First Ten Years of Zambian Prose Fiction in English, 1964 to 1974/75

OKENIMKPE, N. M (1981)


The study examines the mode of emergence and pattern of growth of Zambian prose fiction in English in the decade from 1964-1975, and makes an attempt at identifying the thematic tendencies and analyzing the technical approaches of that body of writing. In the period, four full-length novels and several hundred short stories were published. It is upon this body of writing that primary attention is focused in the study. Each chapter takes up a separate aspect of the subject. Chapter One explains forms and standpoints. Chapter Two carries out a survey of the variegated background - historical, social, political and literary of current creative writing in Zambia: the distant indigenous past: the period of colonial rule and the ascendency of the white man: the period of Independence and the emergence of the new 'Humanist' political order: the folklore, and indigenous-language and early writings. It concludes that this background provides for Zambia as rich a background and, in some respects a richer one, for a vibrant literature as any of other African society has had. Chapter Three deals with the Story, which has remained to date the dominant form in which Zambian literature has been written. With a view to using the idea of degrees of overall success of individual stories for determining the pace of advancement of the literature, the stories are classified into five categories, ranging from the best to the weakest. Stories dealing with witch-craft and folklore are viewed as a separate entity which, even while cutting across the other classificational categories, demand unique qualities of their own for elevating them into acceptable artistic works of contemporary kinds. The chapter concludes that, although the bulk of the stories is deficient in one respect or the other, a sizeable number does achieve standards which point to an optimistic future for the growth of the short story form. Chapter Four discusses Zambia's first ever formally published novel, Andreya Masiye's Before Dawn. Its thematic intentions - centering around the author's own life and the notion of clash between African indigenous and alien cultures - is identified, and its merits examined. It is judged to be a novel which, in comparison with the conventional Western novel and the more remarkable African novels, could be deemed to have many faults but, as a story - the basic element of the novel - holds very well together and is very readable. It surely offers a worthy genesis for the Zambian novel. The first Zambian internationally known novel - Dominic Mulaisho's The Tongue of the Dumb - is the subject of Chapter Five. It is judged to be a definite advance on Before Dawn, and to rank higher than the generality of African novels. A penetrating focus on human character and behaviour turns an essentially socio-cultural novel into a shrewed probe of the psychology of political personality and ambition. Serious inconsistencies of plot tend to detract from the overall success of the novel. In Chapter Six, Gideon Phiri's two novels, Ticklish Sensation and Victims of Fate, are examined. Phiri deals with the theme of love and marriage, especially the agonizing process by which youth attain to the joys and responsibilities of these adult interests. He is not an entirely serious writer, and his conception and portrayal of love contains much crudity. However, his latter novel is an obvious improvement on the first and, so, he shows promise of growth. Chapter Seven - a sort of supplement to the introduction - examines the critical tenets of what has been called the Zambian literary Movement. This comprises al actions and activities, other than actual creative writing, undertaken by individuals or institutions (the government, educational establishments, publishing firms, voluntary organizations and others), in direct support of Zambian writing. It is considered that these activities have had a strong influence on the tendencies and quality of the writing examined from chapters Two to Five and that, to pass a valid judgement in the concluding chapter, it is necessary to gain an insight into the tenets of the movement. The chapter concludes that most institutions were disposed to lend support to the literature, but that while certain of their actions may have resulted in inter-group conflicts, some of their critical criteria may have demoralized the potential writer. Nonetheless, to these groups and individuals is due the credit for much valuable pioneering work. The concluding chapter identified the overall merits and lapses of the writing examined. Among the most serious of the weaknesses, there is the somewhat general inclination towards themes which are not of much serious relevance in the overall life of the Zambian society: romance among school children; urban petty crime; bar life; laxities in love and marriage, and so on. Much amateurishness in language use is also evident, and the concept of literature is still very much limited to the story element. On the credit side, a core of writers has attained real excellence to provide a firm basis for the future growth of the literature, six novels and a number of short stories, written in the period from 1976 to the present (1981) are briefly considered. They show that a lot of the lapses of the earlier period are being overcome, and that one can look forward to an immediate future of true greatness