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Concentric Circles, trans. Brian Holton Newcastle: Bloodaxe Books, Before and since his enforced exile, Yang Lian has been one of the most innovative and influential poets in China. Widely hailed in America and Europe as a highly individual voice, he has been translated into many languages. The book, like the sections of which it is comprised, uses a kind of collage, where many small fragments, each complete in itself, are aligned together in a series of patterns to form a grander mosaic: from line to line, poem to poem, cycle to cycle, in ever-widening concentric structures.

He has a westernist, modernist sensibility allied with an ancient Chinese, almost shamanistic one. He can both excite and frighten you - like MacDiarmid meets Rilke with Samurai sword drawn! Herbert, Scotsman. The scope of his creative imagination is astounding.

His style is one of extraordinary grandeur and ambition. Yang Lian was born in Switzerland, the son of a diplomat, and grew up in Beijing. His work was criticised offcially in China in and then banned in when he organised memorial services for the dead of Tiananmen while in New Zealand. This year he has been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. His writing is widely anthologised and published in more than ten languages, including French, Spanish, Italian, German, Portuguese and Chinese.

Qu Leilei was born in Heilongjiang, China, in , and now lives in London. They are concerned with national issues and their versions mirror the political realities of the continent, which are neither glorious nor optimistic. In the play, he is an actor called Chaka acting out Chaka's life. He is at once an actor and an actor of justice and this play about a play blurs out the distinction between the various 'realities' being acted out.

Despite the lightness of the text and its happy ending, the central theme is dark. It is a plea for the black race to join the struggle against past and present injustices Mabana Although Zinsou's play does not offer much new in terms of our investigation, his transposition of Chaka's 'situation' into apartheid South Africa is worth highlighting. Both the colonial era and apartheid are prognosticated: "Danger will come from there-beware of the sea-scum [ Importantly U Tam'Si also remains faithful to Mofolo's portrayal of the main protagonist. This text expresses the author's deep existential disillusionment with the realities of post-independence governance on the continent, a time when African dictators, like the Chaka in his play, are so imbued with their self-importance as past heroes that they become alienated from their own people Mabana Because early Francophone drama was "a drama of social and political combat" Conteh-Morgan , the combative aspect of the rewritings of Mofolo's story unifies the Francophone responses to Mofolo's narrative, emphasizing the political and ideological aspect of the novel's transculturation.

This is not simply evident in the content of the plays but also in their form. Part of the African Francophone playwrights' campaign was to reconnect with their past politically and culturally.

A Prayer Before Dawn: a ferocious, relentless prison drama with poetry in its blood

Whether it is Fall, 10 Badian or Senghor, the telling of the story as well as the way of telling it becomes a political act, something which has been shown to be true in Mofolo first. Part of this revolutionary undercurrent in Francophone drama stems from the rigorous policy of assimilation which exercised a strong cultural control over France's colonial subjects before decolonisation. This left many West-African countries purged of their authentic cultural identity:. One can understand why, when Francophones later revolted against French rule, history either as a discipline or just as a theme in literature, especially in drama, should have become so attractive a weapon [ They came to the conclusion that as a condition for political and psychological freedom, they had to take part in, at the very least, if not take over, the production of their own self-image [ By putting on stage the politico-military achievements of, say, Chaka one of their favourite heroes [.

They were repudiating the myth of a history-less and insignificant past on which [French] colonialism based its claims; restoring theirs and their people's injured pride; rousing in the people a sense of patriotism and finally creating [ Conteh-Morgan This brings us to a second concluding comment to be made concerning the particularities of Francophone African drama, and that is that the central "thematic preoccupations of Francophone literary drama is the presentation of events and figures drawn from Africa's historical past" Conteh-Morgan Senghor, as we know, was more generally concerned, in his poetry, with other historical figures of Africa's past such as the Kaya-Magan or the Queen of Sheba.

Linked to this common desire to celebrate heroes from a pre-colonial African past is, of course, the need revolutionary in nature for the formation of a cultural identity.

Amber Dawn's How Poetry Saved My Life shows fierce resolve

In their rewriting of Mofolo's novel, Francophone African writers have attempted to resurrect Chaka-a hero from the past-to be used as a unifying myth and a source for national, and by extension pan-African consciousness. This is what was demonstrated by placing Mofolo's novel in its historical context. Clearly, this is how the Sotho writer intended to tell his story and this is how it was read in turn, making the original text a richly transculturated text.

Because of his nation-building endeavour and the resulting deep-seated Zulu identity as well as Mofolo's own representation of the historical figure as such, the Zulu king, through Mofolo's ink, could become an inspiring catalyst in the quest for a coherent post-independence identity for these writers-who were all, one way or another, instrumental in the re building of their newly independent nations.

It is clear from the versions discussed and the transculturation of Mofolo's text that the construction of a post-independence identity was strongly linked to pan-Africanist visions of a common history and resulting identity from which also stemmed nationalist ideals. He makes a cultural distinction between the African in British-settled territories "a product of 'indirect rule'" and the French-speaking "assimilated" African Mphahlele It seems that, for Mphahlele, this different cultural experience is at the core of the very different attitudes of these groups.

