writing the life of another, a status Eakin calls crypto-autobiography. Commenting on her own life and work, Bretell says, “as a book by a daughter about a mother who was a writer, this text involves a blending of voice, by extension, a blurring of genre … it is both a biography and an autobiography, not only because the lives of a mother and a daughter are inextricably intertwined.” This is natural because people do not live in isolation. The lives of people in society interpenetrate, and people define themselves in terms of the mutual inter-influencing of their lives and those of the people around them. Thus, a life is given significance by the social milieu, the culture in which it is found.
As an important mode of the narrative genre, the functions of a memoir are numerous. Even though it is a writing about the life of a singular individual, it can be viewed to perform the role of preservation, documentation, and, most importantly, offering representations of behavioral patterns to be followed and imbibed by readers.
The Yoruba world is a distinct pool of cultural wealth shared by a group of people united by their rich tradition, deep moral values, unique knowledge system, common beliefs, and shared space and narratives. It is described and interpreted through its language, the words, and the unique and meaningful linguistic and semantic shifts and tones. It is sustained by a universal education in oral literature and “orature” that constitutes the auditory and sensory ambiance for the narratives emerging from the children of Oduduwa. The contours of the Yoruba world and its people—the craft of the Yoruba beliefs, ideologies, and histories, the pantheons of deities and ancestral bodies, and the shared experiences of its members and their connection to a physical space—are uniquely carved into the peoples’ constellations and give them substantiation as a distinct people.
The Yoruba people trace their origin to Oduduwa and the city of Ile-Ife, in the southwest of Nigeria, which is also fabled as the spot where God created all humans, white or Black. This faith and mythology of Oduduwa, spread through his descendants, intrinsically ties the Yoruba world to the physical world, each shaping the other into mirror images. The physical world is assembled out of different domains: the atmosphere, the depths of space, and the astral bodies; land and the vegetation that grows from it; freshwater flowing inevitably towards the depths of the ocean; so is the organization of the Yoruba world. It encompasses its spatial symbolism, temporal narrative spaces, the meaning ascribed to cosmic bodies, and the effects on the people within it caused by interactions between the different divisions of the world.
The word “Yoruba” is rooted at the center of the intersection of language, people, and land. The word is the name of the language, which is the base material of how the people give and communicate meaning. Beyond language and ethnicity, Yoruba represents the choice of words, actions, demeanors, and the biological presentations and meanings of appearance that combine to describe a culture and make it easy to identify someone as a Yoruba based on their ingrained belief system and origin.
Womanhood has been widely discussed across disciplines and eras; however, an analysis of womanhood from an African writer’s perspective is quite hard to come by due to the traditional African perception of women as belonging to a lower social class than males. While there have been times when women held positions that were considered barred only to them, women are still relegated in many African cultural settings to an inferior class status. This part of the book explores how Emmanuel Babatunde, the author of the memoir (Kelebogile—I Am Grateful: An African Journey through Celibate Priesthood to Married Life) being analyzed in this chapter, broadly embarks on documenting the lives and travails of women dominated by both isolated and collective acts of male chauvinism in African societies. It highlights key moments where each of these women, including the memoirist’s wife and mother, challenged these traditions and attempted to shift the dominant understanding of womanhood in African societies.
The African Negative Perception of the Witch
In many African societies, the strict adherence to culture and traditional ways of doing things can specifically rub women unfavorably, indicating the need for such change.
The book, Kelebogile, perfectly captures the age-old tradition of relegating African women to a lesser social status. The title of the book takes the name of the author’s wife, a Batswana woman he met during his academic sojourn to the United States. Kelebogile starts with a discussion about the prevalent conception of gender in the typical African communities yet to tap into the influence of European tenets and civilizations. Born to a Yoruba family, Babatunde focuses on the social status of the woman in the Yoruba cultural setting, such as the difference between the gendered use of the pejorative term “witch” in contrast to its more positive gender counterpart “wizard.”
Like many other African cultures, the male-dominated Yoruba culture takes pride in validating the existence of covert women associations that operate in the extraterrestrial world, and these women are referred to as witches. Despite this denigration, the witch role is one of the earliest known roles in which women held a superior status to other women in traditional African societies relative to men.
Regardless of their race and social-political orientation, African scholars, journalists, and other writers of African experience tend to portray the people of this region as a single entity, homogenized by cultural practices, social formation, and political development. In this light, many in the West—usually the half-informed population— think of Africa as a country. Yet, Africa is a continent located in the middle of world civilizations with multiple cultures and traditions, practices, and people, as well as tongues and governments cutting across fifty-five recognized modern sovereign states with different geographical features.
By implication, the complexity of understanding “Africa” lies in divergent, exciting features. Whereas the above points to multiple space factors in this complex web, another vital point is the time consideration. When we discuss African cultures and civilizations, from which epoch of their consistent evolution are we concerned? This takes us back to the matter of space. Africa is vastly divided between two regions: the Maghreb and sub- Saharan. As early as circa AD 622, Islam had been a dominant force in the Maghreb region of Africa, perforating the social fabrics and steering the political wheel of the civilizations founded in that area. It was not until around the twelfth century that Islam and its cultural assets infiltrated the sub-Saharan part of Africa, having a significant effect on the people’s culture and organization.
