joe ushie's literary / linguistics views

Monday, July 11, 2005


In humankind’s history where a group of people has dominated another, decolonization is, in most cases, a gradual process. Indeed, while it has often been much easier to end the physical occupation, mental purging of a formerly dominated group is usually the most difficult process and requires conscious and concerted effort. One reason for this is that the actual physical domination of a people by another, if it is to succeed and be beneficial to the conquering group, must be preceded by a deliberate and systematic attack on the cultural foundations of the group to be preyed upon. Hoogvelt sums it that "No society can successfully dominate another without the diffusion of its cultural patterns and social institutions" (109). And, central to culture is language as a people’s means of communication and interaction, as a bearer of their culture, and, as a conveyor of their worldview. Sapir, for instance, maintains that "language does not exist apart from culture, that is, from the socially inherited assemblage of practices and beliefs that determines the texture of our lives" (Language, 207, Culture, 34).
The centrality of language to any human culture, and hence, to the entire society thus underlies the importance former colonies in all human history have placed on the question of language choice in the aftermath of foreign rule. In post-colonial Britain, for example, the then Headmaster of the Merchant Taylor’s School, Richard Mulcaster, and Sir Thomas Elyot argued fervently in favor of the use, for all occasions, of English, which was then considered a "barbarian" tongue. Geoffrey Chaucer preceded them in this nationalist spirit by consciously shifting from Latin and French, which he had mastered, to the then "unrefined" English language for his creative writing (A History, 203-206). Following foreign domination, therefore, the general trend has been for the former colonies to retrace and rediscover themselves culturally as a sine qua non for true independence.
Since the independence of their various countries, the question of what language(s) to use has naturally engaged the attention of African scholars, linguists, literary artists and critics as well as the general public. At its broadest level, the question has been, "What should the African, who is educated in the language of his colonial master, do with the erstwhile master’s language?" Should he continue to express himself and his culture through these languages? If so, how can he guarantee that these languages can effectively convey his culture and worldview? And if he has to switch to an African language, what happens to the large audience that English offers him? Besides, there is the problem of most African countries being multilingual such that a foreign language becomes a ready bridge between otherwise linguistically heterogeneous ethnic nationalities. Ushie (Many Voices, 50 - 51) summarizes the major positions adopted by African scholars on this debate as follows:
(a) Those who, following Obi Wali, have continued to advocate the use of African indigenous languages, e.g. Ngugi Wa Thiong’O and Ime Ikiddeh.
(b) Those who have followed the sophisticated formal English expression, e.g. Okigbo, Soyinka, Dennis Brutus, J.P. Clark–Bekederemo, etc.
Those who, following Janheinz Jahn, have suggested that European languages, for instance English, be used in such a way that the languages bear the African cultural experience while remaining intelligible internationally. Chinua Achebe’s novels, especially Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God, and the poetry of Okot p’Bitek and Kofi Awoonor illustrate this category.
Those who advocate transliteration as a way of keeping intact the African cultural heritage while using foreign words, e.g. Gabriel Okara as illustrated in his novel, The Voice.
Those who may be described as following a plural code, e.g. Ken Saro-Wiwa.
The key question in this paper is: How can we continue to use non-African languages, and in the printed form, and still ensure that the African folklore and culture, which are thus transferred, preserve their identity as African oral heritage? In other words, what linguistic choices does the African scholar and writer have to make that would ensure that his oral culture is preserved even in print and foreign tongue rather than swept into the sea of world literature and culture without trace? This is important as it often happens that tributary contributions to ‘major’ world civilizations that had left no residue of their origin had been unacknowledged and subsequently appropriated by other cultures. We anchor our exploration of these questions on the work of one of Africa’s contemporary leading poets, Nigeria’s Niyi Osundare. We thus isolate from his poetry in English elements drawn from his African indigenous milieu, which appear consciously carried over into the foreign tongue and print/written medium. This would help us to see what African identity has been inscribed into the texts from his Yoruba roots, and also to determine how desirable it is for African writers to continue in their fidelity to the colonial master’s tongue for their cultural productions.

