Postcolonial Analysis of Rhetoric in Ngugi‘s English novels; A Grain of Wheat and Petals of Blood and his Gikuyu novels Devil on the Cross and Wizard of the Crow
Background to the Study
Rhetoric is the ancient art of argumentation and discourse from primordial Greece to the twenty- first century. Rhetoric has been central to Western and African education, filling the need to train public speakers, orators and writers to move audiences to action with arguments. In Western perspective, the word ‗rhetoric ‘originated from the Greek word ‗rhetor‘which means speaker and it is often seen as the art of public speaking. In Africa, from time immemorial, rhetoric originated from orality and this anchors its significance on persuasive verbal expressions. The thrust of rhetoric quite often is the intellectual ability of a speaker to compose and arrange a speech that would be persuasive through its intellectual, emotional and dramatic appeal to an audience.
Western rhetoric in its historic framework had its origin in ancient Greece in the fifth century B.C. The earliest known studies of it come from Greek philosophers of the classical period; the Sophists, Aristotle and then, in the Roman world, Cato, Cicero and Quintilian. For Marcus Cicero, classical rhetoric has five canons: invention, arrangement, style, memory and delivery.
―Invention‖ referred to the content of a speech; whether it is persuasive, and logical or appealing. The second part is ―arrangement‖ of the speech into a given order. The third part is ―style‖. This refers to diction (word choice) and composition that makes use of rhythm and figurative language. The other two canons often made popular by Aristotle are ―memory‖ which meant memorization of the speech for oratory purpose and delivery signified by the control of one‘s voice, tone and gesture when speaking. Rafey Habib explains the origin of rhetoric with these words
The art of rhetoric was formally founded in 476 BC by a native of Syracuse, Corax, whose student Tisias transmitted his master‘s teachings to the mainland. Rhetoric was an integral part of the political process in ancient Greece, especially in Athens and Syracuse of the fifth century BC… On the ability to speak persuasively could depend the entire future of a State, family or individual? On rhetoric, often hung the balance of life or death, war or peace, prosperity or destruction, freedom or slavery. (24)bIn ancient Athens, a group of professional teachers, called Sophists (from ‗Sophos‘, meaning―wise) emerged.
They taught art for use in the courts, the legislature, and political forums, as well as for philosophical reflection and debate. Through their influence, rhetoric came to assume a central role in Greek education. The most influential of the Sophists were Protagoras, Gorgias, Antiphon, Lysias, and Isocrates (Habib 24). Chinwe Okechukwu remarks that ―rhetoric has been seen as the bedrock of an organized society from the classical times to the present. It embraces the different arms of government in society, including the judicial, the political and the ceremonial‖ (45).
Postcolonial Analysis of Rhetoric in Ngugi‘s English novels; A Grain of Wheat and Petals of Blood and his Gikuyu novels Devil on the Cross and Wizard of the Crow
The views captured here clearly define the nature and manifestation of rhetoric by the Greeks, Romans and Britons but against the backdrop of this explanation, other postcolonial communities of the world have rhetoric and have been interested in studying and projecting their rhetoric in diverse forms and perceptions of humanity.
However, Mbanefo Ogene avers that ―rhetoric started from the oral tradition before it developed to the written. The early Greece scholars started from the oral tradition before they evolved a system of the written text‖ (98). Duckworth succinctly stressed that:
Indeed, the search for the non-Western culture has become a crucial scholarly and political endeavour, as people seek bases for dialogue across tribal and national boundaries. The true rhetoric of any age and of any people is to be found deep within what might be called attitudinizing conventions, precepts that condition one‘s stance toward experience. (qtd. in Ogene 100)
In Africa, therefore, before one can give a reasonable account of what rhetoric is and where it comes from, one must make the case for what the tradition is made of. First the distinction between the wider conception and narrow conception of rhetoric must be explored. The wider definition encompasses the notion that rhetoric is the effective use of speech because speech can be used properly or badly, effectively or ineffectively. When one uses language effectively and properly it can be called rhetoric. Good speech is integral to oral communication and expression. Africans use this perception of rhetoric in that it is very expressive and culture-based.
The masterful use of speech patterns or verbal art encapsulates this wider notion of rhetoric. There is a common definition of rhetoric that is commonly rendered as the verbal art which humans use to persuade or ―trick‖, a way to set one on the sublime and also cajole the person to accept facts of human existence. While this stands as the definition of rhetoric at its primary level, it is equally necessary to realize that this is not the only viable means in which it signifies value to man.
The use of language to trick and persuade is important in its own context, but it is appropriate to look beyond this meaning because in many circumstances a rhetorician does not engage his art to coax his/her listeners to do something imprudent or to fascinate the audience with illogical sublimity and arguments. Rhetoric in Africa embraces this connotation of rhetoric‘s wider definition. It does not simply mean the use of rhetorical speech (though that will be part of it), but it also implies the effective use of rhetorical speech that embodies and carries African culture.
Postcolonial Analysis of Rhetoric in Ngugi‘s English novels; A Grain of Wheat and Petals of Blood and his Gikuyu novels Devil on the Cross and Wizard of the Crow
The rhetoric of the continent also covers a culture that is oral and expressive and as such the rhetoric and the language cannot be separated. When one studies the language that is used in the vernacular tradition, the person is looking at the rhetoric that has been part of that tradition before the modern conception of it had ever come around.