This difference also motivates his main allegation against Negritude: the movement does not consider all social possibilities. When it advocates aesthetic action, such as a return to indigenous art, it blatantly ignores the South African "multi-racial" context-where, Mphahlele emphasises, Africans are "detribalized" Mphahlele Mphahlele's disparaging arguments offer an interesting continuation to our hypothesis.

If, as has been revealed, Chaka 's transculturation into the negritudinist discourse through its literary rewritings lead to a specifically Senghorian definition of Africanity, at a time when French colonies were struggling for independence or grappling with the cultural and political complexities of their new-found independence, Mphahlele's passionate quarrel with its ideology is testimony to a stronger rapport between Southern African and Francophone African literatures than often acknowledged.

In the same way that there was, in the s in South Africa, a political "conceptual refashioning" Attwell among black intellectuals, the rhetorical focus of our analysis, if we carry it further, must shift from an intertextual study to a broader investigation of the transmission of political cultures between Francophone intellectuals and Black Consciousness. We need to ponder the influence of Negritude, its Martinican approach in particular, on the Black Consciousness movement in South Africa. Fanon's analysis of the impact of colonialism on the psyche of the colonised finds resonance in Biko's discourse.

The idea that racism stems from the deliberate construction of blackness as a symbol of darkness with all its consequential pejorative associations pervades Biko's writing-such as the repeated references to the dehumanisation of the "black man" by white supremacist ideologies and the resulting association of African culture with barbarism Biko Evidence of the Martinican thinker's influence on Biko whether implicit or in direct quotation abounds in I write what I like In this paper, he gives a definition of Black Consciousness, which is built around three key notions-recurrent throughout his writing and often repeated word for word elsewhere.

These are: the idea of the uniqueness of the black world, the urgent need to take cognisance of this fact and the necessity to rewrite the African past.


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In strong keeping with Negritude's principle for the need of a re discovery of one's Africanity, these authors have sought to reconnect in an essential way and were able to do so through their idiosyncratic reading of Mofolo. Biko substantiates this notion from Fanon's idea, quoted verbatim 13 that colonialism robbed indigenous people of their history by distorting, disfiguring and destroying it and he believes that the re-appropriation of African history by Africans involves a re-discovery of past heroes such as, precisely, Moshoeshoe and Chaka Biko The idea strongly echoes Negritude's main ideological assertion.

A Prayer Before Dawn: a ferocious, relentless prison drama with poetry in its blood

Once more, then, Chaka becomes synonymous with black power and solidarity. Biko, the South African activist, seems to echo the words of Senghor, the French-speaking African poet, who had seen in a Sotho novel nearly 20 years earlier, the symbolic power of a Zulu king. This article is based on my doctoral thesis entitled "The transculturation of Thomas Mofolo's Chaka: Southern Africa and Francophone Africa in dialogue" completed at the University of the Witwa-tersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.

It is estimated that between to Zulus lost their lives during clashes with the colonial police and that almost of them were brought to trial in the aftermath Morris He is an important figure because he evokes, no doubt, the figure of King Moshoeshoe, the founder of the Basotho nation. Moshoeshoe, who was loved by his people, was known for his fairness and great diplomatic skills.

The journal was a platform where thinkers and writers, politicians and sociologists, elders and young academics 'attempted to define the originality of their Africanity that they tried to fit into the modern world'" Diop in Kesteloot , my translation. He tells Donald Burness in a letter that he was intimately and politically inspired by Mofolo's novel Burness 30, my emphasis. His long-standing mythical status in African oral literature became a classic of written Afro-Arabic literature in the 19 century. In a column written earlier, Biko uses the exact same words, this time without reference to their source: "[ Attwell, D.

Badian, S. The Death of Chaka. Clive Wake. Nairobi: O U P, La mort de Chaka. Paris : Presence Africaine, Biko, S. I Write What I Like. Johannesburg: Picador Africa, Burness, D. Shaka King of the Zulus in African Literature. Washington: Three Continents Press, Conteh-Morgan, J. Cambridge: C U P, Couzens, T. Book review. Fall, M. Chaka ou le Roi visionnaire. Paris: Les Nouvelles Editions Africaines, Jouanny, R. Paris: Hatier, Kesteloot, L. Paris : Karthala-AUF, Kunene, D. Johannesburg: Ravan Press, Lazarus, N. Mabana, K. Des transpositions Francophones du mythe de Chaka.


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  • Frankfurt: Peter Lang, Mofolo, T. Johannesburg: Heinemann, Translated by V Ellenberger. Paris: Gallimard, Morris, D.

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    London: Jonathan Cape Ltd, Mphahlele, E. The African Image. London: Faber, Continent-Afrique suivi de Amazoulou. Rose-tinted self-mythologisation is out: every scene unfolds in the heat of the split-second moment.