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Voix éthniques, ethnic voices. Volume 2

Claudine Raynaud

African Voices

“Wɔta Don Pas Gari”: EnPi as the Post-Ethnic Voice in Nigeria

Chantal Zabus

Ken Saro-Wiwa
Writer and defender of the Ogoni cause, was unjustly imprisoned and hanged on November 10, 1995. This article is dedicated to him.

Texte intégral

  • 1 "Glottophagia" refers to the "devouring" of indigenous languages by the colonizing powers. The Fre (...)

1Susceptibility in post-colonial criticism of Sub-Saharan African literatures has developed around two household words: "tribe" (hence "tribal" and "tribalism") and "vernacular" (also "patois" and "dialect"). Whereas "tribe" allegedly harks back to the immutable, "always already" pre-literate, primitive clans cherished by anthropologists and ethnographers, "vernacular" with its negative Latin etymology (vernaculus = slave) has struck a sensitive chord among African(ist) linguists eager to promote the African languages demoted to the status of "dialects" and "patois" during the glottophagic process of colonization.1

  • 2 Samuel Purchas in Purchas his Pilgrimage, or Relations of the World and the Religions Observed in (...)
  • 3 See The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 1971) 313-314: (...)

2As a result of introducing a decolonized terminology, African "tribes" with their discordant dialects have been rehabilitated as "ethnic groups" speaking articulate languages worthy of study; this rediscovered ethnicity has put the Igbo of Nigeria on a par with, say, the Walloons of Belgium. Yet, to escape the prison-house of language will prove difficult, since the concept of ethnicity is itself heir to a tumultuous etymological history. "Ethnic" has indeed pertained in turn to nations which were neither Christian nor Jewish, that is, "Gentile, heathen, pagan"; to "heathen(ish) superstition" or what Samuel Purchas once called "mungrell-Christianity";2 to race(s); and to the science of races or ethnology. The Oxford English Dictionary lavishly dwells on "gentile" linguistic observations across the centuries: from the "gret distruccione Of ethnykis" (1375) through "all ethnike dooynges" (1470) to "the Tracherie of these rude aethnickes" (1534) or "Ethnysh Epicures" (1550) on to "the fury of the Ethnical Dragon" (1638).3

3Yet, despite this cumbersome ancestry, the word "ethnicity" retained, on African soil, some of its innocence, unlike in the United States, where its counterpart is enveloped in a mist of academic cynicism. After being duly "reinvented" (Fischer, 1986, 196) or "imagined" (Anderson, 1985, 62), the concept of ethnicity is now threatening to become obsolete. Werner Sollors thus concluded his Invention of Ethnicity (Sollors, 1989, 62) with the sophisticated weariness that late twentieth-century vanguard geneticists have displayed towards the receding concept of "race" Also, America has become wary of "as-a" criticism (e.g. as a white, person of color, gay man) since "Forrest Carter"'s The Education of Little Tree, billed as the autobiography of a Cherokee orphan, was unmasked as the work of the late Asa Earl Carter, "a Ku Klux Klan terrorist" and since the black jazz trumpeter Roy Eldrige's "blindfold test" revealed that he could not distinguish white musicians from black ones. As Henry Louis Gates, the African American Cassandra, truculently argued, "our literary judgments... [have] remain[ed] hostage to the ideology of authenticity", all the more so in a highly miscegenated polyethnic culture such as the American one (Gates, 1991).

4However, the main issue raised by this paper is not whether Africanness can be faked by non-Africans but whether literature in a language such as Pidgin, which is not ethnic per se but rather interethnic, constitutes a "post-ethnic" voice in Nigeria. In his groundbreaking, self-published novel, Sozaboy (1985), Ken Saro-Wiwa may be said to represent such a voice. In any case, his book signals a crisis of some sort: that matters have come to a head or, in EnPi (<NP = Nigerian Pidgin), "wɔta don pas gari."

