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Journal of African Cultural Studies, Volume 16, Number 2, December 2003, pp.


Tay!or & .mncts Croup

The African writer as translatoc writing African Languages through French

(University of Alabama)
The relationship between the African writer and the language of the ABSTRACT former colonial power has often been studied in ideological terms. The classical approach has consisted in examining the attitudes and reactions of African writers in the use of an alien tongue rather than the writer's re-appropriation of the foreign language in the creative writing process. This paper attempts to re-orient the rejection on the imaginary, that is, on the creative use of the foreign language, a process that can now be considered under the notion of translation. I wish to expand the traditional notion of translation in order to demonstrate how it functions as a creative and critical activity in African literature. My dejnition of translation goes beyond the linguistic process that consists in transferring meaning from one language to another to include the entire medium through which 'Third World' cultures are transported to and recuperated by audiences in the West.

In anglophone Africa Chinua Achebe, for instance, uses the potential flexibility of English to Africanize his style by manipulating rhythm, register and lexicon. Achebe's project to create a new English through Igbo, his mother tongue, is carried out in French by two Francophone African writers, the Congolese Henri Lopes and the Ivorian Ahmadou Kourouma. These writers' language becomes a hybrid code that forces the original French language to refer to the African languages for signification. The paper strives to show that the writers' use of French in their novels constitutes a creative translation process that leads to the production of texts conveying new African realities through the development of an authentic African discourse. The issue of language is very central in discussions of African literature since literature is inconceivable outside the context of language. Questions pertaining to language always arise in any discussion of the subject. They assume even greater importance with regard to African literature than in relation to other literatures since the medium of literary expression in Africa is not only the writer's mother tongue but also the dominant, foreign European language imposed over the indigenous African languages in the process of colonization. Indeed, as Chantal Zabus (1991) points out, the multiplicity of languages and the concomitant language contact situation in African have always been not only a fertile soil for the
ISSN 1369-6815 print; 1469-9346 online/03/020143-17 0 2003 Journal of African Cultural Studies DOI: 10.1080/13696850500076344

144 Kwaku A. Gyasi

germination of linguistic conjectures but also a source of challenge and discomfort. However, if one looks at the language question in Africa, one realizes that the emphasis has especially been placed on the African writer's attitude towards the foreign European language rather than on the creative use of the language. This focus, Katwiwa Mule (2002) argues, elides several important issues. What is the relationship of original texts in English or French by African writers to the 'foreign' language of the colonizer? And what is the relationship of such original texts to translation? For Mule, these issues are important because to look at the issue of English (or French) as somehow unrelated to the various forms of resistance with which African writers have responded to Europe's claim to cultural authority is to oversimplify the task at hand (Mule 2002: 5). In Anglophone Africa Chinua Achebe, for instance, uses the potential flexibility of English to Africanize his style by manipulating rhythm, register and lexicon. In his essay The African Writer and the English Language Achebe declared:
I feel that the English language will be able to carry the weight of my African experience. But it will have to be a new English, still in full communion with its ancestral home but altered to suit its new African surroundings (Achebe 1975: 62).

Many critics have analyzed and demonstrated Achebe's skill in fashioning 'a new English,' while his use of Igbo proverbs and pidgin English has constantly delighted or dismayed reviewers. This is because Achebe's new English is a conscious deviation from standard, metropolitan English. It is a new kind of English based on the structures and semantics of Achebe's native Igbo. And it is this new reformulation of the European language by the African writer that I have chosen to consider under the notion of translation. If, as Julio Ortega has suggested, the question of language and reading can be raised as a metaphor for a more complex inquiry about translation (Ortega 2003: 26), it follows that our reading of postcolonial texts must, of necessity, locate these texts within the broad perspective of translation. If we understand African literature as an instrument of cultural production, then we must see translation as a crucial dimension of this literature, especially the part that finds expression in European languages. For, to quote Ortega again: translating is the possibility of constructing a scene of mediation that frames interpretation as a dialogic exercise [. . .I It is the first cultural act that places languages and subjects in crisis, unleashing a redefinition of speakers, a debate over protocols, and a struggle over interpretation (ibid.: 26). I submit that African literature in European languages fits neatly into Ortega's translation paradigm. It was Rosario Ferri who proposed that in a way all writing is translation, an attempt to interpret the meaning of life. Ferri's proposition somehow recalls Octavio Paz's claim that all texts, being part of a literary system

The African writer as translator


descended from and related to other systems, are 'translations of translations of translations'. But whereas Paz pointed out the uniqueness of translation:
Every translation, up to a certain point, is an invention and as such constitutes a unique text (Paz 1992: 154),

FerrC emphasized the critical role of translation. Translation, she contends,

is not only a literary task but a historical, social and political one as well. It includes an interpretation of internal history and of the changing proceedings of consciousness in a civilization (FerrC 1995: 41).

