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African Literature: Overview to African Literatures



The overview to African literatures follows literary trajectories across the Horn, East and West Africa.
As a departure point it will start off with an introduction to African oral literatures with an emphasis on most prominent genres across the continent, such as praise poetry, elegiac and religious poetry; these forms will be also studied in relation to contemporary practices such as live performances or poetry competitions. Special attention will be paid to the complex relation between orality and literacy, which does not only characterize the novel, but also pertains earlier manuscript traditions in African languages (e.g. in Wolof, Hausa, Fulani, Harari and Swahili) which have adapted Arabic script as a writing system . In this respect , the ‘ajami traditions and literatures from across East and West African will be investigated. The question of orality will be then analyzed with reference to early examples of African novels such as (Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Matigari) , and one of the earliest African language novels (Thomas Mofolo, Chaka) : What happens when songs and praise poems become adapted in the novel? Also close readings searching for the presence of poetic inserts, quotations and proverbs in the novels will be conducted and analyzed. Lastly fiction and commitment in literature will be a theme analyzed through novels engaging with haunting memories of the Rwandan genocide (Boubakar Boris Diop, Murambi) or the Somali civil war (Nurruddin Farah, Links ). These novels will be particularly studied in relation to the literary devices such as humor , allegory and satire which the writers have used to speak about the unspeakable.

Course objectives

  • Students will be provided overview of literary genres in Africa

  • They will get introduced to key features and debates of African language literatures

  • Students will acquire skills to read and interpret African language poetry

  • Special emphasis will be put on critical techniques of textual comparisons



Mode of instruction


Course Load

140 hours (5 ECTS):

  • Attending classes: 26 hrs

  • Assessment hours (take-home-exam): 4 hrs

  • Time for studying the compulsory literature: 65 hrs

  • Time for completing assignments: 45 hrs.


Mid-term written examination (25%)
Final written examination (75%)
To complete the final mark, please take notice of the following:
the final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average


There is one opportunity for a re-sit of the entire course (100%).

Exam review

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


Blackboard will be used to provide information on the syllabus, required readings, power points by the lecturers and other. Blackboard


The following list is indicative. Please consult the syllabus and the course shelf for more detailed information.

Andrzejewski, B.W. (ed.) (2011). “The role of poetic inserts in the novel Aqoondarro waa u Nacab Jacayl, by Faarax M.J. Cawl”
Barber, K. (2007). The Anthropology of Texts, Persons and Publics
Eillen, J. (1992) . African novels and the questions of orality
Finnegan, R. (2012) [1976]. Oral Literature in Africa
Odun Balogun, F. (1995). “Matigari: An African Novel as Oral Narrative Performance”. In: Oral Tradition, 10(1), pp.129-65
Ricard, A. (2004). The Languages and Literatures of Africa
Amos Tutola, The Palm-Wine Drinkard
Diop, B. Murambi
Faraax, M. J. Cawl Aqoondarro waa u Nacab Jacayl (‘Ignorance is the enemy of love’)
Farah, N. Links
Mofolo, T. Chaka
Thiong’o, N. wa Matigari

Reading list

Will be communicated through BlackBoard.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte

Registration Contractonderwijs


For questions about the content of the course, please contact the teacher: Annachiara Raia