In Africa, rhetoric exists as the oral traditions of Africa in which in its various communities, auditors of an oral performance or readers of a text are persuaded for diverse reasons to pursue a particular cause through rhetoric. Rhetoric in the Western world relies heavily on its forensic and deliberative aspects while in Africa, orality anchors on epideictic rhetoric. In this form, African persuasive oral elements are used on appropriate; usually ceremonial occasions to enlarge upon the praiseworthiness (or sometimes, the blameworthiness) of an African or group of persons, and in so doing, to display the orators‘s own talents and skill in rising the rhetorical expectations of the occasion.
Again, there is an interface between rhetoric and oratory. This interconnection is so unique that oral features and figures of speech are used as means of persuasion, imparting of moral lessons, communication and cultural identity for purpose of emphasis. Oral genres that exist in Africa are proverbs, myths, songs, tales, fables, odes, legends, riddles, oral narratives, panegyric etc, while rhetorical figures in Africa are metaphor, repetition, apostrophe, rhetorical questions, hyperbole, allusion, parallelism, personification, antithesis etc. within the framework of figurative language, these rhetorical devices are deployed as rhetoric.
Despite the efforts of African scholars and researchers to diligently collect, transcribe, translate, interpret, and publish many African stories, songs, poems, proverbs, folktales, etc, numerous genres are still on the brink of extinction and, sadly, there seems little anyone can do about what is, after all, a natural order of things (Akintunde 2).
The good news is that various African governments, academic institutions, and non-governmental organizations are taking steps now to keep alive the traditions of the past through encouragement and even sponsorship of folk troupes, as well as the promotion of periodic festivals where the best folk artists may show their skills. Nonetheless, the passage of things, according to Isidore Okpewho, ―can never be arrested; the best thing about tradition may be, indeed, that it moves on, maintaining its essence even changing its outer form‖ (―Introduction‖ vii).
It is necessary to continue by looking at the history of rhetoric in Africa. When people assume or assert that civilization began in Egypt of Africa, it is possible to accentuate that all world languages and their cultural inclinations have their roots in the languages of Africa. The later shift of civilization to Greece, Rome, France, United Kingdom, America, Germany, Spain, China etc, cannot in any form deny this fact. After all, Chinua Achebe in his 1975 critical book Morning Yet on Creation Day issues a reply to the distortions of Western historians and philosophers when he says
African people did not hear of culture for the first time from Europeans, their societies were not mindless but frequently had a philosophy of great depth and value and beauty. They had poetry and above all, they had dignity and self- respect. It is this dignity that many African people all but lost in the colonial period and it is this that they must now regain. (45) Achebe strongly refuses to accept the claims that Africa is the ‘nest of uncivilized birds’ and a kingdom of social animals without rhetorical skills. He blames the colonialists for the
backwardness that could be presently recorded of Africa, noting that Africa’s development has been constrained by slavery and colonialism. Colonialism accounts for the loss of dignity and self-respect among Africans. In Africa therefore, music, myth/folklore, expressive structures, the inclination of rhetoric, metaphysical systems of order and even the forms of performance were all preserved (Gates Jr. 3-4). Akintunde Akinyemi states that
The continent of Africa hosts the largest reservoir of varieties of verbal arts, which could be classified into two categories, namely, literary and historical. While the literary category includes poetic genres such as praise poetry, sacred chants, songs, and the verbal formulae like incantations, parables, and proverbs, the historical type, on the other hand, includes such forms as narratives based on myths, legends, folktales, and historical genres like epics. (27)
The conception of music, metaphysics, mythic symbolism and structure as part of the rhetorical tradition, have been used to inform and coax Africans of primordial era and those in the twenty- first century. All of these rhetorical devices had their beginning in classical African culture in various forms, but most importantly they were part of the oral tradition. However, African oral features have some affinities with the intellectual development of other cultures, most influential would be that of the Mediterranean world in the form of classical (Western) rhetoric.
Moreover, some forms of rhetoric in Africa are different from Western forms of rhetoric in certain ways. The forms of rhetoric in Africa are based on persuasive conventions that are not those of the most commonly understood forms of Western culture. African oratory was based on particular metaphysical worldviews, symbols, structures and performance techniques which are rarely seen outside of western Africa. Knowles-Borishade goes so far as to say that it is not possible to analyze the contemporary African oratory if one does not understand the particular set of beliefs and history from which it comes (Knowles-Broishade, 488).
According to Knowles-Broishade, classical African oratory must be seen as historical, or having a rooted, traceable history, it must conform to African cultural expectations which means it must be traditional. It was (and is) an art form that can be analyzed with a set of traditional standards and lastly it must have some sort of cohesion or be codified (488).
When readers take a look at these categories, they can begin to see the importance of the systematic and deliberate nature of rhetoric in Africa. However, one must be cautioned, Knowles-Borishade seems to treat these metaphysical aspects of the oral tradition as something that is separate from rhetoric. What has been stated so far is that one cannot cleanly find that divide, the reader may even go so far as to say that it is impossible to divide it, because of this fact Knowles-Borishade here serves as a guide in the general sense to help make clear distinctions about the categories that are needed to analyze the tradition as a whole.