The classification of modern Nigerian (written) poetry in English has slight divergences. While some scholars recognize the existence of four generations of modern Nigerian poets, others, for instance, Raji (Redmond, 41) and Ushie (Many Voices, 23-37) present three. The basic difference between those who project three groups and those who argue for the existence of four lies in whether one includes the very first phase of Nigerian poets or not. This earliest generation, sometimes referred to as "The early poets", included Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Sam Epelle, Enitan Brown, Dennis Osadebay, Adeboye Babalola and Olumbe Bassir (Many Voices, 23; Perspectives, 8). This therefore places the group represented by Wole Soyinka, Christopher Okibgo and Clark-Bekederemo in the second phase while the Osundare-Ojaide-Udechukwu group constitutes the third group. The newest voices, who were born shortly before or after the nation’s independence, and who come immediately after the Osundare-Ojaide-Acholonu-Ofeimun generation are hence labeled as the fourth. Considering the experiences of other anthologized literary traditions such as the American and the British, which are quite comprehensive in their recording of their literary heritage, it is appropriate and logical to classify Nigeria’s earliest works too as belonging to a distinct group. These earliest works are, therefore, a necessary part of modern (written) Nigerian poetry in English. Indeed, they were the first written Nigerian works to assert blackness and Africanness as concepts to be proud of, and hence constituted the first necessary step toward cultural emancipation of the black man. This thus makes the Osundare generation the third, rather than the second, as the group is commonly referred to.
A highlighting of the non-literary conditions that constituted the raw material for the artistic sensibilities of members of this generation is necessary in order to understand their recurring stylistic predilections. These conditions were the failure of the expectations of Nigerians following the nation’s independence. The peak of these was the three-year Civil War, of which a literary critic of the generation, Funso Aiyejina, has observed:
The mangled limbs and dismembered bowels of the victims of the crises and the frustrated hopes of the people have metamorphosed into images of death, aridity, decay, putrefaction, betrayal and hypocrisy. The mournful tone of the dirge has thus become the dominant mood of the poetry by the post-Okigbo "Nsukka poets" (Perspectives, vol.1, 115).
Aiyejina adds that the poets outside Nsukka also responded to the situation by resolving to
…make poetry as relevant to the realities of their daily existence as possible: no more pursuit of the clever and esoteric lines of Soyinka, the Latinate phrases of Okigbo and Echeruo or the Hopkinsian syntax of Clark ( Perspectives vol. 1, 115).
The other two significant influences were the exposure of the group to Marxism and the rising recognition of African oral performances (which had begun in East Africa) as viable literature, which forms these post-war voices were to adapt into the written medium. Nwachukwu-Agbada thus observes that the poets of this era returned to
…the local speech pattern so that, whether the poet is Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Urhobo or Nupe, there are linguistic models in his poetic afflation which every member of a Nigerian, if not an African, audience can relate to. (Jones, 168-169).
Osundare translated this artistic and social vision into a poetic statement in his very first poetry collection: Songs of the Marketplace. In the first poem titled "Poetry Is", the poet, ostensibly reacting to the style of his immediate forerunners, maintains:
Poetry is
not the esoteric whisper
of an excluding tongue
not a claptrap
for a wondering audience
not a learned quiz
entombed in Grecoroman lore
Poetry is
a lifespring
which gathers timbre
the more throats it plucks
harbinger of action
the more minds it stirs
Poetry is the hawker’s ditty
the eloquence of the gong
the lyric of the marketplace
the luminous ray
on the grass’s morning dew
Poetry is
what the soft wind
musics to the dancing leaf
what the sole tells the dusty path
what the bee hums to the alluring nectar
what rainfall croons to the lowering eaves
Poetry is
no oracle’s kernel
for a sole philosopher’s stone
man (SM, 3)
How was this attitude to be translated into the texts of the era? The title of an essay by Nigeria’s literary critic, Funso Aiyejina, which we had referred to earlier, sums up the thrust of the new writers’ direction. Entitled "Recent Nigerian Poetry in English: An Alter-Native Tradition", its main message begins from the sub-title, "An Alter-Native Tradition", in the creative ambiguity in the word "Alter-Native". If the word is read in its unhyphenated form as "Alternative", it conveys the generation’s resolve to provide an alternative to the modern written poetry of their predecessors, which had been described as obscurantist, difficult, Hopkinsian and alien (Toward the Decolonization 163-238). The second reading of the word yields for us the meaning: "Change or alter the native form", perhaps from its oral form into the written, and with the necessary modifications to suit the print medium and the English language. These devices of simplicity and deliberate deployment of elements from the writers’ African cultural milieu thus became the defining characteristics of the style of the generation. In particular, the features clearly manifest in the output from Odia Ofeimun, Tanure Ojaide, Onuora Ossie Enekwe, Femi Oyebode, Harry Garuba, Catherine Acholonu, Femi Fatoba and Femi Osofisan (who is more known as a playwright than as a poet).