In the colonial era - and I believe the situation has not changed - translation (together with assimilation and exoticism) was among some of the strategies Western scholars and critics used to accommodate or come to terms with alterity. Such representational strategies established the perceived relationship between the West and the 'other' as they illustrated the politics of power that were operative in those relationships. To this end, the 'other' was sufficiently defined and explained within the Western matrix of understanding. Earlier narratives about Africans by such European writers such as Joyce Cary, Joseph Conrad and the Tharaud brothers sought to translate to their audiences an African world and personality as understood from a colonial perspective. As Mule has pointed out, Joyce Cary's Mr Johnson (the title character of Mister Johnson)
becomes not just a signifier of social disorder and the unteachability of the native but an epitome of the Hegelian peculiarly African character that is difficult to comprehend (Mule 2002: 7).

If Mr Johnson is given a voice only to express his happiness to die at the hands of his White master, how different is his voice from the voiceless Africans who inhabit Conrad's Heart of Darkness? Jan6s Riesz (1985) has explained how the novel La Randonne'e de Samba Diouf ('Samba Diouf s Escapades') by the brothers JCr6me and Jean Tharaud presents a piece of colonial propaganda in which Africans are characterized by a type of Babelic language confusion and by tribal conflicts 'd'antiques rancunes sucrCes avec le lait' [age-old feelings of rancour sweetened with milk] (Tharaud & Tharaud 1922: 126). In this colonial novel France appears as the great unifier of a diversity of uncontrollable and opposed tribal powers:
Tous ces gens pour lesquels toute difference quelle qu 'elle soit est une raison d'hostilitk, se trouvaient, ce matin-la, rassemblks sur cette route, marchant au m2me pas, coude 6 coude, par la volontk des Toubabs! (ibid.: 206)
All these people for whom any difference whatsoever is cause for hostilities, gathered together that morning on this road, marching side by side to the same rhythm, through the power of the Whites!'

Although the term translation is not used, if we agree that literature presents a world to its readers, then it is not difficult to see how the Tharaud brothers seem to have translated, in their own terms, for their White audiences, African attitudes, African speech patterns, African beliefs and, especially from the quotation above, African

All translations from French into English are mine, unless otherwise indicated.

146 Kwaku A. Gyasi peoples who are all too eager to submit to the designs of imperial power. As Tymoczko has explained,
Translation is paradoxically the means by which difference is perceived, preserved, and proscribed. Translation stands as one of the most significant means by which one culture represents another (Tymoczko 1999: 17).

In the wake of postcolonial studies, translation studies have begun to open up to broader contexts in an attempt to thoroughly discuss the involvement of various factors conditioning the creation of a translation. And as Dingwaney argues, translation has also come to involve the vehicle through which so-called 'Third World' cultures are transported or 'borne across' to and recuperated by audiences in the West. In other words, according to Dingwaney,
texts written in English or in one of the metropolitan languages but originating in or about non-Western cultures can be considered under the rubric of translation (Dingwaney & Maier 1995: 4).

Although Mary Louise Pratt (2002) contends that 'translation is a deep but incomplete metaphor for the traffic in meaning', that it may not in the long run be 'an adequate basis for a theory of cross-cultural meaning making,' she does admit that 'exploring this metaphor may be a productive way of clarifying what such a theory might look like' (2002: 35). In the African literary scene, Chinua Achebe's project to create a new kind of English through his native language, that is, his design to translate his culture and language into English, has been a preoccupation of some Francophone African writers who also attempt to create a new kind of French. This is especially the case with Congolese writer Henri Lopes and Ahmadou Kourouma of C6te d'Ivoire. This paper attempts to demonstrate how these writers' language becomes a hybrid code that forces the original French language to refer to the African languages for signification. It strives to show that the writers' use of French in their novels constitutes a creative translation process that leads to the production of new texts, texts that convey new African realities through the development of an authentic African discourse. The analysis of the creative use of European languages in African literature shows very clearly the importance of translation. It shows that translation is significant in African literature in two ways. It identifies the practice whereby texts are transferred from one culture to another in the ordinary sense of the word. And, more importantly, it demonstrates the process through which, as a result of the post-colonial legacy, writers in a 'weakened' culture transpose and transform their languages and models into the dominant culture. The first sense of translation has come to play an important role in the criticism and interpretation of African literature since more and more African works (in African or European languages) are being translated into other languages. Translators who struggle to translate African literary texts enable many people of different cultural backgrounds to know, understand and appreciate African culture. However it must be pointed out that the translation of African literary texts involves more than the possession of a certain linguistic competence. The translator, in addition to hisfher linguistic competence, must be able to show proof of certain

The African writer as translator


extra-linguistic abilities that consist in analysing and interpreting the context in which the African literary text is embedded. The second sense of translation, the sense that I refer to as creative translation by African writers, manifests itself in African writing in forms that have been identified as 'calquing' (see MakoutaMboukou 1980), 'cushioning,' and 'contextualization' (see Zabus 1991), but also in the authors' transposition of African oral and traditional literary techniques of storytelling into the European written genre. It must be emphasized that a major difference between the modern Europhone African novel and its European counterpart is that of narrative form. Many scholars and critics have pointed out the influence of African oral literature on modem African writing. NgGgi wa Thiong'o has suggested that what provides the innovative difference in modem African literature is its relationship to African languages and the great heritage of orature in those languages. According to Ngiigi,
these languages are a reservoir of images, proverbs, riddles, and ballads, stories from which this literature in European languages draws freely and often creatively (1999: 6).