However, when it comes to the actual rhetoric that is embedded within the language, it is proper to depart from Knowles-Borishade‘s notion of separate entities and once again think of the rhetoric as running throughout these categories unbroken.
Historically, the practice of classical rhetoric on the African continent goes back to the ancient world, practised all over but having a functional center in Egypt (Crawford 111). It was a practice that was reserved for a particular caste of people. Much like the conception of the Western world‘s rhetoric, not everybody was skilled in the use of persuasion and pun or the mastery of symbolic language. The prominent users of rhetoric were the West African griots like Sundjata Keita, Mande, Djelba.
A griot is a West African storyteller, singer, musician and oral historian. They are trained to excel as rhetoricians, lyricists and musicians. These poets, musicians, singers and magicians were eloquent and could enrapture an audience with their abilities (Campbell 30). They served an important function not just as entertainers, but it is speculated that they would be able to incite enemy combatants on the field of battle (Campbell 27).
Griot as a name was reserved for a set of artists who were (and still are) observers of affairs, commentators (political and social) or councilor on past or passing scenes (Kaschula 56). It was their mastery of language that allowed them to fulfill many different positions and gave them the power to develop rhetorical tropes that are still with Africans. If one looks at the history of the griot, the person can begin to see the beginnings of rhetorical tropes that have been defined in modern Africa. One can imagine the African orator in the Egyptian courts referring to symbols and making gestures just as grand as their Greek counterpart.
Modern griots serve many of the same functions as their ancient forebears and preserve the traditions and they serve more of an entertainment purpose but are still worthy court entertainers and poets. They comment on contemporary matters in a traditional style (Kaschula 56) and lend this same type of performance to those that have come over from their homeland.
The griot‘s art is one that is pervasive and has continued to exist almost unchanged in Africa for centuries and has been passed on for generations, even to those that have since come across the oceans. It is because of this that the griot is seen as a grandfather to the oral poetry and vernacular tradition that is apparent in many African-American communities today. What was once reserved for a particular people, so informed by the worldview of the ancients, is to a large extent what exists in a similar form for the modern speaker.
One can imagine that it is the colourful and metaphysically relevant speech that would have survived through the ages as something that would keep the culture alive. It is the essence of folklore and folk wisdom, the cultural nexus of language and the most transmissible of text. It is because of this that Africans still have the rhetorical tropes of the oral traditions that was employed by the particular speakers, disseminated throughout the wider modern culture of today.
Cultural expectations are sets of beliefs and traditions that inform the worldview of the speaker. To understand classical rhetoric in Africa, one must first look at concepts and symbols that are pervasive in the tracing of its history. Two of such symbols are the trickster god and Nommo, or the Word. The trickster god exists in almost all cultures in some form or another. This figure is one that Henry Louis Gates calls upon to show the unbroken lineage of the oral tradition from the old world to the new.
The trickster god plays such an integral role in the understanding of language in both time periods that he is used as a catalyst for further discussion. Nommo, in much the same way, is a pan African symbol that is part of the fabric of the culture and a good representation of why the ancients were an oral tradition and why so much emphasis is placed on the orality of the modern speaker as well (Gates 39).
Above all, it is imperative to add that away from examining the nature, use and functions of rhetoric in African fiction, Kikuyu, the central locale of this research needs further examination. The Gikuyu (sometimes Kikuyu) are the people who speak Kikuyu language and is Kenya‘s largest ethnic group numbering approximately six to seven million people. The Gikuyu are Bantus and actually came into central Kenya during the Bantu migration.
Gikuyu is thus one of the five languages of the Thagicu subgroup of the Bantu that stretches from Kenya to Tanzania. The Gikuyu usually identify their land by the surrounding Mountain ranges in Central Kenya which they call ‘Kirinyaga’ – The Shining Mountain. Folklore suggests that the Kikuyu tribe was originally founded by a man named Gikuyu. Oral tradition explains that Ngai (the divine spirit) took Gikuyu to the top of Kirinyaga (present day Mt. Kenya) and commanded him to establish his home there.
He was also given a wife Mumbi with whom he had nine daughters. It is from the nine daughters (and occasionally a tenth) that the nine principal clans originated. The nine clansare Achera, Agachiku, Airimu, Ambui, Angare, Anjiru, Angui, Aithaga, and Aitherandu. (Mhando 3).
The Gikuyu also had a religious tree – the Mugumo tree – where they would pray and offer sacrifices to facing the sacred Mountain Kirinyaga. The Kikuyu basically inhabit the fertile land around the slopes of Mt. Kenyata the north of Nairobi. Today, however, because of their entrepreneurial abilities, the Kikuyu people can be found virtually in all parts of Kenya. Although the Kikuyu tribe has undergone a lot of changes since the British arrived over a century ago, their sense of cultural identity has not remained strong. The Kikuyu have also been the most successful in adapting to Kenya‘s new economic and social realities.
