Discuss the dominant schools of thought in the 19th century on the history of west Africa, giving their main positions.

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teachsuccess | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Hello! Based on your topic, it looks like you are interested in knowing how 19th Century West Africa is represented in literature. The dominant schools of thought are almost diametrically opposed to each other. Western authors (whether in non-fiction or fiction) tended to portray West Africa and/or Africa itself as the 'Dark Continent,' a veritable jungle of dubious civilization, populated by a people fierce as well as barbaric . Africans were often characterized as illiterate savages, dependent on the good graces and wisdom of western ingenuity for their survival. During the 19th Century, few African authors were on hand to fight back against this portrayal of their countrymen. 

1) Western authors

Non-fiction: Explorers Sir Richard Burton and David Livingstone.

Fiction: Joseph Conrad (Heart Of Darkness), poets such as William Wordsworth, William Blake, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Authors such as Conrad have been accused of racism and his portrayals of West Africans as lazy, mentally challenged, weak-willed, child-like, and less than human have generated some controversy. Although some argue that Conrad's protagonist, Marlow, was merely relating a story, others are not so ready to give the author a pass. Read why Chinua Achebe contends that Conrad's Heart Of Darkness was racist.

David Livingstone is widely considered the first European explorer to travel Africa from West to East. He worked incessantly to further the cause of the African people. You might be interested in UCLA's documentation of Livingstone's last field diary (1871). His rich descriptions of the African landscape and the lifestyle of the people are not to be missed. Note: at the end of each page, click on the link to continue. The diary is fairly long with many images.

Writers such as Mary Kingsley believed that the Hamitic hypothesis should be adjusted to account for African agency. She believed that Africans should be allowed to develop their own brand of self-determinism and that their national psyche should not be westernized without regard to African input.

2) African authors

Edward Wilmot Bryan- as a response to colonialist attitudes regarding West Africans (and Africans in general), Bryan developed Pan-Africanism, the principles of an African-based ideology which supported African collectivization. Bryan was interested in bolstering the self-determination and success of Africans. He challenged the prevailing 19th Century notion of Black Africans as backward, illiterate, and uncivilized. Using arguments from Scripture as well as science, Bryan argued for equality. His works include A Voice From Bleeding Africa (1856), A Vindication Of The African Race, Being A Brief Examination Of Arguments In Favor Of African Inferiority (1862), Africa For The Africans (1872), Christianity, Islam, and The Negro Race (1887). Bryan also wrote numerous articles which supported his arguments.

Bryan worked tirelessly for the decolonization of the African mind.

Sources:

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