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Institut Fondamental d'Afrique Noire Cheikh Anta Diop, Dakar
I came from Black Africa, quite a distant land if one considers the many oceans and countries my wife and I had to cross to finally reach you, but also a very close one if we acknowledge with the majority of the scientific community that Africa was probably the cradle of mankind. This is the reason why, firstly, I wish to bring to your vast and beautiful country and to its diverse peoples, the brotherly, friendly and warm greetings of our Mother Africa, herself so very diverse and enormous. This warm greeting, so lively practised in our countries, reminds me - and no doubt you also - of a thought, expressed some four centuries ago by the cautious and sagacious Montaigne: "Each of us, man or woman, carries within them the entire form of the human condition".
Firstly, I must thank the Jury of the prestigious Noma award, in my own name and also in the name of the Nouvelles Editions Africaines du Sénegal who have entrusted me with the onerous responsibility of representing them officially. My book on "The interpretation of dreams in the Senegambian area followed by the key of dreams in Senegambia, Egypt of the Pharaos and in the Islamic tradition" was chosen from among 107 works written in 10 different languages, offered by 69 editors in 19 African countries. I wish to assure you that I am well aware of the exceptional value of this Prize. Notwistanding the formidable upstream pre-selection made by the publishers and their experts and the jury's inclination - or should I say drive - to retain what it considers as the best, I have also learned from well-informed sources that in Africa, your Prize is the ultimate honour for a writer, an erudite or an academic.
While speaking of the immense prestige of the Noma Prize, I must pay tribute to its eminent founder, the late Shoichi Noma and his continuators whose brilliant idea has earned them the everlasting gratitude of Africa, forever linked in this way, at the intellectual and spiritual level, to the glorious civilisation of the country of the "Rising Sun". Nor can I overlook on this occasion a reverent thought for my compatriot, the late Mariama Bâ, the first Noma Prize laureate for her novel Une si longue lettre [So long a letter]. This novel continues to delight all those passioned by African literature.
Following this prologue and prior to further discussing my work on L'interpretation des rêves dans la région sénégambienne, I would like to share with you, as requested, a few preliminary thoughts on the role of the book in Africa, ancient and modern. For a start, let us remind ourselves that Africa has never been a continent totally devoid of written material. Even if it is still described by some as limited to an oral tradition, numerous studies by ethno-linguists, semioticians and historians have challenged that idea over the past thirty years. For example Egypt, whether or not it has been at the origins of the art of writing, has known of it for at least 5000 years, as shown by the Papyrus of Edwin Smith. Even older is the Ishango Bone, the oldest known engraved document of Africa, the age of which has been estimated at between 8500 and 25000 years.(Battestini 1997 : 44)
Writing has also existed elsewhere in Black Africa. It is known that the Nsibidi writing, independent of any external influence, has been in existence since 1700 in Nigeria. In Western Africa, the Vaï, the Mendé, the Guerzé, the Toma, the Bassa and the Bamoun had a written form, so too the Nuba and the Galla in Eastern Africa.
With regard to "books", they have been known and made for a long time in Black Africa. Medieval historians often related that writers were well treated. In his long "Description of Africa", in book 7, Leon the African (d. 1550?), speaking of King Askia of Timbuktu, notes that "he has great respect for those whose work is in the art of literature, and that from this perspective, hand-written books coming from Barbary and brought to that city are selling very well, to the extent that they are actually generating a more substantial profit that any other sellable item".
Ibn Batuta (d. 1377) mentions in his Voyages that he found in the care of a Timbuktu commander a copy of the Kitab Almochich or the book titled The amazing by Ibn Aldjeouzy [L'étonnant d'Ibn Aldjeouzy]. In Gaoga, Leon the African, almost two centuries later, states that King Homara also has great respect for those who work in the profession of literature, holding them in high esteem. While in Timbuktu, he indicates that several priests and doctors "are all reasonably well-paid by the King". It is also known that, according to Ibn Khaldoun, the King of Mali, Manssa Moussa, at the time of his famous pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324, brought back with him the Spanish poet Saheli who - together with his descendents - he placed under his benevolent protection.
Already during the XIth century, El Bekri (d. 1067) - who never visited the continent - pointed out in his description of Northern Africa, that the city of Ghana "had Jurisconsulti and men of great erudition".