In the same vein, although Eileen Julien refutes the idea that there are two distinct worlds, the oral and the written, she affirms: oral elements (in modern African literature) may well be a vestige of oral narrative traditions and will therefore be experienced as aesthetically African (Julien 1992: 40). And, in his Strategic Transformations, Ato Quayson also makes the claim that the myths, rituals, songs, stories, and other oral and religious materials of the Yoruba people provide resources from which a modem written literature was created according to the needs of each period and writer. Although Quayson's claim differs from earlier claims of unbroken continuity between oral and written literature, the point to note here is that African writers tend to have been inspired by oral literature and traditions for stylistic and ideological reasons. Thus, oral tradition is undoubtedly one of the abstract commanders of modem African writing; it is a living tradition that has both literary and moral consequences. It is a tradition that has helped to shape the writer's conceptions of the world and hisher relationship to the external world. And it is this transportation, transformation or, if you will, transmutation of African oral traditional elements imagery, proverbs, wise sayings, myths, folktales, dramatic factors, and lyrical language - into the written Europhone African literature that I wish to call creative translation. Of course, as Julien again suggests, 'a work that does not contain, or that transforms, such elements is not necessarily less African' (1992: 40). Theo Vincent (1989) has also pointed out that the true significance of oral literature in modem African writing does not lie in how much of it is abstracted into any one literary piece but rather in the deeper (spiritual) atmosphere that it provides for a work and the meaning and structure that its aggregate presence gives to a particular work. Thus, to paraphrase Abiola Irele (1993), the major forms of the African oral tradition are employed in modem African writing to project structures of the collective mind that serve as explicative narratives of the world. Henri Lopes and Ahmadou Kourouma are the grand masters in the transposition and re-creation

148 Kwaku A. Gyasi of this verbal art form into the creative translation of Francophone African literature. If, as Lawson-Ananissoh (1996) has pointed out, Lopes' narration is the scene of confrontation: linguistic, dialectal, stylistic and vocal, it is because Lopes' text is, to borrow an image from Bakhtin, the space characterized by a verbal, semantic and therefore ideological 'decentralization'. Beyond the narration, the reader is confronted with languages other than the principal language, with voices other than that of the narrator, and even with texts that are foreign to the diegesis. In Le chercheur d'Afriques [The Seeker of Africas] (1990) Lopes laments:
Ah! Comment traduire? Le frangais n'est pas toujours la langue au carquois le plus foumi (Lopes 1990: 200).
Ah! How should I translate? French is not always the most well-equipped language.

and in Sur l'autre rive [On the Other Bank] (1992) he confesses:
J'enviai le lingala de Fe'licitk, ses images si dificile a rendre en franpis, sa connaissance des proverbes (Lopes 1992: 134).
I was envious of Fklicitk's Lingala, her images so difficult to render into French, her knowledge of proverbs.

These complaints or feelings of dissatisfaction are not feigned. Even before style, language constitutes an object of preoccupation for Lopes for whom it is not possible to study the poetics of a new African novel in European languages without posing the problem of language. Lopes had already said in 1988:
Au depart, je pose et je dis que je vais parler congolais, que je vais parler congolais en fran~ais(Maunick 1988: 128).
Right from the beginning, I specify that I am going to speak Congolese; that I am going to speak Congolese in French.

The need to speak 'Congolese' in French finds expression in Lopes' novel, Le Pleurer-rire [The Laughing-Cry]. Although, as the author makes evident, the political objective of the novel:
est de donner au lecteur une culture telle que les personnages de Tonton deviennent impensables duns nos socie'te's,
is to provide the reader with a culture such that characters like Tonton will become unthinkable in our societies,

it is not difficult, from the quotations above, to discern the author's real objective: imagine a story that resembles reality, translate the seemingly untranslatable Lingala images and proverbs into French, and to speaklwrite 'Congolese' in French. Lopes himself explains his method of writing in an interview with Denyse de Saivre (1982):
J'ai voulu trouver le ton qu'emploie le peuple lorsqu'il parle de sa vie quotidienne aujourd'hui en Afrique, et c'est ce ton-la que j'ai essay&d'imiter . . . Le Pleurer-Rire, qu'est-ce que ~a veut dire? C'est presque du petit ntgre. C'est le franpis cr&olis& avec la saveur que nos peuples savent y mettre. Et c'est la manitre de dire du peuple que j'ai essaye' d'imiter (Saivre 1982: 122).

