Au piège des tabous (FICTION) (French Edition)

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Deposit scholarly works such as posters, presentations, conference papers or white papers. Skip to Content. Toggle navigation Carolina Digital Repository. Help Contact Us Login. You do not have access to any existing collections. You may create a new collection. Rather, this emphasis is to acknowledge the fact that no enduring analysis of the socio-historical trajectory of the subject can be envisaged in places like Africa, Asia or Latin America, without taking into account the central role of colonialism in the vitiation of that subject.

The necessary enterprise of making an inventory of the consequences of the colonial encounter has already been amply performed in the case of Africa by, among others, Frantz Fanon in The Wretched of the Earth and Chinweizu in The West and the Rest of Us The consequences of colonialism in the Indian context can be found in the works of scholars like Ashis Nandy and Homi Bhabha, and in the reflections of the Indian subalternists whose work a major part of the theoretical framework for this study. Suffice it to say here, then, that my interest in the dynamics of colonialism goes beyond the conceptualization of that event in terms of the political domination and economic exploitation of the colonized, as amply investigated in some of the works cited above.

I am mainly interested in colonialism as a transformative event which fundamentally altered the social and cultural life of the colonized societies of Africa for good. Through its brutal insertion into the socio-cultural scheme of things in Africa and its eventual domination of that terrain, colonialism wittingly 1 4 ascribed to itself the cardinal role of being the sole producer of new and subservient African subjectivities.

In essence, colonialism not only affected what Biodun Jeyifo calls "the nature of things"15 but also became the main determiner of the very process of being in Africa. It is within this broad perspective that Eloise Briere's description of colonial contact as generative of "une nouvelle organisation sociale"1 6 becomes particularly pertinent. M y position on colonialism's investment in the construction of novel and subservient African subjectivities is also informed by Briere's telling description of colonialism as having affected "le psychisme profond du colonise et de la colonisee, lui volant - au moins en partie - ses structures d'insertion et d'equilibre social, sa langue, son imaginaire et son Dieu.

While it is true that contact with the West 16 cannot be said to be solely responsible for the introduction of sexism and an oppressive patriarchal ethos into African cultures, it is also true that colonialism inscribed hitherto unknown forms of sexism and male-centrism within the African worldview, thereby taking existing gender asymmetries to new heights. Mamdani has provided some illuminating insights into this aspect of the colonial experience: Like all colonial powers, the British - I add the French and the Portuguese -worked with a single model of customary authority in precolonial Africa.

That model was monarchical, patriarchal, and authoritarian.

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It presumed a king at the center of every polity, a chief on every piece of administrative ground, a patriarch in every homestead or kraal. Whether in the homestead, the village, or the kingdom, authority was considered an attribute of a personal despotism. The consequences of the patriarchal assumptions of the colonial authorities were predictably disastrous in matriarchal societies - as in Ghana - where central social authority was not vested in a male member of the extended family. Colonialism, being a masculinist ideology, automatically masculinized any space upon which it inflicted itself.

It thus dismantled the matriarchal systems that had coexisted with patriarchy in certain precolonial African societies, and those who lost out in that power game were, of course, women. Reacting to Ifi Amadiume's viewpoint1 9 in this respect, Mamdani argues that Matriarchy This autonomous space was uniformly destroyed by colonial rule. And in this sense the "world historical defeat" of the female gender was experienced in Africa not as much with the onset of state organization as with the consolidation of the colonial Perhaps Oyeronke Oyewumi's The Invention of Women provides one of the most illuminating accounts of how the social process of colonialism "invented" what 17 she sees as a hitherto unknown category of "woman" as inferiorized, silenced, devalued and subordinated to the category of man in Africa.


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This work's thought-provoking subtitle indicates that the author is "making an African sense of Western gender discourses", many of which she finds irrelevant in the African context. Oyewumi explores how the masculinized and sexist ethos of the colonial machine eroded the presence of African women from such valorizing sites as politics, administration, religion, education, labour, and property ownership, especially of land. So thorough were the colonial masters in their self-assigned duty of sexist social engineering that African women were eventually forced into the conundrum of what is now referred to in African feminist scholarship as "double colonization".

They were dominated, exploited and inferiorized as Africans together with African men and then separately inferiorized and marginalized as African women. Like Sofola, Oyewumi takes great pains to analyze the logical outcome of the colonial devalorization of African womanhood. The crucial point to be retained is that colonialism's most disastrous legacy lies in the dismantling of the traditional African public sphere and the subsequent erosion of the cultural ethos that governed social relations within it.

In its place was constructed a new, "civilized" public sphere within which all the structures and institutions of power, agency and upward social mobility were located. African women were systematically excluded from this new site. It is true that there is no basis to hold that forms of patriarchal and sexist oppression did not exist in pre-colonial Africa.

But it is equally true that nowhere in pre-colonial Africa did women constitute a "muted group"2 3, nor were they socially invisible. Pre-colonial African cultures had complex and democratic socio-political structures evolved in which women were active participants as agents. For instance, in the case of the Yoruba people of Western Nigeria, social positioning was determined mostly by seniority and not by gender. The sexist categorization of some professions as feminine, hence inferior, was also largely unknown in several pre-colonial African societies where women and men alike indulged in such activities as farming and trading.