In addition to his poem defining both the thematic thrust and stylistic preferences of the generation, Osundare is also one of the most prolific and the most recognized in terms of prizes and awards. Besides, he is also known for his conscious deployment of devices from his Yoruba roots into his poetry in English. Indeed, so conscious and deliberate is his reliance on Yoruba culture and language that Stephen Arnold has described him as "not an anglophone African poet [but] a Yoruba poet who writes in English" (Anglophonia, 27). It is in the light of these considerations that Niyi Osundare’s work has been selected for close study to establish to what extent the identity of African creative genius so transferred promises to survive in the printed form in a foreign tongue.
Thus far, Osundare has published about fourteen poetry collections, including four children’s volumes and one play. In this paper, we draw from three of his senior collections for illustrations. The selected ones are his first volume: Songs of the Marketplace (1983; subsequently SM); Horses of Memory (1998, subsequently HM); and The Word Is An Egg (2000, subsequently The Word). The selection is guided mainly by a chronological factor, that is, the need to see if the poet has changed in his reflection of the African cultural milieu over the years.
It is pertinent to clarify certain terms and issues. The first of these is the word "Crossings". The crossing of cultural elements in writing could be bi-directional, that is, from an African culture to a non-African culture, and vice versa. It could also refer to the crossing from an oral to a written medium as well as from a live performance to a written or printed form. In Osundare’s work, examples of bi-directional crossings include "smell the moisture of brooks/refrigerated by leafshade" (SM, 72) and "perfumed memories" (The Eye, 5). Although there are many more of these kinds of crossings in his poetry, and which are worth studying on their own, our focus here is on the crossings from his Yoruba/African culture into English. The implications for the crossings from oral to chirographic form, and from performance to the cold lifeless form on the page are carried along in the analyses of the cultural elements in the paper. Finally, the elements from the poet’s Yoruba/African background are presented under two broad subheads. These are (1) Elements of Orality and Performance and (2) Direct Transfers.
The dominant features of African orality in the poetry include the presence of
repetition, the use of the refrain, the proverb, the pronoun and the vocative, while the features of performance include the specification in some of the poems for the accompaniment of various musical instruments and performers while rendering them, and the occasional resort to parallel syntactic structures. From SM we have the following examples of the proverb as a form of African oratory:
The lizard feeds on its own brood
And wonders why they say it buries
Its future in its guts (SM, 37).
The world is like Solel Boneh’s steam-shovel
It scoops earth from one place
To fill up the hole in another (SM, 38).
Iya jajeji l’Egbe
Ile eni l’eso ye’ni
(Trans.: "Suffering afflicts the stranger in an alien land/One is most valued in one’s own home") (SM, 40).
The whip that carved weals
On the first wife
Will descend from the rafter some day
To give the new bride a stroke of history (SM, 42).
He who falls from a tree in the open forest
May still walk on his mended legs
But there is no doctor
For him who falls off the tree of words (The Word, 21).
We eat what we see
It is what we do not see
That eats us (The Word, 35).
It is important to stress that, in consonance with the program of the new voices to "alter the native", the deployment by Osundare of these typical Yoruba proverbs in his poetry is a conscious act to preserve the Yoruba speech culture even in the foreign tongue. Support for this position comes from his own poem, "Who’s Afraid Of The Proverb?" (HM, 99), in which footnote, he offers this English translation of the significance the Yoruba attach to the proverb:
The proverb is the horse of the word
The word is the horse of the proverb
When the word is lost
It is the proverb we use for finding it (HM, 101).
In one of the stanzas of the poem, he presents this definition of the proverb, which reminisces physicists’ definition of a straight line:
Who’s afraid of the proverb
of the shortest distance
between many truths (HM, 100).
In addition to the proverb, there are also local idioms which are creatively deployed into the written poetry, two examples of which are: " we do not want the drummer to leave/when just sharpening our legs" (SM, 77), and "And so you have picked up the horsetail/And danced through blood into prehistory" (SM, 41).
As with the proverb, the poet also uses the pronoun in a manner characteristic of a traditional African singer. Instances of this manipulation of the pronoun are too many in the texts to be exhaustively presented in a paper of this length. In SM, they are found on pages 11 – 12: " I have been through…"; and the use of the collective "We" in much of the text. There is also the representative "I" used in the following poems: "I sing of Change" (SM, 89-90); "Africa’s Memory" (HM, 43); "Anniversary of Forgotten Laughter" (HM, 44); "Skinsong (2)" (HM, 49); and "End of History" HM, 51). And in The Word, similar use occurs on pages 11, 15 and 29.
Again, the transfer of this use of the pronoun from its African oral rhetorical setting to print and in an alien tongue is consciously executed by the poet, who, in his article, "From Oral to Written: Aspects of the Socio-Stylistic Repercussions of Transition", explains:
The closeness between the oral performer and his audience is reflected in his choice of lexical items…. In terms of personal deictics, he may employ "I" for himself, "you" for his audience, "we" to envelope both parties, and "they" and "them" for those who do not belong (Okpewho and Osofisan, 11).
Another contemporary of Osundare, Tanure Ojaide, also explains that "The frequent use of "we" shows that the poet’s role is the public one of defending communal values" (Poetic Imagination, 27).
