Lusophone Africa

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Lusophone African writing is reputed to be the first to emerge in Africa. This primacy, coupled with the high esteem in which short fiction and poetry are regarded in Portuguese culture, has resulted in short fiction enjoying a long standing in Lusophone Africa, where the writer of the short story is regarded just as highly as the writer of longer fiction. Vasconsellos’s A Mentira Vital, Mozambican João Albasini’s O livro da dor: Cartas de amor (1925), and Angolan Castro Soromenho’s Nhari: O, Drama da gente negra (1938) are among the earliest published volumes of African short stories. However, almost all of these works are either out of print or difficult to access in the English-speaking world. In the island of Cape Verde, for example, short fiction has flowered in a manner in which longer fiction has not. Also, in Lusophone Africa, short- story anthologies have tended to be true short-story collections and not excerpts of longer fiction, as has been the case with some anthologies in Anglophone Africa. For instance, in the Antologia da ficcao Cabo-Verdiana contemmporanea (1960), edited by Baltasar Lopes and containing twenty-three entries covering works published between 1944 and 1959, as well as previously unpublished material, eighteen of the twenty-three entries are short stories (contos) and two are novellas (noveletas). Only three are excerpts from novels. In addition, writers who have been known to start their writing careers with longer fiction have later turned to short-story writing. In the case of the Angolan writer Oscar Ribas, who has published both long and short fiction, his various volumes of short fiction, beginning with Flores e espinhos (1948), started appearing twenty years after two longer works of fiction. Therefore, his reputation as a writer rests even more on his short-story collections.

The Mozambican Honwana is a Lusophone writer who is considered one of the foremost short-story writers of present-day Africa. His collection We Killed Mangy-Dog and Other Mozambique Stories is one of the few Lusophone collections that is available to English readers. In the collection is “We Killed Mangy- Dog” and six other stories, including the well-anthologized “Papa, Snake, and I” and “The Old Woman.” “Papa, Snake, and I” is anthologized in African Short Stories and Under African Skies, and “The Old Woman” can be found in Stories from Central and Southern Africa. Honwana’s collection is counted one of the best books of short stories. The title story and “Papa, Snake, and I,” both of which are narrated by Ginho, a black youth, are coming-of-age stories involving a killing—the killing of Mangy-Dog in the former and the killing of a snake in the latter. In both, the killing serves as a ritual initiation of the young black adolescent narrator into manhood. “We Killed Mangy-Dog” initiates Ginho into a world of conflict between love and friendship, on one hand, and violence and inhumanity on the other. In “Papa, Snake, and I,” the black youth is exposed both to racial oppression and to the subtle acts of resistance through which the oppressed reaffirm their constantly assaulted sense of humanity. Both stories, though contemporary narratives, rely on narrative techniques from the oral tradition through the interweaving of human and animal characters, with the animals endowed with human qualities. They are allegorical and lyrical, with the language bearing the stamp of simplicity of its youthful narrator.

“We Killed Mangy-Dog” is a story of failed leadership and callowness, a political allegory in which the plight of Mangy- Dog corresponds to the political and racial oppression as well as the outcast status of black people under Portuguese colonialism. The story focuses on a dozen young boys of various colors, whose schoolyard has become home to several dogs. One of the dogs, an old, feeble, sore-infested mutt, Mangy-Dog, who is despised by almost everybody except...

(The entire section is 1647 words.)