Jacob Mhando equivocally asserts that some of the antecedents that have led to the re-discovery of rhetoric in African fiction especially in Kenya are akin to the need to decolonize Africans from colonizing their mindsets and attitudes with Eurocentrism and to revamp, use and preserve rhetoric from extinction. Here are his words:
Since time immemorial the indigenous communities in Kenya lived by knowledge that was passed to them through their oral tradition. Singing, telling stories, and plays are also ways of passing knowledge through the oral tradition…With the arrival of the colonialists in Kenya many people learned to write. However, little of the knowledge within their oral traditions was recorded and used to create a written tradition that is meaningful in their own culture. Over time, communities have come to realize the importance of having a written tradition alongside oral one for protection purposes. (1)
Mhando‘s perspective implies that Eurocentric ideology, a product of Africa‘s contact with the West, has affected a lot of Africans including the Gikuyu people of Kenya to abandon their culture and traditions to embrace European culture. The need to preserve and restore most of the dead rhetoric and rhetorical figures of Gikuyu people has greatly influenced the novels of Ngugi wa Thiong‘o.
Interestingly, studies of African literatures implicitly or explicitly argue a continuity with traditional verbal artistry (rhetoric), which, in the absence of a popular writing tradition, was exclusively oral. One can read that intent, for example, in Jonathan Peters’ assertion that “the production of fiction in West Africa is virtually as old as communication through the spoken word‖ (9).
Chinweizu, Onwuchekwa Jemie, and Ihechukwu Madubuike similarly see the traditional narrative forms of African societies as “Africa’s oral antecedents to the novel” and argue at some length against critics who suggest differences between the two (25-32). But while there can be little doubt that some connection does exist between the traditional forms and the modern, it would be an error to imagine that modern African literatures wholly evolved from, or had an unbroken relationship with, traditional verbal artistry.
The modern literatures are quite evidently a legacy of imperialism on the African scene, and they differ markedly from the traditional forms. It is also futile to suggest that the differences between traditional forms and modern literatures are immaterial, as the proponents of “orature” suggest, or that the distinction that one is oral and the other written is of little significance, as Wellek and Warren argue (21-22), andas Andrzejewski, Pilaszewicz, and Tyloch also do in their book Literatures in AfricanLanguages (18).
Oral performances are by their nature intimately personal and immediate, involving a performer in close physical contact with an audience – performer and audience sharing not only the same spatial and temporal space but also a cultural identity. Literature’s audience is characteristically remote, often times separated by vast spatial, temporal, and cultural distances. Fortunately, people need not be concerned with determining the extent of the field covered by the term “literature” (even though aresolution of the question would be desirable, for the manner of its resolution would determine whether or not “orature” was an unnecessary neologism, “written literature, “redundant, or “oral literature” an oxymoron).
Another important difference between traditional African oral art and modern African literature involves the identity and social standing of their respective practitioners. Likethe Mali griot, who according to D. T. Niane “occupie[d] the chair of history” in his village (viii), the traditional oral artist was required to be deeply immersed in the traditional mores and the history of his or her community. This incumbency invested the artist with some formal or informal authority, along with commensurate dignity, even if (as was sometimes the case) he or she eked a living out of mendicancy.
The modern writer does not have the sort of worry Niane expresses on behalf of the griot—that of being regarded as an object of scorn—since in the postcolonial context he or she is a member of the elite class. But although the modern writer would claim the same legitimacy the traditional artist enjoys, as witness Wole Soyinka’s lament that the course of affairs on the continent is set by politicians and not artists (18), that claim has little basis or justification, given the circumstances of writers’ constitution as a westernized elite class
Remarkably, rhetoric is an oral art but its persuasive effects differ in the spoken form than in the written form. Rhetoric in a text is not all about the words in the text. The location of persuasive utterances are sometimes hidden in dialogues or narratives in a text that portray the rhetorical essence of the text; poetry, drama or fiction. Often the symbiotic relationship of orality and the written discourse in African literature has remained unique. The relationship of orality and literacy is discussed in all its complex ramifications by Walter Ong, who observes that ―writing from the beginning did not reduce orality but enhanced it (9).
Emmanuel Obiechina explains that the first discovery is that the oral culture does not immediately disappear by the mere fact of its being in contact with writing, nor does the literature of the oral society disappear because of the introduction of written literature. Rather, a synthesis takes place in which characteristics of the oral culture survive and are absorbed, assimilated, extended, and even reorganized within a new cultural experience.
Also, vital aspects of the oral literature are absorbed into an emerging written literature of greatly invigorated forms infused with vernacular energy through metaphors, images and symbols, more complex plots, and diversified structures of meaning. Such a good synthesis is possible insofar as certain conditions are present at the meeting point of the oral and written traditions, including the extent to which the synthesizing artist, that is the storyteller or poet, is well rooted in the oral rhetorical forms or narrative traditions, the extent of the familiarity the artist assumes the audience to have with the oral rhetorical or narrative conventions, the extent to which the artist expects the audience to be composed of readers or listeners, and the extent of the artist‘s skill in controlling the literary form, in the sense of being capable of assimilating into it an experience produced in a non-literate tradition or a formal style that originally belonged to the oral traditional society (1).
This means that African writers have been well exposed to the oral and literary traditions and are thus able to synthesize the two in their works.
The situation in modern Africa amply illustrates the point about the merging of the worlds of orality and literacy. The superimposition of alphabetic writing upon the oral cultures of Africa in the nineteenth century did not extinguish the oral traditions upon which African cultures and literatures had long been established. The immediate result was that African indigenous languages were written down and brought into the main stream of the world repertoire of literate languages, and, additionally, a substantial body of Africa‘s oral literatures—from epics and extended forms to unicellular tales and verbal art—was written down, recorded, and archived (Obiechina 3).
