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Georges Ngal: L’Errance [Wandering]

This is a follow-up to Ngal’s Giambatista Viko ou Le Viol du discours africain [Giambatista Viko or the Rape of African Discourse]. In that book, Giambatista Viko and his friend, Niaiseux, were arrested for betraying Africa and African literature. They were judged and condemned. We now learn that they had been condemned to spend their sentence in the convents of culture of Africa learning about Africa and African literature. We do not learn a great deal about what they actually did in these convents of culture. Nearly all the novel consists of the pair sitting in a room in the fictitious town of Marmonia writing an account of their adventures for a major daily newspaper. However, they spend all of their time discussing what they have learnt and how African culture should go forward.

Much of what they discuss came up in the previous book. For example, they talk about Africans who look to Bach, Handel, Mozart and Beethoven rather than Miriam Makeba, Eboa Lotin and Tabu Ley for their musical models. They do the same in other disciplines, including warfare (Napoleon vs Shaka Zulu) and bemoan the lack of recognised African science and philosophy, both of which depend heavily on Western models. Indeed, they propose developing a peculiarly African version of these two disciplines. And, once again, they talk about African literature, yet citing European (particularly French), writers as models. As in the previous book, we are given fables – two in this book – taken from fables collected by Ngal’s wife, Charlotte née Mumbala, from the Mbundu people. Both are interesting fables and Giambatista does point out their special African nature. However, they are both relatively short.

Even while the pair refer to Western (primarily French) models, they maintain that their language should be influenced by African styles and not Western ones, particularly when using a colonial language. (They both tend to use a rather pompous, highbrow French, riddled with anglicisms.) The tone should be positive not negative. Personal idiosyncrasies should not be included; indeed, a more universal approach should be used, rather than a personal one. Symbolism is also important.

My problem with this is that this is written as a novel and, while it allows Ngal both to posit an African approach to culture while mocking what has been done and is being done, it is essentially a work of critical discussion held between two friends who share essentially the same views, who play off one another and who are quite full of themselves. Towards the end, for example, they imagine the reception of their account, which will be gloriously recognised the world over for its greatness. However, for me, it does not really work as a novel just as its predecessor did not. It is certainly interesting to read about their ideas and hear African culture discussed from an African point of view but, I feel, if that is what you want to read, there are worthwhile non-fiction books out there that do it better.

Publishing history

First published in French 1979 by Editions Clé, Yaoundé
No English translation