Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Black African Fantasy

Classical African art and oral tradition mix realistic, mystic and fantastic elements – and this influences modern fiction as well. Fantastic motifs can be found in a wide range of literary works, but only a few are fantastic as a whole.

One of the first examples of fantasy in modern African fiction is a part of Gandoki (1934) written in Hausa by the Nigerian Bello Kagara (1890-1971). The main part of this novel is set in late-19th-century Nigeria, as British rule widened into the central part of the country and local kings lost their powers. In the second half of the novel the fictitious king Gandoki loses his war with the British and escapes with a small group of allies to the Polder Salayana, somewhere in India, where he spends a few years among Ghosts and other supernatural beings. When at last he returns to his native land the novel reverts to realism.

Various religious fantasies, the main aim of which was to support Christianity against animist beliefs, are on the borderline of fantastic literature. Such works often combine Christian ideas with local settings – various sinners encounter Satan in Sekoting sa lihele ["In the Depths of Hell"] (1956) written in Sotho by D P Lebakeng, from Lesotho. A description of the Afterlife can be found in the novelette "Maphunye" (in coll Sebogoli sa Ntsoana-Tsatsi ["The Watcher of Ntsoana-Tsatsi"] 1943) by the Lesotho writer C R Moikangoa and in many other works. A more up-to-date variation is Mission to Gehenna (1989) by the Kenyan writer Karanja wa Kang'ethe.

Many fantastic fictions are Animal Fantasies. In traditional style is the collection À la belle étoile ["Under the Sky"] (coll 1962) written in French by Beniamin Matip, from Cameroon. An Orwellian approach was taken by Mallane Libakeng Maile from Lesotho in Pitso ea liphoofolo tsa hae ["The Meeting of the Domestic Animals"] (1956), a Satire in which animals discuss their bad treatment by humans. Animals acted as a major force in the fight against South Africa's aggression in Angola in E nas Florestas os Bichos Falaram ["And the Animals Started to Speak in the Forests"] (circa 1979), which was written in Portuguese by Maria Eugenia Neto, the wife of a former Angolan president.

As supernatural elements still form an integral part of today's African perception of Reality, they can also be found in mainly realistic works by major mainstream writers. A lake-God interferes with the life of a small traditional village in Le Chant du Lac ["The Song of a Lake"] (1965), written in French by Olympe Bhely-Quénum from Benin. A story of a nymph become human and revenging herself on her spirit husband, the Sea King, is The Concubine (1966), written in English by the Nigerian Elechi Amadi. Two ancestral spirits visit a small village to show how the world of the past looked in A Dance of the Forests (1963) by the Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka (1934-    ), from Nigeria. A few fantastic stories were written by other mainstream writers, including Camara Laye (1924-    ) from Guinea, Samuel Asare Konadu (1932-    ) from Ghana, Abioseh Nicole (1924-    ) from Sierra Leone and James T Ngugi (known also as Ngugi wa Thiongo; 1938-    ) from Kenya.

There is a lot of fantastic writing in the form of modern adaptations and reinterpretations of classical Legends and Myths; an early example is L'Arbre fétiche ["Tree Fetish"] (1963) and Kondo le Requin ["Shark Named Kondo"] (1965), both written in French by Jean Pliya (1931-    ) from Benin. A modern version of a classic tale of two brothers and their fight with a Monster is Tsoana-makhulo by L E Mahloane from Lesotho. One recent example of such works is an interpretation of Luo myth about a visit of a mysterious woman from an unknown Otherworld to a small Kenyan village, Miaha (1983; trans Okoth Okombo as The Strange Bride 1989), written in Dholuo by the Kenyan Grace Ogot (1930-    ).

The so-called "market literature" – fiction published mainly in pamphlet form and sold in East and West African marketplaces since the 1940s – is rich in fantastic elements. These adventures are a weird mixture of romance, thriller, spy and detective fiction, plus various types of fantasy. The influence of Western cinema is overt: local James Bond- and Superman-like characters are highly popular. A story where various supernatural characters interfere with the hero's life is Adili na nduguze ["Adili and His Brothers"], written in Swahili by Sh. Robert (probably Tanzanian). Ndoa ya Mzimuni ["Marriage in the Other World"] (1974), written in Swahili by Saidi M Nurru (probably a Kenyan), is a romance about a girl who kills her fiancé, who becomes a Spirit. More ambitious is Mfu aliyefufuka ["A Dead Man who Resuscitated"] (1974) by one of the best Swahili stylists, the Kenyan H C M Mbelwa.

Similar literary methods and themes to those found in market literature are visible in modern African adventure fictions. Although most of these are set in a real Africa – with its crime waves, political instability and wars – there are also supernatural motifs. A typical example is The Instrument (1980) by the Nigerian Victor Thorpe (1919-    ), which is a political thriller of a modern or near-future Nigeria torn with crime and terrorism, against which backdrop fight Good and Evil supernatural powers.

Two works interestingly combine various subgenres of fantastic literature. The Nigerian Umaru A Dembo's Tauraruwa mai wutsiya ["The Comet"] (1969), written in Hausa, seems at first to be sf – an extraterrestrial takes a small boy into space in his UFO – but most of their subsequent adventures are supernatural, with motifs drawn from the traditional beliefs and tales of the Hausa and also from the Arabian Nights (> Arabian Fantasy). Fantastic Horror is the theme of the collection Silence, cimetière! ["Silence, Cemetery!"] (coll 1979), written in French by the Senegalese Nabil Ali Haidar, an admirer of Edgar Allan Poe.

Only a few works of modern African fiction are fully fantasy, and all have been influenced by the Nigerian D O Fagunwa, author of five fantasy novels written in Yoruba. The direct influence of Fagunwa's style and themes is visible in Kórimále Nínú Igbó Adimúla ["Korimale in Adimula's Forest"] (1967), written in Yoruba by D I Fatanmi (1938-    ). The main character is much like one of Fagunwa's – a brave hunter travelling through a mysterious Forest full of supernatural beings. The popularity and success of Fagunwa stimulated other Yoruba writers – e.g., J Ogunsina Ogundele (1926-    ) and J Folahana Odunjo (1904-?   ) – to create their own fantasies. Ogundele's Ibú Olókun ["The Deeps where Olokun Reigns Supreme"] (1956) has as a main character a man who has Talents and is therefore involved in various Fantastic Voyages – from Earth to Heaven, to the depths of the ocean, etc.

Fagunwa directly influenced also the best-known African fantasy writer, Amos Tutuola, author of eight novels and a story collection. Although a Yoruba, Tutuola writes in a special kind of basic English, and his works have become more popular outside Africa than at home. [JO]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.