In his essay “Third-World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism,” Frederic Jameson argues that third-world texts are to be read as national allegories. In other words, they project a political dimension: the story of the private individual destiny is always an allegory of the embattled situation of the public third-world culture and society. He posits that these allegories are conscious and overt; this “embattled situation” the juxtaposition between capitalism and the older collective tribal form of social life. He claims that our study of African literature must diverge from the manner in which we study Western literature because they are supposedly diametrical and characterizes the difference in this way: in the west political commitment is “recontained” by way of [a] public-private split and the inverse in third-world culture is that libidinal investment is to be read in primarily political and social terms (71-72).

However, Graham Furniss disagrees in the essay “Hausa Creative Writing in the 1930’s.” He is wary of this idea of colonial encounter as it often shapes our perspective of African literatures as “the result of years of arduous struggle to obtain the ability to speak” (12). He argues that Hausa literature, for example, appropriates rather than antagonizes colonial culture and infuses it with “local register” so that it “speaks with the voice of the marginalized” (13). He observes that the bulk of these narratives do not address the colonial encounter but are pre-occupied with the foundation of community. These narratives employ uniquely libindinal spaces, a kaleidoscope of easily identifiable stock characters and moral registers that revolve around issues of trust and treachery rather than a simple engagement with capitalism/colonialism. He concludes that “overall, the frameworks of these novellas are not of colonialism, they are made up of concerns indigenous to the societies of…Hausaland….of relations of power in relation to marriage and family, of the community and outcast forces, of reality and the supernatural,…[and] of suffering and salvation” (16).

Brian Larkin agrees in “Indian Films and Nigerian Lovers” that theorists of cultural imperialism and post-colonialism who view Nigerian literature largely in terms of its relation to the West ignore the influence other cultures, such as the Indian and Arabian, in artistic production. His exploration leads him to the understanding that soyayya love literature is primarily focused on the “moral of sacrifice” and that these individual stories “provide the ability for social inquiry” (28). He ends by listing some passionate reader responses to highlight how “closely people view the relation between soyayya books and everyday life” (30). These narratives don’t seem to be an answer to cultural imperialism but a mode of personal and social inquiry.

Notably, Jameson admits that some of these texts maintain an “allegorical resonance” where the “figural” in the novel becomes more powerful and “literal” than the “literal” level of the text (71). In other words, the allegory seems more factual than the plainly told story. Can we then read Ruwan Bagaja: The Water Cure as both a critique of community and colonialism at large?

I’ve a few questions to jumpstart the conversation:
1) Is Jamilatu’s freedom to choose who she wanted to marry an analysis of how social change, fueled by capitalism, has upset the social norms of the community? If so, how does her way of choosing – that seems to follow and respect community standards – complicate this reading?
2) Alhaji Imam seems to play with this idea of representation and perceived reality. Is the sickle shaped symbol a half moon or Arabic lettering? Why is the town that believed it was the symbol of a half moon called a Town of Fools? Is Alhaji Imam critiquing the blind acceptance of new cultural forms and capitalism?
3) Can we interpret Malam Zurke’s waves of punishment for being financially dishonest a critique of capitalism and colonialism? If we do, how do we then explain the protagonist’s luck at remaining unscathed while committing similar crimes? Is it more a question of morals and the support of community in this instance?

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About Staciay

Second year MFA Creative Writing candidate: Poetry track.

One response »

  1. Steve B says:

    To your third question , I would submit that Alhaji Imam’s unbelievable luck despite his intense thievery may actually point to a critique of capitalism and colonialism. By seeing the stories of Malam and Alhaji side by side, we naturally, as you do here, question why one is punished and the other set free (even if we count Alhaji’s three month imprisonment). Yet, we receive the story from Alhaji’s persepective, the perspective of the (reluctantly using Jameson) allegorical colonial subject. That is, from the perspective of the wrongdoer, lying, cheating, stealing, and manipulation are completely fine moral choices, particularly because Alhaji is seeking an incredible wealth which he returns home with. It is the journey he undertakes, which Malam lacks, that (possibly, perhaps?) justifies his behavior. Without the “civilizing mission” and the promise of fortune, how else can colonialism be shown correct in the minds of the colonizers?

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