The African writer a s translator


I wanted to find the tone that people use when they are talking about their daily life in Africa today; it is this tone that I have tried to imitate . . . The Laughing-Cry, what does it mean? It is almost a form of pidgin. It is Creolized French with the flavour that our people know how to put in. And it is the people's way of speaking that I have tried to imitate.

Ahmadou Kourouma sees writing as an act of translation, an act that his readers are also expected to perform. The following statement, given in an interview with Badday Moncef (1970) throws light on his procedure:
J'ai pense' en malinke' et kcrit en franpzis en prenant une liberte' que j'estime naturelle avec la langue classique. Qu'avais-je donc fait? simplement donne' libre cours a mon tempkrament en distordant une langue classique trop rigide pour que ma pense'e s'y meuve. J'ai donc traduit le malink6 en franqais en cassant le fran~ais pour trouver et restituer le rythme africain (Moncef 1970: 7; my emphasis).
I thought in Malinke and wrote in French by taking what I considered a natural liberty with the classical language. What had I done? Simply given free rein to my temperament by distorting a classical language that is too rigid so that my thoughts can find expression in it. I have therefore translated Malinke into French by breaking the French in order to find and restore the African rhythm.

Kourouma thus provides ample evidence of the process of writing as translation. His novel, Les Soleils des Ind&pendances (The Suns of Independence) appears to highlight, among other themes, the betrayal of the promises of independence. Throughout the novel, the misfortunes and sufferings of the hero, as indeed those of the whole people, are linked to what is seen by the hero as one underlying evil: Independence. It should be understood, however, that it is not precisely independence as such that is being excoriated here; we are witness rather to a profound sense of disillusionment at the widespread betrayal of its bright promise. As Uwah (1988) has pointed out, the denunciation of independence is not an endorsement of colonialism, nor is it a denial of the people's right to independence. If in 'Les Soleils. . .' the fallen world of postcolonial Africa is revealed in the novel's discourse, with Monn2, outrages et defies [Monnt, Insults and Challenges] words themselves become, as Kenneth Harrow has pointed out,
the subject of a novel whose discourse is animated by the themes and images adumbrated in Les Soleils des Inde'pendances (Harrow 1991: 226).

Kourouma poses the question of language at the outset of MonnZ by hypothesizing a scene in which the central figure, Djigui, a Malinke patriarch, learns of the impossibility of translating 'monnd' into French. Thus, the issue of language is presented simultaneously with that of translation both as central to the experience and its narrative representation. Les Soleils des Ind&pendances opens with the death of KonC Ibrahima, an event that is expressed in euphemistic terms in clear Malinke rhythm:
I1 y a avait une semaine qu'avait j n i duns la capitale Kone' Ibrahima, de race malinke', ou disons-le en malinke': il n'avait pas soutenu un petit rhume . . . Comme tout Malinke', quand la vie s'e'chappa de ses restes, son ombre se releva, graillona, et partit par le long chemin pour le lointain pays malinke' . . . (Kourouma 1970: 7)

150 Kwaku A. Gyasi

It had been a week since Kone Ibrahima, of the Malinke race, had finished in the capital, or to put it in Makinke: he could not withstand a little cold . . .Like every Malinke, when life left his remains, his shadow rose up, cleared his throat, and left on the long road for the distant Malinke country . . .

Right from the very first sentence, the reader is presented with the Malinke project that will inform and sustain the author's discourse. Thus the use of the phrase avait fini ('had finished') to express Ibrahima KonC's death is a direct translation from the author's native language. The fact that the author chose this expression instead of French colloquial expressions like il a casse' sa pipe ('he has broken his pipe') or il a passe' l'arme a gauche ('he has pegged out') shows that Kourouma wanted his MalinkC world-view to dominate his novel. The word ombre ('shadow') in the same quotation is a calquing of the Malinke concept of spirit or soul. It is believed among some African peoples that when a person dies, his or her spirit continues to live on and move from place to place. Thus, those who claim to have seen KonC Ibrahima may have seen his 'spirit' or 'soul' and not his person. Because a spirit or a soul in African religious beliefs is not to be confused with the Christian or Islamic notions of the same concepts, the author chose to use ombre which does not have a 'Christian' or 'Islamic' connotation. However, faced with the difficulty of making readers understand what he means by this term, Kourouma eventually has recourse to the Malinke dja, the exact word in his native language whose equivalent term he could not find in the French language. In Henri Lopes' Le Pleurer-rire, whole sentences in the local language are inserted into the narrative and then translated into French. For example, the phrase Boka l i t a s s a d o u n k o u n e is introduced into the text before it is translated as R e ~ o i sle pouvoir des ancttres [Receive the power of the ancestors] (Lopes 1982: 47). In the same way, the reader comes across Mana f o l ema, mana t o u k a r e 1 o w i s s o n a t i n a , before its French translation: Nous lutterons rLsolument contre le racisme [We are fighting resolutely against racism] (ibid.: 191). It is known that proverbs are probably the most common form manifesting the use of translated mother tongue into the European language. In Les Soleils des Inde'pendances we come across proverbs such as:
A renijer avec discre'tion le pet de l'effrontk,il vous juge sans nez (Kourouma 1970: 12)
If you sniff with discretion at the fart of a shameless person, he will think you have no nose

L'hy2ne a beau &re e'dente'e,sa bouche ne sera jamais un chemin de passage pour le cabri (ibid.: 16)
No matter how edentate a hyena is, his mouth will never be a way for the kid.