Apart from the use of the proverb and the pronoun, there is also the deliberate movement into the written poetry of features that characterize performance in African oral literature. There are the specific provision for the use of musical instruments to accompany the rendition of many of the poems; the prevalence of repetition, which enhances the musicality of the texts; the presence of the refrain, which anticipates audience participation in the realization of the texts; and the use of the vocative, which is a feature of orality. Cynthia Hogue and Nancy Easterlin provide a historical explanation for Osundare’s use of some of these elements of African oral forms:
His use of repetition and of a collective speaker, so strongly reminiscent of Whitman for the contemporary Western reader, in fact, have their source in tribal oral modes similar to the ancient traditions that influenced the Bible, upon which Whitman drew for his own poetical voice. Thus, Osundare’s aesthetic affirms the continuity between written literature and folk traditions (Na’Allah, 462).
These testimonies, again confirm that the presence of African cultural features in the poetry of Osundare, and hence, of this era, has been a conscious effort to ensure the survival of these elements as flowing from an identifiable African tributary into the sea of world literature and culture. In addition to these features of orality, provision is also made by the poet for the use of musical instruments in "For the One Who Departed" (HM, 5), in which he stipulates "heavy drums, occasional ululations". Similarly, for the poem "Memory’s Road" (HM, 21), the poet directs "(for many voices, in orchestra)". And for "Scars of Unremembrance" (HM, 32), he also suggests "(to the accompaniment of kora, bata, and/saxophone)". Also for the poem, "Words which" (The Word, 26), the poet specifies the accompaniment of the reading with "(Music; various voices)".
The refrain also occurs frequently in the poetry. Examples of this rhetorical device are found in the poem, "Zimbabwe" (SM, 52-54) and "For Bob Marley" in the same collection (57-58). In HM, it comes up twice in "Scars of Unremembrance" (32-35). In "Stiltdancers" as in many others of his poems, the refrain comes in Yoruba: "Jambata jambo ja" while the next line of the refrain is in English: "The door of memory creaks on rusty hinges" (HM, 36-38). Other examples of the refrain are in "Earth Will Not Tremble Under Our Feet" (HM, 65-66), and "Invocations of the Word" (The Word, 10-12).
Besides the use of the refrain, there is also in the work under study the prevalence of repetition, which facilitates the realization of a balanced cadence characteristic of song. We find this in the texts thus: "The word was your horse" (HM, 14); "Silence now in the belly of stone/…" (HM, 16); "We shall remember" (HM, 39-40); "I ask for…" (HM, 43); "Shall I tell you" (HM, 44); "We shall dance in the sky…" (HM, 54); "I see the Word…." (The Word, 10-12). This device gives the texts the required musical effect thus keeping them close to their oral forms in the Yoruba.
Another strategy adopted by the poet to keep his craft close to his African cultural roots is the employment of the vocative, which is a feature of the oratory. This device shows up in the texts as follows: "O my people" (SM, 29), and "Oh Roots", "Oh Word", "Oh death", Oh but this wonder…" all of which appear in the poem: "Omoleti" (The Word, 82-92).
The features of orality and performance which we have examined here seem to validate the observation by Tanure Ojaide that "modern African literature is in a way written oral literature" (The Guardian, 23). Walter J. Ong considers this sort of a stylistic predilection a characteristic marker of transition from primary orality to chirography: "Early written poetry everywhere, it seems, is at first necessarily a mimicking in script of oral performance…. You scratch on a surface words you imagine yourself saying aloud in some realizable oral setting" (Orality, 26).
Ong’s view presupposes that in time, elements of orality and performance will disappear from modern (written) African literature. This observation may indeed be credible when we consider the relative thinness of these features in the poetry of the generation of Nigerian poets just emerging after that of Osundare, as Ushie has revealed (Many Voices, Many Visions, 361). Yet, the gradual disappearance of these features from the emerging Nigerian poetry is to be blamed on the Nigerian society’s cultural drift from African to western ways, which leaves the younger generation ignorant of their indigenous folklore, rather than on conscious disdain for the young poets’ roots.
This refers to words, phrases or sentences shifted directly from Yoruba, the poet’s mother tongue, or from any other African languages into English. Such ‘borrowed’ words and expressions are split into two groups – those considered translatable and those not translatable. Translatability of a word, phrase, or a sentence depends much on the context of the text and the situation of the translation. In translating poetry, for instance, one considers how effectively the target language (TL) can preserve the rhythm, line and stanza structure of the source language (SL) and the extent to which meaning would be lost in the transition from one language to another. There could also be in this genre certain semantically ‘empty’ words used mainly for their sound effects, since sound is a necessary ingredient of poetry. Such words and expressions are certainly untranslatable, except where they are clearly onomatopoeic. These considerations thus yield two groups of direct transfers – Translatable words and expressions, constituting Group A, and Untranslatable ones, forming Group B. After each transferred item in the tables that follow, letters representing the title of the poetry collection are provided, followed by the page number. 1

