Monday, September 6, 2021

Memories and dreams of an East African Literary Paradis


Memories and dreams of an East African literary paradise 



Cyprian Fernandes, Twilight of the Exile File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • I was deeply delighted to hear from Mr Cyprian Fernandes, the author of Twilight of the Exiles.
  • I was particularly touched by Cyprian Fernandes’ communication for three reasons.

Last week, I perpetrated a terminological inaccuracy. In simple plain words, which are the best in English, I made a mistake. My mistake was to say “literalise” instead of “literarise”. This latter one is rare, and your computer may jump at it with a red underline, but it exists.

To literarise is to render or interpret texts in literary form, focusing on their creative or artistic use of language. Peter Nazareth, whom we discussed, literarised Elvis Presley by highlighting the creative linguistic features of his lyrics. To literalise, on the other hand, is simply to put in written form.

Today, however, I muse over our East African scribbling community and its web of relationships across our borders, nationalities and other identities. I mix my observations with memories and wishes to share with you my indelible conviction about our indissoluble oneness. 

I was deeply delighted to hear from Mr Cyprian Fernandes, the author of Twilight of the Exiles. You will remember my mentioning him in my article on the East African literary guru, Peter Nazareth. Fernandes had seen (and liked) the article, and he wrote to say that he, too, was a friend of Nazareth.

I was particularly touched by Cyprian Fernandes’ communication for three reasons. One obvious one is his distinguished connection to the Nation Media Group. Secondly, I discovered that Mr Fernandes is a first-hand and excellent authority on the topic that I was trying to explore, that is, our interactions with all our citizens, regardless of their ethnicities. Finally, Ndugu Fernandes’ revelation of our mutual friendship to Peter Nazareth reminded me of the multi-layered relationships among East African writers and academics that have made our lives and careers.

Cyprian Fernandes is a prolific writer. I believe he has a very active blog called “Headlines of my life”. He told me that he has some three books to his name, and kindly offered to let me have a look at them. Long-time readers of the Nation, like me, will probably best remember Fernandes from his long tenure at this paper and its sisters.

Creative projects

In their time at what is now the NMG, professionals like Fernandes and his contemporaries, as both writers and editorial directors, set such high standards of journalism that all of us who follow in their footsteps have to keep struggling to maintain at least a semblance of their excellence. Being noticed by such a celebrity left me feeling good.

More importantly, Fernandes’ inside view of the “Goan” experience in East Africa keeps me wondering about what we ought to do to ensure that we do not lose any more of our compatriots, friends, and even relatives, through exile. 

How do we avoid crudities like Amin’s expulsions or the insidious behaviour like the thinly-disguised discriminations that force many to leave or prevent others from coming back to the homes that they love? I noted that one of Fernandes’ books is called Yesterday in Paradise, reminding me of Yusuf Dawood’s Return to Paradise. In both cases, I believe, Paradise is East Africa. 

Finally, Cyprian Fernandes’ message reminded me of how close-knit a community we scribblers of the region are, despite the ages, distances and other circumstances that may separate us. I, for example, have benefited immensely from my association with East African literati working in both English and Kiswahili. 

I have not only collaborated on creative projects with Tanzanian and Kenyan colleagues, but also often adopted Tanzanian and Kenyan settings for my adventures.

East African linguists

Outstanding cross-border Kiswahili “collabos” include Pemban-Zanzibari maestro Said Ahmed Mohamed’s Kiti cha Enzi Moyoni (A Seat of Power in the Heart), co-edited with the late Ken Walibora, and Posa za Bi Kisiwa (The Suitors of Ms Island), with my friend, Prof Kitula King’ei. Goodreads, the quality publications online platform, recently recommended the best Kenyan books you should read during 2021. They include Mzee Ngugi’s A Grain of Wheat and Prof Emanuel Mbogo’s Vipuli vya Figo (Kidney Spares).

The fact, however, is that Prof Mbogo is a Tanzanian, currently based at the Open University of Tanzania (OUT). But his novel, about a failed doctor-politician who turns to making money by trafficking in human organs, qualifies to be called Kenyan. Its characters and settings are suggestively Kenyan. Prof Mbogo himself spent a lot of his own theatre and teaching career in Kenya, lecturing at Universities like Moi, Maseno and Kenyatta.

He joined KU after efforts to get him, and me, to set up a theatre arts department at one of the Rwanda University campuses fell through. The late Francis Imbuga had recommended us to take over from him when he returned to Kenya, and I had duly reported to Kigali and started some work. But I had had to return to Uganda, mainly for health reasons.

Prof Mbogo was being expected when I left, and I had hoped very much that he would show up and carry on with our East African endeavour. But when I next heard, he was at KU. I was glad for my old school, because Prof Mbogo is one of the most respected theatre academics and practitioners with an awe-inspiring corpus of theatre works, mostly in Kiswahili, to his name. But I was sorry for the then-struggling Rwandan institution.

I am yet to find out if my own abrupt departure had anything to do with Prof’s not taking up the Kigali assignment. I hope not. But these episodes illustrate how interwoven our academic and creative activities are in the region. When I reported to Kigali, I found that several of my former colleagues and students, from both Makerere and Kenyatta, were already teaching there. My ailment was certainly not homesickness.

We will save more adventures of East African linguists and literary troubadours across their vast country for another day. Meantime, however, we should be planning a real indaba, where all our people, scattered all over the world, like Valerie Kibera, Moyez Vassanji, Peter Nazareth and Cyprian Fernandes, would come home to Paradise.

Prof Bukenya is a leading East African scholar of English and literature.

1 comment:

  1. Reading about your comments to old friends, I am touched by the command of the English language.
    As a fool who fancy himself as knowing English, please allow me to indulge myself for a minute.
    My name is Farah Mohamed currently in Phoenix, Arizona, originally from Kenya.
    I am writing a little E book, on some of the forgotten African Freedom fighters, could anyone of you distinguished Professors be interested in looking into its authenticity, since at nearly 80 might represent some facts ?



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