Writing, Print, and Orality in Postcolonial Fiction

Novelists like Yvonne Vera and Charles Mongoshi make the collision of oral and writing cultures a significant part of their narratives. In Vera's Nehanda, a novel about the Chimurenga, Zimbabwe's nineteenth-century war of independence, the chief argues that his people's oral culture has a life and truth missing from "the stranger's own peculiar custom" &mdash writing on paper. Sounding much like Plato's Socrates, the chief tells his listeners because "our people know the power of words,"

they desire to have words continuously spoken and kept alive. We do not believe that words can become independent of the speech that bore them, of the humans who controlled and gave birth to them. Can words exchanged today on this clearing surrounded by waving grass become like a child left to be brought up by strangers? Words surrendered to the stranger, like the abandoned child, will become alien — a stranger to our tongues.

The paper is the stranger's own peculiar custom. Among ourselves, speech is not like rock. Words cannot be taken from the people who create them. People are the words. [39-40]

Return to lectures by George P. Landow