Compared to the Maghreb region, Islam had a less, if not substantial, effect on sub-Saharan Africa. Islam did not thoroughly spread across the states of the area until the twentieth century. In fact, in many of these modern states in Central and Southern Africa, the proportion of the Muslim population is smaller. In addition, those in the northern part of the continent (the Maghreb), for several reasons like color, cultural mores, and geopolitical advantage, consider themselves more Arab than African. The region’s government could even choose to identify with Africa on one occasion and Arab on another. Then comes the Europeans with a taxonomy of modernity embedded in religion and religious practices, and considering that religion is a culture, the foregoing becomes clearer.
Taking its place in the heart of Africans, Christianity began to shape and guide the evolution of many of the states in the continent from the nineteenth century.
African memoirists in the diaspora are commonly known for their nostalgic evaluation of home and the many lessons and representations that come with it. This whole body of work is an essential compilation of memoirs of authors with African origins, as what has been established in previous chapters is that African memoirs are essentially and existentially different from memoirs of authors from other parts of the world. African memoirs of slave descendants are marked by forceful migration and hundreds of years of racial discrimination, social subjugation, psychological traumas, and related plights of Africans forcefully taken into the diaspora.
However, memoirs of authors who migrated out of their volition, political exile, or self-styled exile and economic reasons are different from the memoirs of generations of slave descendants. They are media explicating precarious situations for which they left their homeland: the cultural differences between their homelands and abroad, and the indelibility of their youthful days in their home countries. Despite these differences, what is common to these variants of memoirs is that they reflect on human conditions, the continuous juxtaposition of cultural differences, and the double consciousness of being of African descent yet living in a foreign land that is sociopolitically different from home. There is also the idea of home as a physical space of structures, experiences, and history, while there is also the notion of home in relation to skin color, acclimatization to their new homes (abroad), and the constant reminder to syncretize being Black and being a minority in a new country.
The foregoing is a reiteration of the characteristics of many African memoirs. The aforementioned explications are not entirely capable of characterizing the nature of African diaspora memoirs. However, they capture a big section of what African memoirs are like. What cannot be erased from the motives of Africans in diaspora writing memoirs is that they write with the intention of getting their stories told. In African history, whether as erroneously told by Europeans or as told by Africans themselves, there is a fissure created by the unavailability of a scientific mode of writing. Most of what Africans later wrote were transcribed from oral sources, arts, and motifs. Therefore, it has always caused a debate about authenticity.
African memoirs are read not just as works of critical literary writing but also understood as writings that inspire achievements. African memoirists often use the concepts of the self, the other, and the community. These three are interwoven to the point that in telling the stories of the other and a specific community, the authors recount their own stories. Therefore, in reading an African memoir, one cannot grasp all the goals set by the author for the audience without examining the interrelation of the self and the other. African memoirs are sites to display the ontological, moral, and communal interrelations of the self and the other, which are central to this book. The narratives in the memoirs examined in this book highlight the essence of the relationship between the writers and their communities. These accounts share the experiences of the writers and those of others, as well as the influence of others on the writers. As explained in this work, each narration in an African memoir is told for different purposes, and at the center is the self (writer), who is greatly influenced by the other (community of others). Important to each memoir is the writer’s identity, as he/she is the focal point, the one who is reminiscing, recollecting the memories from the past, and reflecting on the general implications of lessons from the past. This work aims to thoroughly analyze the experiences shared in memoirs written by Africans, particularly the various psychological, sociological, and sociopolitical underpinnings of the writers’ narrations.
Therefore, it is important to lay the foundation of this work on theoretical frameworks, as one must conceptually analyze key concepts and theories such as the other, the self, personal identity, and social identity. By doing so, readers will understand the basis of many of the arguments, explications, and statements in this work. Issues about politics, activism, communitarianism, and so on should not be read in the seclusion of the self, the other, personal identity, and social identity. This is because the essence of this work can only be fully grasped through a critical understanding of how the writers are looking at societies to frame their experiences.
Traditions and cultures represent a set of persisting or prevailing beliefs, social practices, oral, linguistic, and values that define an individual's way of life. In other words, in memoir writing, the emphasis is often to propagate a unilateral need or embrace of self-identity. However, the dominant narrative and method of analysis in this study holds the notion and privileges that tradition and cultures imbibed by memoirists are sometimes subverted, refashioned, or reworked due to the strand of experiences or realities they encounter in different spaces as their narration develops. Thus, memoirists embrace indifference and open-mindedness, which is also greatly explored in the context of autobiography.
