The Importance of Incorporating African Literature into Portuguese Studies

The beauty of reading is that it transports you into another world, sometimes reviving the past, other times reflecting the present or even predicting a future. We read to see humans and their instincts, which are relatable and often flawed. Though teachers are working on developing syllabuses to be more inclusive to wider readers, there is still a lack of representation of works across the globe.

This article will discuss various texts from Lusophone Africa, meaning Portuguese-speaking countries such as Angola and Mozambique. It will explore why it is important as a language student to study texts from not only the origin country of a language, but also from countries that were colonised by this origin country. By doing so, we uncover a vastly different historical context and perspective, allowing for a broader and more informed exploration of the language as a whole.

‘Luanda, Lisboa, Paraíso’ and the “Portuguese Dream”

Portugal’s long colonial empire is embedded into the country, with the Monument of the Discoveries in Lisbon causing controversy as a towering reminder of the beginning of colonialism in South America. Rather than focusing on texts such as Camões which exalt colonialism and the “Discoveries,” it would be more informative to study books from the other perspective.

‘Luanda, Lisboa, Paraíso’ (Luanda, Lisbon, Paradise) by Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida is a novel about a black Angolan father and son who move to Lisbon and their experience moving to Portugal hoping for better opportunities. Almeida’s novel highlights the lack of space in Europe physically and metaphorically for them despite it bearing down over Africa’s land and language. They are alienated there and rest in a limbo-like state, reflecting the reality of the migrant African experience in Europe, which in turn offers a wider perspective on life in Europe from a foreign citizen’s view.

Pepetela’s ‘A Gloriosa Família;’ Angola in the past and present

Similarly, Pepetela wrote his novels during the 20th century as a revolutionary effort for Angolan independence, and his novel “A Gloriosa Família’ (The Glorious Family) centres around a Flemish catholic family during the Dutch invasion of Angola, from the perspective of their mute, mixed race slave who is never named. He breaks down the pretence of this great family through their family feuds, secret relationships, and cruelty. Despite his physical voicelessness, the nameless narrator has complete control over the story we are told, and it is implied he is the author of the novel itself, destroying this family from the inside despite his apparent obedience.

The novel is an important read due to its reflection on Angolan politics in the 20th century within a 17th century context, hinting at the fall of corrupt powers being inevitable and the continual cycle of these systems. Despite this pessimism, he demonstrates that goodness can prevail, and gives a voice to a disenfranchised figure who otherwise would be forgotten.

Fighting for complete equality; Noémia de Sousa

Poet and revolutionary during the fight for Mozambican independence attained in 1975, Noémia de Sousa presents Mozambique as a space that epitomises diversity in her collection of poems ‘Sangue Negro’ (Black Blood). She acknowledges the linguistic accumulation of Portuguese, English and Ronga and the code-switching custom in Mozambique, as well as women’s role in the fight for the nation’s independence. Additionally, she discusses the concept of “Mãe África” (Mother Africa), in which colonised African land is associated with the female body.

From this she reinterprets the ‘Mother Africa’ theory to the black female’s relationship with her African heritage or “sangue negro,” and gives an intersectional perspective of what being Mozambican means, which was not common during the time. After independence, her image was reinvented by male politicians who presented her as a kindly mother figure and ignored her revolutionary involvement in the wars. Nowadays, she is recognised for her works, due to new approaches to black female literature. Studying Sousa is fascinating as she is one of the first female writers to depict the black female perspective on heritage and the fight for racial and gender equality.

Isabela Figueiredo; transparent African literature

Finally, Isabela Figueiredo’s “Caderno de Memórias Coloniais” (Notebook of Colonial Memories) is another African text worthy of being part of modern language syllabuses and our wider reading lists.

The book was originally a series of blog posts on her personal website ‘Novo Mundo,’ where writes nostalgic memoirs of her childhood as well as reviews for films and books. She accumulated her posts about memories of her childhood in Lourenço Marques, now Maputo, detailing the discrimination she viewed around her as well as her relationship with her father, a Portuguese born electrician. 

The father-daughter relationship faces difficulties due to conflicting beliefs about race, gender, and social position. This text brutally depicts the racist and bigoted thoughts of white people towards black people in Mozambique from the perspective of a child overhearing adults. Through the course of the chapters the protagonist, based on Figueiredo herself, experiences her coming of age intertwined with a conflict between her society’s social expectations and her own morality.

(“People do not change. A white person who has lived colonialism will be a white person that has lived colonialism until the day they die. And all my truth will be a betrayal to them. These words, a betrayal.” Isabela Figueiredo)

Figueiredo also tackles an interesting and forgotten group called the “retornados” (the returners), who were generally third- or fourth-generation white Mozambicans of Portuguese origin who fled Mozambique after the country gained independence. The “retornados” faced an identity limbo due to leaving their native country to avoid the violence of the war but were rejected by the Portuguese for being from Africa.

Figueiredo however does not victimise herself or her family and is transparent with the reality of the racism in her society, especially in respect to her father’s violent and often lustful actions towards black people. She also makes clear that these attitudes were not unique to her father but rather the horrifying status quo of racial relations in 1970s Mozambique. 

These texts are brilliant examples of African authors that should be integrated into our syllabuses and wider reading. Offering alternative perspectives from what has been historically taught at universities, these books tackle many themes and issues that are interesting to students and important to learn about in order to have a broader understanding of the world. 

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