5Sozaboy is a typical product of Anglophone West Africa. Indeed, the rigidity of the French linguistic assimilationist apparatus only allowed for the bungled emergence of a frail Pitineg whereas the more flexible language policies under British Indirect Rule permitted the development of a Pidgin on the verge of creolization such as ẸnPi. (Zabus, 1991, 92-101; Schnukal, 17-26) These markedly different policies may in turn be responsible for two almost irreconciliable critical trends. Our critical preoccupation with "post-ethnicity" in Anglophone Sub-Saharan Africa can thus be set against contemporaneous criticism of Francophone literature, i.e. Christopher Miller's Theories of Africans: Francophone Literature and Anthropology in Africa (1990). Miller's latest book rehabilitates not only the notion of ethnicity in an immutable, stable sense but also (meta-)anthropology as the ideal mode of intercultural critique.

  • 4 Miller also denounces Frantz Fanon and Amilcar Cabral for conceiving of ethnicity as "anything oth (...)

6Reacting against "anti-ethnophilosophers" such as Marcien Towa and making use of the theories advanced by the revisionist troika of meta-anthropologists — Clifford, Marcus and Fischer — Miller argues that ignorance of ethnicity is unethical, that "there is no real ethics without ethnicity" (63).4 Significantly, Miller's paradigm is the Mande of West Africa, and its inevitable linguistic corollary is Bamanankan, a variant of Mandekan, the language of the Mande. Here, the concept of ethnicity is rooted in the tangibly African mother tongue and, behind it, an identifiable ethnic group (here extended to an aire culturelle) that can trace its heritage to a common ancestry (i.e. the medieval Empire of Mali). Typically, the spoken word among the Mande is said to inchoate as an air bubble, which is then taken through the body's organs to the bladder where urine beautifies it before it is spewed forth by the mouth and thus enters the world (Zahan, 1979).

  • 5 "Polygenetic" means that each Pidgin is genetically related to the corresponding standard (Indo-Eu (...)

7Unlike many indigenous African languages which have enjoyed a grand itinerary under many suns, the Pidgin vocable has had a relatively short history. If anybody beautified it, it was the Liberian dockworkers of Kru origin or the students at Legon who identified with the Ghanaian lumpenproletariat and spoke Pidgin as in a defiant speech-act, out of protest. The origins of Pidgin, whether monogenetic or polygenetic,5 are essentially pragmatic and mercantile. Originally an auxiliary trade language born out of the first contacts between English and various other African languages, Pidgin has become a non-official lingua franca which has currency along the West Coast of Africa and, as such, illegitimately triumphs over the cacophonous Babel house of West African languages (from 200 to 300 for Nigeria alone). In present-day Nigeria, however, EnPi is becoming a mother tongue, a first language, after Freetown Krio, since Pidgin-speaking children of urban mixed families have been attested in the Delta cities of Warri, Sapele and Port Harcourt in Bendel and Rivers States. (Agheyisi, 1988, 299) One then wonders what future, if any, ẸnPi is likely to have as a literary medium in a society where one's ethnic identity is still conveyed through the ancestral mother tongue, which is in need of being rescued from the antiquated folklore where it has been relegated.

8The reader of (West) African Europhone literature used to have access to "ethnicity", "tradition", the African mother tongue, through ethnographic or anthropological material relegated to a glossary or footnotes. It was provided by such methods as contextualization (supplying an area of immediate context around the African word without translating it) or cushioning (tagging an English translation onto the African word or phrase). Or, more simply, an African character would inform another for the sake of the Western reader's understanding. (Zabus, 1991, 157-174; Young, 1976, 21-50) Another possibility of conveying a specific ethnicity was to graft an "ethno-text" onto the text and to fossilize the mother tongue in adages. Chinua Achebe's "palm-oil" proverbalization is a case in point. The gnomic discourse acts as a narrative lubricant helping in the expert transplant of the Igbo ethno-text; this makes the Igbo language look like a dusty dinosaur whose last gasps histrionically foreshadow the death of a species. (Zabus, 1990, 19-31) In that respect, Gabriel Okara's lexico-semantic and morphosyntactic experimentation in The Voice (1964), from which, incidentally, Pidgin is notably absent, was the swan song, as it were of literary ethnolinguistics, that is, the conveying of ethnicity through the mother tongue (Ijọ) and its incorporation into the very fabric of the Europhone narrative.