Henri Lopes writes in Le Pleurer-rire that:

La souris qui vous mange la plante des pieds n'est autre que celle qui vit sous votre


The African writer as translator


The mouse that eats away at the sole of your feet is none other than the one that lives under your bed

Le le'opard qui veut vous attaquer ne fait pas de bruit (Lopes 1982: 168)
The leopard that wants to attack you makes no noise.

As Achebe (1964) points out,

The good orator calls to his aid the legends, folk-lore, proverbs . . . of his people; they are some of the raw material with which he works (1964: viii, cited in Chinweizu & Madubuike 1983: 263).

Thus, the use of proverbs by the authors points to the fact that if the stylistic features of African oral narrative are to be captured in the African novel written in European languages, then the full range of linguistic resources of African prose traditions must be rendered in the European languages. By making their characters often express their thoughts in proverbs, these writers emphasize their involvement in African culture and wisdom. Moreover, the profusion of proverbs on the part of the writers denotes a deeper knowledge of their heritage and linguistic resources, and these elements are given new shape and form in the imported medium of expression. Another translation technique employed by African writers, a technique that may be considered a form of calquing is the use of semantic shifts. A semantic shift occurs when known lexical items in the target language are assigned features of meaning from the source language such that the derived meaning preserves the African content of the source text, even though the new meaning is not native to the target language. When a writer uses a semantic shift, the European word is assigned a new meaning that can only be understood within the context in which it is used. In Kourouma's Les soleils des Indipendances, there are semantic shifts like the use of honte not so much to connote shame, which is its meaning in French, but rather to mean reserve, bashfulness and modesty in the Malink6 context. We remember that when Fama came out of prison, Bakary informed him about his (Fama's) wife's infidelity while he was in prison. In Bakary's opinion this was
une honte aussi e'paisse que celle qui a conduit le varan de riviere a se cacher duns 1 'eau (Kourouma 1970: 185).
a bashfulness as thick as the one that drove the big saurian lizard to hide in the water.

The Malinke reader who knows the precise anecdote that serves as the basis for this metaphor can judge the nature of the 'honte' in question. It can be seen that even without the use of proverbs and other more detailed forms, the desire to describe the African imaginary world in a satisfactory way pushes the writer to resort to cultural presuppositions that are unfamiliar to the monolingual reader. Thus, when Djigui asks (on page 88 of MonnB): 'Est-ce cela la totalite' du train?' ('Is that the whole train?') he is referring to a whole set of cultural and historical context that is not obvious to the non-Malinke reader. According to Ahmadou Kon6 (1992) Djigui's question is an expression that marks a great surprise in Malinke. It is

152 Kwaku A. Gyasi intended to mean: ' C e n'est que cela?' ('Is that all there is to it?'). To understand this expression one has to consider all the miseries and hardships brought about by forced labour during the construction of the railway line. In Djigui's mind the train is supposed to be a gigantic monster. In reality, however, the actual train turns out to be very disappointing. Another example of a semantic shift occurs when Djigui's son Bema boasts of having the support of the whole country behind him in his bid for power. And the narrator comments: Ce qui n 'e'tait pas une parole [That was not a speech] (ibid.: 270). Here also, the expression comes from MalinkC and it means that what has been said is a blasphemy and a silly remark. For the Malinke reader, the expression ce n'est pas une parole is certainly more intensely significant than its neutral French translation. In addition to calquing, by far the most commonly used translation technique by African writers, according to Chantal Zabus (1991), is the twin methods of cushioning and contextualization. By cushioning is meant the translation strategy whereby the African writer tags an explanatory word or phrase in the European language to explain the African word or phrases. Contextualization, as the name implies, involves the provision of areas of immediate context for African words and phrases. Ahmadou Kourouma cushions the MalinkC d j a with ombre [shadow], double [double] (1970: 116 and 120) or with principe vital [vital force] (1990: 200). Monnk or monnew is translated as le temps des ressentiments, [the time of resentment] (ibid.: 155) and is repeatedly contextualized so that the expression les saisons d'amertume [seasons of bitterness] (ibid.: 193) refers back to the word monnk. Through this strategy, Kourouma underscores the lexical and semantic inability of French to render the density and richness of the MalinkC vocabulary. As the Toubab points out in the introductory part of the novel:
En ve'ritk, il n'y a pas chez nous, Europe'ens, une parole rendant monnk malinke (ibid.: 9). In truth, we Europeans do not have any word that translates the Malinke word monn2.

