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Oral and Written Literature in Africa BA 3



Het college is open voor tweede- en derdejaarsstudenten. Hogere eisen worden gesteld aan derdejaarsstudenten. De code voor het tweedejaarsvak is: 5732K2008.


The politics of religion, race, language and gender in African literature and film

Today, most of us find it normal that African literature is most often written in a European language and that actors and actresses exhibit race dependent stereotypical behaviour in mixed race films. In fact, these are abnormalities that we have internalised as normalities as a result of the European colonial legacy. The aim of this course is to enhance understanding of these historically grown abnormalities that still occupy our minds and that affect our behaviour towards each other and our relationships between one another.

We will focus on the politics of colonialism in Africa and their effect on the African population in the colonies. Since the scramble for Africa, over time various African countries were divided into multinational and/or multilingual colonies. Cameroon, for instance, initially became a German colony and in World War I it was divided between British and French Cameroon. The colonial partitions and the imposed foreign languages disrupted the pre-colonial political, religious and cultural organisation of these African territories. This course will concentrate on the reflection of African filmmakers and writers, who were brought up in the colonies, on these politics in their artwork. We will zoom in on how writers survived to live under colonialism once they had used their art as a medium of expression of political resistance and how they used their novels or films as a tool to dig up precolonial memories who had been buried under layers of sand deposed on African societies by colonial rulers. In detail, we will concentrate on the colonial politics of religion, language, race and gender and their effects on colonial rooted African literature and film.

In the context of the politics of religion, we will e.g. discuss the reconfiguration of Christianity in the Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiongo’s novels ‘Weep not Child’ (1964) and ‘The River Between’ (1965). In Africa, literary expression most often draws upon religious icons derived from African Indigenous Religions, Christianity and Islam. The latter two waged systematic wars of attrition on African Indigenous Religions and its believers in order to control Africans’ cultural-religious life. The Christianising missions viewed the African Indigenous Religions with derision and as a result of the conversion of Africans to Christianity, many Africans internalised the belief that their African religion was superstitious and a form of witchcraft. In his early youth, Ngugi was one of these Africans. However, later in life he openly rejected Christianity as a result of the felt disappointment about what this religion had brought him and by whom. We will discuss the two mentioned novels, which were written right before in the 1970s in which Ngugi rejected his Christian upbringing. We will investigate why these of Ngugi’s novels contributed to his call for a Christianity away from colonialism and in dialogue with African indigenous religious believers.

The politics of race in colonial Africa were made visual in the influential political film ‘the battle of Algiers’ (1966) by Gillo Pontecorvo. This Jews Italian filmmaker, who was on the side of the Algerians, was inspired by the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) leader Saadi Yacef’s novel ‘Souvernirs de la Bataille d’Alger’ (1957). Pontecorvo invited Yacef to play the main character in his film that depicts the Algerian war of Independence from the occupying French in the 1950s. The fictitious film, which looks like a newsreel, informs the viewers about the extreme differences in wealth between the French settlers and the Algerian population of the Casbah in Algiers. It enhances understanding of the emerging of the FLN freedom fighters, who aimed to free their land from the French settlers who took away their land, their livelihood and their pride. We will discuss the film in conjunction with Fanon’s novel ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ (1961). In Fanon’s opinion, who was both a writer, an FLN freedom fighter and a psychiatrist, the violence used in the struggle for Independence of colonial subjects is of psychological importance. Without violence, the subjects would not be able to mentally free themselves from the shackles of colonialism and to deconstruct the concomitant institutionalised racism.

European colonial rulers used their foreign language to contain the state of disruption within their African colonies and to transform its African populations into ‘people without an indigenous culture nor history’. In this course, we will also focus on the critique of African novelists and filmmakers on the so-called colonial ‘politics of language’ as expressed in their artworks. We will e.g. talk over the Cameroonian filmmaker Jean-Marie Teno’s ‘Afrique, je te plumerai’ (Africa, I will fleece you) and discuss his look at language as a tool of both liberation and domination. Teno demonstrates how severely French cultural imperialism has affected the book market in Cameroon and what creative measures are taken by the Cameroonians to get access to African sources of news and literature. His film will be discussed in the context of Ngugi’ discussion of the colonial politics of language in his renowned Fanon inspired polemic ‘Decolonising the mind’ (1986). Ngugi noticed that colonial masters always impose their own language on the colonized. In his polemic, he attacks this form of cultural imperialism, which has an alienating and disempowering effect on populations under colonialism. Ngugi’s empowerment lies in his argument that there should not be a hierarchy in the use and indebtedness of languages. His statement is that all languages worldwide are equal and that they are interconnected in a network of meaning bound together by the common language of all languages, which is the language of translation. We will discuss how Ngugi’s polemic has inspired other African writers and how his book fits into wider network theories of poststructuralist French philosophers that have affected literary studies including those of Derrida, Latour, Deleuze and Guattari.