The oral traditional impulse is therefore strong in the modern African novel, which embodies these experiences, especially because the writers themselves are a product of both the oral tradition and literate education. Solomon Iyasere is right in his observation that ―the modern African writer is to his indigenous oral tradition as a snail is to its shell. Even in a foreign habitat, a snail never leaves its shell behind.‖ (107). What has been said here is a process akin to that identified by Ivan Illich as de-schooling, whereby writers return to their oral sources for ideas, subject matter, values, forms of thought, and styles in a move that counteracts the narrow conditioning from formal, school education. It assured a return to the idiom of African Languages and the roots of African oral tradition (34).
Furthermore, a return-to-roots movement in African literature as a means of giving maximum authenticity to the writing made the writers look to their indigenous poetics to create works that
will endure by drawing upon their living oral tradition to enrich forms, techniques, and styles received through literate education. African writers bear the traces of their origination as a class in colonialists’ desire to hand control to worthy successors they could trust to oversee and preserve the socio-political structures colonialism had built.
In its present conception, therefore, African literatures inevitably reflect the social and cultural alienation of the writers from their communities, as well as their identity with the Europeans whose languages and cultures they share. In this regard modern African literatures again testify to the great and continuing impact of the colonizing project on the African universe, not least in the persistence of its magisterial role in the definition and self-definition of Africans.
In all genres the countries that emerged from British colonialism have been the most fecund literary sources, Nigeria being preeminent among them. As far as fiction is concerned, it is customary to cite the publication in 1952 of Amos Tutuola’s novel The Palm-Wine Drinkard as the beginning of sustained Anglophone literature, although as Peters points out there had been earlier works, especially from the Gold Coast (Ghana). Tutuola was quickly joined in international popularity by his compatriot Chinua Achebe, and it was, not surprisingly, another Nigerian, Wole Soyinka, who became in 1986 the first African, and the first Black writer, to win the Nobel Prize for literature.
Arlene Elder notes the delay in the entry of Anglophone East Africa into the literary arena, and the embarrassed sense of exclusion that people like James Ngugi (Ngugi wa Thiong’o) and Grace Ogot felt when their part of Africa had no representative among the participants in the 1962 African Writers Conference held in Kampala, Uganda. That event became a powerful catalyst for aspiring writers, among whom Ngugi is now one of the most renowned. In South Africa the history of literature has largely repeated that ofother parts of Africa, with the difference that it has been more intense and more passionate because of the conditions imposed by apartheid (45).
Given this background, the use and significance of rhetoric in African fiction has remained the backbone of most post-colonial African writers who engage their literary works with the notion of decolonizing Eurocentric ideologies in Africa. This notion necessitates the need to also explore pertinent history of the exploitation of rhetoric in African fiction. Rhetoric in Africa has been with Africans from the cradle of its primordial days to the present age and the importance of the study of rhetoric is necessary in either oral or written literature. Tejumola Olaniyan and Ato Quayson on a critical plane maintained that
The scholarly study of oral creative expression in Africa predates and is much robust than that of the written literature. This is to be expected, given the late arrival of substantial written literature. In many ways, oral genres such as storytelling, proverbs, epics, incantations, panegyric, occasion-specific poetries (funeral, wedding, investiture, rite of passage, etc), and dramatic performances have served as veritable resource pools for writers to borrow from and transform in their written works. (66)
The idea deduced from Olaniyan and Quayson‘s perspective on rhetoric in Africa is that Africans have from their primordial days been using rhetoric for persuasive, didactic, and ceremonial purposes but its further use came in form of written literature. Historically, one cannot trace the first African that used rhetoric in speech making or communication or state exactly the first African who used rhetoric in fiction. The re-discovery of rhetoric in written African fiction is sometimes linked to African novels that were published in 1950‘s.
One major African writer who actually began the use of rhetoric in his fiction is Chinua Achebe in his trilogy, Things Fall Apart, Arrow of God and No Longer at Ease. John Munonye, Rems Umeasiegbu, Gabriel Okara, Elechi Amadi, Zulu Sofola, et cetera are other postcolonial African writers who deeply used persuasive oral traditions in their works. This quest for the indigenization of African literature or addition of local content and background to its literature by some African writers is important. Abiola Irele in agreement to this perspective avers that
A significant part of this process of the revaluation of literature in Africa is the preoccupation with the nature, possibilities, and formal modes of literary expression itself. To put this in another way, in trying to formulate the state of disjunction between an old order of being and a new mode of existence, literary artists in modern Africa have been forced to a reconsideration of their expressive medium, of their means of address. In the quest for a grounded authenticity of expression and vision, the best among our modern African writers have had to undertake a resourcing of their material and their modes of expression in the traditional culture…. (78-79)
The point that emerges from Irele‘s submission is that, the oral tradition continues to function as a fundamental reference of African expression, as the matrix of the African imagination.
Isidore Okpewho on his part succinctly explains that
There has been an increasing tendency on the part of modern African writers to identify with the traditions of their people in terms of both content and technique… The aim was to demonstrate that Africa has had, since time immemorial, traditions that should be respected and a culture to be proud of. (293)
The views of Irele, Okpewho, Olaniyan and Quayson on the nature, manifestation and relevance of oral features in Africa clearly demonstrates in practical terms that traditional African culture has not gone into a state of oblivion but is important for the articulation of an emerging African society. In essence, African writers deploy their works to revamp and portray the significance of rhetoric in a bid to decolonize Eurocentric beliefs in Africa.