9Partisans of Pidgin as a literary medium could argue, to paraphrase Césaire, that African writers have had two ways of losing themselves: "by segregation in the particular or by dilution in the 'universal'." Linguistically, this could be read as dilution in the Europhone medium and segregation in what Ayi Kwei Armah called "those microlanguages (from Akan, through Kikuyu to Zulu)" one could only stare at from a rearview mirror. (Armah, 1985, 263) Why then continue being scripturally schizophrenic? Why try to cope with the Manichean dichotomy mother tongue/other tongue if Pidgin is begging to be born as a literary medium. It is indeed in the contact language itself, in that space-in-between, that writers like Kafka and Louis Wolfson have nestled to redefine writing in the mother tongue. (Deleuze, 1975; Wolfson, 1970) The literary use of Pidgin would thus transform this (m)other-tongue cannibalism into a bilateral creolization or métissage of two or several registers, the necessary prelude to cross-cultural syncreticity. The famous line—"L'avenir est au métissage" — could then at long last be released from the cloven pine where Léopold Sédar Senghor had confined it in his ardent but dubious policy of francophonic assimilation.

10But before apotheosizing Pidgin as a possible medium of allterrain ethnicity, let us look at its brief history in Nigerian literature in English. After a false start as an embellishment and slot-filler in plays and novels alike, it functioned for a while as baby talk and bush talk to become later the medium of urban prestige and integration and therefore of disidentification with tradition and ethnicity in the 1960s. Jagua Nana, in the novel of that name (1961) by the chronicler of urban life Cyprian Ekwensi, puts it in a nutshell when she calls Tradition "these embarrassing reminders of clan and custom" (8). Pidgin then became the mode of inter-and intra-ethnic communication and eventually a mother tongue and the potential vehicle for multilingual and cross-cultural hybridized poetics.

  • 6 Willfried Peuser has compared the two versions of High Life "in" The Voice from Dukana: Ken Saro-W (...)

11Ken Saro-Wiwa's novel Sozaboy: A Novel in Rotten English (1985), is so far the most conscious and sustained linguistic experiment in vitro with non-standard speech in the West African first-person narrative to emerge from the as yet tiny corpus of writing in NP. Saro-Wiwa had experimented with this medium in a prose sketch called "High Life" (1965) that he had written during his Ibadan student days an esperiement which could not be sustained over a whole book, according to O.R. Dathorne. Although Saro-Wiwa proved Dathorne wrong on that point, the story itself was gradually stripped of its Pidgin rhetoric in the anthologized version in Africa in Prose (1969). It was finally purged of its deep EnPi grammatical signal-features, by the author's own doing, in A Forest of Flowers (1986), in which Standard English occasionally turns into the précieux and hypercorrect lingo of Onitsha Market pamphleteering.6

12Sozaboy in the novel of that name is a "soldier-boy" volunteer thrust into the atrocities of the Biafran War, which was launched with the January 1966 coup and opposed the (Western) Federals and the (South Eastern) Igbo or Biafrans. Saro-Wiwa follows the picaresque quest of our naive recruit who, after the war, searches for his wife and mother killed by a Federal bomb. This quest takes him back to his native Dukana, where he is mistaken for a ghost and the harbinger of a cholera epidemic. Sozaboy experiences the disarray of Everyman in an inter-ethnic and internecine war. As a result, he speaks a lawless lingo which befits the harrowing situation and which Saro-Wiwa has artfully wrought from scraps of four registers—his mother tongue, Khana, ẸnPi, Standard Nigerian English, and "broken English", that is, the unsystematic use of strings of English words. These are themselves amalgamated into a Pidgin-based idiolect on the verge of creolization, which Saro-Wiwa has called "rotten English" Curiously enough, Sozaboy's return to the "mother-land" is accomplished without the warm succour of his mother tongue, Khana, which is also that of Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni, a minority ostensibly ignored by the dominant factions—the Hausa-Fulani, the Igbo and the Yoruba. Sozaboy's idiolect thus celebrates, in a perverse way, the failure of inter-ethnic harmony and compromise. At the same time, this "rotten English" fermenting in the life-enhancing ash-heaps and post-Civil War debris has an almost Dionysiac capacity to carry the weight of the new (post-) ethnicity.

