Black African SF

Tagged: International

Only a small amount of sf is published in the Black African nations. What follows is more a sampler than a full survey, since very few researchers have even looked at the topic. One historical reason for the paucity of Black African sf may have been a widespread cultural disinclination to accept the premises of Western science in the first place. In the words of the critic Kwame Anthony Appiah, quoted in Brenda Cooper's Magical Realism in West African Fiction: Seeing with a Third Eye (1998):

Most Africans cannot fully accept those scientific theories in the West that are inconsistent with [beliefs in invisible agents]. If modernization is conceived of in part as the acceptance of science, we have to decide whether we think the evidence obliges us to give up the invisible world of the spirits.

In the twentieth century, much of what is published is in English, and most of that was juvenile. Typical are the novelette Journey to Space (1980 chap), by the Nigerian Flora Nwapa, and a novel about a scientist who discovers Antigravity, The Adventures of Kapapa (1976) by the Ghanaian J O Eshun. One of the rare sf books for adults, a play, is The Chosen Ones (1969) by Azize Asgarally of Mauritius; it is set partly in the thirtieth century.

More common are adventure and spy novels for adults containing sf elements, much in the style of the James Bond movies based on Ian Fleming's books. Such is The Mark of Cobra (1980), by Valentine Alily of Nigeria, in which a secret agent fights against a multimillionaire seeking world domination by use of a "solar weapon". David G Maillu of Kenya is a prolific writer of adventure novels, of which some are sf; in his The Equatorial Assignment (1980), for example, a secret agent penetrates a criminal conspiracy which is trying to control the whole of Africa by the use of fantastic Weapons. More sf can be found in the so-called Onitsha market literature; a typical example is the Nigerian adaptation of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) done by Bala Abdullahi Funtua in the mid-1970s.

Sf in other languages is rare. Sony Labou Tansi is Congolese; his Near-Future sf novel, set in a fictitious African country in 1995, is in French: Conscience de tracteur ["Consciousness of the Tractor"] (1979). Another adaptation of Orwell, this time of Animal Farm (1945 chap), is Pitso ea liphoofolo tsa hae ["The Meeting of the Domestic Animals"] (1956); this, by Libakeng Maile, was published in the Southern Sotho language. A children's sf book written in Hausa, one of the languages of Nigeria, is Tauraruwa mai wutsiya ["The Comet"] (1969) by Umaru A Dembo; it tells of the travels in space of a small boy, and of his encounter with a friendly Alien.

The most important contemporary Black African SF author is probably the Ghanaian B Kojo Laing (1946-    ). His Women of the Aeroplanes (1988) is a Utopian fantasy of sorts, set in Africa and Scotland; more ambitious still is Major Gentl and the Achimoto Wars (1992), a complex experimental fiction set in 2020 in "Achimoto City", an environment that owes something to Cyberpunk. [JO/AR]

see also: Afrofuturism.

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