This reflective-cum-refractive chapter is geared toward an examination of A.B. Assensoh’s reflections on some major discourses in his memoir, A Matter of Sharing, in which the memoirist reflected on so many issues, as well as matters that he deemed worthy of sharing, coupled with the experiences that have shaped his life and the world around him. One of the issues he shared and reflected on is the indispensability of the mother’s influence on her child. Meanwhile, this chapter will investigate the author’s reflections on the memoir on different issues: his personal life story, experiences, political, and historical matters that have impacted his life and career. In Assensoh’s own words:
My travels and stay in various countries have, indeed, broadened my outlook on life generally. Also, it simply makes me shake my head when I come across the repeat performances of events, and I just sigh: “Oh, it is a replay of what I saw in Europe, Asia, America or in Africa.” This part of the publication is being used to offer a distillation of some of the issues that I have discussed before, including matters about certain significant individuals.
Interestingly, Assensoh’s memoir reflects his thoughts on salient issues that have impacted his life, education, and career. This chapter will further explore and investigate his reminiscences on politics and history, which sometimes intersect in the memoir. Also, this chapter will interrogate and expound on the conceptualization of reflection and its implication for the thematic exercise. The chapter is divided into four intersecting categories: the personal, the historical, the political, and the literary. In it, the personal category will capture the author’s reflections on his family, birth, parentage, and career. In this part of the chapter, the exploration of the author’s outlook on life—as a reflection of his childhood experiences, education, and career—will be discussed. The implication of examining this aspect will connect the chapter to his view of other matters or discourses in the memoir. His education and career will be viewed as the connecting map to his reflection on salient discourses with international import.
The historic part of the chapter is yoked to the author’s reflection on African politics and political growth.
Varying day-to-day activities that humans experience at different times are important and pivotal to their existence, many of which are also valuable when shared with others. Advancing the course of society requires that people are intimated with the activities of individuals whose existence is especially rich with educative exploits from which others can learn. Therefore, storytelling by individuals or groups is essential because it foregrounds the experiences of the ones telling them and how their relationship with each story affects them and their society. The consequence is that people are enlightened about many of the steps they will eventually take, making it possible for them to predict the outcome of any decision to advance their individual or collective course. Although telling a story demands that the narrator has reliable memory that would not fail when regurgitating past experiences, this is usually cardinal to record-keeping because a story told without any regard for genuineness will lose its narratorial value. It is important that stories are told strictly by experts who understand the art of organizing historical events in ways that will appeal to the readers.
It is pertinent to state that the memoirs I engage with reveal a considerate attempt to explore autobiographical writing and theory regarding relational and autonomous lives in communal spaces. The memoirs discussed in this book demonstrate that the authors engage in an autonomous, singular, and unitary narration with themselves while simultaneously emphasizing their narratives as they interpenetrate and mutually cross with others to create a whole new dimension of experiences. The memoirs that will be investigated in this writing are authored by individuals who experienced the colonial power play and the eventual postcolonial realities that have continued to widely shape the lives of the African people.
Types of Stories
There are several types and forms of stories, having definitive qualities that separate them from the arrays of others. For example, there are biographies, autobiographies, fiction, and even memoirs, all of which have varying characteristics that differentiate them from others. In a memoir, there is a thin distinction that makes it different from an autobiography. While the latter is about the chronological experiences of the writer, the former dwells essentially on a part of the person’s history, giving enough information about that particular experience.
Human early life is characterized by experiences that shape ideation and principles that carve pathways that people tend to follow later in life. In essence, human outcome is a function of many factors, one of which is social interaction and conditioning. The continental African is a construct of ancient and modern cultures, belief systems, epistemologies, and philosophies that shape his or her opinion, interaction, and disposition toward life. Also, irrespective of the glaring diversities and complexities of the African continent, some philosophies and value systems constitute an area of commonality between nations. These philosophies, ideologies, and values have impacted various aspects of African society, and they should ideally influence systems and structures like politics and the economy extensively and positively.
However, concerning the underdeveloped status of the continent against the rest of the globe and the dreadful track record of politics and government in postcolonial Africa, this study propounds the idea that the continent’s politics operate on a misrepresentation of ancient indigenous philosophies. This conception will be extensively explored in subsequent sections of this work. It will also analyze and provide textual evidence from Cherno Njie’s memoir, Sweat Is Invisible in the Rain.
With reference to Njie’s text, the need to explain or clarify complex aspects of self and actions has driven many into the art of writing. In other words, several literary genres have emanated from the single need for expression, the urge to tell one’s story. In the memoir, Raab buttresses this notion by stating that “many memoir writers choose this genre as a way to find or reclaim their voice, share a family secret, or tell a story.” Cherno Njie’s Sweat is Invisible in the Rain is one of those literary publications, a memoir at best, that tries to capture time and history in print, to explain motivations for actions not fully understood by many, and to clarify misconceptions that might have arisen from a singular act of patriotism. For the writer, the text is a product of introspection, a clarification, a tale of tyranny and bravery, and the unveiling of fallen and living heroes.
African Culture and Philosophy in Sweat Is Invisible in the Rain
The African principles of contentment, tolerance, humanity, honor, and communitarianism cut across several regions of the continent and are often reflected in the proverbs and sayings of the African people.