National University of Lesotho
Colonial education used themes, illustrations, values, and methodology that were largely ill adapted to the intellectual, economic, and personal needs of the colonized. Children's literature was no exception to this rule by which Colonialism operated what Paulo Freire would call Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968). Some texts written during the colonial era as well as others produced thereafter endeavoured, however, to address this lacuna but the scope of the effort has remained largely insufficient. One of the major areas where this inadequacy in children's literature is so evident is the issue of race. Children's literature in Black Africa has not sufficiently harnessed race, either as a theme or subject matter for the upliftment of the racial sensibilities and pride of the Black African child. Ideas about how people feel and how they act are, thus, partly constructed and inculcated through stories which employ a complex network of images, codes, and a language which capture or build a symbolic narrative that expresses an ideology of who people are, how they (should) feel and how they should act. Their perception of what is right or wrong, what is normal or abnormal, what is possible or what is impossible are largely influenced by the constructed context of their peculiar stories. All these different ways in which literature functions have enormous value for both children and adults. For children in particular this is because:
The present article concerns itself with Black Africa's children, not because of the doubtful claim that "the temptation of racism is the most commonly shared thing in the world", but for the obvious reason that there exists an African (if not an international Black) image crisis. It is not within the scope of this article to address the complexity of the causes and props that nurture and continue to sustain that image of ridicule and contempt. Suffice it to say that across the centuries, those who alone were classified by Herodotus (484 B.C. to 425 B.C.), "father of History", as the "race" of "Egyptians" "... who have black skin and kinky hair" have found themselves fallen into what Diderot calls "l'état d'un homme qui, par la force ou par des conventions, a perdu la proprieté de sa personne, et dont un maître a disposé comme de sa chose". Though other races have equally found themselves in this same state at one time or another in their history, the curious general impression has been created that it is peculiar to, or should be characteristically associated with, Black people. The article concentrates on Black African children for the additional reason that those children belong to those of whom Montesquieu in his Discours sur L'Esclavage denotes as "Ceux dont il s'agit sont noirs depuis la tête jusqu'aux pieds et ils ont le nez si écrasé qu'il est impossible [pour les autres] d'avoir pitié d'eux.". Thus, then as before, the responsibility for their upliftment depended on themselves. This situation underlines the need to impress upon the infants of this group about the nature of the unique responsibility that awaits them in their adulthood as heirs to a deliberately distorted past. (See Chancellor William's The Destruction of Black Civilization; Cheik Anta Diop's Egyptian Civilization; W.E.B. Dubois' The Soul of Black Folks' and, Marcus Garvey's 'Back to Africa Movement'.) Thus, the Black African child is a member of a racial group whose maturity, humanity and equality have been dishonestly and assiduously denied by individuals such as Schweitzer, Gobineau, Voltaire, Hegel and generally the civilizations from whose perspectives they as individuals spoke. These factors, rather than the universal nature of the phenomena of colonization and slavery, constitute the distinctive heritage of the Black African child. For instance, in present day Egypt, America, and post-Apartheid South Africa, the Black African child is at a loss as to why he/she is ridiculed and called names: "Samara", "Nigger", and "Kaffir" respectively. There is thus the need to address the deeper implications of this type of scenario which caused an African-American philosopher, Alain Lock, to comment that:
The complexity of this heritage demands that raising this Black African child into a self-confident and responsible adult should involve a process of selection and interpretation of specific inter-racial experiences. Hesse and Lawton, for instance, make the psychological point that:
As regards the need of the Black African child these needs must be tackled in a manner that addresses, from an inter-racial perspective, Adams' observation that "Much African social education seeks to strengthen unity by teaching children the rules of conduct and the appropriate manner of interaction with other members of the community". This is because the contemporary racial configuration, international economic disparities, and the influence of mass media on children, demands that the safeguarding of the self-esteem of the Black African child requires an education which balances the parameters of communal expectations with those of the exigencies of international reckoning.
So entangling is this problem there is a tendency to be easily tempted to seek quick and fast remedies which ignore the raw facts of physiology and opt for a dissolution, so to speak, of races. Mosley captured examples of such views when he observed that:
Mosley goes on to contend, and rightly, that:
For the Black African child in particular, the need for self-identification is crucial in this respect. (S)he must answer the question: who am I? as a first step in refuting the claims of inferiority which other races, out of ignorance or dishonesty, have imposed on him/her. The fear is that for want of effective preparation for adulthood succeeding generations of these prospective adults can lose much of their dignity, sense of responsibility, Black identity and self-pride. This is what makes the racially conscious instruction of the Black African child most expedient.
