Geographies of Creolization: Thomas Mofolo’s Chaka and the 'Forgotten' Canon of African Literature

Thursday, 24 July, 2014 - 13:00

This paper is a comparative reading between Thomas Mofolo’s Chaka (1925) and Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1958), in which I begin by noting that although it is characterized as one of the earliest expressions of the African novel, Mofolo’s Chaka is largely overlooked in the criticism of African Literature. I posit that it is Mofolo’s refusal to offer an authenticating narrative of origin, as well as his de-privileging of the colonial encounter as catalyst of modernity for Africa, that earns Chaka a place in what I call the ‘forgotten canon’ of African Literature. My claim is that Mofolo imagines an ethnically entangled pre-colonial Africa through the novel’s textual creolization, a mixing of literary and anthropological discourses, which is then represented through a creolized, ‘trans-ethnic’ narrative voice. I argue that Mofolo’s articulation of an African modernity under the sign of creolization, rather than of original purity, ultimately exposes the biases of our own contemporary critical approaches to the field of African Literature. Returning to the ‘forgotten’ Chaka text in this way, also offers a reading of African literary history that attends to the particular negotiations of modernity and post/coloniality within early African literature that have since become eclipsed by more dominant narratives of the later decolonization period.