13As an artefactual dialect, the making of this "rotten English" in Sozaboy can be traced linguistically, as in progressive drafts, down to its constitutive elements. (See Chart in Appendix). Saro-Wiwa, like most writers confining Pidgin to dialogue, settled for Level 3 or 4, which is characterized by the selective deployment of a handful of non-standard lexical and grammatical clues and deviant spellings:

"Do you people chop three times every day?"
"No." Bullet replied.
"Well, we chop three times every day. And the chop is very very good. Why una no dey chop well? Una go fit fight when war begin?" And 'e begin laugh one small laugh.
"Whosai dem dey keep una chop?" Abi your Commanding officer dey chop all the food by himself?" asked Manmuswak.
Ha! the soza captain is chopping all the food by himself? If this thing is true something go bad for everybody oh.

14In this passage, Saro-Wiwa has occasionally delved into the deep structure of Pidgin. For instance, he uses the typically NP progressive-aspect marker dey, the second-person plural pronoun una, and whosai [lit: what side] for "where." Yet, he has combined English grammar with Pidgin lexis, as in is chopping. Christian Maier has elsewhere identified the use of for (fó) to cover other prepositional meanings, the relative clause-introducer wey, serial verb constructions inspired by related structures in West African languages (e.g. "we come reach river," 107), the contact genitive (e.g. "soza captain tent," 107. (Maier, 1989, 6) One can also note the comparative pas(s) as in "wor wor pass" to mean "worse than" (112), wetin for "what", fit for "able", to tief for "to rob", and typically Pidgin words that have a false air of familiarity: "simple defence" (civil defence), "some time" (perhaps), "whether-whether" (no matter what), "as some thing used to be" (maybe), "does not get mouth" (has no rights), and the reversed synecdoches—"country" for ethnic group and "man" for penis.

15At times Saro-Wiwa conveys only the "feel" of Pidgin by retaining some of its signal features, e.g. the non-inverted question or the reduplication of the adjective for emphasis as in "big big bribe" (1), "fine fine English," "big big grammar" (77) which, incidentally, is explained in the glossary as "tedious, erudite arguments or statements in standard English" (182). This method, however, makes NP look like an impoverished variant of the standard norm. For instance, the present perfect "have finished" in "the work on the farm have finished" (1) has been preferred to its EnPi form, "don finish." Similarly, "take bribe" (1) or "chop big big bribe" has been favoured over "take kola"; "know" over "sabi."

16Saro-Wiwa provides a glossary clarifying non-standard use of English at the end of the book's twenty-one "Lombers," i.e. chapter numbers called thus after the speech habits of the Ogoni or Khana people of the Niger Delta. Pidgin words and phrases are explained, e.g. "this girl na waya-oh" (this girl is something else), "na je-je" (it's stylish), "abi the girl no dey shame?" (is the girl not shy?), "water don pass gari" (matters have come to a head). The Chief Commander General's regimented language is rendered in a glut of phoneticized mispronunciations of Standard (Nigerian) English such as "Tan papa dere" (Stand properly there), "Hopen udad mas" (Open order march), "terprita" (interpreter). This glossary follows in the wake of earlier lexicons from the 1960s, when an Achebe would provide an Igbo glossary, Soyinka, a Yoruba one. It emphasizes the otherness of Pidgin and its distinction from "a variety of English." On two occasions, Saro-Wiwa insists on the untranslatability of some EnPi words, e.g. "heavy," which "[d]enotes pride of the speaker in the foregoing event" (182), "which one I dey": "Roughly: what's my role?" (186).

