Thursday, March 17, 2011

Indigenizing the World of Writing

Albert Wendt’s Nuanua stands as a shining testament that the art of writing is for all people. Sure colonialists might have introduced it to the “uncivilized” natives, but the native people in turn have taken writing and molded it to fit their own culture. Through using this alien technology, the indigenous can present their own homeland as they see it, how they see life and the people in it. As Wendt describes, they ‘indigenonize’ writing.

Like Rushdie’s mirror analogy, writing has many pieces, many angles. It can take several sides. Literature is the art in which the individual can fully express a diverse range of thoughts through one or many characters in a setting. In the case of post-colonial literature writing acts as a medium for the native people to affirm their identity. In his paper, Wendt describes in one of his sections that much of the colonists writing downplayed the people as merely “extras”, as the local savages to be converted and civilized. Such stories as Things Fall Apart, Love and Longing in Bombay, and Sons for the Return Home give these people, these ‘natives’, the literal chance to tell another story . The ones that outsiders might have originally overlooked. Such opportunities bring truth, allowing foreign eyes to intimately experience the homeland that they could only grasp from an outsider’s views. The writing gives the culture a voice, gives the individual a voice. The possibilities amass so that not only can an individual in a particular culture paint a picture of his homeland, but develop a unique homeland that they personally identify to. This is a freedom I feel all writers share in their work, but for those who follow who write in post colonial style I see a pattern of duality. On one side, the sense of immersion into the character’s world that is unmistakable. In Things Fall Apart Okonkwo’s story takes one through the Nigerian village and weaves for the reader a truly vivid image of the culture’s way of life. As the story progresses, the homeland Achebe creates changes as well, especially with the arrival of the white missionaries. Even here Achebe avoids the ‘single story’ by showing both the positive and negative approaches to conversion/ colonization. The connecting factor throughout all of this however is that this is Okonkwo’s story. The changes in this exterior setting also reflect changes to his own homeland, we see not only a different culture, we see it from his viewpoint and are able to reflect on how he (and others) were affected. By using the character of Okonkwo, Achebe has the freedom to explore different aspects of his homeland, while remaining true to the character he invented. Through telling Okonkwo’s story, Achebe brings to mind that every culture is composed of individuals just as unique as Okonkwo. Although united by culture, people/ characters still retain a unique identity.

When it comes down to it writing is so much bigger than post-colonial style. In many other cultures, by individuals in each, it is a way to freely present ideas and messages through the story. Even though they may take on different characters and archetypes, storytelling is unique to each writer. We all indigenize writing.

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