In response to a sardonic essay written in the recent Saturday Nation by Proffessor Ekara Kabaji, wryly disregarding the position of Kwani in the global literary movement within and without Kenya , I beg to be permitted a leeway to observe that any literature, orature, music,drama,cyborature,prisnorature,wallorature,streetorature , sculptor or painting can effortlessly thrive and off course it has been thriving without professors of literature, but the reverse is not possible as a proffessor of literature cannot be when literature is not there. Facts in support of this position are bare and readily available in the history of world literature, why they may not be seen is perhaps the blurring effects from tor like protuberant irrelevance of professors of literature in a given literary civilization.
A starting point is that literature exists as a people’s subculture, it can be written or not written like the case of orature which survive as an educative and aesthetic value stored in the collective memory of the given people. The people to be pillars of this collectivity of the memory are not differentiated by academic ranking for superlativity of any reason, but they are simply a people of that place, that community, that time, that heritage, that era and that collective experience. Writing it down is an option, but novels and other written matter is not a sine qua non for existence of literature in such situations. This is not a bolekaja of literature as Proffessor Ekara Kabaji would readily put, but it is a stretch towards realism that it is only people’s condition that creates literature. Poverty, slavery, colonialism, ***, marriage, circumcision, migration, or any other conditions experienced as collective experience of the people is stored or even stowed away in the collective memory of the people as their literature. Literature does not come from idealistic imagination of an educated person.
Historical experience of written literature informs us that the good novels, prose, drama and poetry were written before human society had people known as professors of literature. I want you my dear reader and You-Tube audience to reflect on the Cantos of Dante Alighieri in Italy, novels of Geoffrey Chaucer in England, Herman Melville and his Moby **** in Americas, poetry of Omar khwarisim in Persia, Homeric epics of Odyssey in Greece and the Makonde sculptures of Africa and finally link your reflections to Romesh Tulsi who grafted the Indian epic poetry of Ramayana and Mahabharata. At least you must realize that in those days literature was good, full of charm, very aesthetic and superbly entertaining. This leads to a re-justification that, weapon of theory is not useful in literature. University taught theories of literature have helped not in the growth of literature as compared to the role played by folk culture.
Keen observation will lead you dear reader, down to revelations that; professors of literature squarely depend on the thespic work of the people who are not substantially educated to make a living. Let me share with you the story about Dr. Tom Odhiambo who went to University of Witwasterand in South Africa for post graduate studies in literature only to do his Doctoral research on books of David G Maillu. Maillu is a Kenyan writer, he did not finish his second year of secondary school education but he has been successfully writing poetry and prose for the past three decades. His successful romantic work is After 4.30, probably sarcasm against Kenyan office capitalism, while his eclectic, philosophical and scholarly work is the Broken Drum. Maillu has many other works on his name. But the point is that Dr. Odhiambo now teaches at University of Nairobi in the capacity of senior lecturer in Literature. What makes him to put food on the table is the effort of un-educated person in the name of David Maillu. Dr.Odhiambo himself has not written any book we can mention him for, apart from regular literary journalism he is often involved in on the platforms of the Literary discourse in the Kenyan Saturday Nation which are in turn regular Harangues and ripostes among literature teachers at the University of Nairobi, the likes of Dr Siundu, Proffessor wanjala Chris and Evans Mwangi just but to mention by not being oblivious to professors; Indangasi and Shitanda.
No study has yet been done to establish the role of university professors on growth of African literature. One is overdue. Results may be positive role on negative role, myself I contemplate negative role. Especially when I reflect on how the African literati reacted on the publication of Amos Tutuola’s book The Palm Wine Drinkard. The reactions were more disparaging than appreciative. Taban Lo Liyong reacted to this book by calling Amos Tutuola the son of Zinjathropus as well as taking a self styled intellectual responsibility in form of writing a more schooled version of this book; Taking Wisdom up the Palm Tree. Nigerians of Igbo (Tutuola being a Yoruba) nation cowed from being associated with the book as it had shamefully broken English, broken grammar etc. Wole Soyinka had a blemished stand, but it is only Achebe who came out forthrightly to appreciate the book in its efforts to Africanize English for the purpose of African literature. Courtesy of Igbo wisdom. But in a nutshell, what had happened is that Amos Tutuola had taken a plunge to contribute towards written literature in Africa.
One more contemplated result from the research about professors and African literature can be that apart from their role of criticism, professors write very boring books. A ready point of reference is deliberate and reasonless obscurantism taken Wole Soyinka in all of his books, Soyinka’s books are difficult to understand, sombre, without humour and not capable to entertain an average reader. In fact Wole Soyinka has been writing for himself but not for the people. No common man can quote Soyinka the way Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is quoted. Achebe wrote Things Fall Apart when he had not began his graduate studies. However, he did not escape the obvious mistake of professors to become obscure in the Anthills of the Savanna, the book he wrote when he had become a proffessor. This is on a sharp contrast to entertaining effectiveness, simplicity and thematic diversity of Captain Elechi Amadi, Amadi who studied chemistry but not literature. He does not have a second degree, but his books from the Concubine, The great Ponds, and Sunset in the Biafra and Isibiru are as spellbinding as their counterparts in Russia.
Kenyan scenario has Ngugi wa Thiongio, he displayed eminence in his first two books; Weep not Child and The River Between. These ones he wrote when he was not yet educated, as he was still an undergraduate student at Makerere University. But later on Ngugi became a victim of prosaic socialism, an ideology that warped his literary imagination only to put him in a paradoxical situation as an African communist who works in America as an English teacher at Irvine University. His other outcrops are misuse of Mau Mau as a literary springboard and campaigning for use of Kikuyu dialect of the Gema languages to become literary Lingua Franca in Kenya. Such efforts of Ngugi are only a disservice to Kenyan literature in particular and African literature collectively. Ngugi having been a student of Caribbean literature has failed to borrow from global literary behaviour of Vitian S. Naipaul. Ngugi’s position also contrasts sharply with Meja Mwangi whose urban folksy literature swollen with diversity in themes has remained spellbinding entertainers.
The world’s literary thirsty has never failed to get palatable quenching from the works of Harriet Bechetor Stowe, Robert Louis Stevenson, Shakespeare, Alice Munro, Octavio Paz, Pablo Neruda, John Steinbeck, Garcia Guarbriel Marguez,Salman Rushdie, Lenrie Peters, Cyprian Ekwenzi, Nikolai Gogol,I mean the list is as long as the road from Kaduna to Cape town. Contribution of these writers to global literature has been and is still critical. Literature could not be without them. Surprisingly, most of them are not trained in literature; they don’t have a diploma or a degree in literature, but some have won literature Nobel Prize and other prizes. Alfred Nobel himself the author of a classical novella, The Nemesis, does not have University education in literature. What else can we say apart from acceding to the truth that literature can blossom without professors, the Vis-à-vis an obvious and stark impossibility.