Literature, both oral and written, is naturally an important vehicle for this preparation. Present-day writers of children's literature for Black Africa can benefit from the exploration of ancient racist models and how their victims undermined and defeated such misconceptions. A commonly known example whose African equivalents, both ancient and contemporary, can be explored in the story of Alexander the Great.
It must be remembered that as a child Alexander was personally instructed and trained by Aristotle, who believed and taught that:
Green explains this Aristotelian prejudice as follows:
Today variants of such pretension linger to the shame of civilization. The circumstances that nourish these attitudes are definitely not intellectual, natural, or singularly economic and political. Yet attempts to counter the supposed inferiority of the Black race have not recorded much success. The reason is that such efforts have not been specifically directed at Black children as such.
A dynamic attempt at such a Black revivalist scheme was attempted under Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana before his one-party government was overthrown in 1966 in a military coup d'Etat orchestrated by (many believe and not without reason) the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The "Young Pioneer" under Nkrumah was a Movement which exalted the values of African liberation and unity. Its appeal was mainly in the primary and secondary schools. Uniforms and scarves, songs and ceremonies, books and stories were part of the insignia by which these ideals of Pan-Africanism were inculcated to children. The supplementary French Course reader, Kwame Nkrumah de la Nouvelle Afrique, typified the continental dimension of this appeal. In 1980 this trend resurged when the Green Haven Press published Nyerere and Nkrumah, a thirty-page Middle School Reader written by David Kallingray.
It must be noted that earlier Ghanaian writers of children's books, especially in the vernacular, did make mention of other races. For example, one of the memorable pages of the Akan primary school books Kan me hwe and Efie ne sukuu was the statement: "Kofi Suro obroni, Ama dee onnsuro" (Kofi is scared of the White man, but Ama is not). It would have been proper for subsequent books to take it from there and explore inter-racial attitudes among children as a way of bridging any gap of self-esteem and image and of enhancing mutual racial understanding by the use of children's literature. This did not happen and still remains to be done.
One of the effects is that the theme of race relations remains largely unexplored thereby stifling children's understanding of racial stereotyping and insight into how to handle such issues. Another is that even writers whose racial origin and unbiased African experience made them well placed to explore the issue shied away from the inter-racial theme. One such example is Peggy Appiah. Born in 1921, she arrived in Ghana in 1954 with her Ghanaian husband and started actively writing and publishing children's literature in 1961. Her familiarity with children's books of both colonial and postcolonial society, her concern for children's education and expertise in children's literature should have translated to inter-racial concerns. None of her numerous children's books deals with issues of racial perception, a subject which she is most competent to treat to the incalculable benefit of endless generations of children whose linguistic skills, intellect, personality, morals, creativity and racial sensitivities could have been cultivated. Alas!
That countless such writers have not explored such a theme is partly explicable in the wider context of the neglect to which this theme has been consigned on account of the dominance of the exhortation of negritude and African personality. Guy Tirolien's Je ne veux plus aller à leur école as well as David Diop's Le Blanc a tué mon père are typical examples.
Children's books continued to privilege the values of pre-colonial Africa. For example, it is noted that Hayfron-Benjamin's children's book, The beginning of Jealousy (2000) is "a collection of three African moral Folktales. Text and full colour illustration incorporating the African scene appear on each double page to enable teachers, parents, and children enjoy traditional tales from the African culture and to encourage and reinforce reader's multiculturalism". However, this multiculturalism is barely nominal, limited as it is to the expression or retelling of African stories in a 'foreign' language. The text says little about other cultures and offers no perception of the Black African child on other cultures or civilizations. Laudable though it is, the teaching of African stories to Black African children without any exposure or reference and insight into the cultures of other people, reinforces the child's ignorance about other races and hence makes him/her susceptible to future manipulations such as those intended to let him/her believe that his/her race is inferior and the only one that has been subjected to slavery, colonization and ridicule by other races. This critique is equally applicable to Ofori-Atta'a book, The Iguana and the Mosquito (1999), as well as Opong's book, Around the African Fire (1993). In order to help the Black African child "to cope with the racial social pressures that confront them..." we need to offer them "protection against social mythology in all its forms: entertainment, advertisement, propaganda, ...stereotype...". The Black African child must be acquainted with comparative information about the past and present conditions of different races.