17Except for some rare words of Khana origin such as "wuruwuru" (chicanery, cheating), "ugbalugba" (problem), "tombo" (palm-wine) and "Sarogua," "the ancestral spirit, guardian of Dukana," EnPi has been stripped of its traditional ethnic African element and the mother tongue repudiated. Ethnicity has boiled down to this post-Civil War linguistic stew made of gari with too much water. Yet the paste is far from being "virtually inedible" (185) for the reader literate in Standard English.

  • 7 From a personal letter, January 17, 1992.
  • 8 In West Africa, 14 October 1991. Saro-Wiwa's rejoinder is entitled Reaching for the Roots," West A (...)

18Although Saro-Wiwa has chosen a non-ethnic language to render the residual idiom of a broken Ogoni man, he remains very much preoccupied with issues of ethnicity in Nigeria. Indeed, his book Οn A Darkling Plain: An Account of the Nigerian Civil War (1989) "planted [him] squarely in the centre of the human rights struggle in Nigeria."7 In a rejoinder to Olugbenga Ayemi,8 he refers to the Ogoni Bill of Rights sent in October 1991 to President Ibrahim Babangida and describing "Nigeria's catalogue of shame." Dr. G.B. Leton, President of MOSOP (Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni people) has lamented that "Ogoni is being killed so that Nigeria can live", a phrase which beautifully captures the idea that ethnicity is being sacrificed on the altar of nationalism. Saro-Wiwa concludes that the present structure of Nigeria, in which Ogoni people are not represented in federal institutions while they ensure, with their oil revenues, the survival of the 589 local governments, "spells the death-knell of the Ogoni and other delta minorities and their environment." This plea for "a confederation of egalitarian ethnic interdependence" is concurrent with Saro-Wiwa's acute awareness of the pending "ethnicide" of the Ogoni people (Saro-Wiwa, forthcoming).

19The fear of ethnicide is however curiously coupled with a relative lack of concern for the mother tongue. Although Saro-Wiwa is literate in Khana, he does not write in it, for, if he did, "he would be speaking to about 200,000 people, most of whom do not read or write." Yet, he is working on a Khana novel at the moment "so [he] can offer it to [his] seventy-year old mother. She is always reading the Bible—the only book which exists in the Khana language—and [he] would like to give her some other literature to read" (Saro-Wiwa, 1992, 155-156). As ẸnPi is gaining ground in the Delta region, literature in Khana-informed ẸnPi is therefore more of a likelihood than Ogoni literature in Khana.

  • 9 Simplicius Simplicissimus was written by a "Sozaboy" in the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) by Johan (...)

20Although Sozaboy as an experiment is the first of its kind, both the novel and the character hark back to earlier modes. Sozaboy has been compared to the German Simplicius Simplicissimus9 but his true ancestor is Joyce Cary's Mister Johnson (1939). Sozaboy's levity, which, if set in a colonial novel, would conjure up the innately "chearful" disposition of the "natives," owes a lot to Mister Johnson, the "fool chile" who revels away the time with drums and smuggled gin and meets a tragic end. The pseudo-Pidgin Johnson uses has likewise the symptomatic tinge of levity; it is used in his humorous soliloquies and the springy songs he modulates.