Nonetheless, the origin of African fiction is controversial till date because from Stone Age to the twenty-first century, it is believed that African fiction began in oral form and greatly imbibed the orality of Africa. Modernity and advancement in technology later became prime factors that made some aspects of African social milieu and existentialism to be documented through the written discourse.
Against this backdrop, Anthony Oha explains that ―one of the major problems of African fiction is categorization. In the early formation of modern African fiction; in the 1950s and early 1960s, the African novel gained momentum at a time of social upheaval in Africa. There were intense nationalist activities challenging the whole idea and practice of colonialism in Africa (14).
Yet the African intelligentsia, to borrow Emmanuel Ngara’s expression, that is, the new bourgeoisie or elite was a product of missionary education. The colonial powers had acquiesced to granting political, but not economic and cultural independence to its colonies. Anthony Oha explains that this led the new African socialelite to engage in artistic form inherited from the West but inspired by local content and persuasive oral traditions. For example, in 1952 Amos Tutuola wrote The Palmwine Drinkard based on Yoruba mythology, using African folktale
tradition as form. He was followed in 1953 by Camara Laye‘s L’Enfant noir (translated into English as The African Child and later inthe American edition as The Dark Child), an episodic novel, which relied heavily on African oral features to vaunt the merits of the African past, tradition and civilization to a deaf world. In 1958 and from a historical perspective, Chinua Achebe published the novel Things Fall Apart, which set out to correct the ugly perception of Africans created by colonialism. Ngugi wa Thiong’o followed in 1964 with Weep Not Child. It was the year of Kenyan independence and the novelist was making an urgent call to Africans to embrace education and enterprise as a way of ending Western imperialism and Indian entrepreneurship in East Africa (15).
Oha also believes that out of the three genres of literature, the African novel came to dominate the literary scene. This was due in part to its ability to borrow from tradition; but more importantly, it was a means that the new intelligentsia, educated in a colonial context could understand and use to herald African values outside and inside Africa. Oha in broad terms explains that the impact of other genres was progressively overshadowed bythat of novelists such as Wa Thiong’o, Ousmane, Oyono, Armah, Beti, Laye, Achebe, to mention only but a few.
Often, novelists made oral tradition and legends their springboard. They began telling stories about self, the immediate community or village, the nation-state or the newly formed proletariat, but by and large they remained inaccessible and foreign to the great majority of the African people. In contrast, African novel seems to belong to the people rather than tothe elite because its formal complexity and intimidating status borrowed from Western hierarchies, have never been naturalized in Africa.
With the voice of ordinary people, the novel claims to be the legitimate heir of the traditional legends through which griots chronicled community history. The African novel writer tells stories to entertain and educate people in a way they understand. Like the storyteller, the writer holds the audience spell bound by the very beauty of the narrative, giving pleasure and also teaching morals and beliefs of the community, race or nation. The African novel has much in common with African oral tradition, which has been described as ‗the African classical tradition.
African classical tradition then finds its renewal in the novel because in a familiar way this genre puts in the context of today a number of subjects relevant to traditional and modern African values. It shows how economic, political, religious and social situations relate to pre-colonial Africa, colonialism, neo-colonial independence, apartheid, indigenous and imported religions, and so on.
Thus, the themes dealt with by African novelists include art, religion, urban-life, tradition and culture, apartheid, ironies of life, and pre-colonial, colonial, and neo-colonial reality, and so on. Just as the common storyteller of old, the contemporary African fiction writer aims at helping his/her society to change while retaining the best features of authentic African cultures. A large number of literary authors of great talent have not lost sight of the novel‘s potential to enrich human lives and African societies (17).
Moreover, one remarkable characteristic of African fiction is that it emerged as a reaction and response to the negative portrayal and perception of all that the black race represents to the Europeans. Being a reflection of social realities, African prose fiction and literature in general has largely addressed various issues that have come up since colonialism even till date.
Despite the fact that colonialism has gamut of demerits on Africans, it has enriched African literature thematically. However, following the collapse of colonialism in Africa, African literature shifts attention to the more lethal new form of colonialism known as neo-colonialism. In other words, African prose fiction is pre-occupied with issues that revolve around colonialism, neo-colonialism, post-colonial disillusionment and in most cases uses rhetoric to engage the West ontologically.
Most critics tend to see African literature as a product of two worlds rather than a literature on its own. This is a pointer that the position of the evolutionists/experimentalists is more popular. Many critics see African literature as a literature that borrows its framework from European literary tradition but sources its beauties from African oral tradition. Inspite of having a tradition and languages that are foreign, African literature is creating way for African heritage to manifest in African literary works through injection of oral tradition.
According to Irele, African literature in European languages is striving to attain a condition of oral expression even within the boundaries established by Western literary convention (42). Karim Baber also observed the dependency of African literature on oral tradition when he described orature as a veritable source for modern African prose fiction writers. Orature is a source because it gives African prose work a rich heritage of themes, motifs, techniques imagery and particularly language art (15).