Certainly, if the French language is incapable of fully expressing the Malinke world-view then one understands the difficulty in describing a feeling in a language in which this feeling does not even have a name. Thus, the need to filter the African imagination through the European medium of expression compels the writer to use expressions and conventional forms that derive from African languages. Faced with the difficulty of describing the intolerable political climate of MoundiC under Tonton BwakamabC in 'standard' French, and in an effort to capture the African language-based French that is spoken in his society, Henri Lopes also resorts to the strategy of cushioning and contextualization. In Le Pleurer-rire, certain African words are introduced and then cushioned or contextualized. For example:
Le griot entonna le fameux PouCna Kanda, un air triste et lent qui dit que le pays des Djabotama s'ktiole car le tr6ne est vacant, puisque l'ennemi a tue' par traitrise tous les hommes capables de le protkger comme un p2re son$ls (Lopes 1982: 46). The griot sang the famous Poukna Kanda, a slow and sad tune which says that the
land of the Djabotama is weakened because its throne is vacant, since the enemy has killed by treachery all the men capable of protecting it like a father his son.

The African writer a s translator


Through the use of this technique Lopes explains to the reader the meaning of Poue'na Kanda, or at least gives an idea of what it signifies. Also, in an effort to explain the Lingala word 1i tassa Henri Lopes cushions it with the French word pouvoir [power]. However, since pouvoir is not an adequate translation for the Lingala 1i tassa he resorts to contextualization:
A la ve'rite', le mot litassa renfeme plus de sens que le mot franpis pouvoir. C'est a la fois le pouvoir de commandement, l'inte'lligence pour dominer les autres et la puissance aussi bien physique du taureau qu'extra-terrestre. Ainsi est-il possible d'agir griice a ces moyens auxquels les Oncles ne veulent pas croire et qui vous mettent a l'abri de l'ennemi. Qui a reGu la litassa communique suns interme'diaire avec les ancgtres. I1 lira dans toutes les consciences comme dans l'eau de la fontaine. Nulle femme ne lui re'sistera. I1 pourra marcher sur l'onde et voler par-dessus les montagnes. I1 sera rbsistant a la morsure du serpent. Les balles changeront de chemin a l'approche de sa poitrine (ibid.: 47). In truth, the word litassa is more meaningful than the French word for 'power'. It is at the same time the power to command, the intelligence to dominate others, and strength, both extraterrestrial and the physical strength of a bull. Thus it is possible to act thanks to these means that the Uncles do not want to believe in and which hide you from the enemy. Who has received the litassa communicates directly with the ancestors. He can see through people's conscience like water from the fountain. No woman will resist him. He can walk on waves and fly over mountains. He will be immune to serpent bites. Bullets will change course as they approach his chest.

It is obvious from the above quotation that it is only by creating a context for the African word that its full meaning can be comprehended in the narrative. Even though the meaning or significance of most of the African words introduced in Le Pleurer-rire is explained in its context as soon as the word is introduced, as for example:
le tounka, une chaine defer avec de nombreux pendentifs (ibid.: 47) tounka, an iron chain with numerous pendants

la loukita, qui est a l'origine une danse de guerre (ibid.: 48) loukita, which was initially a war dance

elsewhere, the meaning of an African word is not evident until several pages later. For example, we are told right at the beginning of Le Pleurer-rire that
le damuka s'e'tait re'uni dans une venelle de Moundie' (ibid.: 14). the damuka took place in a small alley in Moundie.

However, because damuka is not directly translated, the non-Lingala reader has to wait until page 56 to clearly understand the word damuka:
Quel que soit son sort, elle danse et chante, pour se distraire, pour sbduire une femme, pour oublier, pour pleurer un mort au damuka (ibid.: 56). No matter people's lot in life, they dance and sing, in order to relax, to seduce a woman, to forget, to mourn the dead during the damuka.

The title of Kourouma's Les soleils des Indkpendances itself offers an articulate and symbolic rendition of the process of writing as an act of translation. It is a title that shocks by the use of an unusual plural noun: 'soleils' (suns). According to

154 Kwaku A. Gyasi N'Guessan Kotchy (1977) while the word soleil is presented as a unique natural phenomenon, it quickly loses its astrological meaning and becomes a symbolic image with this plural. Its use in the title may be traced to Malinke t e l e which means 'day', or when used with a plural marker 1G,'era' or 'time'. It therefore designates in Kourouma's title: era, period, or year. In addition, without recourse to the old myths of the sun, 'suns' in the sense of beauty and life is in opposition to the obscurantism of colonization. The very fact that the title of the novel is unusual in French attests to the bilingual nature of the text since one has to refer to Malinke to understand the meaning of 'soleil' in this context. It is also significant to note that whenever Kourouma has to name elements connected with the metaphysical or the abstract, he uses Malinke words to make up for terms that cannot be adequately expressed in French. Even more than Les Soleils, the title of Kourouma's second novel, MonnB, outrages et dL$s offers ample evidence of the process of creative writing in Africa as translation and attests to the bilingual nature inherent in modern African fiction. Abiola Irele (1993) points out that the novel's prologue
undertakes to explicate the meaning of the novel's title in terms of both the affront to consciousness which the narrative is about to document and of the disparities in race, religion and world view as codified in language.