21Before Sozaboy, the only full-fledged "Pidgin personality" on the West African scene was the glamorous prostitute and kind-hearted sugar-mummy, Jagua Nana, in the already mentioned novel by Cyprian Ekwensi. Unlike Johnson, who speaks Pidgin, patters a little bit of Hausa and is literate in one language, Jagua is illiterate but completely trilingual (Pidgin, Igbo, Yoruba). Ekwensi is perhaps the only writer before Saro-Wiwa to present Pidgin as a potential mother tongue and as the lingua franca of coastal West Africans faced with the extralinguistic deculturation-acculturation process. If we consider Jagua's rival, Nancy Oll, whose parents originally came from Sierra Leone, she consistently communicates with her Igbo husband in Pidgin, even after she has completed her studies in England (Bonneau, 1972, 19). One can surmise that their children will probably speak Pidgin at home and that, if Jagua had children, their native tongue would be Pidgin as well. As already remarked, this is the case now in Nigeria since the number of first-language users of ẸnPi is growing everyday. ẸnPi is indeed gradually emerging in vivo as the de-stigmatized mother tongue of eight million Nigerian locutors (Todd, 1984, 46).

22A class-based view of ethnicity is inevitable, given Pidgin's confinement to being a public patois, a sermo vulgaris of a kind. It used to function mainly in dialogue as an auxiliary language into which a character would slide, slip, lapse, as in a fall from a higher register. Just as Ngugi wa Thiong'o considered the Gikuyu as primarily a peasant, Saro-Wiwa's speaker of ẸnPi or "rotten English" is a Nigerian low-class soldier. This is only consistent with Pidgin's conventional association with a half-literate subculture of low-income or low-life characters: prostitutes, city-slickers, gangsters, stalwarts, passenger touts, pettytraders, bolekaja thugs. The novelty in Sozaboy is that, by carrying his own and other previous experiments with non-standard speech to booklength, Saro-Wiwa has elevated EnPi to the status of a literary medium and has made it the buoyant medium of first-person narratives.

23Writing in non-standard is not synonymous with "anti-standard," as Saro-Wiwa has also championed a 'high-brow' variety of standard English in his scabrous but overtly moral television soap opera about corruption and self-delusion, Basi and Company. This highly popular show (an estimated 30 million viewers, according to The New York Times) characteristically dispenses with NP, the stock-and-trade of Nigerian comedy. Saro-Wiwa aims to show that Nigerians do not only laugh in Pidgin and through slapstick or vaudeville. As a construct, this rotten medium conveys a new seriousness that could potentially oust the earlier "levity of Pidgin," (Achebe, 1964, 99) which has now taken on a neo-comic guise in entertainment programs on radio and television, and in newspaper columns and cartoons.

24Before Saro-Wiwa, the use of non-standard in literature was hardly ever an attempt at transcription/mimesis but mostly an expressive gesture or a symbolic act. We concur with Maier that deviant spelling is "an imprecise, cumbersome, and potentially ridiculous strategy ill suited to capture the essence of non standard speech" (Maier, MS, 18). Now that it has reached the level of transcription, however experimental, ẸnPi needs to be standardized and codified. The linguist Agheyisi has argued for a single accepted convention for written ẸnPi and the choice of a variety that enjoys wide recognition. Such regularization would then encourage the acquisition of literacy in it. The most promising route seems to be through literature, she argues, provided the writers consider themselves as "language gatekeepers" (Agheyisi, 1988, 237-239). But, among writers such as like the poets featured in the "Poetiri" corner of the weekly Lagos Life, only a few are really proficient in ẸnPi. To make things worse, the new generation of writers like Osofisan, Iyayi, Oyekunle, Ezenwa-Ohaeto and Fatunde as well as other well-meaning rhetors writing politics from the grassroots have been said to further contribute to the dismantlement of Pidgin by subjecting it to some sort of "plastic surgery."

25Coining a pseudo-Pidgin can indeed lead to new contradictions. A linguist from Ibadan, Augusta Omamor, herself an educated native speaker of ẸnPi, has accused practically every writer in Nigeria of not using ẸnPi proper but "some kind of free-for-all linguistic mixed-grill or cocktail" close to the speech of Zedubaya, the hero of Masquerade, a radio and television comedy series, and of "doing violence to the structure of both English and ẸnPi [with the result that] quite often it has the air of bad English donning a top coat to NP structure" (Omamor, 1983 & 1989).) It is true that, as already argued, this levity is gradually being ousted by a new seriousness: in its quasi-creolized form, NP is now used for broadcasting news and televison dramas such as Samanja, originally transmitted in Hausa on the Kaduna station but later changed to "a variety of Pidgin" once it was elevated to network status (Saro-Wiwa, 1988, 6). As with any strong currency, we are from now on bound to watch the downward and upward moves of this peculiar "interlanguage" as it fluctuates between two systems of patronage.