1. tanwiji (SM 9)
mosquito larvae
Translated in the text
2. omolanke (SM 11)
hand-pushed cart
Translated in the text
3. oleee barawoooooo onye oshiiiii (SM 16)
The semantic equivalents of the same word in the 3 Nigerian languages of Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo. Involvement of these 3 languages suggests unanimity of the condemnation and also the social status of the frenzied crowd.
4. ekan (SM 18)
elephant grass
Translated in the text
5. babalawo (SM 37)
medicine man, herbalist, voodoo priest or diviner.
Not translated in the text; possibly assumed to have entered the English lexicon?
6. iya jajeji l’Egbe
I le eni l’eso ye’ni
(SM 40)
suffering afflicts the stranger in an alien land/One is most valued in one’s own home.
Translated in the text. English version would lose much of the semantic flavour.
7. egigun (SM 71)
silk cotton tree
Translated in the text.
8. afemoju (SM 78)
"Afemoju" is 4 syllables while the English equivalent, "Dawn", is one. "Dawn" is curiously the title of the poem. Reasons for poet’s preference of "afemoju" therefore not obvious.
9. Aaa yeepa, Baba lo a ke rooro
Aaa yeepa, Baba lo a ke rooro
Niwoyi esi la j’akasu bi ogofa
Baba lo akasu o kan wa ooo
Aaa yeepa, Baba lo a ke rooro
(HM 7 – 9)
Alas, Father is gone; we are sad
Alas, Father is gone; we are sad
This time last year we ate a thousand wraps of eko
Now Father is gone, no more wraps.
Yoruba version is much deeper; English is superficial.
10. Ope o ku o e wo mariwo ope ooo
Ope o ku o e wo mariwo ope ooo
(HM 16)
The palm tree is not dead: behold its shooting spear
Translated in the text
11. Oriki (HM 84)
Praise name
Translated in the text
12. Owe l’esin oro
Oro lesin o we
T’oro ba sonu
Owe la fi ’n wa (HM 99)
The proverb is the horse of the word
The word is the horse of the proverb
When the world is lost
It is the proverb we use for finding it
Translated in a footnote
13. Eyin l’oro (The word 6)
The word is an egg
Translated in the text
14. Abuubutan Eja Okun Abuubutan Eja Osa
Aduuni lenu
Madunni lorun (The Word 11)

