The Critical Concept of Afrocentrism in Nigerian Literature
Mgbeadichie, Chike Francis
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Since the early 1960s, Afrocentrism has been developed as a theory that resists forms of marginalisation of African peoples, places African culture at the centre of inquiry, and promotes African peoples as subjects rather than objects of humanity. However, as this thesis sets out to show, this theory has gained more ground as an anti-Eurocentric theory that liberates Africans from the margins of western domination and colonization. This project intends to challenge this limited critique of Afrocentrism. In ‘Afrocentrism: The Argument We’re Really Having’ [American Historical Review, 30 (1996), 202-39], Ibrahim Sundiata, a leading Afrocentrist, argues that ‘any theoretical move directed at erasing inscriptions of inequality, marginalisation and subjugation of any kind among African peoples could be classified as a version of the Afrocentric impulse.’ Extending Sundiata’s argument, this thesis situates the criticism of three insidious Nigerian traditions which marginalise and subjugate fellow Nigerians as Afrocentric discourse: i) the marginalisation of women, ii) the Osu caste system, and iii) the Oro festival and the tradition of ritual suicide. This project will redefine the theoretical concept of the Afrocentric discipline as a discourse that challenges both external and, importantly, internal forces of oppression in Africa. The study is divided into three chapters. The first examines and situates the discourse of Womanism in Flora Nwapa’s Efuru and Idu as an Afrocentric discipline. It exposes the sufferings and marginalisation of women in patriarchal Nigerian society. Through a critical evaluation of Nwapa’s use of myth, meta-fiction and, borrowing from Siga Jajne’s study, what I call ‘voice-throwing’ [‘African Women and the Category ‘WOMAN’ in Feminist Theory’ Proceedings at the Annual Conference of the African Literature Association, Ohio, March, 1995], I demonstrate how Nwapa creates a new world and an escape route for Nigerian women. If Afrocentrism is a discourse that offers a space to eradicate inequality of any kind within the African community, the critique of the subjugation of women in Nigeria, I argue, might be understood as a part of Afrocentrism. The second chapter attempts to critically analyse Chinua Achebe’s challenge of the Igbo tradition of the Osu caste system in Things Fall Apart and No Longer at Ease as an Afrocentric discourse. It analyses Achebe’s use of the literary technique of dualism and the critical engagement with questions of ‘form’ in his challenge of the Osu system. Through a close reading of these texts, I analyse Achebe’s position of the role of the intellectuals, the ‘voiceless’ situation of the Osu in Things Fall Apart, and the ‘voice-consciousness’ of the Osu in his short story, ‘Chike’s School Days.’ From the outset, this chapter maintains that Achebe’s first and second novels are criticial to the challenge of the Osu system. This is what makes these texts Afrocentric. The final chapter analyses Afrocentric interventions into the debilitating traditions of the Oro festival and ritual suicide in Adaora Ulasi’s Many Thing You No Understand, Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman and Duro Ladipo’s Oba Waja (The King is Dead). While there are continued practice of some traditional customs and social structures that oppress, marginalise and displace Africans, this thesis shows that there is need to redefine and extend the Afrocentric paradigm as a theory that critically challenges any internal system of oppression in Africa. Theorizing Afrocentrism in this way will therefore address the challenges of twenty-first century Africa.
PhD in English