African fiction has for long been dependent on using rhetorical features of Africa to enlighten and persuade Africans to decolonize the Eurocentric ideologies eminent in the continent. According to Azeez Sodeek
Language is a major signpost of African literature as hinted by Baber, though mostly written in European languages, the languages are domesticated with idioms, anecdotes, proverbs and general oratorical structures. Fiction is seen as a foreign genre which has been domesticated. In Postcolonial discourse, fiction is a weapon used to prove to the West that Africa has its way of doing things. It is used for cultural rehabilitation, and most importantly, it is a potent tool to correct the stereotypes images created of Africa in European authored literatures like Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Joyce Cary’s Mister Johnson and many others. (51)
African fiction also emerged as a counter discourse to several negative myths – myth of primitiveness, lack of progress, geography, history, and myth of hopelessness. Okpewho in his book, Myth in Africa, studied the various ways the African writers have used oral tradition in their various works. He came out with four ways of re-working indigenous tradition in African literature.
They are: tradition preserved, tradition observed, tradition refined and tradition revised. The literary works of Ngugi wa Thiongo and most African writers in East and West Africa fall within the expectations of Okpewho’s classification of the re-working and exploitation of African oral genres. When writers make use of the oral tradition in a preserved manner, they collect indigenous materials and use them as they are in their literary works as in Thomas Mofolo’s Chaka.
‘Tradition observed’ involves a little amendment on the indigenous materials collected. Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is a typical example of tradition refined. African writers radically deconstruct the oral materials such that already known materials would be defamiliarised. Ben Okri’s The Famished Road is a popular example of an African text where tradition is revised (Sodeek 34).
The obvious presence of Eurocentric ideologies in Africa portends an impending doom in Africa‘s postcolonial states and its effects are enormous and extreme. Chinua Achebe succinctly termed this feeling No Longer at Ease. What emerges from the foregoing is that the clarion call and consciousness for Africans to regain and preserve the true identity of Africa, led its literary scholars and artists to embark on the quest for the intellectual rhetoric of indigenization. Adeleke Adeeko contends that All leading African Writers and critics have participated in formulating the parameters for devising a meta-language and a hermeneutic predisposition that will place indigenous forms at the centre of the definition, classification, and appreciation protocols of culture, especially literature. (234)
Adeeko‘s perspective depicts how the rhetoric of traditional elements and African languages in the continent‘s literature aspire to nativized the literature of Africa. The fusion of African oral traditions into the fabric of African fiction has gone a long way to Africanize the originally European languages and forms. Kwame Anthony Appiah in an influential article summarizes this intellectual rhetoric of indigenization in African fiction as the visceral rhetoric often deployed in the nationalist theses of the side that accepts the position of locating African cultural and intellectual identity on the apt advancement of the oral and pre-colonial traditions. Appiah stated that
Both the complaints against defilement by alien traditions in alien tongue and defenses of them as a practical necessity … seem often to reduce to a dispute between a sentimental Herderian conception of Africa‘s languages and traditions as expressive of the collective essence of a pristine traditional community, on the one hand, and, on the other, a positivistic conception of European languages and disciplines as mere tools; tools that can be cleansed of the accompanying imperialist- and more specifically, racist – modes of thought. (56)
Appiah‘s position in making the literature of this continent, African, does not agree with the attitude of most writers in Africa because of the problem of cultural collision. Emmanuel Obiechina in an essay published before Appiah‘s article, argued extensively that the unsettled anti-colonial context in which most literary artists got nurtured in is the cause of the quest of intellectual rhetoric of indigenization. This trend has so far contributed to the immediate struggles of cultural rectification and reconstruction by African writers. Obiechina explains that:
Cultural nativism, or that aspect of it called literary nationalism, is so fundamentally universal a phenomenon in unequal social situations such as that engendered by colonialism that its inevitability hardly deserves an argument… Whether this nativism or cultural affirmation finds expression in psycho-political terms such as the African personality or in the literary ideology of Negritude its cultural implications are obvious. There is a fundamental assumption that the African has had a civilization which is distinct from all other civilizations and which distinguishes him from all other human beings. (―Cultural Nationalism‖, 26).
Obiechina‘s viewpoint is significant for nations who want cultural and political freedom from Western bondage because when postcolonial African writers engage the West ontologically, the realization of intellectual rhetoric of indigenization is often the source of their pursuits. In the African case, therefore, the novel and history are the same- the novel is history; it is record of the history as Africans have seen and lived it. African literature has historically and culturally captured the experiences of the people.
That the history of Africa is fraught with an amalgam of imbalances, upheavals and crushes of hopes cannot be gainsaid. African novelists therefore, cannot afford to vividly narrate the experience of his people for whom he serves as the mouthpiece. African prose fiction has variously been labeled as the literature of commitment. Thus, writers are committed to certain sociological germane issues. In the same vein, African prose fiction large serves as a social documentary and commentary. After all, Benita Parry stipulates that ―When we consider the narratives of decolonization, we encounter rhetorics in which nativism in one form or another is evident (1).
In addition, the real significance of African fiction is that African writers played a key role in boosting the rebel spirit of their people against the colonial powers. The African novel in this sense has become a historical document that shows the struggle of African people. African fiction has a special identity and place in world literature, which is also a historical record of the African society having its own unique identity and ethno-cultural sufficiency.