It is to this end that children's teachers seeking to raise a future society of racial harmony and pride have always endeavoured to secure contents tailored to meets this objective. Many of the methodologies for such concerns are akin to what Lebbo and Sherry describe when they identify the following as a checklist for evaluating culturally diverse literature:
Such criteria will produce the kind of children's literature that will seriously address the issue of the long-term preparation of the Black African child for racial pride and responsible citizenship. Again, such literature must help the helpless Black child in the care of White-staffed Children's Homes in order to avoid self-pity and perpetual dependence on hand-outs and relief from people of different race and continents. It must prepare them, instead, for an acknowledgement of their racial identity and affirm their equality, even in the face of all the temporary setbacks they might face.
It must be noted in this connection, therefore, that in the context of the Black African child what constitutes "good literature" on any occasion is driven by the single motive of the need to emancipate them from any prejudicial, dishonest, and ignorant myths that could impact negatively on their future aspirations and ambitions. Such a literary disposition must not shy away from issues of racism, religious intolerance, poverty, personal independence, in the name of not stirring racial antipathy. The objective of inculcating mutual racial respect, honesty, a sense of duty and responsibility transcends any imagined disadvantage of a race-centred Black African children's literary project.
Such a scheme would be most useful in the Sudan, for instance, "... where children are the worst affected among those whose lives have been atrophied by the political violence. For instance, concerning enslavement, rape, abduction and murder, amputations and forced Islamization in the Sudan, Eiffel has noted that:
Some have reprimanded the international community and the civilized world for turning a blind eye to this extermination in which "Women and children bear the brunt of these attacks. Antonov cargo planes periodically fly over the villages, bombs rolling out their back hatches with no effort made at hitting specific targets. Those that explode are more likely to maim than kill".
The cycle will be broken by raising one generation of children who will pass on to succeeding ones the hollowness of racial inequality and spite. This should go far beyond the simple explanation of African culture as done by Margaret Musgrove in her, nonetheless admirable children's picture book entitled Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions. In it "Twenty six African traditions are explained--Ashanti weavers who make beautiful cloth, Zulu dancers who salute their chief, and Masai men who groom their hair with clay and cow grease. Rich, colourful illustrations depict each tradition". Its expansion to cover the exploration of past and present inter-racial issues will enlighten and habituate children of all races to understand how, when, why and by who racism was invented. These will yield more relevant results than anything that can be achieved by the conventional themes hitherto presented to the Black African child by sympathetic outsiders.
It must be noted accordingly that in addition to the plethora of historical records and the multitude of Black personalities worldwide, children's books for Black African children can also draw on the achievements of present day Black people in areas as diverse as scientific invention, sport, politics, commerce, farming and the army. Such is the vision of hope and hard work that must motivate those who will, through children's education, uplift the image, standard of living and spiritual pride of those of whom Dubois noted: "Being a problem is a strange experience".
 Cited in Glazer, Joan I. Literature for Young Children, Columbus: Charles E. Merrill Publishing Company, 1986, p. 50.
 Plato, The Republic II.378D-E.
 Memmi, Albert. Racism, Minneapolis: University Press of Minnesota, 2000, p. 129.
 Herodotus, 'Father of History', cited in Mokhtar, G. (ed.), Ancient Civilizations of Africa, UNESCO. General History of Africa, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990, p. 21. "It is in fact manifest that the Colchidians are Egyptians by race ... several Egyptians told me that in their opinion the Colchidians were descended from soldiers of Sesostris. I had conjectured as much myself from two pointers, firstly because they have black skins and kinky hair and secondly and more reliably for the reason that alone among mankind the Egyptians and Ethiopians have practised circumcision since time immemorial. The Phoenicians and Syrians of Palestine themselves admit that they learnt the practice from the Egyptians while the Syrians in the River Thermodon and Pathenios region and their neighbours the Macronssay, learned it recently from the Colchidian."
 Diderot. Histoire Philosophique et Politique du Commerce et des Etablissement des Européens dans les deux Indes, Edition de 1780, Neuchatel, 10 vols. (8, ch. 24); see especially pp. 248-289. Cited by Duchet, Michel, "Au Temps des Philosophes", in Notre Librairie, No. 90 Otobre-Decembre 1987, p. 32
 Montesquieu. 'De L'Esclavge des Nègres' cited in Lagarde, A. and Michard, L. XVIIIe Siècle: Les Grands Auteurs Français du Programme, Paris: Bordas, 1970, pp. 108-9.