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Consequently, it can be argued that in view of colonialism's complete and radical transformation of social, economic, political and cultural space in the entire African continent, no single African woman escaped its inferiorizing effects. Whether she lived in the city or in the countryside, she was subject to the same process of generalized sexist subservience by the colonial regime. A contrary argument might be made in some quarters, that more than thirty years after the attainment of formal independence by African countries, it is no longer safe to assume that the modern African woman is still subject to the effects of colonialism.

This argument can be countered with the obvious fact that colonialism withdrew from Africa only after putting in place structures that would replace it with a no less pernicious heir: neo-colonialism. It is even more pertinent to remember that all over Africa today, the subjectivity and the social position of every newly born girl is still being determined by the most sexist, subalternizing political 19 legacy of colonialism: the modern African state, appropriately defined by Oyewumi as "the state of patriarchy" African women, oppressed by tradition and religion in the pre-colonial setting before being muted and rendered invisible by the historical event of colonialism, will constitute the focus of reflection throughout this study.

Approaching the African female subject from the standpoint of her objectification by the combined, sometimes mutually reinforcing, effects of tradition and colonialism opens up very useful possibilities for a revisionist reading of the texts of francophone African women writers and the criticism they have so far generated.

These writers, like their male counterparts, are mostly products of the ecole coloniale. Their texts are therefore irrevocably marked by that experience. Furthermore, one of the strategies deployed by colonialism to inferiorize women was to exclude them from educational institutions. This explains why, for its first two decades, the production of modern African literatures was an exclusively male affair.

The late coming to writing of African women in general, and francophone African women in particular, ensured that their writing, when it eventually emerged, was born into a subalternized ambiance. In other words, by the time pioneer African women's texts like Flora Nwapa's Efuru and Therese Kuoh-Moukoury's Rencontres essentielles were published, there was already a dominant male tradition constructed by critics as the norm. The writings of male authors like J. Adeola James' review in African Literature Today of Idu, Flora Nwapa's second novel, and Ernest Emenyonu's rejoinder to this review in the same journal are also indicative of the existence of an early intra-male flow of usually condescending discourse on African women writers.


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  6. African women's writing was therefore born into a pre-determined position of subalternity. In view of the positioning and ontologizing, by male critics, of francophone African women's texts as somewhat "inferior" to the dominant male African texts, it is not surprising that the female characters in those works, usually alter egos of the authors, mostly occupy spaces of absence, silence or subordination. We shall examine the textual trajectory of those characters, mindful at all times of the extra-textual significance of their her stories.

    Apart from Mudimbe's own work 2 5, the literature justifying the philosophical and historical foundation of that statement is vast and cannot possibly receive an exhaustive review here.

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    However, it is worthwhile examining a relatively representative position on how that process of invention was effected. Reflecting on the broader situation of spaces invented by the West all over the world, Gayatri Spivak states: 21 I am thinking about the imperialist project which had to assume that the earth it territorialised was in fact previously uninscribed.

    So then a world, on a simple level of cartography, inscribed what was presumed to be uninscribed. Now this worlding actually is also a texting, a textualising, a making into art, a making into an object to be understood26 emphasis added This statement sufficiently shows that Africa was not only invented by the West, it was also made into an object of epistemological inquiry, to be approached almost exclusively from the standpoint of Western-spawned discursive models.

    Consequently, modern African Studies as an academic field straddling disciplines like literature, political science, philosophy, sociology, anthropology and history is essentially an invention of the West. In literature, apart from having to write in the master's language, pioneer African writers relied very heavily on Western models in terms of form and narrative structure. And the critics who emerged to elaborate a critical tradition for the emergent African literatures in the sixties were mostly Western critics using necessarily Eurocentric critical tools.

    By the time the first African thinkers arrived from their formative bases in Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale and the Sorbonne to join what they condemned as the Western monologue on African discourse, they could only maneuver within already existing Western paradigms of African Studies. The politics and the subterranean ideological tensions that characterized the transfer of the editorial and discursive control of Black Orpheus from the Western guard Beier, Moore, Theroux to an African guard 22 Abiola Irele, J.

    Clark in are good indications of how determined the emergent African literati were to wrest control of African discourse from Western participants. For instance, Clark published an essay, "The Legacy o f Caliban", in the very first issue o f Black Orpheus he co-edited with Irele, and he frowned at the idea o f Westerners setting the standards in African literature: For a variety of reasons the European sector has been more articulate and o f overwhelming influence upon African writers.

    Jealously, it holds fast to its claim of being the original owner and therefore the natural custodian o f the European language the African is using in his works.

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    These in turn belong to the tradition of literate literature which again goes back to Europe. The very machinery for publication and distribution of African works is to be found chiefly in the capital cities of Europe. Then, of course, there is the old economic supremacy Finally, there are the agents of this ubiquitous complex operating right in the midst of the African sector, and ironically the scouts and promoters of new talents are often to be found among their ranks.