Inexhaustible, Fish of the sea
Inexhaustible, Fish of the lagoon
A joy to have in the mouth
Dreadful to have around the neck
Translated in the text. Yoruba version appears richer and deeper.
15. Agbake (The word 21)
Upland region
Translated in the text
16. Alupayida (The word 55)
Translated in the text
17. Awoyoyo
(The word 71 – 72)
Multitudes, followers
Used as title of a poem, then translated in the text.

1. molue, danfo, dagbere
(SM 11)
Names of passenger vehicles

2. gari (SM 35)
a Nigerian/African staple
Commonly known and needing no translation to an African audience.
3. langbalangba (SM 40)
Undignifyingly; gracelessly
Ideophonic/onomatopoeic. Translation would murder the musicality and hence the meaning suggested/represented by sound.
4. Esua (SM 72)
Primordial name for Okete, a nocturnal rodent

5. Isoye (SM 80)
Memory aid
Perhaps no equivalent referent in the English-speaking world.
6. Efuru
Aro elewe
(HM 10)
Three yam types
It seems difficult, if not impossible, to find their equivalents in English, since these distinctions here also convey meaning deeper than ordinary listing of food types.
7. Bata
(HM 16)
Different types of drums
Unlikely that there are exact English equivalents. Besides, context gives them meanings which listing would not – even if there were English representations of them.
8. Oluyenyetuye
Togongorewa (HM 43)
Art Works from various parts of Africa

9. Sugudu pebepebe pebe pebe
Sugudu pebepebe(HM 59)
No specific semantic meaning
Used for its sound effect.
10.Araba ponmbe ponmbe ponmbe (The world 10)
No translatable ‘semantic’ meaning
Used for its sound effect
11. alamo (The Word 16)
An Ekiti-Yoruba song genre

12. Ooya
(The Word 21)
Wooden comb with very long teeth
Possibly, no English equivalent
13. olokose
(The Word 25)
Bird of good omen, of beautiful songs
Peculiar cultural significance would be lost in an English equivalent.