Due to evolutions and mutations born of several centuries of contact with the Christian-Western world and the Islamic-Arabic world the book has become today a much more important aspect of African civilisation and culture. It plays several irreplaceable roles. First it is and it remains a privileged instrument for the transmission of scientific, technical and cultural knowledge. That is why, with mixed fortune, African governments have tried to implement the politics of developing and promoting books. In the past, certain African states came together to form common African publishing houses. Such was the case with the Nouvelles Editions Africaines, NEA, established in 1972 by Senegal - my own country - Ivory-Coast and Togo. Unfortunately, this seventeen year partnership came to an end in 1989 and each country went its own way with its own Nouvelles Editions: certainly not as strong alone, but having retained a definite vitality in the case of the Nouvelles Editions Africaines du Sénegal (NEAS) and the Nouvelles Editions Ivoiriennes (NEI).
The book is also a powerful instrument of affirmation and reinforcement of African identity. As a matter of fact, Black Africa, since ancient times, has never ignored or failed to open-up to others, to diversify contacts and to engage in fruitful exchanges. However, it does not mean that today Africa should succumb to the temptation of uniformity that compromises the positive aspects of globalisation. Africa should not abandon the idea of preserving its own personality, civilisation and culture. Like much more powerful regions, African countries claim the right to difference and cultural exception. Indeed there is no advantage for any nation to abandon the core values that make it a living community: its common memories and its collective future.
Far from an instrument of self-enclosure, inward looking and narcissistic, the book is a means of dialogue, of reciprocal discovery, of exchanges with others. In short, it is a powerful means of universalisation, a meaningful and intimate way to foster intercourse between different men and countries. For in all human experience, idiosyncratic as it may appear initially, there is always an omnipresence that speaks to others, inviting and calling them towards self-recognition. This is one of the meanings that can be given to the famous words of Terence Homo sum, humani nil a me alienum.
Beyond the fundamental motivation of any research, one of the aims pursued by my book L'interpretation des rêves dans la région sénégambienne is to develop human knowledge and to refine our understanding of the world; to determine to what extent Senegambian and universal imaginary overlap in such a way that for example, an Australian living far away from that region could understand, by reading such dreamlike symbolism or learning of such a dreamlike experience, how the Senegambian - in his very intimacy - is suddenly so close, at the very same time when he is taking the measure of his difference; a difference which is nevertheless not of an irreducible order. In conclusion, this book should illustrate, in a limited but essential field, how men, whilst being different are nonetheless close to one another; how, practically, in a specific sphere of human life "universalism and particularism, globality and diversity are in reality linked, but without falling into the traps of culturalism or relativism". (Samb 1999 : 140).
This is why, addressing a learned assembly of publishers, professional writiers, academics and erudites, I express the wish that L'interpretation des rêves dans la région sénégambienne may very soon be translated at least into English, German and Japanese, with a view to informing a wider audience of the psychological intimacy and the deep mechanisms of the imaginary of African Blacks. The late Schiochi Noma would certainly have not disowned such an intention.
To conclude, I am happy to remind all our friends, and particularly all publishers and book-professionals, that the NEAS have charged me to be their representative and to carry out all useful contacts and exchanges at whatever level. They extend to the Jury of the Noma Prize their great satisfaction for the high distinction awarded, which is an honour for Senegal, the Greece of Black Africa, and the NEAS itself. They reaffirm their support for the important endeavours of the Noma Prize, a prize contributing greatly to the expansion of publishing in Africa. In their view, there cannot be a better reward for you than knowing that in awarding this prestigious prize, you yave earned everyone's gratitude and recognition forever.
(Translated by Helen Embling)
Battestini, S. Ecriture et texte : contribution africaine. Québec, Ottawa: PUL ; Paris: Présence Africaine, 1997.
El Bekri. Description de l'Afrique septentrionale. Trad. par Mac Guckin de Slane. Ed. rev. et corrigée. Paris : Maisonneuve, 1963. (Texte arabe).
Ibn Batoutah. Voyages d'Ibn Batoutah. Texte arabe, accompagné d'une traduction par G. Degrémery et B. R. Sanguinetti. Paris : Imprimerie nationale, 1922.
Ibn Khaldoun. Histoire des Berbères et des dynasties musulmanes de l'Afrique septentrionale. t. 2. Trad. de l'arabe par Le Baron de Slane. Nouv. éd. publ. sous la direction de P. Casanova. Paris : P. Geuthner, 1927.
Léon l'Africain, Jean. Description de l'Afrique : Tierce partie du monde. vol. 3. Nouvelle édition annotée par Ch. Schefer. Paris : E. Leroux, 1898.
Samb, D. Comprendre Abdou Diouf : Chroniques politiques Dakar : H2000, 1999.
Professor Djibril Samb is the Director of l'Institut Fondamental d'Afrique Noire Anta Diop in Dakar. He is Commandeur de l'Ordre du mérite and a Lauréat of the French Academy . A philosophe specialised in Plato's dialogues, he is also a fine connoisseur of Senegalese culture.
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