26Pidgin is now part of the post-colonial Creole continuum and is thus paradigmatic of cross-cultural writing. Just as the Creole continuum theory is relegating English to the periphery and taking the pidgins and Atlantic Creoles as its core, Pidgin writing is relegating English to a substrate in the text and context, as Saro-Wiwa did by sprinkling his text with "occasional flashes of good, even idiomatic English" (Saro-Wiwa, 1985, Author's Note). We may thus be witnessing a transfer of legitimacy from the writer's filial bond to the mother tongue to his affiliation to a communally owned Creole, as in the polydialectical culture of the Caribbean or the Pacific Islands. The situation in the Republic of Vanuatu (lanwis blong Vanuatu), formerly known as The New Hebrides, is somewhat akin to that of Nigeria in that a Pidgin developed as the result of a business venture between Chinese sailors and the island villagers and is now used across the local language barriers. Its prevails over the 104 distinct languages as well as French and English, the languages of the joint colonists from 1906 to 1980, spoken over Vanuatu's 80 islands peopled by some 130,000 people. Vanuatu's official language is Bislama after the much-coveted sea slug "bicho de mar" (Sterba, 1986).

27Whatever lies in store for ẸnPi, its status as a potential literary medium is most promising. As a crucible of a sort, ẸnPi can host traces of the African mother tongue (e.g. Yoruba Pidgin, Hausa Pidgin or Barikanci) as well as any of the components gleaned from the heteroglot and polyphonic West African discourse. It also allows for bilingual strategies such as code-switching. And ẸnPi (e.g. the Delta variety) has the additional merit of imparting a new, seemingly monophonic, authority without falling prey to the tyranny of homogeneity of earlier narratives in metropolitan English. But maybe there has been too much water and not enough gari in this post-colonial stew. As an interlanguage, this tertium quid may rot away and be cast out as a linguistic still-born by future generations of writers or it may be championed as the new, supra-regional voice of post-ethnicity. If it is true that the future belongs to the mixture ("L'avenir appartient au métissage"), the ethnic present, however, is still very much a fixture.



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Young, Peter. "Tradition, Language and the Reintegration of Identity in West African in English" in The Critical Evaluation of African Literature, ed. Edgar Wright (Washington, D.C.: Inscape, 1976): 21-50.

Zabus, Chantal. "Extinct and Surviving Species: Pitineg and EnPi" in The African Palimpsest: Indigenization of Language in the West African Europhone Novel (Amsterdam & Atlanta: Rodopi, 1991): 92-101.

— "The Logos-Eaters: the Igbo Ethno-Text," Kunapipi (Special Issue in Celebration of Chinua Achebe), 12:2(1990): 19-31; rpt. in Semper Aliquid Novi: Littérature Comparée et Littératures d'Afrique, eds. Janos Riesz & Alain Ricard (Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag, 1990): 305-314.

Zahan, Dominique. The Religion, Spirituality and Thought of Traditional Africa, Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, 1979.



Level 1: Andrew kari yuɔ trǝbu kɔmɔt fɔ dE. yu nɔsi se na wɔk i dè du. hEn! wetin yu dè tɔk?... if yu hiE di mɔni we dEn tek bayam yu gò rɔn.

Level 2: Andrew, kari yuo trobu komot fo de. Yu no si se na wok i de du. Hen! Wetin yu de tok?... If yu hear di moni we den tek buyam yu go ron.

Level 3: Andrew, carry you trobu comot fo dere. You no see say na work i dey do? Hen! Wetin you dey talk?... If you hear de money wey dem tek buy'em, you go run.

