Afro-Asian Literature: Africa | LET Reviewer


  1. Identify outstanding writers and their major works in Afro-Asian literature
  2. Be familiar with the literary history, philosophy, religious beliefs and culture of the Afro-Asian nations
  3. Interpret the significance and meaning of selected literary pieces
  4. Point out the universal themes, issues, and subject matter that dominate Afro-Asian literature

The Rise of Africa’s Great Civilization

Between 751 and 664 B.C., the kingdom of Kush at the southern end of the Nile River gained strength and prominence succeeding the New Kingdom of Egyptian Civilization. Smaller civilization around the edges of the Sahara also existed among them the Fasa of northern Sudan, whose deeds are recalled by the Soninka oral epic, The Daust.

  • Aksum (3rd century A.D.), a rich kingdom in eastern Africa arose in what is now Ethiopia. It served as the center of a trade route and developed its own writing system.
  • The Kingdom of Old Ghana (A.D. 300) the first of great civilization in western Africa succeeded by the empires of Old Mali and Songhai.  The legendary city of Timbuktu was a center of trade in both the Mali and Songhai empires.
  • New cultures sprung up throughout the South: Luba and Malawi empires in central Africa, the two Congo kingdoms, the Swahili culture of eastern Africa, the kingdom of Old Zimbabwe, and the Zulu nation near the southern tip of the continent.
  • Africa’s Golden Age (between A.D. 300 and A.D. 1600) marked the time when sculpture, music, metalwork, textiles, and oral literature flourished.
  • Foreign influences came in the 4thcentury.
    1. The Roman Empire had proclaimed Christianity as its state religion and taken control of the entire northern coast of Africa including Egypt.
    2. Around 700 A.D. Islam, the religion of Mohammed, was introduced into Africa as well as the Arabic writing system. Old mali, Somali and other eastern African nations were largely Muslim.
    3. European powers created colonized countries in the late 1800s. Social and political chaos reigned as traditional African nations were either split apart by European colonizers or joined with incompatible neighbors.
    4. The mid-1900s marked the independence and rebirth of traditional cultures written in African languages.


Negritude, which means literally ‘blackness,’ is the literary movement of the 1030s-1950s that began among French-speaking African and Caribbean writers living in Paris as a protest against French colonial rule and the policy of assimilation. Its leading figure was Leopold Sedar Senghor (1stpresident of the republic of Senegal in 1960), who along with Aime Cesaire from Martinique and Leo Damas from French Guina, began to examine Western values critically and to reassess African culture. The movement largely faded in the early 1960s when its political and cultural objectives had been achieved in most African countries. The basic ideas behind Negritude include:

  • Africans must look to their own cultural heritage to determine the values and traditions that are most useful in the modern world.
  • Committed writers should use African subject matter and poetic traditions and should excite a desire for political freedom.
  • Negritude itself encompasses the whole of African cultural, economic, social, and political values.
  • The value and dignity of African traditions and peoples must be asserted.

African Poetry

  1. Paris in the Snow swings between assimilation of French, European culture or negritude, intensified by the poet’s Catholic piety.
  2. Totem by Leopold Senghor shows the eternal linkage of the living with the dead.
  3. Letters to Martha by Dennis Brutus is the poet’s most famous collection that speaks of the humiliation, the despondency, the indignity of prison life.
  4. Train Journey by Dennis Brutus reflects the poet’s social commitment, as he reacts to the poverty around him amidst material progress especially and acutely felt by the innocent victims, the children.
  5. Africa by David Diop is a poem that achieves its impact by a series of climactic sentences and rhetorical questions.


  1. The Houseboy by Ferdinand Oyono points out the disillusionment of Toundi, a boy who leaves his parents maltreatment to enlist his services as an acolyte to a foreign missionary.
  2. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe depicts a vivid picture of Africa before colonization by the British. The title is an epigraph from Yeats’ The Second Coming: ‘things fall apart/the center cannot hold/ mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
  3. No Longer at Ease by Chinua Achebe is a sequel to Things Fall Apart and the title of which is alluded to Elliot’s The Journey of the Magi: ‘We returned to our places, these kingdoms,/ But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation.’
  4. The Poor Christ of Bombay by Mongo Beti begins en medias res and exposes the inhumanity of colonialism. The novel tells of Fr. Drumont’s disillusionment after the discovery of the degradation of the native women betrothed, but forced to work as slaves in the sixa.
  5. The River Between by James Ngugi shows the clash of traditional values and contemporary ethics and mores.
  6. Heirs to the Past by Driss Chraili is an allegorical, parable-like novel. After 16 years of absence, the anti-hero Driss Ferdi returns to Morocco for his father’s funeral. The Signeur leaves his legacy via a tape recorder in which he tells the family members his last will and testament.
  7. A Few Days and Few Nights by Mbella Sonne Dipoko deals with racial prejudice. In the novel originally written in French, a Cameroonian scholar studying in France is torn between the love of a Swedish girl and a Parisienne show father owns a business establishment in Africa.
  8. The Interpreters by Wole Soyinka is about a group of young intellectuals who function as artists in their talks with one another as they try to place themselves in the context of the world about them.

Major Writers

  1. Leopold Sedar Senghor (1960) is a poet and statesman who was a confounder of the Negritude movement in African art and literature. His works include Songs of Shadow, Black Offerings, Major Elegies, Poetical Work. He became president of Senegal in 1960.
  2. Okot P’Bitek (1930-1982) was born in Uganda during the British domination and was embodied in contrast of cultures. Among his works are Song of Lawino, Song of Ocol, African Religions and Western Scholarship, Religion of the Central Luo, Horn of My Love.
  3. Wole Soyinka (1934) is a Nigerian Playwright, poet, novelist, and critic who was the first black African to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986. Among his works: plays- A Dance of the Forests, The Lion and the Jewel, The Trials of Brother Jero; novels – The Interpreters, Season of Anomy; poems – Idanre and Other Poems, Poems from Prison, A Shuttle in the Crypt, Mandela’s Earth and Other Poems.
  4. Chinua Achebe (1930) is a prominent Igbo novelist acclaimed for his unsentimental depictions of the social and psychological disorientation accompanying the imposition of Western customs and values upon traditional African society. His particular concern was with emergent Africa at its moments of crisis. His works include, Things Fall Apart, Arrow of God, No Longer at ease, A Man of the People, Anthills of Savanah.
  5. Nadine Gordimer (1923) is a South African novelist and short story writer whose major theme was exile and alienation. She received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991. Her works include The Soft Voice of the Serpent, Burger’s Daughter, July’s People, A Sport of Nature, My Son’s Story.
  6. Bessie Head (1937-1986) described the contradictions and shortcomings of pre- and postcolonial African society in morally didactic novels and stories. She suffered rejection and alienation from an early age being born of an illegal union between her white mother and a black father. Her works include, When Rain Clouds Gather, A Question of Power, The Collector of treasures, Serowe.
  7. Barbara Kimenye (1940) wrote twelve books on children’s stories known as the Moses series which are now standard reading fare for African school children. Among her works are Kalasandra Revisited, The Smugglers, The money game.