Within the novel itself, Irele adds,

the concept of monne is elucidated more succinctly in the expression les saisons d'amertume [seasons of bitterness] which recurs several times as a kind of leitmotif by which its theme is constantly restated throughout its narrative development (1993:


Even so, it is obvious that this bilingual title remains semi-readable for the monolingual reader, just as the text itself would be, if the reader fails to decode its plurilingual strategies. Furthermore, the complete meaning of outrages et d&$s [insults and challenges] can only be understood in its relationship with the first Malinke word in the title. While the phrase outrages et dt;Jis is a partial explanation of monne it does not translate it wholly since the meaning of monne is more than just outrages et d&$s. The French and Malinke parts of the title are therefore not explanations or substitutions of one term for the other, neither are they interchangeable; rather, they are interdependent because the Malinke word monne informs and elucidates the outrages et d&$s in the French language. Together, what these translation strategies seek is a certain form of aesthetics in African writing that is accomplished through the violation of the French language at the level of the novels' themes and structure. At the thematic level, it is significant to note that all these novels present political leaders and their acts of violence perpetrated against the people. In MonnB for instance, (where the cruelty of traditional African kings is mentioned), the destructive violence exercised against albinos, dwarfs, and the weak who are captured and sacrificed seems to sanction the end of a culture, that is, the end of a certain Africa. At the structural level all these novels play another role in the account of violence. They present a humane attempt to control and overcome violence. That is why in some instances

The African writer as translator

the treatment of violence is done with a certain detachment and humour. The increased terrifying descriptions in the novels create an effect of a distorting image and provocation in the scenes in which one joyful repression follows another at a breathtaking rhythm. In Le Pleurer-Rire, violence against the people seems to have become a way of life. Although it can be said that an exaggeration in the details of cruelty sometimes harms the credibility of these stories, what must be noted is that the authors seek a certain aesthetic quality in the hyperrealism that characterizes the detailed descriptions of violence. In other words, the detailed descriptions of the violent scenes lead to a literary expressionism that accounts for the originality of these African novels. The most violent scenes in which hyperrealism, expressionism and humour go together, are also naturally those through which we enter the text. Monn2 begins with the account of the bloody sacrifices multiplied in an excessive rage in order to prevent the threats of the colonial conquest which hangs over the future of Djigui, king of Soba, and his people. As a stylistic device, plunging the reader right into this violent universe creates an effect of shock, and produces a violent rupture with the reader's daily language and universe. Scenes of violence also occur in the search for an aesthetic composition. In Le Pleurer-rire, for example, the account of the mutilation of the hungry thieves whose hands are cut in the presence of the diplomatic corps convened for this occasion, to a background of music, contrasts with tender and calm scenes elsewhere in the novel. The violence of the abortive coup d'etat (Lopes 1982: 144), followed by the violence of the repression of the Djakissinis by the Djabotamas (ibid.: 192), serves as a counterpoint to the interminable discussions at the presidential palace. In connection with the other parts of the novel, the violence becomes a motif in a symphonic composition. Aggressive passages conflict with relaxed scenes in fragmented stories and the discontinuity materializes right down to the novel's typography (italics, capital letters, large blank spaces). Public and private scenes, political and intimate sessions, flashbacks and reflections on the present, follow each other to constitute a structural unity. What is most important is that these novels fall within an aesthetic where violence is done not only to the narrative continuity but also to the language of narration. Furthermore, as Chantal Zabus (1991) has demonstrated, the translation of a historically repressed language into the dominant one entails some textual violence. In the African context, since this violence is directed against and via the dominant language, the repressed African language struggles to surface in and inhabit the European language. As she puts it,
the African morphemes and etymons thus gnaw at the target language whose hegemony is thereby subverted (Zabus 1991: 152).

The European language is pushed and forced to the position of 'minor' language and in that sense ceases to be an instrument of domination. To the extent that African writers privilege their African languages to occupy the position that informs the European language, to the extent that they force the European language to refer back to the African language for understanding and signification, African

156 Kwaku A. Gyasi writers use translation as a strategy of literary decolonization. However, as Amadou Kont (1992) points out, the success of the effort to translate one's native language and to re-appropriate the foreign language in a meaningful way depends on the ability of the novelist to master hisker mother tongue and the language of writing. It depends also on the writer's ability to construct a system in which context, culture and language are harmonized. According to Bassnett-McGuire (1988) the change in the nature and methodology of literary studies since its development outside Europe has made it possible for notions of translation to lose their overly European focus. Just as literary studies has sought to shake off its Eurocentric inheritance, she writes,
so translation thinking is branching out in new ways, because the emphasis on the ideological as well as the linguistic makes it possible for the subject to be discussed in the wider terms of post-colonial discourse (1988: xiv).