The two tables show a total of thirty single lexical items, word groups or short texts, which have been shifted directly from Yoruba into the three poetry collections in English. Seventeen of these, constituting Group A, have been designated Translatable, while the remaining thirteen of Group B are considered Untranslatable. English versions of all the translatable elements have indeed been offered in the texts. This means, therefore, that the poet’s retention of their Yoruba equivalents is for reasons other than translation challenges. Reasons for preferring the Yoruba word or phrase may include the musicality of the word or the depth of meaning of the Yoruba word or expression, which might not be sustained in English.
Some of the words considered untranslatable are those without English equivalents, as characteristic of any language that has to function in a non-native environment. Also, there are some elements brought into the texts just for their musical values, since they do not have any semantic meaning even in their original Yoruba contexts. In oral performance, these form an important part of the aesthetics of the text. There are also two words, "babalawo" and "gari", which meaning the poet possibly believes should now be universally known.
These two categories of transfers, which run through the three collections, reveal that Osundare is a poet who is primarily concerned about meaning and musicality of his texts, and who believes that Yoruba, rather than English, is better able to achieve these goals for him. A combination of these instances of direct transfers with the elements of orality and performance, which abound in the texts, confirms Osundare’s linguistic ideology as an African writer who is more inclined to his Yoruba and African roots than to the English language and culture. This study thus validates Stephen Arnold’s description of him as "not an anglophone African poet [but] a Yoruba poet who writes in English" (Anglophonia, 27). His work, therefore, offers us an example of a successful transfer of African oral heritage into print and in an alien tongue in such a manner that its identity as an African product is guaranteed and insured.
But if, as we have seen, Osundare has successfully moved African folkways into English, would this be enough to recommend that African writers should, generally, be writing in English instead of in their mother tongue? Would such a recommendation not be advancing Ngugi’s argument against making "borrowed tongues [to] ‘prey’ on African proverbs and other peculiarities of African speech and folklore"? (Decolonising, 7). Would this not also make Africa one of the very few exceptions in human history in which a formerly dominated people would stick to the language and culture of its erstwhile colonial masters eternally? Answering these questions would strengthen the natural position that true independence for a people can only come when they have reclaimed their languages and cultures from their former masters. This was what happened in Britain after the Norman conquest, in Finland after Swedish domination, in India, Malaysia and Tanzania after British rule; and this is what the emergence of the American, Australian and Canadian dialects of English signifies. Indeed, the emergence of these sub varieties and the vigor with which their speakers project them are proof that these speech communities would have abandoned English altogether for their mother tongues, following independence, had the three been different languages from English.
Yet, the multilingual nature of most African countries and the dependence of their economy on the West make radical independence difficult. Nigeria, for example, has over 500 languages; this makes it difficult for one indigenous tongue to emerge as a national unifying language to be used for all occasions. It follows, therefore, that for Africa the return to indigenous languages for cultural production – which is the natural and ultimate option – must have a long sojourn at the plural code. This situation explains why after declaring that "As far as [he] is concerned, [he is] for the indigenous languages" (Na’Allah 466), Osundare himself still predicts that "What I foresee is a multilingual Africa. It is said, ‘Whoever has two languages has two souls’. The two souls should be adequately taken care of, with the indigenous enjoying a well-deserved priority" (Na’Allah, 466).
Our understanding of this seeming ambivalence is that by conviction Osundare belongs to the Ngugi and Ikiddeh group, who believe in the return to African languages, but he is also aware that linguistic pluralism, as suggested by Ken Saro-Wiwa and Karin Barber, would be more realistic, at least for now. While Saro-Wiwa simply wrote in standard English, pidgin English, and was said to have been doing a novel in his native Khana when he was murdered in November, 1995, Barber laments: "It is as if, with modernity, expression in indigenous languages has come to a full stop, and is to live on only in translated borrowings and echoes" (Irele, 6).
In spite of the realization by African scholars and writers that the ultimate destination is the African indigenous languages for their creative expression, this appears a long way from materializing today. Once more, one reason for this is the multilingual nature of most African countries, which makes inter-ethnic communication and interaction in indigenous languages difficult, if not impossible. Another is the neo-colonialist character of most African nations. While the struggle for independence was carried out by the combined human resources of the intellectual and the political classes, the political class that took over from the colonial masters in most African countries has followed a neo-colonialist, rather than a post-colonialist path in the running of their societies. For African countries to move eventually to the use of indigenous languages, the political leadership of the various African countries must complement the effort of the continent’s scholars and cultural producers by being genuinely committed to the development of the continent materially. This is because in the modern world a people must be important scientifically, technologically and economically for its language to be considered important and worthy of learning by outsiders. As long as these material aspects of Africa continue to stagnate, Africa can not but accept the fact that the languages and cultures of her colonial masters would continue to co-exist with the indigenous ones, while the indigenous ones would continue to undergo steady and unending dercacination. As such, there may come a time when there will be nothing uniquely African to move from our oral art to print or other languages as Niyi Osundare and his generation of writers are doing.

