Out of Africa: Ecocriticism beyond Environmental Justice
This essay is an attempt to present a broader view of ecocriticism in Africa. Ecocriticism, in theory and practice, appears to have limited itself to the notion of environmental justice, with the aim of raising consciousness against institutional powers behind ecological crises. The reason for this is not far-fetched. International scholarship on African ecocriticism tends to focus on the activism of the Kenyan Wangari Mathai and the Nigerian Ken Saro-Wiwa; and on the fiction of a few writers concerned with environmentalism and conservation. This kind of ecocriticism, under the rubric of postcolonialism, is, in my view, narrow, too human-centred, and should, in fact, be decentred for an all-inclusive mapping of African ecocriticism. I attempt to shift this paradigm by foregrounding a narrative that stages the role and agency of nonhuman and spiritual materiality in practices that demonstrate nature-human relations since the pre-colonial period. I argue that for a proper delineation of the theory and practice of ecocriticism in Africa, attention should be paid to literary and cultural artefacts that depict Africa’s natural world in which humans sometimes find themselves helpless under the agency of other-than-human beings, with whom they negotiate the right path for the society. I conclude by making the point that a recognition of this natural world, and humans’ right place in it, is crucial to any ecocritical project that imagines an alternative to the present human-centred system.
Keywords: African ecocriticism, natural worlds, spiritual materiality, nonhuman agency
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