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An analysis of African and African American feminist literature was conducted to provide insights on the development of women's identity in post-colonial Africa. Precolonial African literature tended to emphasize the role of women in society, particularly in bringing about social change. However, the introduction of Western thought during the colonial period adversely affected cultural perceptions of women. The supplantation of western thought into African feminism continues in prevailing trends in African feminist studies.
The contention in this article is that African oral tradition should be reexamined in view of its perceived new importance in the work of African novelists. This article investigates the nature and definition of oral tradition, as well as the use of oral tradition as a cultural tool. The increasing inclusion of oral literature as part of the African literature component within university and school curricula is discussed. Finally, the pronounced role of oral tradition in fiction is examined, using as exemplars some seminal works of Bessie Head (1978, 1990 and 1995) and Ngugi wa Thiong'o (1965, 1977, 1981, and 1982).
Bessie Head was one of the Drum writers of the 1950s. As critics such as Huma Ibrahim have indicated it was only after her death in 1986 that she was included in discussions on the Drum generation. The result of her prior exclusion has been the double marginalization of Head's literary contribution, as one of the overlooked black South African writers of the 1950s and the lack of critical acclaim of her as an individual author. For this reason, she is one of the black South African writers who should consciously be given prominence today. This article utilizes an analysis of Head's novels not attempted so far. It is difficult to interrogate Head's work fruitfully, unless questions are addressed to whether she approaches her imaginative writing as an Africanist, a feminist or just as a woman. It will be argued that her fiction highlights the plight of the socially marginalized in eccentric and seminal ways and that it bears the potential to enrich debates on Africanism, feminism and womanism. Conclusions on how the complexities of Head's psyche can be beneficially used to enrich a more judicious reading will be drawn from evidence gathered from her novels.
Bessie Head's decision to leave South Africa for Botswana in 1964 at age twenty-six has been read as the consequence of apartheid's oppressive racial politics that saw her racial ambiguity as particularly threatening. However, as her early South African work would suggest, Head, who would become Botswana's best-known writer, was ostracized as much by burgeoning black nationalist discourses as by apartheid's racism. This article argues that the existing anti-apartheid discourse in post-Sharpeville South Africa was inadequate in comprehending Head's identity as mixed-raced and as a woman, as evident in her juvenilia. In this early work, Head undertook the double task of dismantling not only the racist discourse of apartheid but also the racist/masculinist elements of the available anti-apartheid discourse of her time, in an attempt to accommodate her dissident identity as an anti-apartheid writer and activist--but not male; and not black and not white. Gender, alongside her race, is seen to play a crucial role in Head's inability to construct an anti-apartheid identity in an atmosphere of a sharpening racial dialectic.
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