 Quoted from "The New Negro" by Skerrett Jr., Joseph T. Literature, Race and Ethnicity: Contending American Identities, New York: Longman, 2002, p. 7.
 Hesse, Marie and Lawton, Robin. The New Owl Critic: An Introduction to Literary Criticism, Cape Town: Nasou Limited, p. 3.
 Adams, Milton A. "Behavioral Objectives, Processes and Outcomes in African Traditional Education", in Présence Africaine, No. 125, 1983, p. 137.
 Mosley, Albert. "Are Racial Categories Racist?" in Reasearch in African Literatures, Vol. 28, No. 4, Winter 1997, p. 101.
 ibid., p. 109.
 Aristotle. Politics, Book 7, Chapter 7.
 Green. Peter. Alexander the Great, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1970, p. 40.
 See; Rooney, David. Kwame Nkrumah: The Political Kingdom in the Third World, London: I. B. Tauris & Co Publishers, 1988, pp. 252-54.
 See: Nkrumah, Kwame. Dark Days in Ghana, London: Panaf, 1976, p. 182.
 Hayfron-Benjamin, E. The Beginning of Jealousy and Other Folktales, Accra: Sedco Publishing Ltd., 2000, p. 1.
 Glenna Davis Sloan. The Child as Critic, New York: Teacher's College Press, 1975. Cited by Glazer Joan I. Literature for Young Children, Columbus: Charles E. Merrill Publishing Company, 1986, p. 50.
 Labbo, Linda D. and Field, Sherry L. "Visiting South Africa through children's literature: Is it worth the trip?", in Reading Teacher, March 98, Vol. 51, Issue 6, p. 464.
 See: Bonn, Marta; Earle, Dave. "South African children's views of wealth, poverty, inequality and unemployment", in Journal of Economic Psychology, Oct. 99, Vol. 20 Issue 5, p. 593.
 "Local groups try to make parents and other adults realize that no matter how heinous the crimes, the children did not commit them in a vacuum. Sierra Leone's war, and the economic, political and social conditions which sparked it off, caused these children to become killing machines." http://www.rnw.nl/humanrights/html/reintegration.html
 Eric Bauchemin. "Innocence Lost", http://www.rnw.nl/humanrights/html/childsoldiers.html Radio Netherland International.
 Brown, Charles J. "The lost generation", in Freedom Review, Aug. 1994, Vol. 25 Issue 4, p. 29.
 See: Brown, Charles J, "The lost generation.", in Freedom Review, Aug. 1994, Vol. 25 Issue 4, p. 29.
 Lamenting these executions in Southern Sudan, Hentoff notes: "I saw nothing about these in American Newspapers, on television, or in any other media. If seven white school children had been summarily executed in Kosovo, or Bosnia, would some attention have been paid in the press here". Hentoff, Nat. "The Execution of Black Children", in Village Voice, 2 June 2001, Vol. 46, Issue 5, p. 1.
 See the works of Chancellor Williams or Cheik Anta Diop, for instance. Also see the Issue of the Journal Notre Librairie No. 90 October-December 1987, titled "Images du Noir dans la Littérature Occidentale : I. Du Moyen-Age à la Conquête Coloniale".
 W. E. B. Dubois. The Soul of Black Folk, 1903.
|Kwaku Asante-Darko currently lectures in Literary Theory, African Literature, and Creative Writing at the National University of Lesotho. He was born in the Ashanti (i.e., Asante) Region of Ghana and studied French, History, and Comparative Literature at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi and Université du Bénin in Lomé, Togo. He also studied International Relations as well as French Language and Pedagogy in France at the Université Pierre Mendez France and at the Université Stendhal. His analysis of African economic issues was internationally acknowledged in 1991 when he won the First Prize of the International Essay Competition organized by Lord Peter Tomas Bauer through the Ghana Economic Council on the topic: "Africa's Economic Growth: Aid or Trade?" His most recent journal publications are on issues of Globalization and African Renaissance, Ecology and African Literature, and Racial Reconciliation in African Literature. Among these are The Challenge of Globalist Perceptions in a Literary and Political Theory, Arobase Vol. 3, No. 1, Winter 1998 ; Language and Culture in African Postcolonial Literature, CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture: A WWWeb Journal 2.1 (2000).|
|Some other articles by Kwaku Asante-Darko|
African sport as a committed art: "Burkina 98" and beyond
Discourse, tradition, and power in a literary transition
Reggae rhetoric and the Pan-African risorgimento
Pitfalls in the African brain drain discourse