Level 4: Andrew, carry you trouble come out for dere. You no see say na work he dey do? Hen! What ting you dey talk?... If you hear de money which dem take buy'em, you go run.

Level 5: Andrew, carry your mischief come out from there. You no see that is work he doing? Hen! What thing you talking?... If you hear the money that they paid, you go run.

Level 6: Andrew, cut out your mischief from there; can't you see that she is busy? Ha, what are you saying?... If you heard how much they paid for it, you would run.

Synthesized from Rebecca N. Agheyisi, "Linguistic Implications of the Changing Role of Nigerian Pidgin", English World-Wide 5:2 (1984): 217. Many thanks go to Christian Maier of Freiburg University for bringing this to my attention.


1 "Glottophagia" refers to the "devouring" of indigenous languages by the colonizing powers. The French term "glottophagie" was first used by Louis-Jean Calvet in his Linguistique et colonialisme: petit traité de glottophagie (Paris: Payot, 1974). See also Albert Gérard, "Oralité, glottophagie, créolisation: problématique de la littérature africaine", Bulletin des séances de l'Académie Royale d'Outre-Mer 34:2 (1988): 259-69.

2 Samuel Purchas in Purchas his Pilgrimage, or Relations of the World and the Religions Observed in All Ages (1613), IX, V, par. 3: "Certaine Brasilians... had set up a new sect of Christian ethnicisme, or mungrell-Christianity"

3 See The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 1971) 313-314: p. 901. The references are sequentially to Sc. Leg. Saints. Barnabas, 161 (1375); Harding, Chron. Printers' Preface IX (1470); tr. Pol. Verg. English History (Camd. Soc.) I. 169 (1534); Becon, Fortr. Faithful. Prologue (1550); Mede, Works, ΙΠ, VIII, 643 (1638). "Ethnic" is also interchangeable with "hellenizing" [Buch, tr. Hagenbach's Historical Doctrine, I. 42 (1847)] or with "Greekish" [Carlyle, Sterling, I. VII (1872) 45]. The word "ethnicity" itself has been rarely observed and on one occasion has been substitued to "heathendom, heathen superstition" in Nugent, tr. History of Friar Gerund. I. 332 (1772): "From the curling spume of the celebrated Egean waves fabulous ethnicity feigned venus their idolatress conceived" (my emphasis).

4 Miller also denounces Frantz Fanon and Amilcar Cabral for conceiving of ethnicity as "anything other than a primitive stage to be transcended" (Miller, 1990, 49).

5 "Polygenetic" means that each Pidgin is genetically related to the corresponding standard (Indo-European) language, from which it diverged under the influence of a similar sociolinguistic situation; this is related to the baby-talk hypothesis. The "monogenetic" theory posits a general Pidgin as a common ancestor which has developed distinct and mutually unintelligible varieties. The origins of Pidgins are, of course, a major source of disputation among monogenetic and polygenetic theoreticians.

6 Willfried Peuser has compared the two versions of High Life "in" The Voice from Dukana: Ken Saro-Wiwa", Matatu 1:2 (1987): 60.

7 From a personal letter, January 17, 1992.

8 In West Africa, 14 October 1991. Saro-Wiwa's rejoinder is entitled Reaching for the Roots," West Africa (22 December 1991): 16. He has written extensively on the subject in Nigeria: the Brink of Disaster (Saros, 1991); Similia: Essays on Anomic Nigeria (Saros, 1991).

9 Simplicius Simplicissimus was written by a "Sozaboy" in the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) by Johann Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen.


Professor at the Literatures in English Unit, Université Catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve (Belgium). She is the author of The African Palimpsest (Amsterdam & Atlanta: Rodopi, 1991) and of numerous articles in the field of postcolonial literatures, language and orality, and Women's Studies. She is currently working on a book on Postcolonial, Postmodern and Postpatriarchal Rewritings of "The Tempest"

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