Oswald de Andrade, a Brazilian writer, has introduced a new metaphor, one that may be applicable to the African situation: the image of the Brazilian writer as cannibal, devouring the colonial language in a ritual that results in the creation of something completely new. As Bassnet-McGuire explains, De Andrade's metaphor of the post-colonial writer as cannibal is
based on a revised notion of what cannibalism signifies, considered not from the perspective of the European colonizer, but from the perspective of those peoples whose cannibalistic practices derive from an alternative vision of society (ibid.: xv).

Applied to the African context, the 'cannibalistic' notion of writing involves a changed idea of the place and value of the colonial language in relation to its place in the production of African discourse. The African writer no longer considers the European language as the only viable means of narrative construction and expression. Faced with the charge (such as the one by NgQgiwa Thiong'o) that by writing in European languages that is spoken, let alone read, by just a few million speakers in Africa, African writers are in effect participating, however inadvertently, in the further canonization of European-language literature, contemporary African writers who write in the European languages are seeking new ways to sustain a discourse that can be called African. Their act of writing in the dominant European tongue is therefore both linguistic and political. This form of writing reveals the stakes, conflicts, tensions and the power struggles between the European and African languages. By choosing to translate their languages and models into the European language the African writers question the historically established authority of the European language and establish their languages as equally viable means of producing discourse. In this perspective, it can be seen that creative translation is mobilized for the sake of the reaffirmation, re-appropriation, and re-examination of African cultural identity, and as a means of differentiating one's self from the Other. That is, just as the colonial discourse marginalized African languages and institutions, so the African translated novels seek to reveal the otherness of the European languages. In other words, as Zabus argues, in the post-colonial moment, the act of appropriating the

The African writer as translator


European language leads to a reversal of roles that relegates the colonizer's language to the position of minor, so as to dominate it. In this respect, for the Francophone African writers, the act of writing is the experiment of blending African models with European models while subverting or 'violating' them at the same time. The distortions imposed on syntax, the introduction of an unfamiliar vocabulary, borrowings from local languages translated or not, in the form of a collage, expressions of traditional orality, the use of French spoken in the suburbs of African capitals, the insults, songs and proverbs introduced into the story - all these techniques interrupt the narration in French and force the reader to reconstruct the text. In certain instances, understanding is denied the monolingual reader who is then forced to recognize the importance of the other language in the narrative reconstruction of history and reality. In an effort to decolonize the African text in the European language of writing, the authors draw from the vocabulary registers of the different African languages. They conjugate transitive verbs in the absolute, abuse nominal adjectives and invent adverbs. As Senghor (1961) had earlier written in Nocturnes:
Que meure le po&me,se dLsint2gi-e la syntaxe, que s'abi'ment les mots qui ne sontpas essentiels.
May the poem die, syntax disintegrate, may the words that are not essential be swallowed up.

The result of this initial destruction is the re-creation of a rich and original language that has to be considered in its own right. In other words, if these writers 'violate' the academic or standard French, they do so in order to create works which are enriched by their respective mother tongues and whose poetic value can be easily recognized. As a corollary to the decolonization of the African text, the violence inflicted on the language and the violence represented in the exercise of power by African leaders can also be seen as the only possible response by the writers to the violence that permeates the African post-colonial universe. According to E. Mudimbe-Boyi (1991) while the excesses of power lead to the underdevelopment and humiliation of Africans and their countries, the violence in the language of writing carries positive values. The writings of the new generation of African writers cannot be analysed only in terms of the kind of socio-ethnological, historical, and cultural readings that characterized critical approaches to earlier African fiction. With these writers one now needs to place the emphasis on the creative process itself, that is, on the politics and process of writing. At this moment in Africa's history, Francophone African literature, which arises from the need to reaffirm and reclaim African original orality, and springs from a will to assert itself in relation to the West, actualizes the African imaginary world in a time of crisis. The violence that it sometimes exalts should not be taken as an end in itself but rather as a conscious process for understanding the African imagination. Thus, at odds with the colonial literature in its beginnings, and drawing from the traditional culture and the mother tongue in its 'modem' formulation,

158 Kwaku A. Gyasi

the Francophone novel in its most recent actuality, is constructed in conformity with an aesthetics of translation, violence and rupture, where violence, rupture and translation are enacted through language.
KWAKU A. GYASI is a professor of French and francophone studies at the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, University of Alabama in Huntsville; Morton Hall 308, Huntsville, A L 35899, USA. email:

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