1. Most of the translations presented here are simply lifted from the primary texts as rendered by the poet.

Osundare, Niyi. Songs of the Marketplace. Ibadan: New Horn Press. 1983.
Osundare, Niyi. Horses of Memory. Ibadan: Heinemann Educational Books (Nig.) 1998.
Osundare, Niyi. The Word Is an Egg. Ibadan: Kraftbooks Ltd. 2000.

Aiyejina, Funso Recent Nigerian Poetry in English: An Alter-Native Tradition. Yemi Ogunbiyi, ed. Perspectives on Nigerian Literature, 1700 to the Present, vol.1 Lagos: Guardian Books Nig. Ltd. 1988.
Arnold, Stephen H. Carpe Millennium: Niyi Osundare’s Seize the Day and African Literature and the Crisis of Post-Structuralist Theorizing. Christiane Fioupou, ed. Anglophonia: French Journal of English Studies. Presses Universitaires Du Mirail, 2000.
Barber, Karin African-Language Literature and Post-Colonial Criticism": In: Irele, Abiola, ed., Research in African Literatures, Volume 26, Number 4, Winter. Pages 3-30 Bloomington, Indiana University Press. 1995.

Baugh, Albert C. and Thomas Cable. A History of the English Language. 3rd ed. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. 1978.
Chinweizu, O. Jemie & I. Madubuike. Toward the Decolonization of African Literature. Vol. 1. Enugu: Fourth Dimension Publishing Co. Ltd. 1980.
Hogue, Cynthia and Nancy Easterlin. Interview with Niyi Osundare, in Na’Allah, ed. The People’s Poet – Emerging Perspectives on Niyi Osundare. New Jersey and Asmara: Africa World Press Inc. 2003
Hoogvelt, Ankie M. M. The Sociology of Developing Societies. 2nd ed. Hampshire & London: Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 1978.
Jones, Eldred Durosimi. The Wit and Wisdom of Niyi Osundare. Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah, ed. The People’s Poet – Emerging Perspectives on Niyi Osundare. New Jersey and Asmara: Africa World Press Inc. 2003.
Ngugi wa Thiong’O. Decolonising the Mind – The Politics of Language in African Literature. London: James Currey Ltd. 2003.
Nwachukwu-Agbada, J. O. J. The Language of Post-War Nigerian Poetry in English Expression. Jones, Durosimi, E. Palmer & M. Jones, eds. The Question of Language in Africa Literature Today. London: James Currey Ltd. 1991.
Ojaide, Tanure. Poetic Imagination in Black Africa – Essays on African Poetry: Durham: Carolina Acadmic Press. 1996.
Ojaide, Tanure. The Challenges of the African Poet Today. The Guardian Newspaper, vol. 14. No. 6, August 1997.
Ong, Walter J. Orality and Literacy – The Technologizing of the Word. London & New York: Routledge. 1982.
Osundare, Niyi. From Oral to Written: Aspects of the Socio-Stylistic Repercussions of Transition. Okpewho, Isidore & Femi Osofisan, eds. Journal of African and Comparative Literature, No. 1, March. Ibadan: Heinemann Educational Books (Nig.) Ltd. 1981.
Osundare, Niyi. Interview with Cynthia Hogue and Nancy Easterlin. Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah, ed. The People’s Poet – Emerging Perspectives on Niyi Osundare. New Jersey and Asmara: Africa World Press Inc. 2003.

Ushie, J. A. Many Voices, Many Visions: A Stylistic Study of ‘New" Nigerian Poetry. A Ph.D. Thesis Submitted to the Faculty of Arts, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria, 2001.



Joseph A. Ushie
Department of English
University of Uyo
Uyo – Nigeria