To enhance understanding of the colonial politics of gender, we will focus on the Ugandan poet Okot p' Bitek’s ‘Song of Lawino’ (1966). In this narrative poem, Lawino is confronted with the fact that her husband Ocol has fallen in love with a more European style African woman. In her poem, Lawino reminds her husband of the beauty of African culture and urges her husband not to adopt the cultural norms and values of the white men. We will discuss the poem in the context of the Nigerian scholar Oyewumi’s criticism in her book ‘African gender studies’ (2005) on the imposed Western ideas on African cultures that biological distinctions between the sexes go together with social distinctions that result in the preferential status of one sex (men).
In consultation with your lecturer, you are free to choose and discuss an artwork - African literature or film - that focusses on the colonial politics of (a) religion, (b) race, (c) language or (d) gender or on the ongoing process of decolonisation of these politics in the mind (e). If you write a review on a book on the mentioned colonial politics a,b,c or d or mental decolonisation (e), then your presentation should be on a film of your choice (and vice versa) and correspond with another then an already chosen of the mentioned letters (a till e). This course is ideal for you, if you are interested in the study of African literature and film at the crossroad of philosophy of language and culture and African religion, philosophy and history.


Upon successful completion of the course, students will have:

  • An enhanced understanding of the politics of colonialism and the decolonisation of the mind as expressed in African literature and film.

  • Acquired knowledge and developed critical thinking on African literature and film in historical, philosophical and religious contexts.

  • Identify and engage with the major themes presented in the course, and offer a critical interpretation of all class readings assigned to these themes.

  • Had an active engagement with the key concepts in (post) colonial studies and literary studies and acquire knowledge and understanding of major debates in these fields.


Rooster BA Afrikaanse talen en culturen


  • Hoorcollege/Werkcollege

Modes of instruction:

  • PowerPoint presentations on African literature and film

  • Showing video clips of African films and African writers


The course is open to second and third year students.

140 hours (5 EC), allocated as follows:
Seminars: 26 hours
Study of literature and film: 95 hours
Presentation and filmreview or bookreview: 14 hours
Take home exam: 5 hours

The workload of the third year students will be adapted to their advanced level of studies.

  • Third year students will write a publishable blog based on a current event in the African literary and film world (between 300-500 words).

  • Third year students will write a bookreview or filmreview of 1000 words (instead of the 750 words requirement for second year students).


Take home-exam: 20 % (deadline in week 49, possibility of re-exam)
Oral presentation: 20 % (no possibility of re-exam)
Active participation in class: 10 %
For second year students: book or film review: 50 % (deadline in week 51, possibility of re-exam)
For third year students: book or film review: 25 % & blog: 25 %

For all students counts that in order to pass the course, a passing grade (5.5 or above) needs to be obtained for every part of the course. The average score over all course parts needs to be 6.0 or above.

Nabespreking tentamen

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


Blackboard will be used to upload the course programme, power point presentations and to make course announcements.


Available in UL Library:

  • Ngugi Wa Thiongo ‘Weep not Child’ (1964)

  • Ngugi Wa Thiongo ‘The river between’ (1965)

  • Fanon, Frantz ‘The wretched of the earth’ (1961).

  • Jean-Marie Teno’s ‘Afrique, je te plumerai’ (Africa, I will fleece you).

  • Ngugi Wa Thiongo’s polemic ‘Decolonising the mind: the politics of language in African literature’ (1986).

Online available in UL Library:

  • Gillo Pontecorvo’s ‘The Battle of Algiers’ (1966). Online available.

  • Okot p’Bitek ‘Song of Lawino: Song of Ocol’.

Secondary literature will be made available during the course.


Inschrijven via uSis is verplicht.

Algemene informatie over uSis vind je op de website

Inschrijven voor vakken en tentamens

Aanmelding voor A la carte en contractonderwijs

Informatie voor belangstellenden die deze cursus in het kader van Studeren à la carte willen volgen (zonder tentamen), oa. over kosten, inschrijving en voorwaarden.

Informatie voor belangstellenden die deze cursus in het kader van Contractonderwijs willen volgen (met tentamen), oa. over kosten, inschrijving en voorwaarden.


Studiecoördinator: E.A. van Dijk, MSc

Onderwijsadministratie: van Wijkplaats

Docent: Dr. L.F. Müller


Voertaal Nederlands en/of Engels.