Reclaiming African History

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For people to have a say in a globalized world, awareness of their own identity is crucial. History has played an important part in shaping identities. Yet in Africa, history and memory face a dilemma due to a specific narrative that took shape in colonial times: the colonists from Old Europe perceived their arrival in Africa to be the discovery of a continent without history. When they arrived, they had their own chroniclers on hand who filled the pages of African history as seen through the lens of the European.

Even today, post-colonial Africa still struggles with this misrepresentation that remains widely unchallenged. And yet, Africa is the cradle of mankind, with much to show for itself.

How can historians of the continent help set the picture right and contribute to a new understanding of African history? What needs to be done to balance the colonists' sources - and what role can oral history play in this undertaking?

Using the novel as a means of expressing alternative history has long been at the center of postcolonial literary theory, and works that utilize this approach have become a mainstay of the curricula of more progressive world literature courses globally. But it is a form that has not been dominated by female authors, and it has only recently become favored by writers from Africa.

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The time appears to have come for in-depth retellings and reclamations of what had previously been controlled by white European writers. In most instances, colonial histories are fraught with inaccuracies, distortions and simple falsifications.


From the first pages, Tshuma uses the less well-known story of the Gukurahundi massacres to anchor her narrative. Less lyrical than Vera, Tshuma is no less devastating in her descriptions of the torture and killing of thousands of Matabeleland civilians, and she goes no further than Vera in explaining why the massacres were ordered. Everywhere, odes to the past were being composed, sung, recited; here the past lived more vividly than the present, for there was no future that could be seen, no future to be imagined […] encouraging us to always look back.

As a princess of the Gonja people, Wurche expects to get everything she wants, and she takes a lover soon after she is strategically married to Prince Adnan of Dagbon.

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Meanwhile, a slave raid takes poor, teenaged Aminah from her family home in Botu. Moro the slave-trader has a smoldering allure that both women resist initially since they find his activities repugnant, but his story is complicated by the fact that he is a descendant of slaves himself.

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  6. We know, however, what bloody convulsions history has yet in store, as the Germans, British, and Ghanaians will continue to fight over her homeland well in to the 20th century. The courageous, probing works of Tshuma, Kimani, Attah, Owuor, Makumbi, and their cohort attempt to resurrect neglected narratives lost to the Kenyan, Zimbabwean, Ugandan, Ghanaian, and South African memory.

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