The African Past. Edited by Basil Davidson. Longmans. 30s.
Modern African Stories. Edited by Ellis Komey and Ezekiel Mphahele. Faber and Faber. 18s.
Modern African Prose. Edited by Richard Rive. Heinemann African Writers. 6s.
These are samplers to African history and literature, ingenuously implying total coverage: rather like those LPs which offer the whole of jazz from ragtime to pantonality in a dozen tracks, while understating that the selections all come from a single West Coast catalogue. Thus Davidson’s efforts ‘to consider African history as a whole’ (this, the first, is an anthology of ‘chronicles from Antiquity to Modern Times’) were originally excellent as a slap-down to the old orthodoxy that the only history was that of Europe-inAfrica, but are now beginning to retail the myth of their own bias. Instead of the Long Night of Barbarism, so essential to the colonial psyche, are we now maybe getting the Sweet Mediaeval Morn of the sentimental (European) humanist? There is a touch of the William Morris about Davidson, and a distinct lack of nuance to his perspective on old Africa, which I suspect to be less popular among educated Africans, than Anglo-Saxon liberals. Come clean. This is really a matter, not of history, but of contemporary political attitudes. The old campaign days are gone when English Left-wingers ‘interested in Africa’ were justified in the simple promotion of nearly everything indigenous to the continent as good and progressive. Loyalty has now to be a more complex and painful business, and isn’t that something which men like Davidson, Brockway and Hodgkin, whose attachment spans ‘before’ and ‘after’ phases of the struggle, should have learned only too well?
The special bias of the two literary anthologies is that, apart from the ritual extract from Laye’s L’Enfant Noir (and Rive apologizes for that!) and a solitary tale from Mozambique—almost the best thing in either book—the pieces come entirely from English-speaking Africa. The outstanding body of modern African prose is, of course, that of French Africa, and not the least harm done to the cause by publishers and foreign cultural agencies has been to abet the defensive ignorance of English-speaking writers about their French counterparts by promoting anthologies like these, and holding separate conferences (sometimes at the same campus in successive weeks) for ‘Writers of English/French Expression’.