African prose fiction can be categorized on three phases of colonialism: Pre-colonial, Colonial and Post- colonial. Pre-colonial phase focused on the life and travails of Africans before the invasion of the white-man. The colonial phase texts addressed the devastating and inhumane treatment meted on Africans by the Europeans. The post-colonial/neo-colonial texts focused on the disillusionment and abject dissatisfaction of Africans to their leaders who are basically fellow Africans who took over the leadership of their people after independence. Many writers within the African society have argued strongly about their existentialism set against colonialism and Eurocentric ideologies in Africa. The writers use their creative works to condemn colonial injustice against Africa.
Alnold Hauser states that:
All art aims to evoke; to awaken in the observer, the listener or reader emotions and impulses to action or opposition. But the evocation of man‘s active will requires more than either mere expression of feelings, striking mimesis of reality, or pleasing construction of word, tone or line: it presupposes forces beyond those of feeling and form which assert themselves simultaneously and in harmony with emotional forces, fundamentally different from them. The artist unfolds these forces in the service either of a ruler- whether despot or monarch of a particular community, rank in society or financial class; of a state or church, of an association or party, or as a representative or spokesman of a form of government, a system of conventions and norms: in short, of a more or less rigidly controlled and comprehensive organization. (128).
Consequently, many African writers‘imaginative skills reflect reality and also attempt to persuade people to take certain attitudes to that reality. The rhetoric can be direct appeal or indirect appeal through ―influencing the imagination, feelings and actions of the recipient‖ (Hauser 129).
Statement of the Problem
Most critical works on Ngugi‘s fiction often focus on postcolonial struggles, the Marxist ideology, depiction of women in Africa, the history of Kenya in fiction (faction). These studies apparently fail to capture the undertone of Ngugi‘s concept of decolonization in terms of using African language and persuasive oral traditions of Gikuyu to explain human suffering in postcolonial Kenya.
This limited scholarship has constituted a problem which makes this research to focus on the peculiarity and use of rhetoric in selected Ngugi‘s novels in English; A Grain of Wheat and Petals of Blood and his Gikuyu novels; Devil on the Cross and Wizard of the Crow. These novels have been selected to ascertain the extent to which an indegineous language and rhetoric can go in the pursuit of decolonisation in Africa.
Purpose of the Study
This study interrogates the extent Ngugi uses rhetoric to achieve argumentation, persuasion towards decolonisation, resistance against neocolonialism and reform in postcolonial Kenya. This aim will be actualized by studying and analyzing the use and significance of forms ofrhetoric such as proverbs, folktales, oral speeches, riddles, myths as well as the rhetorical figures like, repetition, rhetorical question, allusion, parallelism, and Africanism in A Grain of Wheat, Petals of Blood, Devil on the Cross and Wizard of the Crow.
This study intends to also establish, if and to what extent, there is relationship between rhetoric and literature in the texts. The research‘s forte is its ability to move the theory of postcolonialism beyond western perception to an African ideological framework for the analysis of African fiction.
Significance of the Study
This research is significant in the area of further investigation of indigenous rhetoric in African literature while the forms and uses of African rhetoric discussed in this research can be used in making verbal expressions in Africa and elsewhere in the world. This is an obvious expectation because Africa in its existential form has cultural and social phenomena that are universal to humanity.
This study is a further contribution to Ngugi‘s ideological conception of decolonization. It fortifies the philosophy of his fiction; decolonization, with investigation into indigenous rhetoric in the novels selected for study. It is therefore hoped that literary and historical researchers who seek to study the interrelationship between rhetoric and African literature will benefit from the findings of this research. This study in another way is important because it will help to revamp future scholarship.
This study is also relevant in African literary studies because the locale of the fiction; Gikuyu has a unique traditional culture. This traditional culture provides subject and background for a large body of the fiction produced in the modern period and appears in snatches in Ngugi four novels selected for this study. This research is concerned with contemporary decolonization process in Kenya. Many of these depictions of customary blessings, proverbs, stories, rituals, ceremonies, etc are intended primarily to convey the sense of the lives of the indigenous people, thus providing characterization and background for the protagonists. Many other examples, however, are used contrastively to illuminate the differences between African ways and those of the colonizers.
In another way, this study is important because it explains how Ngugi‘s fiction in persuasive mode performs cross-cultural interaction, which echoes the hybrid identity that characterizes the postcolonial reality. The content analytical technique deployed in this study is thoughtful and inspiring and offers persuasive analysis of rhetoric in African fiction.
Scope of the Study
This research is primarily concerned with the postcolonial analysis of rhetoric in Ngugi‘s English novels; A Grain of Wheat and Petals of Blood and his Gikuyu novels Devil on the Cross and Wizard of the Crow. It evaluates how Ngugi uses rhetoric to depict the traumatic sufferings in postcolonial Kenya and the decolonization.
Content and context analysis approaches of qualitative methodology will be used in analyzing the forms of rhetoric in Ngugi‘s novels selected for this study. The postcolonial literary theory is also used as the theoretical framework to distill Ngugi‘s portrayal of cultural decolonization, human sufferings and the trauma of postcolonial Africa. Ngugi‘s novels have been selected because the locale of the texts, Gikuyu, has a rich cultural heritage that should be preserved and avoid extinction since the ills of colonialism have continued to affect human syndrome in Africa.